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The Enigma of Lone Wolf Terrorism: An Assessment

Studies in Conflict and TerrorismJournal abstract

Lone wolf terrorism remains an ambiguous and enigmatic phenomenon. The boundaries of lone wolf terrorism are fuzzy and arbitrary. This article aims to define and analyze the main features and patterns of lone wolf terrorism in fifteen countries. Lone wolf terrorism is shown to be more prevalent in the United States than in the other countries under study. The cross-national analysis suggests that in the United States lone wolf terrorism has increased markedly during the past three decades; a similar increase does not appear to have occurred in the other countries under study. The numbers of casualties resulting from lone wolf terrorism have been relatively limited, and there is no evidence that the lethality of lone wolf terrorism is on the increase. The rates of psychological disturbance and social ineptitude are found to be relatively high among lone wolf terrorists. Lone wolf terrorists tend to create their own ideologies that combine personal frustrations and aversion with broader political, social, or religious aims. In this process, many lone wolf terrorists draw on the communities of belief and ideologies of validation generated and transmitted by extremist movements.

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