January 16, 2015

TSG IntelBrief: The Known Wolves of Terror

 • Recent high-profile terrorist attacks have been conducted not by random unknown individuals but rather by individuals with well-known patterns of violent extremist or criminal behavior and connections

• That these individuals were on the radar of both local law enforcement as well as intelligence services and still able to conduct their respective attacks highlights the difficulties of detecting and then deterring extremists that operate on the edge of permissible behavior

• Another issue is determining whether and when an individual with an extensive criminal background or history of violent mental illness might merge his or her personal tendencies with the larger violent extremist ideology of bin Ladinism

• As with conventional crime, a small percentage of repeat actors tend to conduct the most and the worst terrorist attacks, which helps drain the pool of potential terrorist actors to a more manageable number—though it doesn’t rule out devastating actions by truly unknown people

• The January 15 counterterrorism raids by Belgian authorities may represent a successful example of where detecting and mapping an extremist network leads to disruption and prevention.