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Lone Wolf: An Individual Terrorist

On October 21, a gunfight broke out in the Opaesan Tunnel, causing the death of a police officer. Some crime experts analyzed that the perpetrator of this incident is a Korean “lone wolf,” who acted as a quiet neighbor to the public but secretly prepared for terrorist attacks towards society. Moreover, in November, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a radical militant group, encouraged lone-wolf terrorism in Western society. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) introduces the concept of lone wolf as a terrorist strategy, which is becoming a worldwide problem, including its definition and its development process, as well as its dangers and the efforts to prevent lone-wolf terrorism in order to alert SKT readers.

What is a lone wolf?

A lone wolf is an individual terrorist who prepares for and commits terrorism alone. A lone wolf does not receive any external group’s support or commands, but plans and prepares weapons by themselves. Usually, a lone wolf only refers to one individual. Recently, however, there has been a tendency to identify up to two people as lone wolves. Generally, a lone wolf commits violent crimes, ranging from assassination to serial murders, due to the individual’s personal antipathy or other personal reasons. In other words, a lone wolf chooses violence in order to express his or her political and social dissatisfactions and beliefs. For example, on July 29, 1994, anti-abortionist Paul Hill shot and killed an abortion clinic psychiatrist and his bodyguard in Florida. Paul Hill chose murder as a method to express his disapproval towards abortion and killed a person who was acting against this belief. He was sentenced to death, and many people described him as a lone wolf against abortion.

There are several other names to refer to a lone wolf, such as lonely fighter, lonely criminal, and lonely attacker, but they are not as common. Originally, the word “lone wolf” did not mean an individual terrorist. It was used to indicate a wolf that lives alone, away from the rest of the pack, which is more likely to resort to extreme tactics to survive. As a metaphor to these lone wolves in nature, “lone wolf” gained its meaning as individual terrorist in society. Since it is a technical term, “lone wolf” is the accurate phrase, as opposed to “lonely wolf.”

- Characteristics of a Lone Wolf

According to experts who have studied the behavior of lone wolves, there are several conditions that need to be satisfied to be classified as a lone-wolf terrorist. To start with, a criminal is deemed to be a lone wolf when the individual’s depression and anger are linked with feelings of political, social, and religious unfairness. This linkage results in individuals forming personal beliefs that society or individuals are being harmed by other members of society. The second factor is an individual’s acceptance of extreme ideas such as radical religious ideologies or racism. The third characteristic of a lone wolf is psychopathological violence, which is violence occurring due to mental disorders derived from various problems including broken family, sexual assault, or domestic violence. These problems cause a person to lose confidence in social relationships and increase violent behaviors. The last characteristic is an individual’s acceptance of radical groups, attracted by the instigative activities or propaganda of the groups. A lone wolf finds an organization that is in accord with one’s personal beliefs and moral righteousness, and then tries to connect the organization’s ideologies and goals to one’s inner self. As a result, an individual becomes a lone wolf who is willing to sacrifice oneself for terrorism, even if the individual is not directly involved in any organized groups.

The Past and Present of Lone Wolves

- Western Society

In the 1990s, the term “lone wolf” was first used as indicatives of terrorism caused by Alex Curtis and Tom Metzger, who were white supremacists and protestors against the government. Curtis and Metzger thought that lone-wolf terrorism was more difficult to discover than an organized group terror, because a lone wolf acts alone without any planned schedule, preventing leakage of information to the surveillance. With the development of the Internet, Curtis and Metzger encouraged their followers to become lone wolves and popularized the term to refer to individual terrorism.

In the 21st century, the number of young Muslims who became lone wolves has increased. As an example, on April 15, 2013, Muslim youths Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev bombed the Boston Marathon, which resulted in three casualties and 264 injuries. In the final stage of the marathon, the Tsarnaev brothers threw two pressure-cooker bombs, which were homemade. The brothers seemed to have had led ordinary lives, achieving high grades in school, but they were privately planning for a terrorist attack.

abc news/ Picture of Boston Bombing

Lately, as the overall society has been diversified, lone wolves have increased, all with their own different reasons. Especially owing to the appearance of ISIS, lone wolves who became fascinated by its ideologies are rapidly growing in number. Accordingly, the usage of the term “lone wolf” is now most commonly used to indicate these individual terrorists with ISIS’s ideologies. On September 19 of this year, Ahmad Rahami, a serial bomber in New York, orchestrated two explosions that injured 29 people. Years ago, before planning for terrorism, Rahami sued city authorities for commanding him to close his restaurant at 10 o’clock at night. Rahami claimed this command was given on the basis that he was Muslim, showing his distrust in governmental power.

