October 24, 2022No Comments

Ido Levy on ISIS vs Al Qaeda

Interviewers: Anna Lorenzini and John Devine.

Ido Levy talks about the deep conflict between ISIS and Al-Qaeda and its possible implications from a strategic point of view, the significance that they believe the West has within this scenario, and whether some recent events such as the war in Ukraine or the upcoming Israeli elections may affect terrorist activities. 

Ido Levy is an associate fellow working with the Washington Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program and a PhD student at American University’s School of International Service. His work focuses especially on Near East Policy on counterterrorism and military operations, particularly relating to jihadist groups.

October 5, 2022No Comments

Conversation with Stefano Piazza (Italiano)

A conversation with  Stefano Piazza on the capabilities of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State since the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri and future developments.

(Una conversazione con Stefano Piazza sulla condizione di Al-Qaeda e dello Stato Islamico dopo la morte di Ayman al-Zawahiri, e uno sguardo agli sviluppi futuri).

Interviewer: Francesco Bruno.

March 24, 2022No Comments

The Lesser Known Side of Al Qaeda’s Conventional Warfare: 055- Brigade

By: Francesco Bruno

As a member of the Armed Forces, I have recently become involved with battlefield studies where, as students of war, we aim to enrich our knowledge on a variety of topics to rediscover practices and knowledge that would sustain our fighting ability in the future. This process of active learning is also known as “Lessons learned” and can be conducted across military campaigns and battlefields They also allow for the exploration of a variety of dimensions, including tactics, movement of troops, objectives, targets, and how these dimensions impact the war in broader terms. Personally, I found these exercises extremely interesting and exciting. I, therefore, decided to conduct a Lessons Learned of al-Qaeda, especially of the 055 Brigade to demonstrate how this group of staunch fighters summarises al-Qaeda’s best traits and practices. It is one of al-Qaeda’s finest products and has become a forgotten dimension of al-Qaeda’s war in Afghanistan due to the much more famous and developed networking capabilities of the organisation. Why would this analysis be important? Gen. Erwin Rommel once said, “Sweat saves blood, blood saves lives, but brains saves both,”. Thus, by providing an alternative analysis of al-Qaeda’s conventional warfare capabilities, I aim to spark curiosity and interest in the practices, capabilities, and tactics of the 055 Brigade to learn from our enemy and gather lessons that we could implement in the future. Of course, I do not believe that this article will in any way provide a complete analysis of the Brigade due to the limited amount of information available, but, as Otto Von Bismarck said, “Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others”. Finally, to do the aforementioned, I will encompass three aspects: the nature of the brigade, its role and main functions, and finally its warfare capabilities. 

Carl von Clausewitz’s concept of the Centre of Gravity stated “no matter what the central feature of the enemy’s power may be—the point on which your efforts must converge—the defeat and destruction of his fighting force remains the best way to begin, and in every case will be a very significant feature of the campaign”. Al-Qaeda’s fighting force was composed of two main parts, the 055 Brigade or Lashkar-E-Zil and its extensive international network.[1] The 055 Brigade came to life in the aftermath of al-Qaeda’s relocation from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1998. It had a multinational fighting force between 500 and 5000, which experts argue was comparable to “Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards”. Some of the militants were veterans of the Soviet-Afghan War (1979 - 1989) while others were sent by a variety of regional and national jihadist groups including Uzbeks, Libyans, Saudi, Egyptians, Algerians, Sudanese, Chadi, Mauritanians, Somalians, Yemenites, Indonesians, Malaysians, and Uyghurs. The brigade was trained in a military base outside Kabul and became the conventional force of al-Qaeda reporting directly to Osama bin Laden and worked jointly as the backbone support for the Taliban forces across the country. 055 Brigade was therefore a multinational joint project which is often underestimated due to their lack of high-profile operations during the Afghan War between 2001 and 2003. However, their presence was felt in the campaign to capture Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, the battle for Bamiyan in 1999, the massacre of Shia population near Hazarajat in 2001, and in the battle for Tora Bora the same year. The head of the brigade was Jumaboi Ahmadjonovich Khodjiyev, known as Juma Namangani, an Uzbek with three decades of warfare experience and a very scarce public record.[2]

