Journalists, scholars and counter-terrorism practitioners have recently drawn attention to a particular strain of Islamic State terror attacks which have been described as “virtually planned.”
This refers to terror plots where the perpetrators are guided through sustained online communication with Islamic State operatives who provided encouragement, instructions or advice. These plots are also characterized by the absence of physical connections that might make them more directly planned than the term “virtual” would imply, such as one of the perpetrators having trained or fought with Islamic State.
Thomas Hegghammer and Petter Nesser appear to be the first authors to note this as a distinctive type of plot. In 2015 they created a six-part typology to categorize jihadist plots in the West, and Type 4 was “remote communication with directives.” From 2016 onwards authors such as Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Madeleine Blackman, Nathanial Barr, Bridget Morang, Rukmini Callamachi, Kim Cragin and Ari Weil popularized the term “virtual planning” to describe these plots.