OTTAWA (Reuters) - Al Qaeda’s new focus on “lone wolf” tactics is making it tough for Western intelligence agencies to prevent terror attacks, the head of Canada’s spy service said on Monday.
In a rare admission that al Qaeda’s switch to “individual jihad” was posing problems, the head of Canada’s spy service said lone wolves are tough to detect because they do not belong to a larger network that might attract attention.
“When you have an individual who doesn’t talk to anyone, you either need good luck - which happens sometimes - or for them to make a little mistake here and there,” Richard Fadden, head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told the Canadian Senate’s anti-terrorism committee.
He said al Qaeda had decided to urge solo campaigns because it was too difficult to launch major operations such as the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States.
Canada, along with spy agencies in the United States, France, Germany and Australia, is trying to develop a greater understanding of what motivates solo attackers.
“It’s not easy ... because these individuals seem to be a mix of terrorists and people who simply have very big personal problems. So it becomes very difficult to try to develop a doctrine, a series of operational capabilities, to deal with them. So to be honest, yes, it worries us,” said the top spy.
Fadden said one example of a lone wolf was Mohamed Merah, who killed seven people in France last month. Merah, who died in a gunfight with police, said he had been inspired by al Qaeda.
Predicting the number of solo attacks would increase, he said one of the main driving forces behind the new campaign was Inspire magazine, which bills itself as the publication of a Yemeni-based group called “al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula”.
The magazine - which once published an article entitled “Make a bomb in the kitchen of your mom” - gave very precise instructions as to how to inflict the most damage, he said.
“I must say that my colleagues in Britain, in Australia and the United States think the same thing - we are already seeing an increase in the number of people who are acting as individuals and that really makes our lives complicated,” Fadden said.
He later said one way to pick up lone wolves before they attacked was to pay very close attention to the Internet.
“Most of them in one shape way or other usually communicate on the Internet, they’re trying to find out something, they’re trying to connect in a non-operational way with other individuals who might share their views,” he told reporters.
“In our experience, and the experience of other countries, that’s the main way you can try and get a sense that somebody is going down the road to do something that’s unacceptable legally, so we need to monitor that to some degree.”
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Janet Guttsman