Shooting of two soldiers in Little Rock puts focus on 'lone wolf' Islamic extremists
Did alleged attacker Abdulhakid Mujahid Mohammed act on his own, or was he a trained jihadist?
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To be sure, potential lone wolves pose a major quandary for law enforcement. In this case, the FBI had launched a preliminary investigation into Mohammed and had even interviewed him in a Yemeni jail. But until a subject of inquiry makes connections with a broader cell or exhibits behavior that makes a violent act seem possible, the FBI is constrained by civil liberties laws from taking action.Skip to next paragraph
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An ongoing FBI inquiry will not just look at whether Mohammed became indoctrinated, but also whether the agency missed any important clues, including a reported gun violation in 2004. Reports also suggest that Mohammed had scoped potential targets – including a Jewish organization and a Baptist church in Atlanta.
"The lone-wolf attack theory has been around for a while, not just with Islamic terrorists, but right-wing terrorists," says Steven Emerson, author of "Jihad Inc." "But I think in this case the radicalization doesn't occur in a vacuum."
"In the jihadist realm, we're always going to have lone wolves," says Scott Stewart, an analyst at STRATFOR, a global intelligence company in Austin, Texas. "But the key in defeating jihadism is not killing operators, but to take out ideology, because ideology is far harder to counteract than individuals, and that's where the real war needs to be waged."
But the White House's shift in communication with the Muslim world could put the president at odds with the FBI's work domestically. While President Obama has been reaching out to Muslims, the FBI last year broke off relations with all local chapters of the controversial Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
"Obama was signaling [in his recent speech in Cairo] that he was going to oppose violent jihad, but not Islamists who were not pursuing violence," says Mr. Spencer at "Jihad Watch."
Yet to many American Muslims, the Obama administration needs to go even further in making peace with Muslims – and shouldn't be alienating them with brusque FBI tactics.
"People appreciate the president's speech in Cairo, but there is a major concern that there hasn't been any in-reach with the American Muslim community," says Dawud Wallid, director of CAIR's Michigan chapter. "There are people of various ethnicities and religions who have grievances against the government, and we would hope that the FBI would place proper focus on potential threats ... instead of giving the appearance that the Muslim community is public enemy No. 1."
But if the Mohammed case indicates anything, experts say, it's that the US still has a long way to go in thwarting the indoctrination of terrorists and their move to act out violent fantasies against American targets.
Mr. Phares at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies says the indoctrination force behind domestic terror cells and lone wolves "is not touched so far."
"Our debate in Washington is still way below the level of understanding the jihadist strategies," he says.