'Leaderless Jihad' -- Hardening Targets to Thwart Lone Wolf Attacks
After the January 8th truck attack by a terrorist in Jerusalem that killed four young soldiers (three of them women) and injured more than 15 others, the Israeli government has started putting in cement barriers to try and head off similar attacks in future.
Israel is trying to deal with a relatively new, harder to track kind of terrorism called “leaderless jihad.” In 2005 jihadist military theorist Abu Musab al-Suri (AKA Mustafa Setmariam Nasar) published an online book titled The Call to Global Islamic Resistance focusing on the importance of "solo jihadi terror work." According to al-Suri, solo jihadi attacks will exhaust the enemy and cause him to collapse and retreat.
In the West, these are commonly called “lone wolf” attacks, but this is misleading and the terminology makes it sound as if the lone wolves are not part of a terror network. The truth is that such terrorism is organized and takes advantage of the Internet and social media as a key way to pass messages sending their adherents on terrorist missions. Many of the wannabe terrorists who take up these calls for action already have been proselytized, often in local mosques and schools or by terrorist operatives in their communities. Some of them even publish personal manifestos on social media though often under nom de plumes but with photos and other information giving important clues to near-term threats. The Ft. Lauderdale shooter, Esteban Santiago, used the pen name Aashik Hammad. The shooters in San Bernardino, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, almost certainly were trained in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and Tashfeen Malik had a social media account under a pseudonym. The FBI insists these terrorists were “self-radicalized,” a claim that does not in any way align with the overwhelming evidence they were not only Jihadi but also Wahhabi trained.
Leaderless jihad is a means to try and avoid tracking by intelligence agencies and law enforcement. It presents a particular problem in anticipating and thwarting attacks. Like “lone wolf” therefore, “leaderless” jihad is not really leaderless at all. Rather the leadership function is hidden to a degree.
When faced with a threat that is hard to anticipate through intelligence and law enforcement tracking, it is important to try and make it as difficult as possible for terrorists to be successful. The most immediate steps that can be taken is to harden places that are vulnerable to attack.
It has taken the authorities in Israel, perhaps the most security-conscious country in the world, a long time to recognize that it was not covering major vulnerable areas and, perhaps relying too much on intelligence and, to a degree, the attitude that putting up barriers was a concession to terrorism that the Israeli government was unwilling to make. But the recent plethora of attacks seems to have changed that, though it has taken a rather long time to change attitudes.
On July 2, 2008 a Palestinian drove a huge front-end loader (described in the press as a bulldozer) into vehicles in Jerusalem, killing three and wounding 30 people. Later that month, a Palestinian with a backhoe (similarly described by the press as a bulldozer) wounded 24 people on King David Street. And, on September 22nd of that year a terrorist in a black BMW ran down off-duty soldiers on a Jerusalem street injuring 19. Early in 2009, an Arab bulldozer crushed a police car and turned over a bus near the Malha shopping mall on Menachem Begin Boulevard in southern Jerusalem before the driver was shot and killed.
It did not stop in 2009. While use of cars, trucks and construction equipment is not as common as stabbings as a terrorist tool, it is common enough in Israel. In a September 20 survey by the Washington Post, there were reported 31 car and vehicle attacks in Israel and the West Bank between October 2015 and September 2016. This compares to 84 stabbing incidents, 57 attempted stabbing incidents, 20 shootings and 4 bombings in the same one-year period.
Most vehicle-related incidents are largely aimed at bus stops, popular gathering areas and police checkpoints. Buses in Israel have been bombed, shot and rammed; they are especially popular targets because soldiers typically use the public buses when they go on leave or travel to their bases. The latest attack was also at a popular -- and unprotected -- gathering place where the cadet-soldiers had been dropped off.
For the most part, there are no security barriers at bus stops and vulnerable public areas in Israel. That is now going to change as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered them to be put in.
Barriers are one way to help mitigate some of these attacks and, by their presence, reduce the "soft" target set available to terrorists. Barriers are needed not only at bus stops, but also at public gathering spots wherever practicable, including public markets and in front of sensitive buildings and locations. The most popular type of barrier in the United States is the cement Jersey barrier. Jersey barriers are used extensively on highways as road barriers, and on bridges to protect the outer driving lanes from crashes. They are heavy, functional, and cheap. An alternative, called cable barriers, are more expensive and require installation to anchor the cables securely. Israel has also developed a unique modular vehicle barrier of its own design and recently the German government bought out the entire stock.
The sooner vulnerable areas are protected the better for our peace and security. While this alone won’t catch terrorists or stop them from trying, it will save lives.