French gunman the latest of Europe's troubling 'lone wolves'
President Sarkozy said the Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah acted on his own, highlighting Europe's struggle to curb the radicalization of Muslim youths.
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The challenge has been avoiding the perception that they are using members of the community to spy on Muslim youth and to curb the radical messages of virtual terror networks and social groups without infringing on basic freedoms or enraging them further. When the international community took aggressive measures to combat terrorist cells after 9-11 – closing radical mosques, arresting militant clerics, and shutting down insurgent training camps – Al Qaeda and similar groups used the Internet to call on their sympathizers in the West to carry out attacks on their own initiative.Skip to next paragraph
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The rise of radical websites, which previous "lone wolves" cited as sources for inspiration, has led to calls for more monitoring of both websites and Islamist groups, but de Graaf says that could be counterproductive.
"You cannot prevent people watching radical websites," de Graaf says. "And do you want to control every one on the planet who travels to Pakistan?"
In January, French officials outlawed Forsane Alizza ("Knights of Glory"), the Islamic group Mohammed Merah had connections with, saying it played a role in encouraging French Muslims on the path to radicalism, notably through its Facebook wall.
Such groups act as an "antechamber" to terrorism. "They don’t directly take part, but they contribute to an individual moving to the next step toward terrorism," says Gohel of the Asia Pacific Foundation, a London-based counterterrorism think tank.
One of the key challenges for government monitors is the lack of a clear-cut profile of the lone wolf.
* Merah, the Algerian-born shooter in Toulouse, loved motorbikes and nightclubs. French authorities say he first started reading the Quran during an 18-month-stint in jail, where he was serving a sentence for theft in his late teens. He spent two months in Pakistan and was under surveillance by the Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence (DCRI). He told police he killed for three reasons: to avenge Palestinian children, to punish France for its ban on the burqa for Muslim women, and for sending troops to Afthanistan.
* Roshonara Choudhry, a Kings College London student of Bangladeshi origin, was a model student before becoming the first Briton inspired by Al Qaeda to try to assassinate a prominent figure – in this case, member of parliament Stephen Timms – on British soil. Experts say she had had no contacts with jihadists or Islamist organizations, but she had downloaded hundreds of hours of speeches and sermons from radical Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
* Arid Uka, who killed two US soldiers at the Frankfort airport last year, was a German success story. An ethnic Albanian and devout Muslim, he won an award for an anti-violence project at his Frankfurt school. But he grew radicalized after an online propaganda video showing US soldiers raping women. His Facebook wall had links to a jihadist fighting song. In a comment on a friend’s post, he mentioned the “miserable kuffar“ (infidels).
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