By Adam Levine
Sunday's announcement that New York authorities had arrested a lone wolf acolyte of Anwar al Awlaki highlighted two of the toughest challenges for law enforcement officials – the 'lone wolf' and the enduring influence of the likes of Awlaki.
As Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank reported back in September, the lone wolf is perhaps the most difficult threat for authorities to detect and protect from.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told CNN back in September that lone wolves “were harder to detect in part because by their very definition, they're not conspiring with others, they may not be communicating with others, there's very little to indicate that something is underway.”
Her concerns were echoed by President Barack Obama who said the threat of lone wolf attacks was "the most likely scenario that we have to guard against right now.”
But what might be equally disturbing for authorities is that even with the deaths of two of the most influential al Qaeda leaders – Osama bin Laden and Anwar al Awlaki – believers are still willing and capable of carrying out attacks in their names.
This is not a surprise to federal authorities. Back in October, Carol Cratty reported FBI Director Robert Mueller was still concerned about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) after the death of Awlaki. Mueller said that AQAP is "a significant threat to the homeland" despite the death of U.S.-born cleric.
Mueller said al-Awlaki was "behind the recruiting of personnel who could undertake attacks in the United States." Mueller said AQAP still has the ability to make improvised explosive devices, and it would be "somewhat more difficult" for the group to find operatives to bring them into the U.S. on airplanes. But the FBI chief said the possibility of finding such people still exists.
But in the case in New York, recruiting was not necessary. All that was needed was the influence and the outrage. No drone or special forces raid can take either of those away. In fact, in this case, it appears to have heightened the drive to act.