Analysis: Suspect in Brussels shooting proves 'lone wolf' attackers are never really alone

The problem with "lone wolves" is that they are often the products of cultural, historical and political forces that pose a growing threat in Europe.

suspect in Brussels Jewish Museum shooting (photo credit: BELGIUM POLICE)
suspect in Brussels Jewish Museum shooting
(photo credit: BELGIUM POLICE)
The problem with “lone wolves” is they are often the products of cultural, historical and political forces that pose a growing threat in Europe.
The arrest of Mehdi Nemmouche, the suspect in the terrorist attack on the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, which left an Israeli couple and two others dead, dispelled speculations in Israel that the incident was a targeted killing of Emanuel and Mira Riva due to their nationality and their employment in the Prime Minister’s Office.
It now appears nationality or the victim’s work had nothing to do with Nemmouche’s motivations. This was apparently an anti-Semitic act of terrorism bred by the ideology of global jihad.
According to his attorney, Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French citizen, was not a religious man. Notwithstanding that, he underwent a process of Islamic radicalization a year ago, during his stay in Syria.
During that same stay, the future terrorist enlisted in the ranks of a jihadist rebel group to fight against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
His case follows recent news of a young American who traveled to Syria and died perpetrating a suicide bomb attack fighting Assad’s forces. More than a thousand young Europeans of Muslim descent have traveled to Syria to fight.
The concern is that what is happening today mirrors the aftermath of September 11 in 2001 when young men who trained in the al-Qaida camps of Osama Bin Laden across Afghanistan returned to their home countries and carried out terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, Turkey, Yemen and Morocco.
This time, security agencies in the West have learned the lesson. They are more alert, suspect databases have been developed and those with militant connections are closely followed.
Nemmouche was on such a list in the databases of French security forces. In a press release, the security forces revealed that Nemmouche was arrested in a routine sting operation related to drug smuggling in Marseille. The investigation regarded the young man with suspicion of involvement in the transfer of drugs ferried over the border by bus passengers from Amsterdam.
However, the possibility exists that the story was made up by police to cover the true circumstances behind the arrest.
Following the attack in Brussels, the apprehension of Nemmouche was swift but still brought up serious questions with regard to unexplained hurdles.
A lack of security at a Jewish institution in Brussels, for one, indicates a serious failure on the part of the museum’s director, the Belgian police and its security services.
That the recent Syrian civil-war veteran was able to travel by public transportation between France and Belgium while armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a pistol – hopefully not themselves brought back from Syrian battlefields – indicates a lack of coordination between the two countries’ security agencies.
He was arrested while in possession of two firearms used in the murders, the clothes he wore, and a disc recording in which he took responsibility for the killing, stating: “This is an attack against the Jews.”
Nemmouche made the recording after discovering that the small video camera on his person at the time of the attack did not work properly.
The findings indicate Nemmouche was not a particularly professional terrorist.
The evidence paints him as a “lone wolf,” but lone wolves are never really alone. He acts as the result of cultural, political and historical forces. The fact in no way deters from the danger that such a “lone wolf” phenomenon poses in Europe and to its Jewish and Israeli potential targets. As a matter of fact, the situation may be getting worse.