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Old 08-03-2016, 01:29   #2
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Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Washington
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Pt. 2

The nature of radicalization and operational planning in the digital age has complicated efforts to interpret and analyze attacks perpetrated by single individuals. Jihadists plotting murders in the West used to congregate in person, meeting in small groups in underground mosques, houses, or other discrete locations. Radicalization occurred through in-person contact. Counterterrorism officials looked for physical hubs of recruitment, tapping phones and scanning surveillance videos for evidence that cells were meeting.

But with the social media boom and the growth in encrypted communications, radicalization and operational planning can easily take place entirely online. ISIS has capitalized on evolving communications technologies, building cohesive online communities that foster a sense of “remote intimacy” and thus facilitate radicalization. The group has also established a team of “virtual planners” who use the Internet to identify recruits, and to coordinate and direct attacks, often without meeting the perpetrators in person. Junaid Hussain, a British ISIS operative who was killed in August 2015, played the role of virtual planner for the May 2015 strike against the Draw Muhammad contest in Garland, Texas. Hussain had communicated online with Elton Simpson before the attack and was the first to celebrate it on social media. It may take months—or longer—to detect the role of virtual planners in attacks.

The changing nature of operational planning underscores the need for a new paradigm for understanding the relationship between single attackers and networks. It no longer makes sense to apply pre-digital-age thinking to jihadist attacks perpetrated in the age of Twitter, Telegram, and end-to-end encryption.

Instead, it is useful to think of four categories of attacks, with descending connections to a network. The first category consists of operations in which the attacker was trained and dispatched by an organization. Reda Hame, who traveled to Syria and received weapons training from Abaaoud before being sent back to Europe, perfectly fits this mold. The second category is attackers in touch via social media with virtual planners such as Hussain, who help set targets, determine the timing of the attack, and provide technical assistance. The third category is operatives who are in contact with a militant group via online communications but do not receive specific instructions about carrying out an attack. Finally, the fourth category comprises the true lone wolves, individuals who strike without ever communicating with jihadist networks, either online or in person.

It is clear that extremely few of the jihadists labeled lone wolves truly fit that definition. As long as attacks are falsely categorized though, the world can’t even begin to fight back. We need a better model for understanding terrorism in the digital age.
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