Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Defeating Lone-Wolf Terrorism

Defeating Lone-Wolf Terrorism

After the shooting in Copenhagen, police found a recording that made its way to the BBC.  The recording tells the story of our times. In it, a woman is talking about the virtues of free speech, even unpopular or impolite speech that challenges strict forms of Islam, when she is interrupted (cinematically) by the sound of gun shots. The last sound we hear is the clatter of chairs and shoes, the din of the free speech crowd fleeing for the exits.

The attack may have been the handiwork of a “lone wolf,” but it is part of larger, more frightening pattern. Last month in Paris, a different set of “lone wolves”attacked the same symbolic targets: vocal defenders of free speech and the Jewish community. That’s what the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks in Paris have in common with the free-speech conference and Jewish community center in Copenhagen. This is frightening because nearly every major city in the world contains these symbolic targets, and because it suggests that “lone wolves” can be inspired by a contagious ideology that moves through the Internet.

Yes, we must balance our efforts to fight back with the values of freedom and privacy. But European and Arab nations should freely share information about airline passengers. Terrorism is transnational and threatens all countries, without exception. Absent such cooperation, which is largely lacking today, more innocents will die. It is time to be honest about the alleged violations of privacy involved. Why should airlines and government not share information that passengers freely provide to travel agents and online booking services?

There are other quaint restrictions on counterterrorism cooperation. Al Qaeda leaders live openly in Europe while their host countries too often refuse to hand them over because they are dual nationals. Take the case Mohamed El Guerbouzi, who used his London base to run a jihadist network in Morocco. Now he has moved to Iraq to plot his next attacks, perhaps against the very Britons that once gave him a passport and shelter. If Britain had turned over El Guerbouzi when it was in their power to do so, many lives could have been saved. Ah, say the civil libertarians, but that would have violated his “rights.”

These inconsistencies—between violating the legal rights of confessed terrorists and preserving the lives of the rights of peaceful noncombatants—are…

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