Research to probe lone wolf terrorists

As security agencies become increasingly concerned by the threat of lone wolf terrorist attacks experts from La Trobe University and Indiana State University have joined forces to conduct ground-breaking research into the phenomenon.


Image: Flickr user kcdstm.

Dr Ramón Spaaij, Senior Research Fellow at La Trobe University is considered the world’s leading expert on lone wolf terrorism and recently published the book Understanding Lone Wolf Terrorism: Global Patterns, Motivations and Prevention.
With a $247,000 research grant from the National Institute of Justice, which is part of the US Department of Justice, he and Professor Mark Hamm, an internationally recognised professor of criminology at Indiana State University, will use the theoretical and methodological approach developed in the book to conduct a two-year study into the enablers and triggers of lone wolf terrorists.
Dr Spaaij says he is thrilled about the project grant which will enable him tocollaborate intensively with Professor Hamm on a study that has major policy relevance. Dr Spaaij expects that law enforcement agencies in Australia would also be interested in their research findings.
‘Only last month ASIO Director General David Irvine stated that there is “a worrying threat from lone wolves who are harder to detect”, which he said is an “issue that most keeps me and my international colleagues awake at night”.’
Dr Spaaij has defined a lone wolf as someone who has a political agenda; is unaffiliated with a group; does not take attack directions from anyone; andinvolves no one else in planning the attack or procuring weapons for the attack.
‘Such a study has become important because lone wolves have become a bigger threat. In the US as well as in Australia, lone wolf or small group attacks are nowconsidered the most likely form of terrorist attack,’ said Dr Spaaij.
This research will assist security agencies to distinguish between duos, groups and state-organised terrorism.
Professor Hamm and Dr Spaaij will begin compiling a database of individuals that meet the latter’s four-part definition of a lone wolf, before selecting five for in-depth case studies and interviews.
‘We will consider post September 11 cases involving lone wolf terrorists who align themselves with jihadists or the radical right wing and who are on death row or serving life in prison,’ Dr Spaaij said.
‘We will look for commonalities in radicalisation processes such as enablers, triggering events, social environment and mental illnesses.’


Media enquiries
Dr Ramón Spaaij, Senior Research Fellow, La Trobe University, Melbourne Campus
Mark Pearce, Director, Media and Communications, La Trobe University, Melbourne Campus
T +61 3 9479 2316 M +61 423 783 756 E