Why There Are No ISIS 'Lone Wolves'

An ISIS call-to-arms posted online nearly two weeks ago mocked the term that the West uses for the terror group's members abroad -- a big picture of a lone, grey wolf accompanied the text.

"Jihad is going through various stages to reach the state of empowerment and the rule of the land, as it does our brothers in the land of the caliphate," said the call for jihadists in Egypt to activate.

"Wolves," the message said, are "one of the first jihad work stages" and simply indicates "individual small cells" who have a greater chance of taking the enemy by surprise or taking down his compatriots. They don't need "strength or muscle, huge experience in jihad work" and "each wolf chooses what suits him and what fits his goal and location of the implementation of the action."

"Small firewood is what ignites huge and large flames... wolves will increase their expertise and will move with the time and expertise to the largest operations and to expand and diversify the weapon used."

A "lone wolf" would be a jihadist taking it upon himself with no direct outside involvement -- be it direction or support -- to commit an attack. But recent attacks have shown government's desire to rush to "lone wolf" judgment, be it to placate a nervous public, cover intelligence about wider plots or networks, or just save face for counter-terrorism efforts that let one slip through the cracks.

Government officials use the less alarming terminology that the U.S. suffered an attack from disaffected loners rather than the U.S. suffered an ISIS attack.

"There are a lot of challenges associated with trying to root out and prevent essentially lone wolf attacks," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday. "And again, based on what we know now, and there's still a lot more that we have to learn, this is consistent with what has previously been described as a -- a lone wolf attack, that essentially you have two individuals that don't appear to be part of a broader conspiracy, and identifying those individuals and keeping tabs on them is difficult work."

"Lone wolf" also disassociates the assailant from the broader ideological movement, painting the attacker as a disaffected, impressionable individual who is lured to a life of crime by a magazine, video or tweets.