Lone wolf (terrorism)

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A lone wolf or lone-wolf terrorist is someone who prepares and commits violent acts alone, outside of any command structure and without material assistance from any group. However, he or she may be influenced or motivated by the ideology and beliefs of an external group, and may act in support of such a group.

Origins of the term[edit]

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][2]

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".[3]

Current usage[edit]

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".[4]

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 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.[5]

A 2013 analysis by Sarah Teich, a research assistant at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, found five emerging trends in Islamist lone wolf terrorism in North America and western Europe between 1990 and 2013:

  • An increase in the number of countries targeted by lone wolves from the 1990s to the 2000s.
  • An increase in the number of people injured and killed by lone wolves.
  • Increased effectiveness of law enforcement and counter-terrorism.
  • Consistency in the distribution of attacks by "actor types" (loners, lone wolves, and lone wolf packs).
  • An increase in the number of attacks against military personnel.[6]

In the United States, lone wolves may present a greater threat than organized groups, and terrorists have not been limited to Muslims. 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," both native-born Americans.[7]

Some groups actively advocate lone wolf actions. Anti-abortion militant terrorist group The Army of God uses "leaderless resistance" as its organizing principle.[8] 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.[9]

List of lone wolf terrorist attacks[edit]

Africa, the Middle East and Asia[edit]

  • On November 15, 1988, Barend Strydom, a Christian Afrikaner, shot and killed seven people, and wounded 15 more, in and around Strijdom Square, Pretoria, South Africa. He declared that he was the leader of the White Wolves organisation, which proved to be a figment of his imagination.[10]
  • On February 24, 1994, Israeli Baruch Goldstein, a former member of the Jewish Defence League and follower of the Kahanist movement, opened fire inside the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, killing 29 people and injuring at least 100.[11][12]
  • 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.[13][14]
  • On August 4, 2005, Israeli Eden Natan-Zada, an alleged Kahanist, killed four Israeli Arabs on a bus and wounded 12 before being killed by other passengers.[15] 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.[16]
  • 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.[17][18]
  • 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.[19]
  • 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 in Aksu that killed 7 people.
  • In January 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan was assassinated by a lone wolf.[20]
  • 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."[21][22]

Europe[edit]

  • 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 Féin head office on Falls Road. Moore committed suicide shortly afterwards before arrest.[23]
  • 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.[24]
  • On May 6, 2002, in the Netherlands, nine days before elections, Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was murdered by Volkert van der Graaf, who said that he killed the politician for his having exploited Muslims as "scapegoats."[25]
  • On May 11, 2006, the Belgian student Hans Van Themsche shot and killed a Malinese au pair and the 2 year old child she was looking after before being shot by police. He told police he targeted people of different skin color. [26]
  • 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,[27] which would make it the first deadly act of this kind in Germany.[28]
  • On July 22, 2011, in Norway, Norwegian 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. 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 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.
  • On December 20, 2014, in Joué-lès-Tours, France, a Burundi-born French national attacked the local police station with a knife while shouting 'Allahu Akbar'. He managed to injure three police before he was shot dead.

United States[edit]

2010[edit]

  • On February 18, 2010, Joseph Andrew Stack III flew a small personal plane into an office complex containing an IRS office in Austin, Texas after posting a manifesto on his website stating his anti-government motives and burning his house. One person other than Stack died; 13 were injured.
  • On March 4, 2010, John Patrick Bedell, a self-proclaimed Libertarian and 9/11 truther, shot and wounded two Pentagon police officers at a security checkpoint in the Pentagon Station of the Washington Metro rapid transit system in Arlington County, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. The officers returned fire, striking him in the head. He died a few hours later, on the next day, March 5, 2010.
  • On May 10, 2010, Sandlin Matthew Smith set off a pipe bomb at the rear entrance of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida. No one is injured in the attack, but authorities found remnants of the pipe bomb at the scene, and shrapnel from the blast was found a hundred yards away. FBI agents later learned Smith was staying in a tent in Glass Mountain State Park in northwest Oklahoma. When approached by federal and state law enforcement officers Smith drew a firearm, and was fatally shot.[63][64]
  • On July 18, 2010, 45-year-old convicted felon Byron Williams was stopped by a CHP officer for speeding & weaving through traffic on I-580 in Oakland, California. After being approached by the officer, Williams or the officer began firing with a handgun. As additional CHP officers arrived on scene Williams started firing an M1A .308 rifle, and the CHP returned fire, firing a collective 198 rounds from pistols, shotguns, and .223 rifles, hitting Williams multiple times in the arms & legs. Oakland police confirmed at Williams’ July 20 arraignment that Williams planned to target the San Francisco offices of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Tides Foundation. Investigators reported Williams told them he wanted to "start a revolution by traveling to San Francisco and killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU."[65]
  • On August 17, 2010, 29-year-old Patrick Gray Sharp parked his truck and trailer in front of the Texas Department of Public Safety building in McKinney, Texas about 30 miles north of Dallas. Sharp set fire to the truck, which contained spare ammunition, and attempted to set fire to the trailer, which was believed to contain an improvised explosive device. Sharp then opened fire on the building's offices and windows, on employees who were outside, and on first responders with multiple firearms. Responding police returned fire, and when they reached Sharp found him dead of a gunshot.[66]
  • On September 1, 2010, James J. Lee, an Anti-immigrant environmental activist armed with two starter pistols and an explosive device, took three people hostage inside of the Discovery Communications headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Mr. Lee was shot & killed by police after a 4-hour standoff.[67]
  • On September 2, 2010 school bus driver and self-proclaimed member of the "American Nationalist Brotherhood" Donny Eugene Mower threw a Molotov Cocktail through the window of the Madera Planned Parenthood Clinic. After being arrested Mower also acknowledged having vandalized a local mosque.[68]
  • On November 26, 2010, Somali-American student Mohamed Osman Mohamud is arrested by the FBI in a sting operation after attempting to set off what he thought was a car bomb at a Christmas tree lighting in Portland, Oregon. He was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.
  • On November 28, 2010, 24-year-old Cody Seth Crawford firebombed the Salman Al-Farisi Islamic Center in Corvallis, Oregon in response to Mohamed Osman Mohamud's attempted car bombing of a Portland, Oregon Christmas tree lighting.[69]

