Lone-Actor Terrorism

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




Main Image Credit Tero Vesalainen / Alamy Stock Photo


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. 

Main Image Credit Tero Vesalainen / Alamy Stock Photo

Aims and objectives

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.

This project concluded in April 2016.

Project outputs


Access the key publication outputs for this project.

Lone-Actor Terrorism: Literature Review

Lone-Actor Terrorism: Definitional Workshop

Lone-Actor Terrorism: Database Workshop

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

Lone-Actor Terrorism: Toolkit Paper 1: Practical Guidance for Mental Health Practitioners and Social Workers

Lone-Actor Terrorism: Toolkit Paper 2: Practical Guidance for Security Practitioners

Lone-Actor Terrorism: Final Report


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