LAW REVIEW JOURNAL SUMMARY: A Typology of Lone Wolves: Preliminary Analysis of Lone Islamist Terrorists

Journal Author: Raffaello Pantucci – The International Center for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence

Summary/Outline Written by James F. Polk

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) (Pantucci p. 2).   His work focuses on European security, counter-terrorism and radicalization, but he is world renowned and also writes about similarities and differences between the European situation of radicalization and that of the United States of America, shedding light on the American situation.  He has written in several highly esteemed U.S. publications including: the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun, Washington Times, and HSToday.  Much of Mr. Pantucci’s writing can be found at:

The ICSR has published a series of papers titled “Developments in Radicalisation and Political Violence”.  They include papers from leading experts.  The papers provide summaries of existing knowledge and sources and also reviews of new arguments and views which are likely to change prevalent views on radicalization and political violence.  All the papers are written in plain English and the authors spell out policy implications clearly when they have them.  Raffaello Pantucci is among these world renowned writers.  This is a summary of his paper “A Typology of Lone Wolves: Preliminary Analysis of Lone Islamist Terrorists”.

As evidenced by the early news reports and reports from authorities relating to the individual who attacked the gay night club “Pulse” in Orlando Florida earlier this week, those commenting are not all immediately on the same page as to whether a single actor in a mass killing is a “lone wolf”, “lone actor”, “mass killer”, “one of a small team inclusive of his wife or what Pantucci refers to as a “lone wolf pack””.  This article addresses the question of how and even if to at all place what has become known as the “Lone Wolf terrorist” within the broader picture of terrorist groups.  This is an issue which confuses the public and confounds security experts.  This article works to define the group.

Pantucci talks about “Lone Wolf Packs” which at first seems like a misnomer, but they function much the same way as an individual “Lone Wolf” in that they are not directed or supported by Al Qaeda or by ISIS, they are self-radicalized, and usually have their own philosophy and maybe emotional/mental issues, and then towards the end and before they attack they claim a terrorist group like ISIS the way the Orlando shooter did.  These are people who could have just been loners who attacked, but they self-identified with a terrorist group before they did.

Pantucci offers four subsets of the definition of what is basically called a “lone wolf”.  He describes: the Loner, the Lone Wolf, the Lone Wolf Pack, and the Lone Attacker.  He describes throughout the article different specific European and American attackers who have fit the different profiles.  His goal is to help concerned professionals, governments, academics and individuals understand the nuanced differences between types of attackers.  He points out that more and more authority figures are giving credence to the phenomenon as an actual threat to national security.  He also talks about how increasingly terrorist groups in their own literature will reference the typology of lone wolf and encourage readers of their online literature to carry out a lone wolf attack.

“It is the lone-wolf strategy that I think we have to pay attention to as the main threat to this country.” –Leon Panetta, CIA Director, February 2010. (Pantucci p. 2).  Al Qaeda makes it very easy for the alienated loner to feel like they are a part of their group and also for them to participate.  Their easily accessible narrative of persuasive anti-establishment has transnational appeal and also carries with it a potential for operational support (Pantucci p. 2).

The basic breakdown of terms Pantucci uses is Lone Wolf is somebody with their own personal terrorist ideology  who self-identifies with Al Qaeda or ISIS.  Loner is more of a mentally ill outcast who claims Al Qaeda or ISIS but who only kind of is interested in terrorist political goals but carries out an attack.  A Lone Wolf pack is a group of 2 or 3 who act functionally like Lone Wolves in that they are not communicative with a large group and law enforcement does not have intel on them because they maintain a sort of radio silence.  The Lone Attacker is a person who is directed from abroad or from a terrorist group domestically, but they do so without communication while they are on their mission of carrying out their attack.  Their mission can last for a preparatory period of a number of years, and during this time they function in the same manner as a lone wolf.

This Paper is going to be incorporated into my larger final paper to function as an example of an academic providing a conceptual framework within which law enforcement and prosecution and investigative groups analyzing an attack, or data which can lead to an attack being foiled, describes different groups and focuses on definitions with examples of attackers who fit the definitions.  My other review articles have to do with law enforcement tactics in hunting the lone wolf or lone attacker, and also with what type of legislation empowers law enforcement as well as what sorts of influences shape public opinion and therefore shape how the public supports or resists different types of implementations of legislation and also different law enforcement discretionary use of legislation and judicial interpretation of legislation and also law enforcement action.  Our country is a constitutional republic and when we deviate to severely from our guiding principles even when doing so to defend ourselves we risk changing into something we will later regret.  We have to properly analyze the threat and the appropriate responses as well as the ramifications of certain attitudes and responses.


Pantucci, R. (2011). A Typology of Lone Wolves: Preliminary Analysis of Lone Islamist Terrorists.  Developments in Radicalisation and Political Violence. 

Published by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR).

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