The latest detailed study conducted by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) reveals how lone actor terrorists are often less secretive than might be expected. It argues that their behaviour and activity can provide warnings of extreme views or even an ‘intention to act’, and promptly calls for an holistic response to meet the defined threat.
Lone actor terrorists are perceived as presenting acute challenges for law enforcement practitioners in terms of both detection and disruption. By definition, such terrorists act without direct command and control from a wider network. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s assumed that without such communications, they may evade the ‘tripwires’ that would usually bring them to the close attentions of the authorities.
The study argues: “Lone actors should not be considered as detached, as is often presumed” and claims: “The machinery of counter-terrorism is not well-attuned to detecting a significant aspect of the lone actor terrorist threat.”
Significantly, this study reveals that, while the focus for the authorities is on religiously-inspired lone actor extremists, there’s an equal number of far right extremists who may go undetected. 88% of religiously-motivated terrorists have been caught through intelligence-led intervention, while 40% of right wing extremists were ‘uncovered with an element of chance’.
Clare Ellis, an expert at RUSI and a contributor towards the study, stated: “Security forces are far more likely to be watching the wider pool of religiously-inspired extremists than far right extremists. This reflects broader threat assessments and corresponding priorities across the European Union.”
According to Melanie Smith, an expert at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and another contributor to the study: “Religiously-inspired terrorists remain the primary concern for European Governments. However, our research shows that extreme right lone actors are almost equal in number. The majority of policing and security resources remain focused on preventing attacks from ISIS-inspired individuals, but this has to change in light of the refugee crisis. For their part, European Governments need to commit more resources towards detecting and preventing extreme right lone actor terrorists.”
Entitled ‘Countering Lone Actor Terrorism’, the thought-provoking study is led by RUSI and a consortium of policy institutes including Chatham House, the ISD and the University of Leiden. The overall findings are published in eleven papers.
Smith highlights how the research “finds that one-in-three lone actor terrorists exhibited some form of link to a radical or extreme group despite planning and undertaking their attack alone. The police and the Security Services should continue to monitor non-violent groups, particularly on public social media platforms, and spot individuals who may be becoming violent.”
Furthermore, the overall conclusions about lone actors’ use of guns fits with broader concerns about the easy availability of firearms in parts of Europe. Between 2000 and 2014, firearms accounted for 89% of lone actor terrorism fatalities across the continent. This highlights the need for greater action, and indeed European co-operation, aimed at reducing their circulation.