Lone wolf attacks – Recent developments

Recent academic research has shown that around 35% of the perpetrators of lone actor attacks that occurred between 2000 and 2015 suffered from some sort of mental health disorder.

European Counter Terrorism Centre 20 July 2016

The four terrorist incidents that occurred over the past month (Orlando, USA; Magnaville, FR; Nice, FR; Würzburg, DE) highlight the operational difficulties in detecting and disrupting lone actor attacks. In the TE-SAT 2016, Europol stresses that such attacks remain a favoured tactic by Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda (AQ). Both groups have repeatedly called on Muslims living in Western countries to perpetrate lone actor attacks in their countries of residence. This was done via numerous publications and messages posted online. IS leadership has defined that there are two options for Muslims living in the West: either migrate to Islamic State territory or carry out a terrorist attack in their places of residence. For its part, AQ considers lone actor attacks a strategic tool at its disposal, condoning individual attacks as long as they fit the goal of its global jihad. Although IS has claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, none of the four attacks seem to have been planned, logistically supported, or executed directly by IS, according to the information available at Europol. The allegiance pledge by the perpetrators of the Orlando, Magnaville and Würzburg attacks indicates they were IS supporters but their actual involvement in the group cannot be established. Moreover, there is currently no evidence to suggest that the Nice attacker considered himself a member of IS. He is reported to have radicalised in a very short time frame and to have consumed jihadist propaganda in the days preceding the attack. In the case of Würzburg, media report that a handmade IS flag has been found in the perpetrator’s room. IS has endorsed the attacks but the perpetrators’ affiliation with the group has not been clear. The wording used in the messages claiming responsibility is notable. A’maq Agency purports to have received information from an unidentified “source”, stating the attacks were carried out by “soldiers of the Caliphate” or an “IS fighter”. This is in contrast to IS’s clear claims of responsibility for the attacks in November 2015 in Paris and in March 2016 in Brussels, by saying the attackers were its members sent to perpetrate the attack. This differentiation may indicate that IS would like to maintain a level of “reliability”, should information contradicting its claim of responsibility emerge.

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