2011[edit]

  • On January 17, 2011, a Neo-Nazi and racist with connections to the National Alliance, Kevin William Harpham, placed a radio-controlled pipe bomb on the route of that year's Martin Luther King Jr. memorial march. The bomb was discovered before it was exploded, the parade was rerouted, and the bomb defused.[70]
  • On July 21, 2011, Sovereign Citizen Joseph M. Tesi was stopped by a Colleyville, Texas Police officer for multiple traffic warrants. Mr. Tesi exited his vehicle with a gun drawn and pointing at the officer, the officer drew his weapon in response, and there was an exchange of gunfire, during which Mr.Tesi was struck in the face & foot.[71] Mr. Tesi, a member of the Moorish National Republic Sovereign Citizen movement, had previously sent letters to the court about his traffic warrants threatening to use "deadly force" if any Police officer attempted to arrest him on his own property.[72]

2012[edit]

2013[edit]

2014[edit]

  • On April 13, 2014 Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr., former leader of the White Patriot Party, advocate of white nationalism, white separatism, and a proponent of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, opened fire at a Jewish Community Center and at a retirement home in Overland Park, Kansas, killing 3.[76]
  • On June 6, 2014 sovereign citizen Dennis Marx drove up to the Forsyth County, Georgia court house with a rented SUV full of improvised explosives, guns, ammunition, smoke grenades, and supplies, while wearing body armor and more explosive devices, ostensibly to plead guilty to charges of possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute. Mr. Marx was spotted by Forsyth County Sheriff Deputy James Rush while the deputy was performing a routine security sweep outside the court house, exchanged gunfire with Mr. Marx, the sound of which alerted deputies within the court house, 8 of whom opened fire on Mr. Marx, killing him.[77]
  • On June 8, 2014 anti-government conspiracy theorists & former Bundy Ranch protesters Jerad and Amanda Miller shot & killed two Las Vegas police officers at a restaurant before fleeing into a Walmart, where they killed an intervening armed civilian. The couple died after engaging responding officers in a shootout; police shot and killed Jerad, while Amanda committed suicide after being wounded.[78]
  • On August 11, 2014 Sovereign Citizen Douglas Lee LeGuin started a dumpster fire in an upscale Dallas suburb, planning to occupy a house there as his own sovereign nation, opening fire on fire & police first responders before surrendering to SWAT officers.[79]
  • On October 23, 2014 in the 2014 New York City hatchet attack, a radicalized Islamic convert, Zale F. Thompson, charged at 4 NYPD officers with a hatchet. He injured 2 of them, and the two that weren't affected shot him to death.[80]
  • On November 28, 2014 self-proclaimed member of the Phineas Priesthood Larry Steve McQuilliams went into downtown Austin, Texas with firebombs, and improvised explosive devices firing over 100 shots into the Austin Police headquarters, the Federal Courthouse, the Mexican Consulate (which he also attempted to firebomb), and a local bank, before being killed by a mounted Austin Police officer with a 1 handed 312 feet shot through the heart.[81]

2015[edit]

2016[edit]

Canada[edit]

Australia[edit]

  • 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.[92] 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. Associate Professor 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."[93] The Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, "[Man Haron Monis] had a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability. 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."[94]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]