The official narrative is that they are lone wolves, but that overlooks the shift in Al Qaeda tactics to crowdsourcing terrorism to lone wolves
The question here is what makes a Muslim terrorist a lone wolf as opposed to a member of a group? The Boston bombers were two brothers so calling them lone wolf terrorists already mangles the obvious meaning of the term. Not only were there two of them, but it would appear that Tamerlan's wife and mother were also in on it at least to some degree.
But the larger question is whether a Muslim terrorists who aligns ideologically with Al Qaeda, follows their tactics and their instructions, but makes his own plans of attack without getting a specific command to go ahead from an Al Qaeda leader, is a lone wolf or another Al Qaeda terrorist?
The question has come up with Nidal Hasan, but it's more glaringly an issue now as it becomes clear that the Boston marathon massacre closely followed Al Qaeda instructions.
A detailed analysis of the bombs used at the Boston Marathon and during a firefight between the suspects and law enforcement shows how closely the bombmakers followed instructions from the digital al Qaeda magazine “Inspire,” according to a government document obtained by NBC News.
The unclassified report from the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center found that the pipe bombs allegedly thrown from a car by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev during last Friday’s chase through Watertown, Mass., resembled the design described in “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” an article in the first issue of the English-
language magazine. At least one of the Watertown bombs used an elbow pipe wrapped in black tape, as discussed in “Inspire.”
“The use of elbow pipes specifically is unique,” states the report, “and rare in other extremist and anarchist literature.”
According to the TEDAC analysis, the pressure-cooker bombs also match the “Inspire” designs in their use of spherical shrapnel and gunpowder from fireworks, as well as the possible use of Christmas tree lights as an initiator.
So we have terrorists who are
1. Inspired by Al Qaeda
2. Follow Al Qaeda instructions to the letter
3. But choose their own targets
The official narrative is that they are lone wolves, but that overlooks the shift in Al Qaeda tactics to crowdsourcing terrorism to lone wolves.
Al Qaeda has been decentralizing ever since the United States came down on it in Afghanistan. It has countless smaller affiliates, some of which deny or admit the connection. And its focus has been on encouraging individual Jihadists to follow its call by carrying out attacks in America and Europe.
Treating those individuals as criminals, rather than detached members of a terrorist group, represents a failure to keep up with Al Qaeda tactics.
We have long since recognized that a student can receive a degree without setting foot on campus. People can and do work for companies without ever having come into physical contact with a manager of that company. It may be time to recognize that Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were freelance members of Al Qaeda, carrying out its general instructions, using its ideas and manuals to carry out its purposes.
In the age of the internet, the old model of defining Al Qaeda members based on their visit to a training camp or physical contact with known Al Qaeda members is outmoded and outdated. Even if it turns out that Tamerlan Tsarnaev didn't visit a training camp or meet with Jihadists during his Dagestan trip, even though he probably did, does his detached online status fundamentally change the parameters of what Al Qaeda is doing and what he did?