NewsCrime Desk

Lone wolf terrorists spreading across the globe like wildfire

The truck used to mow down innocent people during the Nice attack sits peppered in bullet holes in the aftermath of the tragedy
The truck used to mow down innocent people during the Nice attack sits peppered in bullet holes in the aftermath of the tragedy

THEY are the most complex of murderers, the hardest to thwart, and, according to one expert – undoubtedly already in our midst.

It has been the bloody year of the lone wolf terrorist and the mass copycat killer.

Whether driven by the twisted anti-western bloodlust of ISIS, or their private mental hell, they have spread like a virus across 2016.

In the wake of the execution of Catholic priest Fr Jacques Hamel as he said Mass this week by a teenager who had tried but failed to join ISIS in Syria, the terror group took to social media to spread its terror brand in what is now a familiar propaganda technique.

Fr Jacques Hamel 

It posted pictures of the great cities of the west and warned London, Washington and New York would be next. These tactics aim to spread fear, and also reach out to the next lone wolf.

The alarming rise of so-called lone wolf attacks around the globe has sparked fears that it is only a matter of time before Ireland is targeted.

While the world has become used to members of terror organisations committing atrocities, it has become clear in recent weeks that individuals acting alone, many of whom have mental health difficulties, can cause just as much damage and are extremely difficult to thwart.

This month alone, hundreds of people have been killed or injured in attacks in Nice, Munich, Berlin, Reutlingen, Ansbach, Wurzburg, Normandy, Dallas and Japan – many of which were lone-wolf attacks.

The method of attacks varied from running people down in a truck, shootings and bombings, to a machete attack, an axe attack and stabbings.

The suspected motives behind the attacks also varied – from the Munich attacker being bullied, the Ansbach bomber being refused asylum, the Japanese killer believing disabled people should be killed and the Dallas shooter, Gavin Eugene Long, having a gripe with the police.

In several cases, like Nice and Normandy, the killers pledged allegiance to ISIS, but in the majority of the attacks the perpetrators acted alone and had no links to any terror groups.

Terrible scenes following the NIce attacks

And in most, the targets are not soldiers or police. Instead, citizens and tourists have become the new frontline in a war on freedom.

But could it happen here? 

While justice minister Frances Fitzgerald describes the risk as low, criminologist and forensic psychologist John O’Keefe says that lone-wolf attackers are undoubtedly the most complex of killers. They commit their horrendous crimes for a variety of reasons.

“Regardless, all these killers have one thing in common. They are all suffering from a serious mental health disorder,” said O’Keefe.

He said the same cannot be said of those who kill directly on behalf of ISIS. He admits that while some may have mental health issues, many others are effectively groomed to become terrorists. 

Such terrorists may have been turned into killing machines by a political message, but could once more feel remorse, according to O’Keefe. 

“No such analysis lies with lone-wolf attackers. These will all be mentally compromised young men who, separately, may also have low intelligence levels. To them, it will often be the violence alone that encourages them to commit their bloody deeds – they are entirely biddable and are classic copycat killers.”

Irish Army Rangers are trained to respond to such attacks

In several recent cases, even those who claim to have carried out attacks on behalf of ISIS had no previous links to the terror group and have lived lives at odds with the ideology of Islamic fundamentalism.

“They see ISIS murdering huge swathes of people and wish to join them – not their cause, but their bloody path.

“They kill people for the sheer enjoyment of so doing.”

There are several examples in recent years of lone-wolf attackers, such as far-right terrorist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people and injured 319 in attacks in Norway five years ago.

In June, Omar Mateen (29), killed 49 people and wounded 53 in an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was the worst mass shooting in recent US history. In a 911 call he pledged allegiance to ISIS, but he had no links with the group.

Omar Mateen

Last Friday, on the fifth anniversary of the Norwegian murders, student Ali David Sonboly (18), killed nine people in a gun attack in Munich, apparently inspired by Brevik. 

Ali David Sonboly

A study of 5,646 terror attacks carried out between 1968 and 2010 found that just 72 of them were committed by lone wolves, a rate of around 1.5 per year.

However, the frequency at which they are now being carried out – at least six this month alone – is causing serious alarm, and experts believe a copycat phenomenon is at play.

O’Keefe feels that lone-wolf attackers are even more dangerous than ISIS members and many claim to support the group out of convenience.

“They may occasionally use convenient political news stories in which to justify their violence, but forensic examination afterwards will reveal a bloodlust – pure and simple.”

O’Keefe fears it is only a matter of time before Ireland falls victim to such an attack,

“Welcome to the new world of copycat killers, where everyone and anyone is a potential hit – including any of us living in Ireland. We are now a country where such copycat killers are undoubtedly waiting to wreak havoc.”