The 055 Brigade resembled al-Qaeda’s creative and unique approach to warfare. To explain this, the article will explore three functions of this formation. The first and most known function was to support the Taliban forces in conventional fighting by providing frontline support to the less experienced Taliban fighters. A key feature of the brigade was to provide critical morale boost to the Taliban troops demonstrating its ideological commitment and military expertise. It is indeed important to understand that the Taliban have never been a fully integrated group as many might think. Instead, they have historically been divided among smaller factions and splinters, often divided between staunch ideologically motivated and professional fighters and local grievance-motivated fighters. This second group was composed by inactive members working temporarily for the Taliban often being farmers or shepherds. Based on this distinction, the 055 Brigade constituted a backbone against defection. 

Secondly, the 055 Brigade defines al-Qaeda Organization’s unique chameleonic and elitist nature. The 055 Brigade was a conventional force using unconventional techniques mostly based on an arabicized version of British and U.S. special forces training methods. This is unique across terrorist organisations. The ability of an organisation, such as al Qaeda, to train, equip, and deploy a force of this nature and to employ it flexibly demonstrates its ability to mix creativity and warfare knowledge. Specifically, the variety of personalities and characters within the brigade is quite stunning. It included not only veterans of the Afghan-Soviet War, which were trained in guerrilla warfare including ambushes, sieges, raids, strongpoints, and urban combat, but also a new generation of fighters with a much better education and deeper loyalty towards al-Qaeda’s leader, Bin Laden. This coupled with their staunch ideological convictions and decisiveness in sacrificing themselves in the name of the cause made of them an extremely useful and powerful tool. 

In terms of operational capabilities and equipment, the 055 Brigade demonstrated its superiority by being better equipped and trained than the average Taliban soldier. They wore commercial night goggles, advanced Western sniper rifles with night sights, light spotter aircrafts, and utilise modern communication systems in addition to mortars, RPGs, machine guns, and AK-47s. The troops were involved in longer and more sophisticated training than what was provided by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan. The latter tied the brigade to fighting operations in Kashmir against the Indian Security forces. Whilst, the experience from the Soviet-Afghan War in al Qaeda’s 055 Brigade became evident in Operation Anaconda (2002). US and allied forces found themselves to fight asymmetric guerrilla fight, closely resembling the mujahidin’s skirmishes with Soviet heliborne Spetsnaz troops (Russian Special Forces) in the 1980s. Consequently, the fighters could operate in large and small groups as well as specialized mobile teams up to 3 to 4 people, granting them the mobility to transfer across multiple frontlines and regions of the country. In addition, they were given the chance to choose which path suited their career development. This included changing theatres of operations as well as deciding to commit martyrdom.[3] This last point highlights al-Qaeda’s ability to provide its members with a simple “Career Development Plan”, but very much in line with those provided by employees across western businesses, demonstrating a commitment to upskill the troops. 

Thirdly, the 055 Brigade’s flexibility and adaptability aligns with al-Qaeda Organization’s ability to optimise, remodel, and redeploy its forces and capabilities based on operational needs. It is clear that the 055 Brigade could not operate outside the region as an entity due to the lack of heavy equipment and transportation. However, al-Qaeda could count on another side of its fighting capabilities, the unconventional network of cells and partners around the globe. Al-Qaeda was at the time, and certainly continues to be, one of the most elite terrorist organisations across the globe. Their expertise in military tactics, administration, and logistics built on years of protracted conflicts has allowed the members to possess a certainly rare expertise and knowledge base. The 055 Brigade has been employed to provide specialist training and logistical support to al-Qaeda’s partners around the globe with the objective to initiate local jihadi revolts. The latter focused on providing leadership in technical, military, and administrative matters to al-Qaeda’s international partners. This was demonstrated by the use of such fighters in the expansion in Southeast Asia, where 055 Brigade members were routinely used to train local fighters across Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.[4]

