Parsons Green Attacker: Lone Wolf or Known Wolf?

As the Metropolitan Police announce the arrest of an 18 year-old man in connection with yesterday’s explosion at Parsons Green station, former counter-terrorism officer Andrew Donaldson tells the BBC that we’ve moved from the era of ‘lone wolf’ to ‘known wolf’ terrorism – where attackers are already on the radar of the security services and the police but aren’t apprehended for [insert reason here].

Whether that is actually the case with Friday’s attack on a tube carriage is yet to be revealed, however US President Donald Trump sparked some controversy when he Tweeted that “these are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard.”

There’s two possibilities here – Trump was commenting (perhaps out of turn) based on intelligence leaks, or he was just running his mouth.

Following the Manchester Bombing in May intimate information about the attack, including images of the device and diagrams of where the deceased were located in the arena foyer were leaked to the New York Times ahead of official statements and stories by the British press.

No such information has emerged this time, giving more weight to the idea that Trump was generalising and/or being misleading.

But what are we to make of the media’s new ‘known wolf’ context? The BBC’s report which was included in the News At 10 claimed MI5 will want to know “as has often been the case recently, if [the culprit(s)] were previously known to the authorities.”

Andrew Donaldson terrorism

“This concept of a lone wolf would now more accurately be described as a known wolf – increasingly attacks when they happen have been committed by individuals who were known in some way either to the counter-terrorism police or MI5,” explained Donaldson.

Of course, those that have followed Islamic terrorism in this country dating back to at least the 2005 London Bombings will know that the alleged terrorists are almost always known to the authorities. It’s not a new concept, it’s the norm.

Donaldson’s ‘lone wolf’ to ‘known wolf’ narrative is also confused, because obviously a lone wolf (somebody who acts alone) can still be a known wolf (known to the authorities).

Alleged Manchester bomber Salman Abedi has predominantly been described as a someone who mostly acted alone, but he also grew up in a dissident Libyan community with ties to MI6, traveled to the country amidst the proxy war against Gaddafi with the blessing of Theresa May, visited a convicted terrorist in prison, got referred to the authorities by people that knew him, and may have been named by the FBI as a threat – making him very much a ‘known wolf.’

But if investigators and the spooks are to be believed, he was radicalized online and learned how to make his bomb via web guides actually titled for ‘Lone Lions.’

The media have also finally recognised the significance of CCTV and have done a good job of explaining how London is one of the most spied-on places on earth and the Parsons Green bomber should have been captured at every step of the way, including planting the device (which may have been on a timer) on the tube carriage.

It will now be very difficult for authorities to suggest they can’t release the crucial images or that none exist – as was the case with 7/7, where no images exist (that we know of) showing who boarded the three carriages and bus or who set off the bombs.

Although a CCTV camera is labeled in the foyer of the Manchester arena (as per the opening of the inquests) and could have captured that attack, no explicit reference to it has been made yet.

Nonetheless, it would seem inevitable that we will get a clear picture of who did the physical planting of this bucket-bag device in London, but that doesn’t mean we’ll get a clear picture of why they did it, who else was involved, or if indeed they were a ‘known wolf.’

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