Oct 5, 2005 | 22:54 GMT

4 mins read

U.S.: A Lone-Wolf Act in Oklahoma?

A 21-year-old University of Oklahoma student died the evening of Oct. 1 when the homemade explosives he had strapped to his body exploded as he sat on a bench near Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman during a packed football game. University officials have said they believe Joel Henry Hinrichs III used the improvised explosive device (IED) to commit suicide and that he was not attempting an act of terrorism. The FBI has said there is no evidence that Hinrichs was tied to a terrorist group. Coincidences are rare in counterterrorism, however. A blast occurring less than 100 yards from a stadium packed with more than 84,000 people certainly has the hallmarks of a terrorist attempt.

From a terrorist standpoint, a college football game would make an attractive target. The presence of tens of thousands of people would ensure a high casualty count. Moreover, with media already in place at the game, excellent coverage would be guaranteed.
If Hinrichs' act was an attempted terrorist attack, the device likely detonated prematurely, due to poor construction, a bad timer, an accident or panic on his part. Oklahoma's Eyewitness News 5 has reported that the material used in the improvised explosive device was TATP, a homemade explosive that can be made by mixing common household items. The same material was used in the July 7 London Underground bombings and the July 21 attempted bombings in London. It also has been used often by Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel. TATP is extremely unstable and, as it cures, can explode by the slightest movement, friction or vibration. It is possible that Hinrichs pinched or crushed the IED, causing it to detonate accidentally. 

The explosion demonstrates the vulnerability of large sporting events on or off of college campuses to an attack by a lone-wolf terrorist.

The explosion demonstrates the vulnerability of large sporting events on or off of college campuses to an attack by a lone-wolf terrorist. If Hinrichs in fact intended to commit an act of terrorism, he easily could have acted alone. The information required to manufacture TATP can be found on the Internet, and a simple attack would require minimal preparation and support from others. Many of the recipes for making TATP on the Internet are dangerously inaccurate, and following such a recipe can result in the formation of dicycloacetone peroxide, which is even more unstable and dangerous than TATP.

In addition to explosive materials, a search of Hinrichs' off-campus apartment uncovered jihadist publications. Although it is unknown whether Hinrichs was a convert to Islam or a member of any jihadist group, he is widely believed to have had close associations with students of Middle Eastern origin and connections to the local Muslim community. He reportedly spent time at an Islamic Center near his apartment, and his roommate reportedly is of Pakistani origin. Furthermore, we have been informed that authorities have identified at least one person of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin as a person of interest in the case. 

Individuals with nefarious agendas, such as international jihadists or white supremacists, can exploit the open-minded academic climate at U.S. universities for their own purposes. We have discussed, for example, the connection between universities in North Carolina and the international jihadist movement. There also is a possible lone-wolf aspect to this case, a phenomenon we have seen in people such as so-called "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla, convicted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, the perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre, and other individuals on the fringes of mainstream society who adopted radical ideas.

The FBI, which has taken over the Hinrichs investigation, says it has turned up no evidence that he was tied to a terrorist group. That does not mean the Oct. 1 blast was not an attempted act of terrorism. If so, it would be another indication of the shift toward a new wave of grassroots jihadists. Before this investigation is completed, the FBI could turn up evidence that Hinrichs was a lone wolf.

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