New Delhi, Jan 1, Two events in the last fortnight brought into sharp focus the changing threat perception on terrorism that global security forces are now grappling with -- lone-wolf attacks.
On December 19, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was shot dead in front of television cameras by Mevlut Mert Altintas, an off-duty Turkish riot policeman, who was protesting against Russian action in Syria. The same day, a man ploughed a lorry into a Christmas market crowd in Berlin leaving 12 dead.
The attacks were carried out by "lone-wolf" perpetrators or self-driven attackers without any organisational backing or affiliation.
The Berlin attack was the second one in which a truck had been used as a deadly weapon by an individual. On July 14, a person drove a truck into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, France, killing 86 people.
Four days later, an Afghan asylum seeker stabbed five people on a train near Würzburg, Germany. On July 24, a Syrian refugee blew himself up outside a music festival in the German city of Ansbach, wounding 15 people.
Individuals acting on their own, but inspired by a common religious ideology, have emerged as a new trend in extremist violence.
"Lone wolf attacks will continue as these are the easiest to execute and most difficult to monitor in terms of intelligence," Lt. Gen. (retd) Ata Hasnain, former commander of Srinagar-based 15 Corps and a leading expert on terrorism, told IANS.
The possibility of stopping any attack by any individual, who is not on the watch list of intelligence agencies and who does not use traditional weapons and explosives, is very low.
Although an angry German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said after the Berlin truck attack that the "unspeakable event will be severely punished", it's not an easy task. Often, the attacker is dead: There is no ring to be wound up or other members to be arrested or any conspiracy to be discovered.
Many of the lone-wolf attackers in Europe have expressed their allegiance to Daesh or Islamic State (IS) which has been using the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria to motivate Muslims across the world. The group, which has used extreme violence to shake up the Western world through its gruesome videos of beheadings, has encouraged young Muslims to carry out attacks in Europe through whatever means they can.
"Since most migrants from Syria to Europe and the US are Muslims, it is inevitable that they will carry some Islamist ideas that will come into conflict with the values of host countries," Tufail Ahmad, former BBC journalist and Executive Director of the Open Source Institute and an expert on extremist ideologies, told IANS.
"There is a risk that such migrants may be radicalised by Islamic clerics in European mosques or Arabic-language literature that they are able to read," Ahmad added.
Simultaneously, there has been a rise in radicalisation among the second-generation migrant Muslim population of Europe.
Extremism among migrants, says Lt. Gen. Hasnain, "will lead to a greater stand-off between the second/third generation migrants, whose parents arrived as workers, and the locals. The terror attacks have all been by these elements now under the influence of Daesh or IS and networked in a larger mesh of interest groups, all radically oriented."
Even if the Western world gives asylum or material benefits, "the anger and hatred towards Europe and the US can't be reduced. The Muslim world is of the opinion that Western powers have created designer states to create proxies and divide the Muslim world to suit their strategic interests," Brig. (retd) Narendra Kumar, another expert on counter-terrorism, told IANS.
His contention is that acts of terror in Europe were a way of taking "the battle to the European homeland and make the so-called evil empires pay for the crime the European powers have committed against Muslims, especially of West Asia". Efforts to integrate Muslim migrants have not fetched results, he adds.
The immigrant crisis in Europe has also given rise to a number of right-wing nationalist parties which are making substantial electoral gains and are demanding immigration control as well as restrictive movement across the border, which in turn ends up spreading Islamic radicalisation further.
Ahmad says European understanding of radical Islam or even Jihad is often flawed. "The common mistake made by the Western countries is that they think of religion and politics as two different things. (Muslims) are taught right from childhood to think of Islam as a complete way of life," he says.
"Islam," he adds, "is also a system of government that is now engaged in a conflict with democracy which is the accepted form of government for our age."
Even though radical Islamist ideas get a fillip from the war in in the Middle East, will these go away if peace were to return to the region?
"The problem of radicalism will remain in European cities where we are seeing the emergence of isolated enclaves of Muslim populations which live by their own Sharia-based legal system and do not approach the local police and legal authorities to resolve disputes between Muslims," Ahmad said.
Lt. Gen. Hasnain says that the solution to ending radicalisation lies within the larger Muslim community. "Unless the churning within Islam comes to rest through a final understanding between the various sects of Islam, and proxy games for political power end," it will continue.
The Islamic State, says Brig. Kumar, may be defeated and neutralised, but the entity as a terror organisation would continue to remain active for some time. "Rather, after the defeat of IS, it is likely to be more active since they have the reach of the European heartland now," he says, adding: "The worst is yet to come on both sides."