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Friday, March 23, 2012

Does French Gunman Represent New ‘Lone Wolf’ Terrorist Threat?

This undated and unlocated frame grab provided shows Mohamed Merah, the suspect in the killing of 3 paratroopers, 3 children and a rabbi in recent days in France. (AP/France 2)

Even though French intelligence officials were aware of Mohammed Merah’s travels to Afghanistan and Pakistan and the fact that he was on the U.S. no fly watch list, they did not think he was dangerous, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said.

Merah was a French national of Algerian orgin and was the suspect in a spate of recent attacks– the killing of a rabbi and three Jewish students, and the deaths of three French paratroopers. He was killed by police after a 30-hour siege in Toulouse Thursday.

“He was interviewed by the equivalent of the FBI in France as recently as November. In fact when he was holding out against the police siege, the man who was talking to him was the same guy who had interviewed him in November.  But the police convinced themselves that he was really harmless,” journalist Chris Dickey told Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Lone Wolves, Not So Lonely

Merah claimed to be a follower of Al Qaeda, and journalist Christopher Dickey says he may represent a slippery new threat, a lone wolf, who are “not always so lonely.”

“Even if [Merah] isn’t directly part of the al Qaeda firmament it may not matter because, for Zawahiri looking at the news, he’s thinking, ‘They are listening to me vicariously, and this strategy works,'” Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University told Dickey for his article in The Daily Beast.

Dickey writes:

For all these reasons, the danger posed by this improvisational terrorism, even if it is carried out by only a very few individuals, can have a major impact on public confidence. “We see no reason to think the threat has diminished,” says [New York Police Commissioner Ray] Kelly. Yet this is also coming at a time when the public is increasingly skeptical about the measures law-enforcement agencies have taken over the last 10 years to penetrate and disrupt terrorist operations and mount lines of defense if some slip through.


  • Christopher Dickey, Paris bureau chief for Newsweek

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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