Cyber Security and Emerging Threats Samantha Di Santo

Oklahoma Beheading: An Act of Terrorism Influenced by the Islamic State?

A common element in the brutal attacks upheld by the radical terrorist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is the act of beheading. On September 27, 2014, the suburb of Moore, located on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, was shaken after news broke that a woman had been beheaded.  An act similar to the executions of Western hostages carried out by ISIS militants, the attack led many to suspect the possibility of terrorism.

Alton Alexander Nolan (Source: BBC)
Alton Alexander Nolan (Source: BBC)

Police identified the attacker as 30 year old Alton Alexander Nolan, a former employee of Vaughan Foods processing plant in Moore and colleague of the victim.  Nolan had recently been fired from his position at Vaughan Foods, leading to the possibility that anger over losing his job could have been a motivating factor behind Nolan’s attack.  However, his recent conversion to Islam, also raises the possibility that the attack was an act of religious extremism.  Those close to Nolan reported to authorities that following his conversion to Islam, he had become very active in local Mosque rituals, adding that he could be heard shouting Islamic phrases during the attack.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry disagrees with the claims that the attack is an act of workplace violence, issuing a statement suggesting that Nolan’s behavior could be associated with terrorist activity, urging the Obama administration to address the incident as an act of terrorism.  Although the FBI has since dismissed this claim, investigations into Nolan’s Facebook page, led to a photo of Osama bin Laden as well as images of ISIS beheadings.

The FBI dismissal of terrorism has been met with a heavy backlash.  What could have been waved-off as mental illness has instead drawn fears of terrorism, due to the rise of ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria.  MSNBC host Joe Scarborough took to his morning news broadcast show to voice his anger, arguing that Nolan’s fascination with Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and ISIS is a clear indication that Islamic fundamentalism is responsible for his actions.  “How stupid does the FBI really think we are?” he stated. “And who exactly are they afraid of offending? ISIS?”

Terrorism Analyst J.M. Berger also weighed in on the debate, arguing that acts of terrorism are hard to define.  Since motives, targets and methods vary greatly, it is difficult for authorities to identify which attacks are radically-inspired and which are instead carried out by individuals with their own personal agendas.  However, taking into account past behavior can be one way to determine what factors enabled a perpetrator to carry out his crimes, and certainly should be considered when analyzing if Nolan’s attack was motivated by a terrorist group.   Nolan’s infatuation with terrorist organizations make the events which took place in Moore, Oklahoma similar to the behavior of ISIS militants.  Authorities should  utilize such evidence when ruling whether or not his actions are merely a case of workplace violence, or if they could be justified as an act of terrorism.

Samantha Di Santo
Samantha Di Santo is a recent graduate from Ryerson University where she received her Bachelor’s Degree. She majored in Criminology and went on to specialize in Security Studies in her fourth year. Her main interests are in international security and counter-terrorism. She is currently interning as a Counter-terrorism Research Analyst at the NATO Association of Canada. Samantha hopes to pursue a career with a focus on international security issues.