Yesterday, President Obama was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer of CNN. Blitzer asked Obama if he thought al Qaeda would attack the United States in revenge for killing Osama bin Laden. Here is part of what Obama said:
The biggest concern we have right now is not the launching of a major terrorist operation, although that risk is always there, the risk that we’re especially concerned over right now is the lone wolf terrorist, somebody with a single weapon being able to carry out wide-scale massacres of the sort that we saw in Norway recently. You know, when you’ve got one person who is deranged or driven by a hateful ideology, they can do a lot of damage, and it’s a lot harder to trace those lone wolf operators.
It is interesting to see President Obama characterize Anders Behring Breivik as a “lone wolf terrorist.” In this instance, the characterization would be accurate. Barring any new evidence, it would appear Breivik planned and carried out his attacks last month on his own.
However, if I were Blitzer, I would have asked Obama if he also considered either Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan or would be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad to be “lone wolves.” While the killings at Fort Hood and the attempted bombing of Times Square could be described as acts carried out by a single person let us remember that both Hasan and Shahzad were in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, the American born al Qaeda leader now operating out of Yemen. Indeed, Hasan attended the same Virginia mosque at which Awlaki preached along with two of the September 11th hijackers. Would Hasan have shot and killed 13 people screaming “Allahu Akbar!!!” without the support of Awlaki? Would Shahzad have entertained the idea of bombing the busiest place in all of New York City if not for Awlaki’s influence?
Now, it could very well be that al Qaeda is either out of the business of planning attacks on the scale of September 11th like attacks or simply isn’t in the position to carry them out at this time. But as demonstrated by Awlaki’s mentoring of Hasan and Shahzad, al Qaeda has adapted its tactics towards smaller scale operations which could be carried out by a single person. With this in mind, I would not characterize either Hasan or Shahzad as lone wolf terrorists. The question is: Does Obama?