We now know that the guy who pulled off the vehicle and knife attack outside of Parliament was named Khalid Masood. As the days go by, British authorities are revealing more and more about the man as well as announcing the arrests of nine people connected to him. But in one of their most recent statements, they are saying that this attacker falls outside of the normal profile for radicalized domestic terrorists. So what makes him so unique? (NBC News)
Maj.-Gen. Chip Chapman, a counter-terrorism expert and former senior British military adviser to U.S. Central Command, suggested the attacker may have been overlooked due to this age.
“His profile is highly unusual,” Chapman told NBC News. “The average age for offenders of this kind between 1998 and 2015 is 22. Perhaps there will be an adjustment to the way extremists are profiled.”
He added: “There is a prioritization grid and for some reason he wasn’t near the top, which means there are also a lot of other malevolent people who are higher up the list.”
It sounds like the Brits are trying to explain to the public why Masood wasn’t one of their “priority” targets to keep an eye on and the only factor they are identifying is is age. The typical person who erupts in this sort of violent attack tends to be in his twenties. Masood was 52. Could that really be the only factor here? To be sure, I think profiling is extremely useful in law enforcement of any sort and it pays to keep an eye on those trends. Also, I can see how that age gap in terrorists could be quite accurate. Young people are, by nature, more quick to get up in arms about most anything and lack the mellowing influence which a few decades tends to bring. Also, a young person who may still be single has “less to lose” than an older, established person who may have a spouse and children by that point.
But once you remove the age factor, Masood actually seems like the perfect profile for a developing terrorist. He had regular run-ins with the law, spent time behind bars and purposely changed his name to Khalid Masood from Adrian Russell Ajao at some point. Now the authorities are pondering whether he became radicalized in one of three ways: while he was in prison, from some local terror cell or over the internet. If it’s the first or the third there’s not much to be done about it at the local level. You can’t keep a 24/7 watch on everyone who spends some time in prison and you can’t shut down the internet. (More’s the pity, eh?) But if his exposure leads to the discovery of a local terror cell who was helping him then perhaps some progress will come out of this.
The Brits do raise a good question here, though. Should we be excluding people of Masood’s age range from our profiling efforts, even if they fit all the other criteria? It clearly seems less likely for someone of his age to launch an attack, but think of the typical patterns of our enemy. You wouldn’t expect school children to have explosives in their backpacks, but these monsters use kids as “suicide bombers” regularly for just that reason. Age based profiling may not be nearly as effective in monitoring possible terror suspects as in other fields of criminal behavior.