Outside View: Terror by 'lone wolves' adds new danger

By T.K. MALOY, UPI Outside View Commentator  |  April 26, 2013 at 6:20 AM
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BEIRUT, Lebanon, April 26 (UPI) -- While still unknown, evidence and intelligence information is indicating the two immigrant brothers alleged to have bombed the Boston Marathon are from that hard-to-track group of terrorists known as "lone wolves," who lack an affiliation with larger terror group or operation.

From the perspective of this correspondent being an American expat in the Middle East, one can imagine the growing problem faced not only by the United States but for global targets in many countries, given the increasing frequency of these lone wolf attacks.

Boston signals not the beginning of this phenomena but nevertheless is something of a tipping point into a new age where anyone with an ideological chip on their shoulder --and there are many kinds of ideological chips, not just radical Islamists -- can download easy-to-construct bomb-making instructions off the Internet or through social media.

And, if sufficiently motivated, (and psychopathological) inflict great harm on innocent civilians.

A number of experts on the subject note the difficulty in identifying the lone actors before their acts of terrors, largely because they operate outside any organized group. Though the usually share an ideology with a larger movement.

Professor Christopher Hewitt, a terrorism expert teaching at Georgetown University Security Studies program, notes that such unaffiliated terrorists include a lengthening list of lone actors.

A short list, he said, includes Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh; the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski; Mir Amal Kansi, who assassinated five CIA employees on the roadway entrance to the agency office; Eric Rudolph, Olympic bomber and attacker of an abortion clinic; and James Kopp, the sniper killer of abortion clinic doctor Barnett Slepian.

"Police have to identify the terrorist, catch them, and they have to be able to produce enough evidence to convict: so they have three tasks," Hewitt said. "In many cases they may identify the suspect but it takes law enforcement a considerable amount of time to capture the persons, consider the case of Eric Rudolph."

He noted, "In some cases you get superb witnesses, such as in the case of Eric Rudolph, where he was seen running away from an abortion clinic bombing, and removing a wig, while everyone else was running toward the scene of devastation."

In line with this, Hewitt notes, is the forensic and witness work that led to the quick identification of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as alleged bombers; with nearby cameras capturing footage of men leaving backpacks in the vicinity of the explosions, which was also observed by witnesses.

But, Hewitt adds, what was unusual was the speed in which police were able to turn this into actionable information -- albeit brought to an even quicker conclusion by the brothers drawing attention to themselves in an alleged carjacking.

"I would also emphasize the extraordinary effort on the part of police and the amount of manpower put immediately on the case," the sociology professor noted.

What is known so far? And were these two young immigrants "lone wolf" attackers?

The FBI received a request from the Federal Russian Security Service to interview Tamerlan Tsarnaev in February 2011. There was one interview, which yielded no suspicious activity and the FBI filed a report on the questioning three months later. FBI staff asked their Russian opposite numbers for more information of which nothing was forthcoming. The Russians made a similar request of the CIA to check databases for anything noteworthy but nothing showed up.

However, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was put on the U.S. travel watch list -- not at the level of the "no fly" list only with caveat that his movements be noted -- but by the time Tamerlan Tsarnaev had traveled to and from Dagestan for a period of six months, his watch list status had "expired" and his re-entry to the United States set off no interest or inquiry.

On April 15, the bombing at the Boston Marathon takes place, killing three and injuring more than 200, many requiring amputations and other critical medical care.

The FBI published video photos of the two suspects at 5 p.m. April 18; soon afterward, the suspects allegedly hijacked a vehicle at gunpoint in Cambridge, Mass., an FBI affidavit issued Monday states.

An FBI affidavit released Monday alleges that Tamerlan Tsarnaev said to the car owner: "Did you hear about the Boston explosion? I did that."

Police locate the stolen car and the alleged bombers in the Boston suburb of Watertown, Mass., where a car chase ensues and then, when cornered, a gunfight breaks out.

The older brother is killed, the younger escapes in the car and is later found hiding in a covered boat in Watertown. After another firefight he surrenders and is found to have gunshot wounds to the head, neck, legs and hand.

Last Sunday, the surviving accused bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, states to FBI agents that he and Tamerlan Tsarnaev bombed the Boston Marathon because of their radical Islamist views as payback for U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also says that he and his brother acted alone.

The FBI affidavit accompanying federal charges against the younger Tsarnaev says, the video evidence is fairly conclusive. Both men are seen entering Boylston Street near the Boston Marathon finish line at 2:38 p.m. Both men were carrying knapsacks.

Separate video cameras, the affidavit stated, then capture footage of each man placing their knapsacks; Tamerlan Tsarnaev at finish line and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by the Forum restaurant.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev leaves the finish line and footage shows him elsewhere in the crowd as the first explosion occurs.

"Virtually every head turns to the east (toward the finish line) and stares in that direction in apparent bewilderment and alarm," the affidavit states.

Meanwhile, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is referred to as "Bomber Two," in the affidavit remains calm. He leaves his knapsack on the ground by the restaurant and walks away. A bomb blows up about 10 seconds later.

The affidavit states that the reviewing agent had observed all the camera footage in the area and "can discern nothing in that location in the period before the explosion that might have caused that explosion, other than Bomber Two's knapsack."

Thus far -- though the entire case is a sad one -- police action after the incident led to the apprehension of both suspects very quickly, with one killed during a subsequent heavy firefight between police and bombing suspects.

Could the bombing have been prevented -- this is what intelligence officials are trying to find out.

Hewitt said, "Terrorists who operate as lone wolves -- if they don't have a previous record, and are under no surveillance -- are virtually impossible to find."

At issue, is lone wolf or not -- one of these young men had come under suspicion but somehow bluffed the FBI.

The "what ifs" are hard to contemplate, as had Tamerlan Tsarnaev somehow tripped up and revealed to the Russian Security Service; the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security or the Transportation Security Administration, his evolving intentions to launch an attack -- history would be far different.

Sadly, it is not.


(T.K. Malory was a business editor for UPI until 2008. He is the MENA correspondent for Marcopolis.net, an English language business newswire. His most recent project is Faces of the Economy: Lebanon (http://www.marcopolis.net/faces-of-lebanon.htm ) Contact: tkmaloy@gmail.com.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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