Today an unknown man held siege in an office block on Tottenham Court Road in Soho, London. It was confirmed at approximately 15.08 that he has been arrested and is in police custody whilst the offices are being secured.
Apparently alone and armed with devices of an indeterminate nature, he walked into the offices of Advantage HGV, a Transport Logistics firm and declared that he ‘doesn’t care about his life. Doesn’t care about anything [and] is going to blow up everybody’. The man identified himself to a member of staff as Michael Green, a former client of the firm, who had apparently failed a HGV course through the company. Eye witnesses who managed to escape the scene described what could have been gas canisters strapped to the man’s body. Upon entering the office he allegedly coerced office workers to throw computer equipment and office supplies out of the windows.
The talk on popular social media website Twitter, as well as other forums, is that this must be terrorism, the man is undoubtedly a Lone Wolf. Whilst his name still hasn’t been confirmed, his motivations have already been concluded without any due thought to his state of mind, exactly what he planned to do in the offices of transport logistics company, and more importantly, why them? This is ostensibly a clear cut case, a disenfranchised client seeks revenge on the company he blames for his failures. But the media, and as a consequence, the public, see terrorists around every corner.
A Lone Wolf is an individual who is ‘located within a broader network of extremists’ but [displays] some level of contact with operational extremists.’ [Pantucci, ICSR 2011, p9] Lone Wolves can, in some cases, operate under varying degrees of command and control. Additionally, ‘real’ Lone Wolves ‘are part of a virtual network’. [Sageman cited in Ibid. p5] There are different distinctions between different types of individual terrorist actors, some (loners) become operational through a ‘passive [ideological] consumption’ whilst Lone Wolves are more likely to participate in online forums ie. non-physical interaction with like-minded people.
We know nothing about this man at this stage. What we potentially know is that he may be called Michael Green, may have failed a driving test, and may be depressed, or perhaps mentally ill. None of these snippets of spurious information can help us determine exactly what happened in Central London today. There is as of this moment no clear political motivation that could connect this to terrorism. ‘He was throwing stuff out of the windows – it looked like someone with a grievance’. Whilst grievances can lead to violence, terrorists motivated by a particular ideology that they believe will repair this grievance seldom allow potential victims to leave because they are parents or because they are pregnant.
If we are to understand Lone Wolves and other types of terrorist actors, and more importantly, if we want a clear picture of what happened on Tottenham Court Road – British journalism should leave the terrorism investigation to the Metropolitan Police and try to view the events of today as they are – a serious security incident which thankfully avoided injuries and fatalities.