The United States should be prepared for a “lone wolf” terrorist attack within the next year, a former top Central Intelligence Agency official warned Monday.
“What concerns me the most is that we’re going to see this kind of terrorism around the world, and we are going to see it here ... we’re going to see this kind of attack here,” former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell said on “CBS This Morning.”
The former CIA official said that it is hard to prevent lone wolf attacks — where individuals carry out violence without the close direction of a terrorist group — but that intelligence officials could look for chatter about a coming event on social media.
Morrell appeared on "CBS This Morning," as a hostage situation unfolds in Sydney that many have speculated is a terrorist attack.
On Monday morning in Australia — Sunday evening in the U.S. — a gunman entered a café in Sydney and locked the doors, taking a number of staff and customers hostage. Shortly after the standoff began, a TV network showed footage of hostages holding a black flag with white Arabic writing.
The New York Times reported that the flag appeared to be displaying a Muslim declaration of faith, which has not traditionally been linked to terrorism but has been co-opted by jihadist groups in recent years.
Australian authorities identified the hostage taker as Man Haron Monis, who has a criminal record, according to officials. He pleaded guilty to sending malicious letters to the families of service members killed abroad and was charged with being an accessory to the murder of his former wife in 2013, according to The New York Times.
His exact aims and motivations are not clear. Five hostages escaped throughout the day, and it remained unknown how many hostages were still inside.
Morell speculated on Monday that there could be several explanations for the attack.
“One is that this person has been directed by ISIS [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] to do this. That would be kind of the worst case. Second is that this person went to fight in Syria and has now come back. The third possibility is that this person has just been self-radicalized by the ISIS message. The fourth possibility is that he’s mentally ill. It’s one of those four,” he said.
Australian officials have for months been warning about the threat posed by ISIS. In September, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that an ISIS operative had told supporters to carry out attacks on their own — including videotaped beheadings.
— This story was updated at 10:18 a.m.