The ‘lone wolf ’ terrorist – main features

Terrorism continues to change, and new ways of causing fear and violence are constantly appearing.

November 10, 2015 20:41
2 minute read.
Terror Israel

The body of the terrorist killed at the scene of vehicular terror attack near Tapuah Junction on November 8, 2015. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Recently Israel has found itself again at the forefront of the struggle against “lone wolf” attacks, an old-new form of terrorism. The Foreign Ministry is one of the main governmental players in Israel dealing with the phenomenon, its worldwide impact and the establishment of international cooperation mechanisms to confront it effectively.

Combating terrorism raises various challenges to many governments in many states.

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Terrorism continues to change, and new ways of causing fear and violence are constantly appearing.

A “lone wolf” terrorist is defined as one who acts outside of any command structure and without material assistance from any group. This threat is decentralized and therefore much harder to detect than threats orchestrated by “traditional” terrorist organizations.

Lone-wolf terrorists largely operate outside the kind of command-and-control structures intelligence organizations have learned to penetrate and dismantle.

Lone wolves are also difficult to identify due to the nature of the environment in which they operate. Often they are loners with limited social interactions, and spend an excessive amount of time on the Internet.

For this reason many of them are not identified until after they carry out a violent act.


The Internet is the main arena today in which the process of terrorist radicalization is occurring, with calls for violent acts, specific targets and instructions on how to use weapons all to be found online.

But the Internet can also be used as a positive tool in the fight against this phenomenon, both in spreading counter narratives as well as enabling law enforcement bodies access to open-source Internet postings and sites, chat rooms etc. Thus, where probable cause exists, they can seek legal authority to conduct surveillance in accordance with court-approved measures.

An effective countering requires a multi-layered approach, starting with countering violence extremism within the community, as well as the cooperation and collaboration of numerous law enforcement agencies and international sharing of intelligence, best practices and insights.

Those international ties are being managed in Israel by a few offices, among others by the counter-terrorism department of the Foreign Ministry’s strategic affairs division.

The phenomenon is high (probably the highest) on the agenda of security forces in the developed world, as attacks have occurred (in the past three years alone) in France, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Belgium, US and UK.

We in Israel suffer from lone-wolf attacks on almost a daily basis and are considered, internationally, to be leading the way in many aspects of the fight against the phenomenon.

This is also the reason that we, the ministry’s regional security and counter- terrorism department, have decided to dedicate the annual conference we conduct on security issues to “Countering Radicalization and Violent Extremism Leading to Terrorism: The Challenge of Terrorists Acting Alone or in Small Cells.”

In a three-day conference (November 9 to November 11), some 120 delegates from 42 countries and 10 international organizations will discuss many aspects of the phenomenon and ways to effectively tackle it. We are certain that the outcome of the conference, both by the sharing of best practices and by the interaction during the conference, will enable us to better counter the next attack.

The author is director of the department of regional security and counter-terrorism at the Foreign Ministry’s strategic affairs division.

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