In the wake of the barrage of terrorist attacks in the last month- many of them leveled against those observing the holy day of Ramadan- a question has arisen in the press room of the United Nations. Regarding the new, and incredibly deadly, trend of “lone wolf” attacks- actions taken by single individuals, or pairs, with no direct connection or communication to known and monitored networks- many have begun to ask why this has happened, and if there is anything that can be done to stop it.
It’s quite possible that the source of this new style of assault has stemmed from a change in the method of propaganda adopted by ISIS. Recent reports of campaigns launched by the terrorist organization have claimed that videos have been circulating showing images of dead and dying children, carrying the message for “soldiers” to defend and avenge the women and children, living in what the organization claims to be their rightful state, who have lost their lives. These videos have also shown children being trained and participating in violence and killings, as ISIS has turned heavily towards youth recruitment.
The fact that ISIS and many similar organizations have begun to ask for “retaliation” against unjust civilian deaths only makes more offensive tactics which they have been known to use, in which they use civilians as human shields to make strategic bases and arms stockpiles more difficult to attack. An organization which has been particularly offensive in doing so is Hezbollah- in reports from Southern Lebanon, as many as one in three civilian buildings have been converted into terror bases, most of which are strategically placed near hospitals, schools, and mosques.
This new method of appeals is divergent from videos which have surfaced in the past, calling for martyrs to defend the expansion of an Islamic caliphate, and the new style has proven to be successful and deadly. During the past holy month of Ramadan, extending from June 5th to July 5th, 393 terrorist attacks were executed in 16 different countries. The scale of this statistic could not ignored by members of counter-terrorism agencies and organizations across the world, and was addressed on Friday, July 22nd.
In a briefing given by John- Paul Laborde, Executive Director of the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), the question of what can possibly be done to stop individuals from undertaking such acts of violence was posed. The difficulty of this question was acknowledged by Mr. Laborde, who stated that the only way to truly prevent attacks from those who believe they are “soldiers avenging crimes against the State of ISIS” would be to destroy everything that the so called “state” is comprised of. “It’s a very difficult question… First of all, is to reduce to zero the territory of Daesh. Which means that the so called caliphate can no longer be a hope for anybody.” (Comment made at minute 24:15.) Only by completely destroying the hope for an ISIS- run state could these “lone wolfs” be dissuaded, Mr. Laborde explained. “We have to reduce to zero this territory, that’s for sure, because otherwise there will be always a hope to lead these terrorist attacks on the basis of one’s state, on the basis of an organization that has a territory.” (See Mr. Laborde’s full statement here; quote at minute 38:00.).
In response to La Voce di New York question regarding Da’esh using images of children killed by airstrikes as a means to inspire “revenge” attacks, Mr. Laborde stressed that the group does not defend those civilians to claim retaliation for them. Instead, the group uses whatever means available to propagate a “culture of death,” he said.
On the same topic, Boris Johnson, newly appointed Foreign Secretary for Great Britain, also commented later in the day during his inaugural visit to the United Nations, saying “We have to ask ourselves, what is going on- how the switch is being thrown in the minds of people and what the psychological processes are.”