Since 2002, the 055 Brigade has been renamed Lashkar-E-Zil and reformed in Pakistan as an auxiliary force of al-Qaeda to support a variety of local groups and the Taliban insurgency moving across border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It also continues to participate in the fighting in Kashmir. Some of the most devastating attacks committed by this brigade were under the direction of Mustafa Abu Yazid and Ilyas Kashmiri, who were both killed in 2011. Some of the most ferocious attacks include Major General Amir Faisal Alvi, the former commander of Special Services Group of the Pakistan Army, in November 2008, in Islamabad and the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Members of Laskar-E-Zil include former member of the Pakistani armed forces, veterans, and newly acquired members recruited from a variety of organisations and conflicts globally.

To conclude, despite Qaeda has never had the ability to field a conventional army in the purest sense, the internationalisation of the 055 Brigade, its mobility, adaptability, chameleonic nature coupled with employing highly advanced technology tools resemble al-Qaeda’s creativity, knowledge and highly adaptable nature as an organisation. The ability to acquire soldiers from over a dozen nations demonstrate its attractiveness and elitist nature. The staunch ideological commitment of the 055 Brigade fighters should be of clear interest as it demonstrates the commitment of al-Qaeda’s members to fulfil their mission and decisiveness in battle and in operations. The introduction of administrative and logistical practices built upon almost three decades of wars has enabled the organisation to provide its members with “Personal Development Plans”, providing them the flexibility to choose their role, career path, and development within the organisation while being paid for it. The ability to work in large as well as small, specialised groups resembling U.S. and British special forces demonstrates the ability of the organisation to remain at the forefront of warfare knowledge. The adaptability of these forces to become a multiplier  was exemplified by their ability to join and form cells to provide specialised training to a variety of global partners while adding that extra edge to the Taliban forces during the Taliban insurgency. All in all, the 055 Brigade demonstrated to be one of the finest products of al-Qaeda. This, in turn, shows how the organisation can hardly be seen as a relic of the past. 

[1] Rohan Gunaratna.2001. Inside al-Qaeda pp.58-60

[2] For more information on Juma Namangani please visit: http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e1214

[3] Gunaratna Inside al-Qaeda p.60

[4] Rohan Gunaratna.2001. Inside Al-Qaeda p.222

March 8, 2022No Comments

Maria Zuppello on Tropical Jihad in Latin America

Maria Zuppello talks about Jihad in Central and Latin America, with a particular focus on her book “Tropical Jihad. The crime-terror nexus in Latin America”. Maria Zuppello is a freelancer video journalist who has worked with The Guardian, AFP, AP, The Economist, RSI. 

In this session, Maria Zuppello shows the results of her research on tropical jihadism and presents the main arguments of her book “Tropical Jihad. The crime-terror nexus in Latin America”, foreword by Emanuele Ottolenghi. She investigates on the links between jihadist groups and narcotraffickers, as well as on the presence of al-Qaeda and Isis at the Triple Frontier shared by Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. 

Interviewers: Giovanni Giacalone, Marta Pace, Beatrice Tommasi

This is ITSS Verona Member Series Video Podcast by the Central and South America Team.

ITSS Verona - The International Team for the Study of Security Verona is a not-for-profit, apolitical, international cultural association dedicated to the study of international security, ranging from terrorism to climate change, from artificial intelligence to pandemics, from great power competition to energy security.

February 21, 2022No Comments

A Conversation with Giovanni Giacalone on Al Qaeda and Islamic State

Giovanni Giacalone has an MA in Islamic Studies from Trinity Saint David University of Wales and a further specialization in Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism-IICT. He is currently a senior analyst at the Europe desk for the UK-based think-tank Islamic Theology of Counter-Terrorism and for the Italian Team for Security, Terroristic Issues and Managing Emergencies-Itstime at the Catholic University of Milan. He was country-coordinator for the Globsec European project “From criminals to terrorists and back”, with the objective of analyzing the crime-terror nexus among jihadist foreign fighters. He is the author of several books and chapters on jihadism. He has lectured security managers, and law enforcers on Italian soil, and has testified in audition on security to the Italian parliament.

