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In the past few years, “lone wolf” jihadists seemed to emerge as the new face of terrorism. In December 2015, husband and wife Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik attacked a Christmas party held by Farook’s employer, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, killing 14. And in July, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove a truck through a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, killing 86 people. The attacks by the San Bernardino killers, Mateen, and Bouhlel followed an increasingly common pattern: the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) claimed credit for them, but the perpetrators appear to have planned and executed their operations alone. Lone wolves are an old problem, but in recent decades, the number of attacks by them has grown. And it won’t fall anytime soon: ISIS has embraced the tactic, and recent successes may well inspire copycats. And although lone wolves usually kill few people, they have an outsize political impact. In both the United States and Europe, they are fueling Islamophobia, isolating Muslim communities, and empowering populist demagogues. Although lone-wolf attacks are hard to prevent, governments in the West can do several things to make them less likely and to prepare for those that do occur. First, they should work to keep lone wolves isolated. Terrorists are far more likely to succeed if they can coordinate with others, especially if they have the help of an organized group, such as ISIS. Second, governments should direct security services to monitor and infiltrate jihadist social media accounts, and encourage private companies to shut them down, to identify individual terrorists and disrupt their communications. Finally, and most important, governments should try to discredit the ideology embraced by lone wolves. Yet doing all these things would only reduce the lone-wolf threat, not end it. It is impossible to stop every violent individual from picking up a gun and shooting (Byman, 2017).

There were more than 10,000 terrorist attacks worldwide last year five times as many as there were the year of the Sept. 11 attacks. There are no easy solutions to this problem. The United States has taken extraordinary steps to try to address it. These measures include: hardening and expanding physical barriers around sensitive locations and critical infrastructure; improving security procedures and screening at airports and other entry points; tightening controls on people entering the country; and strengthening investigation and prosecution capabilities for terrorism-related cases. More than 263 government entities were either created or reorganized to implement these reforms. Chief among them were the Department of Homeland Security, which integrated all or part of 22 different federal departments and agencies to unify domestic counterterrorism efforts, and the Transportation Security Administration, which centralized and standardized airport security. The United States simultaneously invested vast sums on countering terrorism abroad and building the capacity of partner security and intelligence services. According to estimates, Congress has appropriated $1.6 trillion to the Department of Defense (DoD) for war-related operational costs since September 11. Intelligence budgets have also significantly increased. In 2007, Congress appropriated $43.5 billion to the National Intelligence Program (NIP). Ten years later, the budget requested for the NIP rose to $53.5 billion. When combined with an estimated $123.2 billion for relevant State Department and Foreign Operations, the executive branch has received almost $2.5 trillion for counterterrorism activities and operations since the 9/11 attacks (Green, 2016).


Byman (2017). How to hunt a lone wolf: Countering terrorists who act on their own. Retrieved from

Green (2016). Do we need a new strategy to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States? Retrieved from