Lone wolf (terrorism)

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A lone wolf or lone-wolf terrorist is someone who commits violent acts in support of some group, movement, or ideology, but who does so alone, outside of any command structure and without material assistance from any group. Although the lone wolf prepares and acts alone, he/she may be influenced or motivated by the ideology and beliefs of an external group.

Origins of the term

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the term "lone wolf" was popularized by white supremacists Alex Curtis and Tom Metzger in the 1990s. Metzger advocated individual or small-cell underground activity, as opposed to above-ground membership organizations, envisaging "warriors acting alone or in small groups who attacked the government or other targets in 'daily, anonymous acts.'"[1] He referred to these so-called 'warriors' as "lone wolves".[citation needed]

Terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Corporation prefers the term stray dog to lone wolf. According to Jenkins, most individuals involved in such attacks "skulk about, sniffing at violence, vocally aggressive but skittish without backup".[2]

Current usage

The term "lone wolf" is used by US law enforcement agencies and the media to refer to individuals undertaking violent acts of terrorism outside a command structure. The FBI and San Diego Police's investigation into Curtis' activities was named Operation Lone Wolf, "largely due to Curtis' encouragement of other white supremacists to follow what Curtis refers to as 'lone wolf' activism".[3]

While the lone wolf acts to advance the ideological or philosophical beliefs of an extremist group, they act on their own, without any outside command or direction. The lone wolf's tactics and methods are conceived and directed solely on their own; in many cases, such as the tactics described by Curtis, the lone wolf never even has personal contact with the group they identify with. As such, it is considerably more difficult for counter-terrorism officials to gather intelligence on lone wolves, since they may not come into contact with routine counter-terrorist surveillance.

A recent analysis by Teich - out of the International Institute for Counter Terrorism - show the following five trends in Islamic-motivated lone wolf terrorism in the western world: (1) increased number of countries targeted by lone wolf terrorists; (2) increased number of fatalities and injuries caused by lone wolves; (3) increased success rate of United States law enforcement to apprehend lone wolves before they can carry out their attacks; (4) high prevalence and success rate of loners over Pantucci’s other three types of lone wolf terrorists; (5) increased targeting of military personnel. Teich also found that - consistent with previous research - Islamic-motivated lone wolves tended to experienced personal grievances (loss, divorce, psycho-pathologies, etc.) before being drawn to radical Islam. Radical Islam provided an attractive narrative for these troubled individuals, and helped them to justify lashing out with violence.[4]

In the United States, lone-wolves may present a greater threat than organized groups. According to the Christian Science Monitor, "With the exception of the attacks on the World Trade Center, experts say the major terrorist attacks in the United States have been perpetrated by deranged individuals who were sympathetic to a larger cause – from Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to the Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad".[5]

Some groups actively advocate lone wolf actions. Anti-abortion militants The Army of God uses "leaderless resistance" as its organizing principle.[6] According to The New York Times, in news analysis of the Boston Marathon bombings, the Al-Qaeda activist Samir Khan, publishing in Inspire, advocated individual terrorist actions directed at Americans and published detailed recipes online.[7]

List of lone wolf terrorist attacks

Africa, the Middle East and Asia

  • On November 15, 1988, Barend Strydom shot and killed seven people, and wounded 15 more, in and around Strijdom Square, South Africa. He declared that he was the leader of the White Wolves organisation, which proved to be a figment of his imagination.[8]
  • On February 24, 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a former member of the Jewish Defence League and follower of the Kahanist movement,[9] opened fire inside the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, killing 29 people and injuring at least 100.[10]
  • On March 19, 2005, Egyptian national Omar Ahmad Abdullah Ali detonated a car bomb outside a theatre filled with Westerners in Doha, Qatar, killing a British director and injuring 12 others. Police believe he was acting alone.[11][12]
  • On August 4, 2005, Eden Natan-Zada, another alleged Kahanist, killed four Israeli Arabs on a bus and wounded 12 before being killed by other passengers.[13] Natan-Zada was a 19-year-old soldier who had deserted his unit after he refused to remove settlers from the Gaza Strip. Less than two weeks later, on August 17, 2005, Asher Weisgan, a 40-year-old Israeli bus-driver, shot and killed four Palestinians and injured two others in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh.
  • On September 4, 2006, Nabil Ahmad Jaoura, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, opened fire on tourists at the Roman Amphitheatre in Amman, Jordan. One British tourist died and six others, including five tourists, were injured. Police said he was not connected with any organized group but was angered by Western and Israeli actions in the Middle East.[14]
  • On March 6, 2008, Alaa Abu Dhein opened fire on a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem, killing eight and injuring 11 before he himself was shot dead. His family denied he was a member of any militant group, and described him as intensely religious.[15][16]
  • On July 2, 2008, Husam Taysir Dwayat attacked several cars with a front-end loader. He killed three Israelis and injured dozens more before being shot to death. He was not a member of any militant group.[17]
  • September 22, 2008 Jerusalem BMW attack in which a Palestinian used a BMW as a murder weapon.
  • On 19 August 2010, an individual Uyghur was suspected in having planted a bicycle bomb that killed 7 people.
  • In January 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan was assassinated by a lone wolf,[18] though supported by a larger base.
  • On December 1, 2014, Romanian-American Ibolya Ryan was stabbed to death by an attacker apparently targeting a random foreigner.
  • August 4, 2014 Jerusalem tractor attack.
  • October 2015 a series of knife stabbings around Israel accrued, including the Lions' Gate stabbings, this spate of attacks by lone wolf Palestinians is sometimes called the "Knife Intifada."


