LONDON - Eleven people were injured, two seriously, when a man shouting "Allahu Akbar" (‘God is Great’ in Arabic) drove his car into crowds of pedestrians Sunday in the French city of Dijon. Witnesses say he invoked "the children of Palestine" to explain his actions.
The incident is another example of the growing threat of so-called lone wolf attacks, which security experts say are likely inspired by the terror group Islamic State.
France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who visited the injured in hospital, said everyone in France knows the threat is real, it needs to be anticipated to be countered and that is what the police and intelligence services are doing everyday.
The Dijon attack occurred after a man stabbed and wounded three officers inside a police station Saturday in central France. He also shouted "God is Great."
"An individual who attacks a police station while shouting 'Allahu Akbar,' gives rise to the question if he was acting alone or on orders," said Jean-Luc Bek, the public prosecutor in Joue-Les-Tours where the attack happened.
That is resonating across the Western world.
Last week three people were killed, including the gunman, when Iranian-born Man Haron Monis took several people hostage in a café in Sydney, Australia. He had demanded an Islamic State flag, despite apparently having no traceable links to the terror group.
The specter of lone terrorists drawing inspiration from Islamic terrorists is a growing threat, said Sajjan Gohel of the Asia Pacific Foundation.
“Self-starters who have not traveled abroad, but nevertheless are galvanized by the ISIS narrative and its ideology. People that might not be part of the ISIS machinery, but are certainly adopting its ideology,” he said.
Intelligence services are also battling to contain the threat posed by their own nationals who travel to fight with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“Individuals from the West who have gone to Iraq and Syria, linked up with ISIS, taken part in battles and attacks, and then with the intention of coming home potentially to carry out terrorist attacks,“ Gohel said.
The European Union said more than 3,000 Europeans have travelled to the region. They are often not on the radar of security services, according to French terror expert Jean-Charles Brisard.
"We do not have any pattern or profile for these jihadists, and this is why it is difficult to identify them and prevent them from traveling there. They are coming from all social classes," he said.
Intelligence reports suggest many foreign fighters are disenchanted and want to return home, but are being forced to stay. Activists claimed recently 100 foreigners had been executed for trying to flee the group.