Grappling with Lone-Wolf Terror Attacks

October 24, 2014

Canada has been an active participant of battling terrorism in the Middle East. It has been active in Afghanistan and a week ago, Canada decided to join the fight against ISIS. Yet, 22nd October showed that Canada is not immune to terrorism. A lone gunman went on a shooting spree at the National War Memorial and the Parliament Building. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was immediately rushed to safety. Corporal Nathan Cirillo was killed and three others were injured. The lone gunman, as we now all know, is Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

Canada’s Vulnerability

This is not the first time that the Parliament has been targeted nor is it the biggest attack. In 1966, a bomber tried to blow up the Parliament and kill as many MPs as possible. Again in 1986, a man hijacked a bus and fired shots outside the Parliament.

Immediately after Michael’s attack, security forces hunted surrounding areas to ensure there weren’t any other gunmen. For Prime Minister Harper, this attack was a grim reminder that Canada can be hit by terrorist attacks. Oddly enough, just as the attack began, there was a heated debate over in the Parliament on the government’s decision to increase their anti-terrorist powers and join the military campaign against ISIS.

Michael’s attack comes on the heels of Martin Courture-Rouleau’s attack in Quebec. . On 20th October, Martin ran down two Canadian Armed Force soldiers. Martin is a recent convert to Islam and a supporter of ISIS. Prime Minister Harper referred it to as an ISIS inspired attack. The similarity between the two terrorists is that Michael was an Islam convert too. Initial investigations show that Michael was in touch with jihadists, but not part of any network.

Canada’s Security Structure is not Failing

These two attacks are not organized acts of terrorism.

In 2006, the Canadian security forces foiled a major terrorist plot and arrested 18 individuals. These individuals were in no way even trained by any terrorist organization, rather they were inspired by Al Qaeda to plan the attacks. Last year, two individuals, ChihebEsseghaier and RaedJaser were charged with a terrorist plot to derail a New York to Toronto Train.

Canada’s security structure is far from failing. Our intelligence agency is quite efficient at learning and stopping such terrorist plots from ever being executed.

Lone Terrorist Inspired Attacks

However, it is difficult to prevent lone terrorist inspired attacks. Even USA has experienced them. The Boston Marathon attacks were orchestrated by two Chechen brothers. On thorough investigation, it was revealed that the brothers were not connected to any terrorist organization and were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs.

Lone wolf terror attacks are difficult to prevent simply because of the isolation that the attacker surrounds himself with. This makes it difficult for any intelligence organization to pick up any chatter concerning the attack.

Watch for the Signs

On speaking to people who knew Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, security forces found out that he was exhibiting unusual behavior. The elders at his mosque asked him to stop attending because of his erratic behavior. Michael even told a friend that “the devil is after him”.

The propaganda put up by terrorist organizations is massive. It has increased with the growth of the online world. Today, an individual does not have to visit a radicalized camp or institution to become an extremist. It can be done so easily enough through the online world. Canada must wake up to a whole new world of terror attacks that are committed by single-minded individuals and not groups.

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