The growing threat of lone wolf terrorism is posing new challenges to security and intelligence agencies around the world, particularly as terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (IS) utilize social media and technology to recruit new members and inspire new attacks. Media reports have increasingly used the term “lone wolf” in a wide variety of contexts, but this term generally refers to an individual or small cell inspired to execute an attack in the name of an ideology or terrorist group independent of any connection to the organization itself. Without direct links to or communication with a broader network, security and intelligence agencies may fail to detect and prevent plots from lone wolf terrorists, whose plans only become apparent once they are underway. Some plots have included one assailant supported by multiple collaborators sympathetic to the ideology or terrorist group and can be described in similar terms, even though they may not be pure lone wolf events—but are still tellingly lacking any direction or communication with the terrorist hierarchy. Nonetheless, terrorist organizations have encouraged lone wolves and small groups to execute attacks on their own, and recent trends suggest these types of attacks are likely to increase in 2016, as they have proven to be highly effective. While many different ideologies can inspire acts of lone wolf terrorism, this report primarily focuses on lone wolves in the context of IS and Islamist extremism.
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