Flaws in the ‘Lone Wolf’ Analysis

by A.J. Caschetta (August 2016)


Beginning in the late twentieth century, the West became enthralled by the term “lone wolf” and began using it to denote perpetrators of particularly heinous crimes who act without the assistance of other criminals. The term has become practically ubiquitous with journalists, analysts and politicians now instinctively applying it not only to psychopaths like Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes and Newtown, Connecticut child-killer Adam Lanza, but also to jihadists, even when they attack in pairs, like roommates Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev or husband and wife Syed Rizwan Farooq and Tashfeen Malik. Rarely has a term so frequently used been so inconsistently applied. 

Whatever originality or dubious benefit it might have brought to the study of political violence, the lone wolf analysis has ceased to be useful. There little consensus over its meaning, and it is illogical and misleading when used to describe jihadists. In the age of Obama it has become a red herring detracting attention from the growing global jihad movement.

Rhetorical Analysis

The logic of the term “lone wolf” derives from observation of the common wolf (Canis lupus).  Wolves are social animals, living in packs that act in concert to achieve common objectives like hunting and killing prey. From time to time, an adult male challenges the leader of the pack, and the loser is ejected, becoming a “lone wolf.” A lone wolf is a less effective killer than an organized pack, but its atypical behavior makes it dangerous in other ways. It is also more difficult to track one wolf than it is to track a pack of wolves. Applied to criminals, the term insinuates a dangerous unpredictability.

In 2014, Ben Zimmer of The Wall Street Journal examined the history of the term. He found its origins in the Native American Kiowa tribe, from whence it became a figure in British literature (Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells) and American literature (Stephen Crane, Louis Joseph Vance) and was subsequently picked up by law enforcement agencies to denote “a criminal not associated with a gang.”

Zimmer’s etymological history jumps from popular literature to law enforcement, overlooking the mediating role of the press, but the lone wolf analysis is more the product of the media than of law enforcement. The dispassionate field of criminology is focused on collecting, analyzing and classifying data in order to create profiles, whereas press outlets compete with one another in order to sell stories. They create metaphors and analogies seeking to entertain and sensationalize. Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister of CNN call the lone wolf “the unknowable face of terror.”  

An examination of the media’s use of the term shows great inconsistency. A solitary criminal who commits theft is not called a “lone wolf thief.” No one has ever been called a “lone wolf rapist.” The “lone wolf” label is reserved for murderers, but even then the term is inconsistently applied. A solitary murderer of one individual is not called a “lone wolf murderer.” A solitary murderer of a series of individuals is called a “serial killer.” 

Only when the crime is mass murder or terrorism does the entire media spectrum from left to right reflexively reach for the “lone wolf” label. Lately that reflex is strong, as it seems any terrorist not caught or killed with multiple comrades, in flagrante delicto, and not in the possession of either a valid ISIS passport or Al-Qaeda photo-ID, is considered a “lone wolf.”

The term has been applied to too many different kinds of attackers to retain a stable meaning. Probably the only thing that the Columbine shooters and Timothy McVeigh have in common is being described as lone wolves (and none of them acted alone). Jeffrey D. Simon considers “active shooters” and “assassins” to be lone wolves, and he lists such activities as hijacking and product tampering as examples of the kinds of attacks carried out by five specific types of lone wolf terrorists: “secular, religious, single-issue, criminal, and idiosyncratic.”

Used to describe the truly unknown, unpredictable solitary attacker, the term “lone wolf” is not logically objectionable. While completely unnecessary, the terms “lone wolf” and “lone wolf attacker” are at least not illogical to describe psychotic killers like movie theater shooters James Holmes (Aurora, CO) and John Russell Houser (Lafayette, LA), both of whom carried out attacks unpredictable by law enforcement and without assistance. But since they also acted without any discernable political or religious motives, their crimes do not amount to terrorism, and they were not “lone wolf terrorists.” Even Jared Lee Loughner, the man who shot Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others was driven by insanity and not politics.

