Has the Fifth Wave of Terrorism Started?

By Jason Thomas Destein

A year ago, I wrote a paper for a Graduate Course in Counter Terrorism on what I felt would be the Fifth Wave of Terrorism in which I offered and named the “Revenge Wave”.  If you are not familiar with Rapoport’s Four Waves of Terrorism theory, they are The Anarchist Wave, The Anti-Colonial Wave, The New Left Wave and The Religious Wave which we are currently in. 

The last several months, we have seen several large scale terror attacks on religious institutions around the globe and I began to notice the word revenge being used. I was reading a story from “The Defense Post” titled “ISIS brands global attacks as ‘Vengeance for Sham’.  Now after the Easter Sunday attack in Sri Lanka the word “revenge” is surfacing again in several articles and quotes, this quote one from NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counter-terrorism John Miller as he called it “an attack directed at Christians specifically with a tinge of economic targets.” He said intelligence agencies have been “waiting for that shoe to drop” since the deadly mosque attack in New Zealand. He also said following that attack, the leaders of Al Qaeda and ISIS put out a call for a revenge attack”. (CBS 2 News NY).

While it may be too early to tell if this will be the revenge wave of terrorism will materialize, it should not be discounted, as terror groups are now openly calling for attacks based on revenge.

Below is most of the paper I wrote in January 2017:

When reading Rapoport’s "four waves" of terrorism, I looked at the commonalities of each wave and noticed that each wave had a signature style, whether it was assassination, suicide bomber, high jacking or small arms attacks.  In each wave, the terror groups were all fighting for and against something, and as we move forward, we have to ask ourselves what future terror groups are going to be for and against.  How will they wage their campaign against those they are attacking and what signature will they present? These are all questions that I ponder as I try to envision what a "fifth wave" might look like.  At the beginning of this course I was asked to offer my thoughts on "what is terrorism" I answered with the following definition - Terrorism, both foreign and domestic, to me is - A blend of Guerrilla Warfare Tactics and Psychological Warfare in which consumable resources and mediums are weaponized and used against a society, in small and large scale attacks, by one or more people or groups motivated by revenge and political or religious ideology to achieve one or more of the following: inducing panic, instilling fear, inflicting casualty or injury, influencing emotions, changing government policy and recruiting others to the cause.

I believe this definition even more strongly now. 

That said, trying to understand where terrorism goes from here is tricky, but I see the fifth wave as what I would call the "Revenge Wave".  I call it this because while terror attacks have produced massive amounts of casualties, countless injuries, trillions of dollars in financial losses and unspeakable damage to property both new and ancient, but in the end terrorism based on religious beliefs or political ideology has not succeeded.  Terror has not profoundly changed society; it has not stopped us from living our lives and has not forced us into surrender.  The global community is too big to change, too hard to scare and too difficult to influence with localized attacks that don't extend beyond the local region, however, true terrorists don't give up.  Those who truly believe in their cause, those who inspire others to fight and surrender their lives for their belief, will have to rely on a new motivation to attract new fighters and I believe they will use revenge as that motivating factor.  Using reasons exclusively like religion or political ideology, for committing acts of terrorism is not working, therefore Terrorist will need a new reason to recruit and inspire. Those who are forced into terrorism, either by abduction or kidnapping will be forced to fight. However those who are being recruited may need to hear another reason for joining these causes. ISIS spokesman Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, has called on Isis supporters to “take vengeance for their religion” after the terror attack on a mosque in Christchurch NZ. To me this is revealing as it is not the normal recruiting language. It should also be noted that the terrorist who attacked the mosque in Christchurch NZ was a self proclaimed white nationalist who was seeking revenge for attacks in Europe carried out by Islamic extremists.

This "Revenge Wave" will see terror leaders, regardless of cause and regardless if they are Islamic, Catholic, right or left, political or not, choose targets based on a perceived injustice rather than trying to influence a government or population.  Using revenge as their motivation, they will be able to claim victory over the target, this will also aid in recruiting efforts.  Tactics may still incorporate the use of both conventional and unconventional weaponry and will certainly include the use of cyber warfare tactics.  One trend I look for will be the use of drone delivery systems as a signature tactic. Soft Targets ranging from crowd gathering venues, businesses or schools and also individual targets themselves whether it be executive leaders, politicians or other people in authoritative positions will be preferred by the terror group. The "Revenge Wave" will focus on the local targets rather than global, however the effects will be felt globally as many countries will experience these attacks. 

Revenge is easy to teach and demonstrate, it is easy to make people feel like a victim and inspire them to take up arms in a shared cause, it is easy to train people to carry out low tech / high impact attacks.  It is a recipe for disaster and it is taking place as we speak and will continue to evolve for years to come.  Millions of people today are seeing and experiencing perceived injustices all around them, all it will take is someone to push or inspire them to act on that perceived or real injustice. Racial, financial, career, gender, political, religious, romantic, educational or any other reason, it does not matter as terrorism can be committed by anyone at any time. Foreign or domestic, mass shootings or improvised explosive device attack, my belief is that we will see revenge as an emerging motivational factor. The targets may still be Religious institutions, Government Facilities, Schools and other such infrastructures, but the main reason for attack will begin to shift from the Religious Wave and into the “Revenge Wave”.

This may not apply to every terror group around the globe but this will begin to emerge sooner than later.

Am I right? am I wrong? only time will tell, but I will be watching and researching to see if this indeed does happen.

Jason DesteinTerrorism