The recent assaults that have struck the European cities show a strategic change in Islamist terrorism. Young Muslims, in some cases already known to the authorities, have acted in unexpected ways, using light weapons and improvised resources to maximize terror in public spaces. While some analysts have discovered a lessening degree in the severity of these attacks, the terrorists have succeeded in their primary intent: putting these countries in crisis-mode. The attacks up to now have been mostly vindicated by the Islamic State which, in serious apprehension on the Syrian/Iraq front, has opened a deceitful line of fire.

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The question is if ISIS really has operational control in every attack they claim, or, more likely, if they just assume responsibility and claim its ideological paternity. Whatever Daesh’s involvement, these episodes follow a similar strategy as described as “Lone Wolf” attacks.  This is not all that unique of a strategy, and they certainly aren’t exclusive to the Islamic State.

The rules of this modus operandi are not at all a novelty, but the strategy doesn’t belong to the Islamic State; it spawns from al-Qaeda.  In November 2005 in Quetta, a Pakistani Police raid led to the high-level arrest of a jihadist whose features distinguished him from the others Muslims — a thick red beard. His name? Mustafa Setmariam Nasar a.k.a. Abu Musab al-Suri. He was at the top of the wanted intelligence list and he had been identified as one of the bin Laden organization’s most merciless operatives. Of Syrian origin, Mustafa married an European, acquiring a Spanish citizenship and then moving into the suburbs of Neasden in London. After years of anonymity and silence, his name returned to the limelight after the July 2005 subway attack investigations — not as forehand assassin, but as an organizer and inspirer [1]. The al-Suri core curriculum was similar to that of many al-Qaeda’s activists: mujahideen in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and, from 1988, an old friendship with Osama bin Laden whose opinions diverged in regards to some strategic choices and doctrinal visions. For example al-Suri didn’t approve of the theatricality of the Saudi Sheikh, coming even to condemn the attack on the Twin Towers. On this point, al-Suri’s jihadist’ worldview coincided with that of another criminal, the Iraqi Abu Musab al-Zarqawi follower of the Palestinian Cleric, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi [2].

Once the Taliban regime collapsed, Abu-Musab went off the grid to devote himself to writing “The Global Islamic Resistance Call,” posted on jihadist websites in November, 2004. The 1600 pages compiled by the Syrian theorist represented a military abridged edition, motivated by the most extreme Salafist speculations on jihad: “who are primarily military strategists, and whose main preoccupation is political outcome, not doctrinal purity [3].”

Abu Musab al-Suri avoided the title of “cleric,” preferring to call himself “terrorism’s tactician,” whose interest aimed in perpetuating the jihad political outcome. Brynjar Lia, author of a biography devoted to the terrorist, has emphasized a conflict among the Salafist traditionalists school and al-Suri which — contrary to bin Laden’s pattern — didn’t care anything of the clerical legitimacy, judging it hostile and misleading: “Their clerics mislead the mujahidin and turned them away from the battlefield by preaching loyalty to corrupt rulers who had allied themselves with the infidels [4].”

Individual Terrorism

According to al-Suri’s thought, the former terrorist groups had substantially failed their mission, since they depended upon a hierarchical and centralized structure. From the beginning al-Qaeda had similar characteristics, altering them as a result of the war. Al-Suri suggested a more innovative model, based on “individual terrorism” and small operative cells. In the pages of his essay “The Global Islamic Resistance Call,” the author stresses the potential of these well-defined, “spontaneous” operations, apparently without connections to any centralized structure, and this strategy has “put the local and international intelligence apparatuses in a state of confusion [5].”