Omar Mateen, the shooter at the gay club, Pulse, who killed nearly 50 innocent civilians and injured an equal number, represents the latest example in the most recent trend in radical Islamic terrorism. As a self-radicalized American citizen, Mateen had pledged his allegiance to al-Nusra, the Boston bombers, Hezbollah, and ISIS, making it clear that he is little more than a loser wannabe jihadi who does not even understand the difference between these groups, most of which are diametrically opposed to one another. Calling 911 in the middle of his killing spree, he specifically stated that he was conducting the attack in the name of ISIS.
In what we could call “traditional terrorism,” jihadis are recruited and trained in a foreign country and then infiltrate into the target country to conduct their attack. An example of this would be the Mumbai siege, in which members of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) killed 164 people. A variation of this would be the 9/11 attacks, in which jihadis were recruited abroad, then sent to the United States to learn how to fly airplanes before executing their mission. These types of terrorist attacks are directed by a planning and leadership cell abroad. These attacks are time consuming and expensive for these groups to carry out.
By comparison, remote radicalism costs jihadi networks abroad absolutely nothing. In his recent book “Blood Year,” David Kilcullen coins the term “remote radicalism,” writing, “Most concerning was the emergence of self-radicalized terrorist-individuals acting alone against targets of opportunity, in self-organized, self-directed acts of violence” (Blood Year, 56). Kilcullen mentions Army psychiatrist-turned-mass shooter Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people at Fort Hood before being captured. He was radicalized and received direction from al-Qaeda leader Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen.
By the time Bin Laden was killed, there was strong evidence that self-radicalization was being replaced with “remote radicalization”-the exploitation of dramatically improved electronic communications systems, social media, and increasing access to mobile phones and the internet by terrorists who were able to spot, assess, develop, recruit, and then handle an operational asset from a distance” (Blood Year, 56).