The Innovative French latest attack: Lone wolves taking hostages
Year 3 - Week 14
ISSN 2603 - 9931
Friday 23, March. Trébes, French village near Carcassone, at the South of the country. The Middle Ages region famous for the sect of the Cathars or Albigensians was the scenario of the latest Islamic State-claimed terrorist attack in French soil. A 26 years old man of Moroccan origin, Ledoane Ladkim, armed with a 9mm handgun, stole a car in Carcassone, injuring the driver and killing the passenger, and later on he shot to a group of four policemen while they were jogging, injuring one of them in the shoulder. From Carcassone he drove to the near city of Trebes, where he entered in a supermarket shouting “Allahu Akbaru” (God is the Greatest) and taking the customers inside as hostages. The final toll of the attack were five mortal victims, the stolen car one, two customers inside the supermarket, the terrorist and a French policemen, Lte. Col. Arnaud Beltrame (Gendarmerie), who voluntarily swapped for one of the hostages, and 16 wounded between Carcassone and Trebes, most of them during the police intervention to free the hostages. Ladkim reclaimed the liberation of Salah Abdeslam, the main terrorist orchestrating the Paris (2015) and Brussels (2016) attacks who is now in prison. The same Friday at night the Islamic State published in his news agency Amaq a short notice claiming the responsibility of the attack and to Ledoane Ladkim as one of his soldiers targeting France for its participation in the coalition against the ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Ladkim may be perfectly considered a lone wolf, or more fitly said, an individual jihadist. He was under the law enforcement radar but due to his low-profile criminal activities, such as petty robbery and small drugs dealing, not specifically because of any suspicion of radicalization. Once again, it seems obvious that the radicalization took place at a mostly individual level without further logistic connection with the terrorist organization known as Islamic State, just an ideological link providing justification for a crime and a set of probable targets and tactics to attack them. The unfitted element, Ladkim being a petty criminal, could be explained as radicalization process providing an answer to a lack of integration in a given community by the creation of a pseudocommunity which covers that social need of integration: the reconstructed community may be a physical one, as a gang or a terrorist commando or cell, but also a non-physical one, as it happens in the case of lone wolves, where the pseudocommunity giving sense to their outrage and grievances is based on ideological ties. The access to digital doctrine and propaganda has eased at a great extent the chances of accessing these new kind of ideological pseudocommunities that the Islamic State and other organizations such as al-Qaeda are exploiting to gather new recruits and deploy new terrorist to strike Western countries.
Interestingly enough in this attack, although part of the above mentioned doctrine and propaganda defines clearly through organs as Rumiyah (Islamic State magazine) and Inspire (al-Qaeda one) the potential targets to attack and by what means and modus operandi, Ladkim carried out an innovation. Although he was armed with a fire weapon and the target could be considered a soft target –high concentration of potential victims with low perception of threat and low security measures- Ladkim didn’t carry out an active shooter attack gunning down the customers inside the supermarkets but he took hostages with a purpose of exchanging them for Salah Abdeslam.
Although taking hostages hasn’t been one of the core tactics in jihadist terrorism, it has been frequent in the last decades in other terrorist waves, especially in the new-Left one along the last part of the sixties and the seventies, and the evolution of these groups who have survived in the following decades, as it is the case of the Basque group ETA. To put it simply, hostage taking is frequently a variant of extortion, where the hostages are kept to force a government to consent in doing something. The fact shows that more often than not governments don’t accept the blackmail, but the outcome might vary from one case to the other, from massacres to interventions which put an end to the terrorist attempt. We can mention just some cases as examples:
Dawson’s Field multiple planes air hijacking. 1970. The Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked simultaneously three planes, although one of them landed in London with the terrorists neutralized. The remaining ones where forced to divert their way to Jordan, where the PFLP had their bases at the moment. With more than 300 hostages, the PFLP demanded the liberation of Leilah Khaled, the terrorist whose hijacking attempt had been foiled, jailed in London, the release of three German members of the Baader Meinhof who had cooperated with the PFLP and the released of another three PFLP members imprisoned in Switzerland. Likewise, they demanded the liberation of number of PFLP prisoners in Israeli jails in exchange for the Jewish hostages. After a long multiple diplomatic negotiation, Leilah Khaled was freed, but the affair triggered the Jordanian civil war and the expulsion of the PLO –of which the PFLP was part- of Jordan.
Munich Olympics massacre. 1972. A commando of the Palestinian Black September Organization (linked to al-Fatah, the main movement inside the PLO), entered during nighttime at the Olympic Village in Munich and broke into two of the Israeli delegation apartments, making 13 athletes hostages –from them two could escape and two more were killed along the night-. The Black September cell demanded the liberation of 234 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and of the two leaders of the Baader Meinhof, prisoners in Germany; otherwise they would started to assassinate the hostages in the morning. Germany police, at the time totally unprepared for responding to an incident of that magnitude, managed to extend the deadline for one more day and to convince the terrorists to accept flying with the hostages to an Arab country. Once in the airport the German police attempted to free the hostages with an exchange of fire where five of the eight terrorist and the nine remaining hostages were killed –both by terrorist and German fire- and several policemen were injured.
Entebbe plane air hijacking. 1976. It is considered the last relevant air hijacking. An airplane in the route Tel Aviv-Paris was hijacked by the PFLP in cooperation with a couple of Baader Meinhof members and diverted first to Benghazi and second to Entebbe airport (Kampala, Uganda), with 241 hostages, most of them Israelis or Jewish. The terrorists demanded five million dollars in cash and a hostages-for-prisoners exchange on the tarmac: they wanted terrorists from both PFLP and Baader Meinhof freed from jails in Kenya, France, Switzerland, Germany and of course Israel. The issue was set with a daring Israeli Sayeret Matkal especial intervention forces in Kampala airport to free the hostages.
Miguel Ángel Blanco. 1997. More a kidnapping than a hostage-taking, Miguel Ángel Blanco, a Popular Party city councilman in the small Basque town of Ermua, was attempted to be exchanged by ETA for the terrorist’s group prisoners in Spanish jails within a deadline of 48 hours. As the also Popular Party government didn’t accept the terms, Miguel Ángel Blanco was cold blood assassinated and his body abandoned in a forest.
Dubrovka Theatre. 2002. Around 50 armed Chechens leaded by the Islamist Movsar Barayev, raided the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow, taking around 850 hostages. The terrorists demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and the end to the second Chechen War. They planted explosives in the auditorium and shooters in the hall and corridor of the theater, preventing the army of entering that way, so after two days and a half of siege the Ministry of Interior agreed on the use of poisoning gas to neutralize the threat and to allow the rescue mission. Forty terrorists and between 130 and 200 hostages died because of the inhalation of the gas. Russian grip over Chechnya tightened in the aftermath of the attack. This attack, joined to the also Chechen-carried out at Beslan school in 2004 are the most well-know of this very scarcely use tactic in the jihadist arena, where the maximization of casualties is one of the main operational guidelines.
This account shows that the tactic of hostage taking is not new and that rarely ends well. Law enforcement response teams in all Europe have improved and learned from their own mistakes. It also depends of what stakes are at play for different governments and what would be the cost in terms of inner and international legitimacy. Not every country is ready to assume the costs of an operation Wrath of God nor the casualties of a Dubrovka Theater or a Beslan school. Thus as frequently happens, prevention in the shape of training is probably the best management tool, from the early detection of the potential terrorist to reinforce security measures and strengthen intervention procedures to limit the impact of these kind of attacks that, although infrequent, may cost not only the life of innocent hostages, but also the life of heroic rescuers as it was Lte. Col. Arnaud Beltrame.