In this interview, Giovanni talks about the death of Al-Baghdadi, whether and how the death of Al-Qurayshi will affect ISIS operational capabilities, possibilities of defeating terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, the ISIS and Taliban threat on Europe.

Interviewers: Adelaide Martelli and Francesco Bruno.

October 26, 2021No Comments

The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) and the Threat it Poses to and from the New Afghanistan

Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/72ccNLMJ-sU

By Adelaide Martelli, Francesco Bruno, and Zachariah Parcels

Proceeding the culmination of the Taliban’s 20-year insurgency, complete withdrawal of NATO forces, and reinstatement of the Taliban’s repressive policies reminiscent of their harsh rule in the late 1990s, domestic actors have emerged to question the Taliban’s renewed governance. Amidst the frantic evacuations of foreigners and vulnerable Afghans, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP; aka ISIS-K) or Wilayat Khorasan emerged in our public consciousness with their horrific attack on 26 August at Kabul’s International Airport. This attack seemingly inaugurated ISKP’s ongoing suicide bombing campaign currently inflicting Afghanistan. ISKP appears to represent the most significant threat to the Taliban’s already teetering “domestic sovereignty” and internal integrity. Thus, to understand the potential security threats emanating to and from the new Afghanistan, it is essential to understand ISKP’s history, operational capabilities, and radical ideology. 

The Beginning of the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP)

ISKP was formed in 2014 by defecting Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP; Pakistani Taliban), Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Islam, and disenfranchised al Qaeda fighters active in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These defections were welcomed later by representatives from Iraq and Syria of the Islamic State (IS), corresponding with IS 2015 announcement of a “Khorasan” province. Among the TTP defectors were high ranked commanders previously active in Pakistan and its Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), including ISKP’s first wali (governor), Hafez Sayed Khan

Under Sayed Khan, ISKP successfully infiltrated Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar Province in 2015, conquering eight Taliban districts and displacing thousands who did not conform to the group’s apocalyptic ideology. According to Lushenko et al. (2019), contradicting the Taliban’s aspirations to “Talibanize” Afghanistan and effectively counteracting the latter’s opposition to government and coalition forces, acute disagreements between the two groups has resulted in increasing violence plaguing Afghanistan and bogging of Taliban forces. The looming expansionist threat of IS, at that time, caused coalition forces and Kabul to redirect resources to eradicate ISKP from Afghanistan. This campaignseemingly alleviated and unintentionally strengthened Afghan Taliban forces.

Under Khan, ISKP rapidly consolidated territory – predominantly from the Taliban. Albeit thousands of ground and air operations against ISKP by coalition and Afghan forces – including the deployment of the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) munition – fighting with the Taliban, and the death of Khan in 2016, ISKP continued to make gains. This includes ISKP nearly capturing the infamous Tora Bora cave complex from the Taliban in June 2017.

However, by 2017, Wilayat Khorasan (ISKP) had suffered heavy casualties, including the loss of three walis, half its fighters, and two-thirds of its territory. Notwithstanding, ISKP still maintained the capability to launch consecutive terrorist attacks in Kabul in 2017, predominantly against Shi’a mosques and cultural sites to spark sectarian divisions. Nevertheless, after a sustained campaign, ISKP surrendered to the Taliban in the summer of 2018. Though, Taliban-IS relations reportedly have not been fully hostile, as parts of the Haqqani Network have coordinated with ISKP. ISKP faced further setbacks in 2019 when more than 600 fighters surrendered to Afghan forces. 

These setbacks drove the Islamic State (IS) Core to make internal transformations. IS founded new provinces in India and Pakistan in May 2019, territory formerly under ISKP’s purview; and, in June 2020, appointed the zealous Shahab al-Muhajir – who was previously associated with the Haqqani Network and planned urban attacks in Kabul for ISKP – as ISKP’s new wali, as the incumbent Aslam Farooqi was captured. 

