Lone attacker or lone wolf?
December 26th, 2011
04:00 AM ET

Lone attacker or lone wolf?

By Raffaello Pantucci, Special to CNN

EDITOR'S NOTE: Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), and the author of a recent report "A Typology of Lone Wolves: Preliminary Analysis of Lone Islamist Terrorists".

Recently the world saw two horrendous attacks on the streets of Europe. In Italy, Gianluca Casseri opened fire with a large handgun amid crowded tourist markets in central Florence. Two days later, Nordine Amrani opened fire with machine guns and grenades in central Liege, Belgium as citizens enjoyed a Christmas market.

Coming in the wake of Anders Behring Breivik’s massacre in Oslo earlier this year and numerous arrests in the US of individuals alleged to be planning solo terrorist attacks, this seems to be the year of the Lone Attacker.

But are these individuals terrorists or are they twisted individuals who are taking their vengeance on society for their own demented reasons?

The answer is a bit of both. Clearly, it takes a damaged mind to decide to kill at random. But such actions also instil terror in the civilian population affected. However, these acts on their own do not create a terrorist – that is normally defined as the use of violence against civilians to advance a political cause. An individual who is driven by personal demons to carry out an act of mass murder is different to someone who carries out such an act under the guise of a political ideology.

And so we can distinguish between Gianluca Casseri and Nordine Amrani. Casseri was a long-standing right-wing Italian who went out and targeted Senegalese vendors as they peddled their wares in central Florence, while Amrani was a petty criminal who seems to have snapped after a summons to the local police station. Their actions may have been similar – killing people at random and then taking their own lives – but the motivations at this early stage in the investigations seem to have been different. One seems to have been inspired by a xenophobic ideology, the other by personal demons.

For police, a lone shooter who simply snaps is almost impossible to predict or prevent, but an individual who is inspired by a twisted ideology may leave traces that can be detected. Usually, he or she will have made contact at some point with other extremists; or if acting alone may display suspicious behavior the local community would likely pick up on. Obtaining weapons is not always easy (guns frequently require permits or interaction with the unreliable criminal underworld) and bomb-making chemicals tend to be on watch-lists – as Saudi student Khalid Aldawsari discovered when he tried to purchase some in Texas.

From a citizen’s perspective, the distinction is equally important – a lone killer going on the rampage in a city center is one thing, but a methodical murderer driven by a clear if contorted ideology or prejudice can expose social tensions. Norwegians united in the wake of Breivik’s massacre, but in Florence, Senegalese vendors refused to believe police claims that Casseri had shot himself until one of them was brought to see the body. Believing Italian society to be predominantly racist and against them, their instinct was to suspect a cover-up was taking place – exactly the sort of social frictions Casseri was likely seeking to instigate.

The trend towards such lone killers or terrorists appears to be on the increase. Terrorist ideologies of all descriptions recognize the strategic utility of single-actor plots – they reduce the potential for detection and potentially multiply the impact. As we have seen this past week, a single attacker is able to sow considerable terror and hold. Another concern is the growing ease with which individuals can assemble increasingly complex bombs and then plan attacks. Anders Behring Breivik is an example of this perfect storm coming together, and in the wake of his attack police forces and security services globally have revisited the potential threat from such lone wolf terrorists.

Radical and militant ideas continue to hold sway among a small minority; and deranged individuals are an age-old part of society.

Understanding the distinction between the two is important – both to help prevent attacks by individuals and to try to minimize the damage they can do to our societies.


Filed under: Living With Terror • Lone wolf • Terrorism
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Annatala

    Don't insult wolves by comparing terrorists to them...

    February 9, 2012 at 10:58 am | Reply
  2. Skorpio

    Behind every suicide attack there is always an Islamic cleric. Eliminating Muslim clerics would make the world safer, peaceful, democratic and happier. Islam's second commandment is "An-Eye-For-An-Eye" unless these evil creatures experience the same pain, suffering and anxiety as their victims, nothing is going to change.

    January 15, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply
    • Stay Stupid The Zionists Like You Stupid

      I know what I'm going to do:

      I'm going to give all my money to the zionists.

      Then, when the dirty evil zionists start WW3, I am going to demand my children join the U.S. Army and go fight the Arabs and Iranians for the devil worshiping zionists. I will want them to die for the zionists, since our traitor zionist controlled Congress will send thousands of our armed forces into the Middle East to die, and I will want my children to be among the glorious American dead. And when my children come back in a coffin, I will tell anyone who will listen, my children died for a good cause – defending the murdering lying zionists so they can continue killing innocent women and children while stealing more Arab land.

      Plus, I will stay in debt and be a good goym – I'll live to support the zionists in apartheid racist israel.

      I will stay stupid since that is how the zionists like their goym.

      January 16, 2012 at 8:52 am | Reply
  3. I hate israel and zionists

    Let's bomb israel – eliminate the problem and the world will have peace

    israel is the problem – israel is behind 9-11

    israel is a state of mind – it does not exist – zionists are murderers – thieves – fuc k their fake arse fiat money.

    We don't want it and we don't need it

    f uck thier Fed. reserve con job

    f uck all the zonists in America with dual israli and u.s. citizenships – they are all traitors and should be shot!

