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Gunman who shot a Philadelphia cop pledged allegiance to ISIS: what we know

  • A gunman ambushed a Philadelphia police car on Thursday, firing at least 13 shots at officer Jesse Hartnett, who is in critical but stable condition, according to the Washington Post.
  • Edward Archer, the reported shooting suspect, is in custody. He told police he pledged allegiance to ISIS and committed the attack "in the name of Islam," a law enforcement official said on Friday.
  • He carried out the attack using a semiautomatic handgun that, reportedly, had been stolen from police.

What happened in Philadelphia

The incident — captured by a surveillance camera — began when the attacker approached the police car and began shooting.

"Shots fired," Hartnett yelled into the police radio. "I'm bleeding heavily!" He added, "I'm bleeding. Get us another unit out here!"

Hartnett got out of his car, fired at the fleeing gunman, and hit him. The suspect was then apprehended by other officers. The FBI is helping Philadelphia police investigate the shooting.

"This is absolutely one of the scariest things I've ever seen," Police Commissioner Richard Ross said at a news conference on Friday. "This guy tried to execute the police officer. The police officer had no idea he was coming."

Nationally, attacks on police officers appear to be on the decline: Since 1960, 2015 had the fewest reported on-duty police deaths after 2013, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Critically, it's unclear if the shooter had any contact with ISIS, to which police say he is pledging allegiance. It seems likely — though unconfirmed — that, like the two perpetrators of the San Bernardino, California, mass killing, he was inspired by the group, but the group did not in any way coordinate the attack. Such "lone wolf" attacks are typically less deadly but also far more difficult to prevent.

There's a difference between ISIS carrying out an attack and inspiring one

Vox's Zack Beauchamp explained:

This is an important distinction: There is a very big difference between random people choosing to take up the ISIS banner and ISIS having the organizational wherewithal to plan and execute attacks from its home base. Random individuals inspired by ISIS are, fundamentally, less scary than an ISIS that's centrally planning and launching attacks from a continent away. ISIS has a lot more money at its command, and far more experience, than individual attackers. That means it could pull off bigger attacks.

This became a major point of discussion after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks; the former appears to have been coordinated directly by ISIS and the latter merely inspired.

Although lone gunmen are absolutely still dangerous and scary, ISIS-directed attacks can be far deadlier, as ISIS is a well-funded organization with substantial battlefield experience.

"ISIS is a state that has millions of dollars that it can spend on these kinds of operations," Will McCants, the director of the Brookings Institution's Project on US Relations With the Islamic World and the author of The ISIS Apocalypse, told Beauchamp. "We're talking about an actual government that has money to put behind plots and has very motivated people."

At the same time, it also may be more difficult for law enforcement officials to catch lone actors. If these people are acting independently with no clear connections to the ISIS home base that's closely watched, they're much more likely to slip under the radar of law enforcement.

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