Rome— The assault by an American Muslim gunman on a Navy recruiting office that killed four Marines and a sailor once again has thrown attention on the “lone wolf” theory of terrorism, by which extremists carry out an assault without being a member of, or receiving orders from, a central organization like al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, aka ISIS.
The lone wolf theory doesn’t go far enough in explaining the similarities of such actions, be they carried out by Chattanooga killer Mohammed Abdulazeez, who shot dead four Marines, or in Garland, Texas last May during a botched gun attack on an anti-Muslim meeting, or in Paris, France, with the Charlie Hebdo killings. The attacks are grounded in a particular theory of jihad– Muslim holy war. Westerners may not be familiar with the ideas, but for those violently inclined, religious justification is only as far away as a web site available to all.
One common thread of the jihadists is adherence to the Salafi branch of Islam. Salafism contends that the earliest companions of the Prohpet Mohammed are the model for present day Muslims. Abdulazeez praises Salafis in his blog. He especially praises their commitment to holy war, or jihad. “Every one of them fought Jihad for the sake of Allah. Every one of them had to make sacrifices in their lives,” he wrote. “And that’s why they are considered to be the best generation that ever lived.”
Beyond the basic reference to a re-imagined 7th Century Islam, contemporary jihad theory, extolled by both al-Qaeda and ISIS, is that holy war can be undertaken wherever and whenever a single Muslim is willing to act. No caliph or sheikh or other authority is needed to order holy war. No organizational commands are required.
All that’s needed is belief that you are defending the religion or contributing to the goal of a world united under Islam. In this conception, an ‘insult’ to the Prophet Mohammed is an aggression against Islam and punishable by death. Every genuine Muslim has the right and duty to act as executioner.
A prime ideologue of this theory and practice of jihad is Abu Musab al-Suri, “Abu Musa the Syrian,” who in 2005 was in CIA custody in Pakistan, turned over to Syria and disappeared in 2011. Al-Suri rejects jihadist big-bang tactics, which emphasized spectacular acts of terror — the Sept. 11, 2001, bombings in New York and Washington being prime examples. Instead, he promotes small-scale attacks which, in the interconnected media world, can have outsized terrorizing impact. Beheadings on videos, the Charlie Hebdo murders, motorcycle drive-by shootings of police in Egypt all fit the bill.
Abdulazeez spent a few months in Jordan last year. It would not be hard to run into Salafi jihadists there. Jordan is crawling with home’grown radicals, not to mention Iraqis and Syrians. But for others, an introduction to such ideas need not come via face-to-face meetings, or even from preachers in a radical mosque. Access to Internet is enough.
Seemed that two years ago, he wanted to become a martyr.
Here’s an overview of al-Suri’s ideology and tactics.
Article by Hirsi Ali on the Texas attack.