For all its overuse, the term “lone wolf terrorist” is only applicable when the crime is terrorism and the criminal works alone. Therefore there have only been two lone wolf terrorists: the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, and Norway’s most famous terrorist, Anders Breivik. Both of these killers acted alone and committed, as per the FBI’s definition, “unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a Government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” It may be that Micah Xavier Johnson will turn out to be the third lone wolf terrorist, but at this writing it is still too soon to conclude that he acted alone. Every other known terrorist has had connections that make the “lone wolf” label incongruous. Analysts tempted to add Eric Rudolph should consider that he almost certainly had help hiding from the massive seven-year manhunt after he bombed the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The Unabomber’s younger brother turned him in after recognizing his delusional fantasies in the “Manifesto” published by The Washington Post and The New York Times. That’s about as “lone” as a wolf can get. 

Critics of the Term

There are some indications suggesting that the cliché is on the decline. In January 2015, Michel Moutot of the Agence France Presse challenged the lone wolf analysis as “an intellectual creation that appeared in the United States as part of the Bush administration’s global war on terror’ in 2001.” Moutot believes the “fantastical figure” of the lone wolf was invented to facilitate Bush’s portrayal of “an internal enemy, who is elusive and everywhere [which] justified draconian policies like the Patriot Act.” But Moutot is wrong on several counts. First, his chronology is off. The term predates the Bush administration and became a cliché after Bush left office, starting in the Summer of 2009 when the Obama administration launched the “Lone Wolf Initiative.” The term has flourished under Obama, partly because it offers a way to discuss Islamist terrorism without mentioning Islam (a priority). And ACLU hyperbole notwithstanding, the Patriot Act’s “Lone Wolf Provision” (also known as the “Moussaoui Fix“) was far from draconian.

Other critics, like Nabila Ramdani, believe it is too often used to equate Islam with terrorism.  Ramdani argues that since “anyone can claim a link with ISIS or Al Qaeda” we should be skeptical of such claims. Instead of labeling Jihadist murderers like Yassine Salhi and Seifeddine Rezgui “lone wolves” she calls them “micro-terrorists” – sick men “whose affiliation with Islam seems based mostly on a twisted attempt to justify their barbarity.”

Former FBI agent Ali Soufan (now of the Soufan Group) finds the term misleading for another reason.  Since so many of the reputed “lone wolves” are “individuals with well-known patterns of violent extremist or criminal behavior and connections” Soufan believes we should instead call them “known wolves.”  But not everyone designated a “lone wolf” is known to law enforcement. Some fall into a category Anne Speckhard calls “clean-skin terrorists” whose lack of criminal records make them hard to detect. 

A surprising critique comes in the form of a Reuters study on the phenomenon, under the headline: “Wolf Dens, Not Lone Wolves, the Norm in U.S. Islamic State Plots.”  “The lone-wolf fallacy,” as Paul Sperry calls it, is the failure to account for the killers’ contacts in “family, local mosques and the larger Muslim community.” 

In the days following Omar Mateen’s attack in Orlando, Florida, Sebastian Gorka appeared on Fox News offering audiences the boldest criticism yet: “’Lone Wolf Terrorist’ is a phrase designed to make Americans stupid.” The following week he elaborated in print, calling it a “weasel term…designed to dissuade the public from thinking there’s a link between all of these attacks, a connective tissue that ties them to 9/11, Fort Hood, Chattanooga and the Boston bombings. But that link exists: It is global jihadism.”

The “Lone Wolf Islamists”

With some reluctance we might accept the terms “lone wolf attackers” (Lanza, Holmes) and “lone wolf terrorists” (Kaczynski, Breivik), but we should reject all forms of the term for jihadists. As former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a critic of the lone wolf analysis for years now, has observed (and tweeted) “the lone wolf has become a pack of wolves and the pack of wolves has a common ideology…called Muslim extremist terrorism.” Whether or not they attack with the assistance or direction from an entity on the US State Department’s list of specially-designated terrorist organizations under Executive Order #13224, today’s jihadists are part of a global community that came into existence in 1979 and began expanding exponentially with the advent of the internet.