    January 14, 2012 at 8:31 am | Reply
  4. MKULTRA BRAINCHIPMAN

    MILLIONS TO BE ASSASSINATED FOR THE SAKE OF $$$ LIABILITIES(mk-ultra, chip implants, electroshocks etc. performed on them) AND NEW WORLD ORDER(multiculturalism = terrorism) POLITICAL AGENDA KNOWN AS "YOU ARE NEXT...YOU ARE NEXT"(liabilities are 2 expensive for the government and it is cheaper to get read of you instead !!! NOW YOU KNOW WHAT US CONGRESS IS SOOO BUSY WITH WHEN PLAYING IN FRONT OF CAMERAS WHERE CLAIMING ONLY HOW SOMETHING HAVE TO BE DONE WHILE KNOWINGLY OMITTING AND IGNORING FACTS OF GENOCIDE AS SEEN ON THIS WELL KNOWN COMPLAIN )!!!

    http://myshortbiography.blogspot.com/

    LEARN TRUTH ABOUT UNITED NATIONS, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AS WELL AS NEW WORLD ORDER(MULTICULTURALISM = TERRORISM) GOVERNMENTS !!! NOT THERE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, BUT TO DENY YOUR RIGHT TO EXISTENCE !!!

    ABDUCTIONS / BRAIN CHIP IMPLANTS / BLACKLISTING / FORCEFUL UNEMPLOYMENT / MK-ULTRA BRAINWASHING AGAINST WHITE(under "NAZI" lie) CIVILIAN POPULATION TODAY IN 2011/2012 ACROSS THE EUROPE AND NORTHERN AMERICA !!!

    http://myshortbiography.blogspot.com/

    WHY TO ACCEPT LIABILITIES FOR CRIMES COMMITTED WHEN WE CAN SIMPLY ASSASSINATE OUR VICTIMS(YOU) THANKS TO HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS AND FREE PRESS/MEDIA(most severe censorship of genocide ever !!!)!!

    This news is related to WHITES AREN’T WELCOME IN AMERICA ANY LONGER !!! OUT OF AMERICA WITH WHITES NOW !!!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xGfYOAydjw&w=640&h=360]
    OR
    http://www.youtube.com/user/BostjanAvsec <== OBAMA'S HEALTH CARE RECORDED LIVE IN 2009 !!! These are hard facts about lunatic Obama/Bush's twilight zone administrations(HORROR) or genocide against whites per ZIONIST Washington DC and in complete agreement with communist Moscow !!!

    EXILING WHITES WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE AND IMPORTING NON WHITES IMMIGRATION REQUIREMENTS COMPLETELY FREE.

    December 27, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Reply
    • tinfoildude

      LMAO!!!

      December 28, 2011 at 9:19 am | Reply
    • Richard

      Dude...your LSD or mushrooms or toad secretions are fantastic. Did they make you write all this crap? Where do you get them?

      December 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Reply
    • Pacifist

      This looks like the work of Jared Lee Loughner. Complete fail.

      January 10, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Reply
  5. Skorpio

    I just can't imaging another Ft Hood mad Muslim US soldier in possession of an atomic bomb or virus. The root of the problem is Islam and secondly are Muslim clerics who transform people's minds into irrational beasts. Unless Muslims convert to a different religion there is always a potential risk of some suicide attack.

    December 27, 2011 at 9:50 am | Reply
    • I hate israel and zionists

      what is worse is israel – all the world's problems are the result of the evil devil zionist people.

      zionists are the evil in the world.

      someone please nuke tel-aviv – kill all of zionists in tel-avil – it might make the rest of the zionist invaders leave back to russia.

      January 14, 2012 at 8:34 am | Reply
    • I hate israel and zionists

      what is worse is israel – all the world's problems are the result of the evil devil zionist people.

      zionists are the evil in the world.

      someone please nuke tel-aviv – kill all of zionists in tel-avil – it might make the rest of the zionist invaders leave back to russia.

      January 14, 2012 at 8:35 am | Reply
  6. 2ND Airborne Pilot

    Our intelligence has uncovered the possibility of thousands of Iranian sleeper cells. They plan to launch assymetric attacks against our civilian population sometime after we launch our attacks on their country. First we will fuck up that cointry real food with a shock and awe pummelling unimagined before. Make no mistake. We will be ready for them. We have trained to impose martial law if necessary and we will follow orders to shoot to kill the terrorists and any American traitors that help them. If they dint die, they get a one way ticket to GITMO for a lifetime of waterboarding and humiliation. FUCK THE IRANIIANS !!!!!

    December 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Reply
    • jim thorpe

      Its people like you that create hate in this world, nice going you moron

      December 26, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Reply
    • mipolitic

      i think you mean f-– the iran leadership, i hope. perhaps you should seek a job in the un , they have a hard time getting a clear statement out.

      January 8, 2012 at 1:26 am | Reply
    • Pacifist

      The-military runs internal anti-terrorism drills all the time. Recently though they haven't been doing training for Persians or Arabs. The drill have mostly featured militias, Iraq vets and disgruntled Americans survivalists.

      January 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Reply
    • I hate israel and zionists

      They can't be worse then the israel internet defense force. Ha ha ha ha ha – a bunch of bagel bootie pumpers – i hear most zionists are queers – for sure they don't bath. they don't use soap.

      dirty nasty people!

      January 14, 2012 at 8:37 am | Reply
  7. dreamer96

    You might as well ask yourself how and why, do countries with different cultures, react differently to natural disasters..Look at Japan and after the terrible earthquake, tsunami, nuclear problems...The Japanese people remained mostly calm, were finding and returning money and valuables...where it was different in other countries where mass looting, and riots happened, and gangs controlled the streets...

    Maybe if we had a better way of putting our citizens back to work and providing education and job opportunities for everyone...their would be less people feeling left out, bitter at those around them that can go shopping and are the victims of these random acts....They are both attacking the generally successful people...or at least those that have adjusted to the system, have a place in the system...They both seem to holding a grudge against them...

    December 26, 2011 at 10:22 am | Reply

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