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Members of the FBI investigate the scene of Saturday's explosion in Manhattan Associated Press

Tom Clonan 2016 has become the year of the lone wolf attack carried out by angry young men

Unless we address the issues of gun control, male violence, rage and alienation, we will see more and more lone wolf attacks, writes Tom Clonan.

THE ARREST OF Ahmad Khan Rahami in Linden, New Jersey will no doubt further fuel Donald Trump’s calls for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Rahami is being investigated for his alleged involvement in the manufacture and planting of at least seven improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in New York City and neighbouring New Jersey at the weekend, which left 29 people injured.

The IEDs planted in the Chelsea district of New York City and at another location some four blocks away were both described as pressure cooker bombs containing ‘fragmentation material’, more commonly known as shrapnel. The same type of IED was used in the Boston Marathon bombing of April 2013, suggesting a possible copycat use. Sadly, with the advent of the internet, the instructions for constructing these simple, crude and deadly devices have become widely available.

What’s changed in these attacks? 

Previous Islamist terror attacks planned and executed by groups such as Al Qaeda were relatively sophisticated in terms of logistics, groups of personnel, weapons and training.  For example, the 9/11 attacks involved a sleeper cell of jihadists who took flight training classes and managed to hijack several aircraft simultaneously.  Despite the considerable challenges posed by such a level of coordination and action in a relatively secure environment, the 9/11 terrorists managed to hit both of the World Trade Centre buildings with passenger aircraft, generating the most iconic and terrifying images of the new century.

Other Islamist terrorist operations such as the 7/7 bombings in London in July 2005 also relied on a cell structure in order to carry out mass murder.  Islamic State have exploited the cell structure in order to carry out attacks, including the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris in January of last year and the Paris attacks in November 2015.  A similar cell structure was employed in the Brussels attacks in March of this year when a group of attackers carried out coordinated attacks on Zaventem Airport and the metro.

However, Islamic State has recently come under increasing pressure from air attacks by US and coalition aircraft, along with ground and air assaults by Assad regime forces backed by Russian assets.  Perhaps as a consequence, the primary operational doctrine of Islamic State in the US and EU appears to have mutated and evolved.  For western targets – whether they be in the United States, France or Germany – 2016 has increasingly become the year of the so-called ‘lone wolf’ terrorist attack.


The threat from Islamic State is mutating and evolving

In France alone this year, the murder of a police officer and his wife in their home in Magnanville in June and the killing of Fr Jacques Hamel in St Etienne du Rouvray were both carried out by lone wolf attackers with knives.  The slaughter of 86 men, women and children in Nice in July was also carried out by a lone wolf attacker who simply used a hired truck to mow down his victims.

In Germany, a series of attacks in July by lone wolves caused death and injury across the country.  In July, a 17-year-old Afghan youth attacked passengers on a train with knives and an axe near Wurzburg.  In the same month, a Syrian national carried out a suicide bombing at a music festival at Ansbach.  As Isis is increasingly harried in Iraq and Syria, its leaders and spokespersons have increased their calls for individual acts of terror in the west.

Islamic State has been specific: they have asked for even ‘the smallest action in their heartlands’.  As young men carry out these attacks in the name of Islamic State, the threat is mutating and evolving in ways that the security services – and media – are struggling to keep up with.

Islamic State are happy to claim responsibility 

However, there are troubling parallel developments.  In Germany for example, the Munich massacre, in which 9 adults and children were gunned down at a McDonalds in July, was perpetrated by a German-Iranian teenager who was not motivated by Islamic State.  Rather, he was motivated by the far-right views of Anders Breivik, who murdered dozens of young men and women in Norway in 2011.

Another lone wolf knife attack was carried out in Reutlingen in southern Germany in July, when a 21-year-old Syrian national murdered a 37-year-old Polish woman with a machete.  This attack would appear to have been motivated by rage, fragile male ego and sexual jealousy.  The victim was pregnant at the time.

In the current climate of fear and uncertainty, groups like Islamic State are happy to claim responsibility for many such attacks – some of which are simply acts of anger and hatred on the part of the perpetrators.  In the negative cycle of violence that ensues, right-wing groups are also quick to assign blame for all hate crimes to particular ethnic or religious groups.  The far right in France and Germany now routinely target young Muslims for particularly hostile scrutiny and violence.  The Trump campaign in the US has mobilised similar rhetoric against Mexicans and Muslims.  Ironically, this increase in ethnic and religious tension is a primary objective of Islamic State.

Isis hope for a ‘clash of cultures’ in western society in order to provide a twisted logic to their perverse ideology and call to arms. Unfortunately, the calculated hate speech of public figures like Trump and his fellow travellers in the far right, along with Islamist fascists such as ISIS, have made mass killing the punk rock statement of a generation of troubled young men who have no way of self-actualising in societies that have become grossly unequal and divided.

US citizens perpetrate 31% of the world’s mass shootings

In the US, the situation is even more febrile and potentially dangerous than in Europe.  Mass killings have become a unique characteristic of American society.  With only 5% of the global population, US citizens perpetrate 31% of the world’s mass shootings.  There have been over 90 mass shootings in the US since 1966.  The number of such massacres per annum has trebled since 2011.  According to the Harvard School of Public Health, there is a mass shooting in the United States every 64 days.

The attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June – where almost 50 LGBT men and women were slaughtered by Omar Mateen – was a classic example of an American mass shooting.  This act of hatred and mass murder was committed in the name of Islamic State and celebrated by them – whilst masking the true motivation and intention of the killer.

The attacks in New York for which Ahmad Khan Rahami has been arrested may simply be another example of that most American phenomenon – a mass killing perpetrated by an angry young man craving recognition, status and celebrity.  IS have not yet claimed responsibility for the attack.  However, Donald Trump has reached his own conclusions about Rahami and has stated that ‘people like these’ ought to be denied legal and medical support and receive ‘harsh punishments’.  It seems that in the post-factual world of our modern discourse, Muslims no longer enjoy the presumption of innocence and hate speech reigns.

In this climate, we will continue to produce thousands of angry young men. History tells us that conflict is precipitated by austerity, inequality and hatred.  Unless we address the complex issues of gun control, male violence, rage and alienation, we will see more and more lone wolf attacks.  Now, more than ever is a time for solidarity among all  communities, of all faiths and none, to bring an end to the current cycle of hate speech and violence.

Read more from Tom Clonan:

Thanks to Brexit, the fragile peace in Ireland is under threat 

What’s missing in the gangland crisis? The political will to solve it 

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