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This project aims to improve understanding of, and responses to, the phenomenon of lone actors through analysis of comprehensive data on cases from across Europe.

Latest reports

Literature Review

Definitional Workshop

Database Workshop

Analysis Paper

Policy Paper 1: Personal Characteristics of Lone-Actor Terrorists

Policy Paper 2: Attack Methodology and Logistics

Policy Paper 3: Motivations, Political Engagement and Online Activity

Policy Paper 4: ‘Leakage’ and Interaction with Authorities 

Toolkit Paper 1: Practical Guidance for Mental Health Practitioners and Social Workers

Toolkit Paper 2: Practical Guidance for Security Practitioners

Final Report

As intelligence agencies and law enforcement have become increasingly adept at detecting and disrupting large-scale terrorist plots, potential attackers have instead turned to smaller scale, less sophisticated assaults. In part, this trend reflects a decision by wider extremist groups to adopt lone actor terrorism as a tactic, with both Daesh and Al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula trying to inspire their supporters to carry out such attacks. In other cases, individuals, dyads or triads judge that a lone actor attack will have greater chance of success, or perhaps lack connections to a wider network. Whatever the case, there is a growing trend of individuals or small cells acting in isolation from a wider group to conduct terrorist activity. 

Lone actor terrorists are perceived as presenting acute challenges for law enforcement practitioners in detection and disruption; acting without direct command and control from a wider network, it is assumed that without such communications they may evade the traditional ‘trip-wires’ that would bring them to the attention of the authorities. Through the construction and analysis of a database of 120 perpetrators from across Europe, the project seeks to improve understanding of lone actor terrorists, their behaviour, and their activities in the period leading up to their intended attack, therefore assisting European governments and frontline workers to counter the threat.

Supporters and Partners

Co-funded by the Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme of the European Union

European Union
Chatham HouseISDLeiden University

The project is co-funded by the Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme of the European Union, and has been undertaken by a RUSI-led consortium. Partnering institutions include Chatham House, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and Leiden University, one of the founding organisations of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) at The Hague.

The project is grateful for the additional support received from the Dutch National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV). It also acknowledges the support of associate partners, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO, now the National Police Chiefs’ Council, NPCC) in the UK and the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM).