The ISIS effect and tackling a lone wolf

Stephen G. Metelsky
April 22, 2018
By Stephen G. Metelsky
In 2014, ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) recruiters planted seeds of terror across the world with a digital social media-marketing message. The extremist campaign encouraged newly radicalized members to serve the state in their own home countries, without the need to travel abroad and fight for ISIS. This is what came to be known as the “lone wolf” terrorist ideology.

A lone wolf is an individual inspired by ISIS, but who acts independently — without the group’s support or direction. A majority of the lone wolf radicalized individuals have never travelled abroad, nor have they met any members of the terrorist organization. Still, the ramifications of this terrorist propaganda media message has had dire consequences worldwide, with several lone wolf attacks being carried out across North America and Europe between 2014 to the present day.

It is very difficult for investigators to predict when a lone wolf terror attack will occur; they are not typically privy to the behavioural indicators being exhibited by the potential perpetrator(s) because nothing about them overtly places them on the radar as a ‘person of interest.’

Additionally, most perpetrators have no criminal record. It cannot be overstated why family members, friends and coworkers of potential extremists need to be proactively vigilant with recognizing, identifying and reporting troubling signs that may pinpoint an extreme ideological shift.

The following precursors in no way represent a comprehensive list of descriptors to be cautious of when identifying a person who may be susceptible to radicalization. However, an increase in the number of precursors should warrant further inspection.

Behavioural
•    May not have a criminal record,
•    Possible onset or increase in alcohol and/or drug consumption,
•    Fluctuation in mood,
•    Cognitive reasoning becomes more extreme,
•    Conversion to Islam,
•    Verbal utterances adhering to ISIS support,
•    Psychosis/mental health issues.

Social
•    Withdrawn from family/friends,
•    Change in employment,
•    Increased travel plans,
•    Absenteeism/decrease in grades (for students).

Physical
•    Change in clothing style,
•    Growing hair/facial hair,
•    Weight loss,
•    Symbolic tattoos.

Digital/print media
•    Increased Internet usage,
•    Owning more than one phone,
•    Utilizing free Wi-Fi often,
•    Records of terrorist attacks or PDF files on computer/notes/journals,
•    Online pseudonyms/fake social media accounts,
•    Anti-government posts (images, videos, comments),
•    Maps of potential Canadian locations (soft/hard targets).

Financial
•    Closing of various bank accounts,
•    Paying off or incurring debt,
•    Utilizing rental vehicle(s),
•    Wiring money.

Other
•    Obtaining/updating: Canadian passport,
•    Purchase/possession of weaponry,
•    Dates of significance noted (for example, September 11th).

To deter and prevent these events, a joint multi-faceted approach must be adopted in law enforcement and beyond, promoting proactive resilience. This should be comprised of research, investigation, collaborative intelligence, education and awareness. Such an approach must occur on many institutional levels, incorporating responsibility and input from all facets of the judicial system, researchers, the family structure, media, peer support programs and the educational system.

The key to combatting repeated victimology is a concentrated focus on intervention and prevention. The proactive ISIS acronym to combat terrorism must involve an:

Integrative
Security &
Intelligence
Strategy.

This is how we tackle a lone wolf and from there we can take on the pack.


Stephen G. Metelsky, M.A., is a criminologist, writer, organized crime historian and keynote speaker. He is a former intelligence sergeant and currently a professor at Mohawk College. Find him on LinkedIn, follow him @StephenGm—Jr or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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