In the past 18 months, Leiden University and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism have been involved in an EU-funded project with RUSI, Chatham House and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. The Consortium studied lone-actor terrorists within the European Union between 2000 and 2014. Who are these perpetrators, and how do they plan and execute their attacks? This week, the analysis paper and four policy papers were published.
The project started with a definitional workshop where professionals and scholars agreed upon a definition of lone-actor terrorism:
The threat or use of violence by a single perpetrator (or small cell), not acting out of purely personal-material reasons, with the aim of influencing a wider audience, and who acts without any direct support in the planning, preparation and execution of the attack, and whose decision to act is not directed by any group or other individuals (although possibly inspired by others).
Subsequently, the Consortium collected data on 120 perpetrators of lone-actor terrorism. The analysis was divided into four particular focus areas: mental health (Leiden University), leakage and interaction with authorities (RUSI), motivations, political engagement and online activity (ISD) and attack methodology and logistics (Chatham House).
This week, the main results of the project were published. The reports gained a lot of media attention, as for instance the The Guardian reported that “Focus on Islamist terror plots overlooks threat from far right – report”.
Among the main findings of the published papers were that:
- 1 in 3 (33%) lone-actor terrorists in Europe since 2000 have been motivated by extreme right-wing beliefs, compared to 38% that were religiously-inspired.
- About 35% of the lone-actor terrorists reportedly had some kind of mental health problems, which should be compared to the overall average of 27% among the general population as reported by the World Health Organization
- The average age of the perpetrators was 29,7 years old
- The most frequent targets were civilians, in particular ethnic and religious minorities, asylum seekers and immigrants. A large majority of religious targets were Muslim
The papers reveal how lone-actor terrorists are often less secretive than might be expected. It argues that their behaviour and activity can provide warnings of their extreme views or even intention to act and calls for a holistic response to meet the challenge. The analysis and four policy paper reports can be accessed through the following links:
- Lone-Actor Terrorism Analysis Paper
- Lone-Actor Terrorism Policy Paper 1: Personal Characteristics of Lone-Actor Terrorists
- Lone-Actor Terrorism Policy Paper 2: Attack Methodology and Logistics
- Lone-Actor Terrorism Policy Paper 3: Motivations, Political Engagement and Online Activity
- Lone-Actor Terrorism Policy Paper 4: ‘Leakage’ and Interaction with Authorities