Mohamed Merah killed seven French citizens, including soldiers and Jewish children. Was Merah a lone wolf or was he connected with al-Qaeda? The answer isn’t clear but no matter because this is the wrong question. Whether or not Mohamed Merah was acting alone, the political power of his attacks depends on ‘jujitsu politics.’
Terrorism is the warfare--and the politics--of the weak. Terrorists are usually the apex of a much larger pyramid of people who identify with the same group or cause. At the pyramid’s base, many who sympathize with the cause do not approve of attacks on civilians. Higher in the pyramid are those who justify terrorist violence for the cause, but do not act in support of their judgment. Terrorists rely on the pyramid for cover, information, material support, and new recruits.
Terrorists and the state they attack are therefore part of a dynamic political competition over time. The terrorists aim to wear out the state and its supporters to get what they want. The state aims to deter or win over the pyramid of sympathizers and supporters on which the terrorists depend.
Many terrorists recognize that they can use the dynamics of this competition to their advantage. An outrageous attack on the people or symbols of a state can elicit a state response that will do for the terrorists what they cannot do for themselves: mobilize inactive terrorist sympathizers to active support for terrorism.