Days after the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979 Abdalluh Azzam (a future co-founder of Al-Qaeda) issued a fatwa declaring jihad Fard Ayn – that is, a “compulsory duty on every single Muslim.” He called on all Muslims to defend both their brothers in Afghanistan as well as Islam itself. Azzam’s subsequent treatise, Join the Caravan (c. 1987), elaborated on the earlier work and presented Muslims with a narrative of an embattled Islam, under worldwide attack and therefore requiring a worldwide response from all Muslims. These two works dominate the Jihadist mind.

Following the argument of Mohammad Abdus Salam Faraj’s treatise The Absent Obligation, Azzam’s Join the Caravan argues that the Ummah abandoned jihad and thus brought about its own problems. The urgency of the 1979 fatwa gives way to impatience with the neglectful: “What is the matter with the scholars…propagators…students…Imams…Mothers…Fathers?” The list culminates with “What is the matter with the Muslims?” and then turns into a metaphorical exhortation: “draw your sword, climb on the back of your horse, and wipe the blemish off your Ummah.” 

Over and over again, Join the Caravan stresses that “jihad is a collective act of worship.”  Every individual has a role to play. Some will fight in the lead and others will follow. Those who are too weak or ill to fight (“such as the cripple”) can still support the fight by “working in other spheres.” Or Azzam advises they “go out to swell the ranks for this will help terrorize the enemy.”  

Azzam’s rhetoric endures largely unchanged today. The caravan metaphor recurs in the ISIS online magazine Dabiq which follows Azzam’s rhetoric closely, frequently cites his words and uses his image. Issue #10 urges English-speaking readers to “Join the Caravan of Islamic State Knights in the Lands of the Crusaders” and shows images of 13 jihadists who struck in the US, Europe and Australia. 

The global jihadist movement has a massive support system, both real and virtual. A jihadist may attack solo but he is always supported by a community that believes he is partaking honorably and piously in a 1400-year old tradition. The battle cry “Allahu Akbar” is a sign of that community; those who shout it during an attack are not “unaffiliated,” and they are not “lone wolves.”

In Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance (2012) George Michael uses the terms “lone wolf jihadist” and “lone wolf Islamist.” These are oxymorons: the jihadist-Islamist ideology is a bond that, as Azzam puts it, “unites the Ummah.” Some came to this ideology as converts (the beltway snipers, Nolen, Couture-Roleau, Zehaf-Bibeau, Thompson) while others were previously unobservant Muslims taken with what Daniel Pipes calls “Sudden Jihad Syndrome” (Taheri-azar, the Tsarnaev brothers, Rezgui, Abdulazeez). All decided to follow Osama bin Laden’s 1998 call to wage “jihad against the Jews and crusaders.”

Aside from a shared ideology, today’s jihadists are united in their motivations, targets and tactics. Following Azzam, they act out of a sense of loyalty forcing them to right perceived wrongs committed by non-Muslims against Muslims, whom they must defend and avenge (Kamal, Taheri-azar, Brown, Tsarnaev brothers, Kouachi brothers). They especially prize attacks on members of the military (Muhammed, Hasan, Couture-Rouleau, Abdulazeez), intelligence (Kansi) and law enforcement (Thompson) whom they believe are directly responsible for injuring Islam. But they also choose “soft” targets, such as civilians in “gun-free zones.” And of course they target Jews (Nosair, Hadayet, Haq, Merah, Nemmouche, Coulibaly, El-Hussein). 

The Cyber-pack

Often, those quickly dubbed “lone wolves” during or shortly after their attacks are proven to be affiliated with terrorist groups. “Lone wolf” Najibullah Zazi, who attempted to detonate bombs in the New York City subway system, admitted to being an Al-Qaeda operative. “Lone wolf” Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, was found to be a part of Tehrik-e-Taliban. Theo Van Gogh’s killer, “lone wolf” Mohammed Bouyeri, turned out to be a member of the Hofstad Group, the Dutch Al-Qaeda. 