Unlike terrorists of organized groups, lone wolves act as if they are functional members of society, while secretly preparing for terrorism. Some organized terrorist groups are trying to convert their tactics into lone-wolf terrorism, and have started to advertise lone-wolf terrorism more actively than ever before. In this process, organized groups use Social Networking Services (SNS) such as Twitter or Facebook in order to post various writings and videos encouraging lone wolves. Similarly, an Islamic State’s maganize named Rumiyah posted an article saying, “Lone wolves! Attack Australia.”

- Korean Lone Wolves

According to the proceedings of the Korean Association of Police Science Review, Korea now has an environment where a lone wolf can appear. As society is diversified, relative inequality of diversified members has increased as well as the dissatisfaction towards the society of individuals. In addition, the development of the Internet provides people with an easier method of communication to share extreme thoughts. These factors might trigger the appearance of lone wolves in Korea.

On October 10, 2014, a man attacked a talk show studio with a handmade bomb and caused two injuries. He committed such terrorism because the talk show’s contents on North Korea went against his personal beliefs. He noticed his terrorism being shared online and kept posting pictures to prove his actions. Rather than the fact that the man was a lone-wolf terrorist, people focused more on the fact that he was a member of online community Il-Gan Best, which is widely considered to be the core of political, gender, and other social conflicts.

An incident that occurred on October 21 of this year, on the other hand, brought more attention to the issue of lone wolves in Korea. Byeong-dae Seong, who was known in the neighborhood as a quiet author, had been actually writing books and posting short essays on his SNS showing hostility towards the police and society. In his book, he criticized Japan and revealed his delusional ideas that all police are pro-Japanese. Such records can serve as a motive behind Seong’s murdering a police officer with firearms. Gunpowder and several components of his weapon were found in his house, as well as antisocial search keywords such as “ISIS,” “terror,” and “lone wolf.” Crime experts concluded that his actions were similar to those of lone wolves in the United States, and suggested that the offense might be a new form of lone-wolf terrorism in Korea.

Chosul Ilbo/ Byeondae Seong, Culprit of the Opaesan Gunfight

According to Intelligence Committee of the National Assembly, the large number of lone wolves appeared because of social dissatisfaction. More specifically, people who are willing to join ISIS outnumber the predicted amount and the number amounts to tens of people in Korea. The Intelligence Committee also announced that Korean lone wolves tend to graduate college. They become lone wolves reacting to high unemployment rate, social instability, and according to organized groups like ISIS who encourage violence. The Intelligence Committee cooperated with other countries, providing 500 names of Koreans at risk of becoming lone wolves, and among them, 59 people were in need of a special management system with more strict observations.

The Danger and Efforts toPrevent Lone Wolf

It is more difficult to prevent lone-wolf terrorism than it is to prevent organized terrorism, because collecting information on lone-wolf terrorism is very difficult. A lone wolf acts alone, thus making it hard to predict when, where, and how the terror will occur. The American political newspaper, The Hill, has pointed out lone-wolf terrorism as the “worst nightmare” when mentioning these difficulties. Despite the lack of specific solutions being met to prevent lone-wolf terrorism, there are still some on-going efforts.

Firstly, expanding surveillance activities on the Internet can help prevent lone-wolf terrorism. Rapidly developing Internet services and information and communications technology (ICT) present an ideal environment for lone wolves to gain information on terrorism. Lone wolves use the Internet, which is easily accessible, anonymous, and less restricted, to spread their ideologies and to buy and manufacture weapons for terrorism. For this reason, expanding surveillance systems on the Internet may decrease the surge of lone-wolf terrorism. In the case of England, in order to block contents that encourage terrorism, the government established a new unit of surveillance activities on the Internet. Secondly, establishing a network that shares information about lone wolves is also a possible solution. Within the boundary of privacy and transparency, having a management system that easily provides information about lone wolves can prevent terrorism. Finally, the permission procedure of firearm and gunpowder ownership must become stricter. Poisons that are outside of police control should also be monitored more carefully to minimize the possibility of harmful substances being used as weapons in lone-wolf terrorist attacks. With such efforts, both the number and the possibility of development of lone wolves might be reduced, even if by a small amount.

tlaststand.wikia.com/ Picture of Gunpowder

Ultimately, lone wolves are the result of social structure, which increases social disparity between different groups of people. As such, people should be more caring of individuals who belong to minority groups. Lone wolves are the result of an individual’s psychological weakness. When these individuals feel they are isolated from society, they might turn into lone-wolf terrorists. Therefore, every person should try their best to integrate society into one peaceful state.

문소희  msohee123@naver.com

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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