ISKP’s Contemporary Operational Capabilities

Contemporarily, the organisation can count on a number of foreign fighters who have been smuggled into the country. The organisation has a strength of between 2000 and 4000 fighters spread across the provinces of Kabul, Nangahar, Kunar, Jowzjan, Paktia, Kunduz, and Herat, areas in which the organisation has claimed attacks.

Though when analysing ISKP’s current capabilities and operational organisation, it is possible to argue that ISKP is going towards a period development and readjustment due to Afghanistan’s changing landscape amidst the withdrawal of the US-led coalition. These changes can be both an opportunity and a risk for the organisation. Until 2020 (and illustrated above), ISKP was threatened by the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the US-led coalition, and the now-defunct Afghan government. By a tacit consensus, the three were able to repress the group and dislodge it from their main areas of influence which worked as a catalytic for fundraising

Since the US withdrawal and the Taliban takeover, the landscape has profoundly changed. There are two key elements to consider. First, Afghanistan remains one of the most prominent theatres of jihad, disproportionately increasing the number of foreign fighters moving to the country. For instance, al-Qaeda has encouraged its members to relocate to Afghanistan from Syria and Iraq, while IS has smuggled key leaders into the country. Secondly, the power and security vacuum left will consequently cause instability that ISKP aims to capitalise on. This has resulted in an increased number of attacks since the beginning of 2021. ISKP conducted 77 attacks only in the first 4 months of the year, with the most known being the attack at the airport in Kabul, which killed 170 civilians and 13 US Marines. Similarly, it is unclear if the Taliban will be able to stabilise the country and provide basic necessities to the population. This instability provides ISKP with an opportunity to gain more traction among the population, gain more recruits in their fight against the Taliban, and plan new international attacks from Afghanistan – as they have done until recently.

ISKP’s Ideological Threat

Islamic State Khorasan Province’s (ISKP’s) security threat – both to the Taliban’s governance and internal integrity and to the international community – is not only manifested in their capabilities but also their ideology. ISKP is a Salafi-jihadistmovement whose goal is to establish a global Caliphate through armed struggle. With this purpose, ISKP follows the teaching of two Salafi scholars, Ibn Taymiyyah and Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahab, who supported purist visions of Islam and the necessity of Sharia lawTakfiri strategy is their modus operandi that, similarly to other jihadist groups, allows them to kill all those Muslims declared as kafir, meaning “apostate”. Not accepting their same extremist ideology is enough to be labelled as such. Considering this, ISKP rejects the Taliban government and its rules.

ISKP has a transnational and all-encompassing goal, unlike the Taliban which they consider as a “nationalist movement” with an “impure” ideology. The latter is a pivotal factor when considering its success over the larger audience. This group does not only focus on the region – the “Near Enemy” – but adopts a global jihad mentality in which the West is seen as an urgent target to destroy. Another difference with the Taliban, which is consequential to the first, relies on its relationship with the United States (US). ISKP has always condemned the presence of this foreign power on Afghan territory while the 2020 US-Taliban peace deal represented a huge occasion for this faction to delegitimise its counterpart.

ISKP is a threat not only to the Taliban’s renewed governance in Afghanistan but its internal integrity. ISKP is very effective in winning the “hearts and minds” of its followers because of a variety factors. Furthermore, it takes advantage of the fractures inside other jihadist groups, awards compensations to its followers, and employs several platforms to spread its propaganda, such as through Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, and its radio channel, “The Voice of the Khilafat”. These virtual channels are fundamental when waging global jihad, they are the main, and sometimes also the only means to incite and attract recruiters abroad

July 5, 2021No Comments

A Comparative Perspective of women and children under ISIS and Al-Qaeda: A Conversation with Cecilia Polizzi.

ITSS Verona's Extremism, Crime and Terrorism group interviews Cecilia Polizzi, President, Founder & Executive Director of the CRTG Working Group, the only existing I/NGO dedicated to protect children affected by terrorism and member of the ITSS Verona Scientific Expert Committee. Ms. Polizzi talks about the plight of women and children under ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Interviewing Team: Adelaide Martelli & Francesco Bruno.

