Lone wolf attacks

  • Category
    Security
  • Published
    1st Oct, 2019

Issue

Context

Masood Azhar is heard in a recent audio clip exhorting ‘Kashmiri’ youngsters to do their religious duty by rising up against India’s move to abrogate Article 370. Pakistan knows that turning Kashmir into a ‘religious’ war will attract terrorists and lone wolf attackers.

Background

  • A lone wolf attack is undertaken by a very small group or an individual in support of a larger cause, but without the overall supervision or support of a terrorist organisation.
  • The potential for such attacks in various parts of the world is evident from the call given by the Islamic State (IS) encouraging its supporters and sympathisers, who are not formally enlisted cadres, to undertake lone wolf strikes.
  • India has remained free of the phenomenon until now. This situation could, however, change as is indicated by some distinct shifts in the nature of the terrorist challenge confronting the country.
  • The IS has attempted to exploit the chasms in society as a result of perceived religious persecution. This is accompanied by articulate, strong, reasoned and clear messages which draw the youth away from the chaos and inherent fragility of modern societies. While India has not experienced a lone wolf terrorist strike, there have been cases of recruitment for propagating the IS ideology and participating in the on-going conflict in Syria.
  • Thus it is a matter of time before they find recruits willing to employ violence in India itself.

Analysis

Challenges to Undertaking Lone Wolf Attacks in India

  • Unlike in the US where sophisticated weapons can be easily bought by ordinary citizens, gaining access to such weaponry in India is difficult as is the ability to obtain licenses. Only low quality country-made weapons are available in India and these are not ideally suited for lone wolf attacks.
  • Indians have not displayed the psychological willingness to undertake high risk attacks.
  • Over a period of time, the deployment of private security at high value targets like malls, hotels and schools has been upgraded, which acts as a deterrent to an individual aiming to target them.
  • The absence of past examples of lone wolf attacks in India inculcates the fear of the unknown in the minds of potential volunteers.

India’s vulnerabilities

  • Police lack capacities that are necessary for undertaking clinical operations to limit potential damage.
  • Heavy concentration of people in public areas offers a large number of potential targets. While some installations have utilised the limited protection offered by private security measures, a large number of public places continue to remain vulnerable.
  • A fast growing population, especially youth with access to mass media and social media are easy targets for radicalization.
  • False unrestrained propaganda suggesting an increasing level of tolerance and communal tension tends to raise alarm especially amongst vulnerable sections and minorities, who then can be easily radicalized.

Reasons for rising such lone wolfs terror threats across the globe

  • Perception of ‘Global Terrorism’ has undergone a massive makeover with the expansion of violent armed terror groups beyond the Middle East to South Asia and African continent.
  • State support has granted terrorist groups access to resources, guidance and logistics, and providing sponsorship and safe havens have further played a major role in the phenomenal growth of global terrorism.
  • State-of-the-art communication systems are available to the terrorist which is at times better than the ones being used by the counter-terrorist agencies.
  • Access to advanced technology including cyber-space, Internet, electronic mail, etc. has provided terrorist groups with a global communication system
  • The new face of global terrorism can be most vividly seen in the dramatic change and growth in its infrastructure. The terrorist movement has come a long way from selective recruitment in secret cells to mass recruitment.
  • The source of recruitment and training is no longer confined to the affected areas but spans the entire globe, with a phenomenal up gradation of weaponry. Funds and finance channels are no longer confined to resources locally mobilized through individual contributions, extortion and crime.
  • Another relatively new dimension is the networking of terrorist groups with the criminal underworld including organized crime gangs, gunrunners, smugglers, drug peddlers, with hawala and parallel banking channels being used for ensuring global flows of finance.

Steps taken by India to counter this menace

  • India has taken steps for setting up of Joint Working Groups (JWGs) on counter-terrorism/security matters with key countries.
  • Bilateral treaties on Mutual Legal Assistance (MLATs) in Criminal matters to facilitate investigation, collection of evidence, transfer of witnesses, location & action against proceeds of crime etc. have been signed with other countries.
  • It has identified several key areas and allocated enough budgetary resources to address this issue.
  • It has boosted the security-related infrastructure at the border management by launching new schemes, and has been able to successfully minimize cross-border-infiltration.
  • Substantial funds to the police modernisation programmes have been allocated all over the country with a view to ensure quick and better response mechanisms.
  • It has raised Regional Hubs of NSG battalions in important strategic locations, to meet any unforeseen challenges.
  • Demonetization was introduced and raids were conducted by Security Agencies to choke the funding patterns of various terrorists’ outfits and effectively curbed the expansionist designs of these outfits.
  • A new Division in the Home Ministry has been created exclusively to deal with Counter Terrorism.
  • Special projects such as Road Requirement Plan, improvement of Rail Connectivity, installation of Mobile Towers, improvement of education and health infrastructure, financial inclusion have been taken to promote development and thus curb the spread of terrorism.

Way forward

  • The approach must follow the sequence of awareness of the contagion, detection of potential and existing recruits and finally remedial action.
  • There is a need to focus attention on potential target groups through monitoring and infiltration of social media sites that are the principle source of radical propaganda.
  • Big data analytics must be used to discern the level of radicalisation of potential recruits, their networks and sources of information, funding and leadership in order to help unravel the roots of radicalisation.
  • The police and intelligence services are neither trained nor equipped to handle the vital aspect of rolling back radicalisation in society. Helplines should be created and manned by professional counsellors and psychologists who can help reverse the process as part of the efforts of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) supported by the state.
  • Need for regular revision and tightening of laws to ensure that the existing loopholes and gaps in legal mechanisms are not exploited to continue with propagation of radical ideologies.
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