  • During late 1991 and early 1992 in Sweden, right-wing Swiss-German immigrant John Ausonius shot eleven dark-skinned people, killing one.
  • In February 1992, RUC Constable Allen Moore shot three Catholic men dead with a shotgun in the Belfast Sinn Fein head office on Falls Road. Moore committed suicide shortly afterwards before arrest.[19]
  • Between 1993 and 1997 in Austria, Franz Fuchs engaged in a campaign against foreigners, and organizations and individuals he believed to be friendly to foreigners. He killed four people and injured 15, some seriously, using three improvised explosive devices and five waves of 25 mailbombs in total.
  • In April 1999 in London, David Copeland targeted blacks, Asians and gays with nail bombs, killing three and injuring 129. His aim was to start a race war. He was sentenced to at least 50 years and is now in a secure mental hospital.[20]
  • On May 6, 2002 in the Netherlands, nine days before elections, Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered by Volkert van der Graaf, who told that he murdered him as he exploited Muslims as "scapegoats" and targeted "the weak members of society" in seeking political power.[21]
  • On March 2, 2011 in Germany, Arid Uka shot and killed two United States soldiers and seriously wounded two others in the 2011 Frankfurt Airport shooting. German authorities suspected that this was an Islamist attack,[22] which would make it the first deadly act of this kind in Germany.[23]
  • On July 22, 2011 in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in two consecutive attacks. First, he killed eight people with a heavy car-bomb placed in the heart of the Norwegian government headquarters in Oslo. An hour later, he appeared at the summer camp of the Worker's Youth League, the youth organization of the Labour Party, at the island of Utøya, 35 kilometers west of Oslo. There were 500 people on the island. Impersonating a police officer, he shot for approximately 90 minutes, killing 69 people.
  • In 2012, French Islamist Mohammed Merah killed seven people in the city of Toulouse. He was eventually killed after a 32-hour siege at his flat in the city.
  • On May 22, 2013 a British Army soldier, Fusilier Lee Rigby of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was attacked and killed by Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, southeast London.
  • On May 26, 2013 in La Défense, a man stabbed soldier Cédric Cordier in the throat. Cordier was hospitalized but officials said his throat wound was not life-threatening. The man, named as Alexandre Dhaussy, was a convert to Islam.
  • In the December 20, 2014 Tours stabbing attack in France, a Burundi-born French national attacked the Joue-les-Tours police station with knife while shouting 'Allahu Akbar'. He managed to injure three police before he was shot dead.

United States



  • On December 15, 2014, a hostage crisis in the Lindt Café in Martin Place, Sydney ended with three deaths, including the suspect Man Haron Monis.[89] There is doubt as to whether or not Monis fit the definition of a lone wolf terrorist. 'Queensland University of Technology criminologist Associate Professor Mark Lauchs said it was important the siege wasn’t elevated to a “terrorist attack” as such. Assoc Prof Lauchs said Monis was simply a deranged person running a hostage situation... “This incident was not about religion and neither was it a terrorist attack, but given that perception by the paraphernalia Monis used.”'[90] The Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, “[Man Haron Monis] had a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability,” said Tony Abbott. “As the siege unfolded yesterday, he sought to cloak his actions with the symbolism of the ISIL death cult.” Former counter-terrorism adviser to the White House Richard Clarke said, “I don’t think this was a lone wolf terrorist, I don’t think this was a terrorist at all, I think this was someone who was committing suicide by police as a lot of people with mental problems do, and now, if they say they’re a terrorist, if they say they’re somehow associated with ISIS or Al Qaeda, it becomes a major event that shuts down the city and gets international attention. This was a person with a mental problem who tried to gain attention and succeeded, tried to shut down the city and succeeded, merely by putting up a flag that was something like the flag of ISIS.”[91]

See also


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"Operation Lone Wolf"; http://www.fbi.gov/sandiego/about-us/history/operation-lone-wolf

Further reading

External links