June 7, 202110 Comments

How lonely are the “Lone wolves”?

By: Adelaide Martelli, Francesco Bruno and Shahin Modarres.

Regardless of how violent, inhuman, and detestable terrorism is, it is a social phenomenon. Hence, like other social phenomena, it is a dynamic body that undergoes changes and transforms to adapt to the constantly changing socio-political sphere in different parts of the world. After the major paradigm shift of terrorist organizations from vertical structures to horizontal ones, the third wave of terror attacks was formed based on individuals carrying out terrorist attacks. These individuals are known by the colloquial "lone wolf" and they represent a growing concern due to the complexity of detecting them.

The term "lone wolf" has opened the stage for controversy in defining it. The basis of this controversy mostly manoeuvres on either if the individual radicalized and carried out the event like the famous case of Ted Kaczynski, or he/she has radicalized as the result of an agent-based mechanism of socialization. According to Prof. Mark Hamm, the distinction that differentiates the "lone wolf" phenomenon is based on the executive phase of a terrorist attack. "lone wolf" is the individual who might have been radicalized as the result of group socialization or self-indoctrination but acts alone. Prof. Peter Neumann adds: "a lone wolf is not necessarily a member of a terrorist organization but an individual who has an affinity with them".

In this article, we will discuss two cases of "lone wolf" terrorism to show both the executive phase of "lone actor" and pre-attack radicalization. It is important to recognize that even though the final act in lone wolf terrorism is performed as a solo, it is not an individual effort that has led to that moment. Many lone actors have received logistic and material support from terrorist cells, including explosives and instructions to build devices, safe passes, and even safe homes for the post-op phase (Schuurman, 2017).

Besides the operational level in the case of Younes Tsouli, we will see the importance of "lone actor" radicalization and recruitment on online platforms. And in the case of Mohammed Bouyeri, we will discuss how the term "Lone wolf" can overstate the degree of isolation these individuals go through.

Case of Younes Tsouli

It has sparked a controversial debate on the nature of the “Lone Wolf” as an individual with a focus on both psychological and personality factors, and external in terms of environment, friendships, and family ties. This part of the paper in relation to “Lone Wolves” will be using a different theoretical approach argued by Marc Sageman in Leaderless Jihad and characterized by the development of a new environment and processes of radicalization primarily based on the Internet. The importance here is the interaction between members on online portals and forums accessible exclusively by invitation, where complete anonymized strangers interact expressing their views on their hopes for Islam. What is interesting in this case is the fact that such forums provide a community for these individuals to interact with each other “this mutual sharing makes them feel even closer to each other in a virtual process similar to the one previously described as in-group love with face-to-face interactions. This provides them with a sense of belonging to a greater community on the basis of what they have in common, Islam” (Sageman, 2008). This perspective provides an alternative view on Lone Wolf, as this article argues, it is possible to define as “Lone Wolf” someone who acts are characterized by “lone” actions, but in reality, there is a variety of social interactions which made such cases less “lonely”.

The example that will be used to shed some light on the action of a Lone Wolf is the case of Younes Tsouli, also called Terrorist 007, and the “most wanted cyber-jihadist” according to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). He began by appearing on websites such as “Islamic Terrorists” where he came across as an agitator, following that in 2004, he began to reach popularity as an expert cyber-jihadists providing not only terrorist material to online forums where he could directly radicalize youths, but he also was able to provide inside of US military bases in Iraq. More importantly, Younes was able to become a pillar for Al-Qaeda’s propaganda in Britain, despite, as the judge at his trial pointed out that he never himself came close to a firearm or committed a crime physically according to ACPO. His role alone had indirectly created a space for jihadist propaganda gaining support by the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Musab Al-Zarqawi facilitating the contacts across thousands of “lone wolves” across the globe (Jacobson, 2010). Therefore, to answer the question, are “Lone” wolves really lonely? They are not as demonstrated by the case of Younis Tsouli.

