Skip to main content

Bombing Alone : Tracing the Motivations and Antecedent Behaviors of Lone-Actor Terrorists

Using data from case-studies of 119 lone-actor terrorists, this article analyses aspects of their behaviour and examines differences of ideology and broader social networks. The article presents seven conclusions. The authors identified no uniform profile amongst lone actor (or lone wolf) terrorists, that many but not all were socially isolated and that there were a wide range of experiences that led up to terrorist attacks. They also noted that other people were generally aware of terrorists’ extremist beliefs and possibly also their intention to act violently and that they also undertook a range of detectable and observable activities within wider movements, including terrorist organisations. Lone-actors were rarely impulsive in their decision to carry out terrorist attacks and finally, whilst there were no uniform profiles, there were distinguishable differences between sub-groups, for example between al Qaeda inspired terrorists, and single-issue and right-wing offenders.

The definition of lone-actor terrorist is broader than many might assume, though still applied in a logically consistent way. Their sample (gathered from open-source news reports) included individual terrorists (e.g. Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber) who trained and selected targets on their own, individual terrorists who received training and/or were given targets, and isolated dyads (e.g. Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale who murdered Lee Rigby in Woolwich) who may have radicalised each other, but who received no external direction.

Within the main findings highlighted above, there are a number of other interesting details, which complement and extend existing research into terrorism, for instance on the role of the internet (46% learned key skills through online sources) and past criminality (41.2% had previous convictions). The authors point out that this last point is worth following up with further research, but in the meantime this is an informative and readable article which is a positive addition to the existing literature.

You might also like: