Suicide Bombing and Murder: A Rise in Lone Wolf Terrorism?

Suicide Bombing and Murder: A Rise in Lone Wolf Terrorism?

By Meinhardt Rentrup '23; "British authorities continue to investigate the Nov. 14 car explosion outside Liverpool Women's Hospital in northwestern England" (EPA-EFE/Shutterstock) 

On Remembrance Sunday of this year, a UK holiday on November 11 that commemorates the contribution of British service people in the two World Wars, a Taxi passenger set off their homemade explosives outside of the Liverpool Women’s hospital. While the attack resulted in no casualties aside from the attacker himself, it has been deemed a terrorist attack by the British police. This attack came just weeks after the murder of a Member of Parliament, Sir David Amess, an act also described as terrorism by the British police.

The intentions behind the car bomb attack are not yet determined, but there were Remembrance Sunday celebrations only a few streets away from the explosion, which thankfully was contained to the taxi’s car shell. The driver miraculously survived, pulling himself out of the car that had quickly become engulfed in flames. Had it not been for the “heroic acts” of the Taxi driver, who had stopped the car and then locked the doors, the suicide bombing could have been much worse. Although there were no casualties other than the attacker himself, there is now a heightened awareness of attacks in the United Kingdom again. A central unknown question is about the intentions of the attack, and whether or not this was a lone wolf attack or part of a larger plan or organization. This is especially interesting because the attack came only two weeks after the murder of the Conservative Member of Parliament, Sir David Amess.

The murder of Sir Amess was also deemed a terrorist attack by British police. The “much loved parliamentarian” was stabbed by a 25-year-old at a constituency surgery, a drop-in setting where parliament members have one-on-one meetings with their constituents. This attack was deemed a lone wolf attack by the killer, a British national who had Somali heritage. There may be a link to Islamic extremism, but this can’t be fully determined as the attack was not claimed by any group.

These two recent events of lone wolf terrorist attacks in the UK have led to the British government raising its national terrorism threat warning to the second highest level, moving from “substantial” to “severe” which means the chances of another attack are highly likely. This is the first change since February 2021, when there had been a lowering due to the “significant reduction” in the amount and severity of attacks in Europe. This aligns with the idea that domestic events are often inspired by those far away, a claim that has been said by attackers themselves. The terrorism threat level is set on a sale with 5 degrees, and is posted on the United Kingdom’s official government website, which covers all UK government services and information. The threat level is determined by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre and the Security Service (MI5). The scale ranges from “low”, where “an attack is highly unlikely”, to “critical”, where “An attack is highly likely in the near future. The United Kingdom’s threat level is currently at the second highest degree.

The immediate and influential change by the government, addressing its national security, will cause greater unease amongst the general public. However, these changes will be accompanied by new measures such as greater police presence in some areas and greater protective security responses to civilian reports, which ideally will relieve residents and stall further attacks. Nevertheless, the switch from “substantial” to “severe” within one calendar year shows the seriousness of these attacks and the ongoing threat of small-scale attacks that are difficult to attack or prevent. 

Lone wolf, domestic terrorism may be rising in the UK. This type of terrorism is increasing in popularity worldwide, and is a controversial topic amongst scholars. Some argue that single actors form their own ideology, an increase in attacks has created patterns in targets, and that lone wolf attacks are incredibly difficult to predict or prevent. Scholars argue that lone wolf attackers have common traits to assassins or school attackers. However, others argue that there is often a connection between a supposed lone wolf and larger networks, because if a perpetrator is part of a community of beliefs, then they are not truly a lone wolf. In the case of the two recent terrorist attacks in the UK, it is unknown what the attacker’s intentions were. This is less so the case in the murder of Sir Amess, who was a clear, political target with a public presence. However, the recent home-made bomb that was set off in the taxi remains a mystery.

This forces us to question the “success” of the suicide bombers attack. Was the attack unsuccessful? Did the attacker back out from a larger mission? Does this mean the attack was part of a larger organization’s plan, and the attacker was pressured into taking part? What was the goal of the explosion? These are the central questions that arise from the November 11 attack, and will likely be left unanswered unless there is a group that takes ownership of the explosion.

There are still missing pieces that prevent us from fully understanding the intentions behind these attacks, and how the UK government should respond. Whether or not more information will come to light can’t be predicted, but the British public needs to stay alert and informed about potential terrorist threats. It is essential the public uses government services and hotlines to report suspicious activity or information. The two attacks should not be taken lightly, even though they were small scale and with very few fatalities in comparison to other terror attacks.

The United States should take the United Kingdom’s changes seriously, and consider adjusting the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS). This is a Bulletin released three times per year by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and should be more direct in explaining terrorist threat levels facing the US and how the public should act in response. The DHS replaced a color-coded system more similar to that of the UK with the NTAS Bulletin in 2011, but I believe a simple site with explicit information to accompany the NTAS would be an effective way in informing and protecting the American people.

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