COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – ‘Lone wolves’ have become all the rage in the public discourse on terrorism of late.
When you work in security intelligence focusing on counterterrorism the larger the cell you are investigating the better. More individuals means more potential human sources you can recruit (see this report that the leader of the far-right Proud Boys is alleged to have acted as an FBI informant). Failing that, it is easier to insert a human agent from the outside if the group is larger. Ditto surveillance and communications intercept.
If you are dealing with a lone individual this is harder. While it is true that no one is really an island, a terrorist with real intent to do something violent on his or her own presents a challenge from an investigational standpoint.
On the other hand, a capable individual can act in a way that flies under the radar of security and law enforcement efforts. This leads to a greater chance of success in whatever s/he is planning to do.
On this day in 2000 a lone actor tossed an incendiary device into the Russian embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, slightly injuring a diplomat named Boris Zhilko. The assailant was apprehended and claimed he carried out the act in retribution for Russian actions in Chechnya.
Russia has had ‘issues’ in the Caucasus for centuries. In recent years a number of terrorists and terrorist groups have arisen to punish Russia for its crackdowns on the region. The Copenhagen bomber appeared to be of that ilk. Thankfully, he was not a very good ‘lone wolf’.
NB I really hate the term ‘lone wolf’ and prefer lone actor. ‘Lone wolf’ has a romantic and heroic tinge to it and these people are anything but romantic heroes.