Case of Mohammed Bouyeri

The case of Mohammed Bouyeri, the 2006 Amsterdam attacker who killed Theo Van Gogh, is peculiar to analyze lone wolves’ networks during their radicalization and plotting process. He is considered as the first European Islamic lone wolf (Zogno, 2018), and, contrarily to what is generally thought, he was not so detached from social interactions. Bouyeri was born in Holland to Moroccan parents, and reportedly both he and his family were well integrated into the Dutch Community (Nesser, 2005)

Thanks to the documents retrieved from his computer after his arrest we have information regarding his radicalization and indoctrination processes (Sageman, 2008). In 2001 he went to prison, and there he started reading the Quran, which may be suggested by other prisoners, faith became his light during this dark period (Peters, 2016). The second event that influenced him towards a stricter interpretation of Islam was the death of his sick mother, since then he appeared increasingly isolated from the larger society (Cottee, 2014).

However, the biggest turning point was in 2003 as a consequence of two major events: Firstly, Dutch authorities refused Bouyeri’s proposal to open a youth club for immigrants; secondly, he entrenched a tight relationship with the fundamentalist Imam Abou Khaled (Nesser, 2012). Bouyeri started attending the meeting held by Abou Khaled, where he learned how to conduct his life following Sharia law so that he completely changed his previous lifestyle (Peters, 2016). Not only, but he also met several like-minded people with whom he established the Dutch Islamist group called the Hofstadgroup (Adjiembaks, 2016). Except for the people inside his network, he was very isolated from the larger society and he used to spend his time writing and disseminating extremist beliefs online (Kaplan et al., 2017;De Koning, 2013). In this period, he changed his name to Abu Zubair, in memory of the homonymous Al-Qaeda commander. 

The triggering event before the attack was the documentary “Submission” produced by Theo Van Gogh and Hirsi Ali in 2004, perceived by him and many other Muslims as offensive to Islam (Peters, 2016). Simultaneously, Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) promoted a campaign in favor of kidnapping and decapitation, that apparently influenced Bouyeri’s attack plan (Nesser, 2012) . In fact, on the 2nd of November 2004 Mohammed Bouyeri, alias Abu Zubair, shot Theo Van Gogh eight times, tried to behead him, and then pinned on him with a knife an Open letter against Hirsi Ali (Nesser, 2012; De Koning, 2013) . Shortly after the attack, Bouyeri was arrested and sentenced to life in prison (Finseraas et al., 2011)

Both mentioned cases show an inpatient process of labeling these terrorist actors as with the term "Lone wolf". Mostly these actors have interpersonal, ideological, and operational ties to larger groups. (Gartenstein-Ross, 2017) Thinking of them as isolated individuals can develop conceptual confusion. The reason behind their solo act in some cases usually roots from a sense of secrecy and fear of being trapped into leakage behavior. A considerable number of these actors have expressed violent intention across the border of human norms, long before executing their plans. Their posts and socialization have been a clear cry for attention months and even years before the planning phase. (Gill, Horgan, and Deckert, 2020) This behavior, known as the "leakage behavior" has been a tremendous help for intelligence agencies and counter-terrorism professionals to detect them and surveil their activities. (Meloy and O'Toole, 2011) In some cases, the main reason behind acting alone has been their incapability of recruiting other members to the potential terrorist cell that they had in mind.As the result of a cost-benefit estimation, certain actors during recent years showed more tendency to cut their ties and communication from their niche in order to secure the required secrecy needed for the optimization of their plans. These actors preferred to reduce their vulnerability towards detection and infiltration by cutting ties with other members and their cells before executing their plans. (Bakker and De Graaf, 2012) Both elements of detection and infiltration have successfully neutralized many terrorist plots in advance and this has become a warning for more skill-developed actors to isolate themselves from their peers while planning a terrorist plot and later during the execution phase. This of course does not mean that all these actors were originally isolated individuals with anti-social behavior by their choice of acting alone was indeed the result of a strategic decision-making process. 

This article has been rectified on June 9th, 2021. Younes Tsouli has already served his sentence.