Even when law enforcement cannot prove membership or even physical contact between jihadists and terrorist organizations, there is often a great deal of evidence to show virtual contact. In 2003 Rita Katz and Josh Devon pointed out that “Yahoo! has become one of al Qaeda’s most significant ideological bases of operation.” Some of the earliest Al-Qaeda websites encouraged “Muslim Internet professionals to spread and disseminate news and information about the jihad through email lists, discussion groups and their own Web sites. The more web sites, the better it is for us. We must make the Internet our tool.” A pioneer in this area was Anwar al-Awlaki, leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). 

Both the Fort Hood shooter, “lone wolf” Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, M.D. and failed underwear bomber “lone wolf” Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab were personally coached and guided by al-Awlaki with no evidence that they were ever in the same room with him. In Lone Wolf Terrorism, Understanding the Growing Threat (2010), Jeffrey D. Simon calls Roshonara Choudhry “the purest of lone wolves” because she was “radicalized” by “downloading more than a hundred sermons by Anwar al-Awlaki.”

Speaking four days after the June 12, 2016 Orlando jihad attack, CIA Director John Brennan told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the CIA has “not been able to uncover any direct link between…Mateen, and a foreign terrorist organization.” Then he implicitly undercut the importance of direct links by conceding “that inspiration can lead someone to embark on this path of destruction.”   

With the newest generation of ISIS jihadists, the connection to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the ISIS leadership may be exclusively an online one. FBI director James Comey told a Senate hearing on July 9, 2015 that ISIS is “not your grandfather’s Al-Qaeda.” Like Brennan, he implicitly acknowledged that direct ties to the organization are no longer necessary, as inspiration has become more important than “membership.” As Comey put it, ISIS inspires attackers using social media like “a devil on their shoulder all day long saying, ‘kill, kill, kill, kill.'” That devil does not require attendance at an ISIS boot camp in Raqqa.   

ISIS is not alone in its use of online magazines, Facebook and Twitter accounts to recruit and train. Tamerlan Tsarnaev may or may not have been physically trained by Al-Qaeda in his trips to Chechnya and Dagestan, but to construct the bombs he used to attack the Boston Marathon, he followed the plan in an Inspire article titled “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” 

Perhaps the best illustration of the cyber pack is Yassine Salhi whose July 2015 attack in France was widely described as the work of a “lone wolf.” After killing and decapitating his victim, Salhi paused to take a “selfie” posing with the severed head which he then shared (via WhatsApp) with his community. Then he left two homemade ISIS flags at the scene.

Jihadists Take Up the Term

This obsession with referring to Jihadists as “lone wolves” began with journalists and law enforcement officials and then was taken up by academics and analysts. Then came scores of articles, book chapters and full-length books of lone wolf analysis. After achieving full cultural saturation, the term is now becoming accepted and even adopted by terrorists themselves, completing a self-perpetuating media loop. The final stage of this loop is now underway, as the propagandists at corporate headquarters are being nudged into using the alien term. 

Al-Qaeda has only just begun using the term. In 2013 when AQAP (publisher of the English language online magazine Inspire) released an online guide for jihadist attackers in the West, the “step to step guide on how to become a successful lone mujahid” was titled Lone Mujahid Pocketbook – not Lone Wolf Pocketbook.

In September 2015, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri issued an audio statement (in Arabic) on the Jihad forum Al Fida’ urging competing groups in Syria and elsewhere to stop fighting each other and unite in battle against the common enemy. His call for individual Muslims in the West to attack was widely translated, including by the venerable Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), as a call for “lone wolf attacks,” but Zawahiri did not use the term. MEMRI’s editors confirmed for me that “Zawahiri doesn’t use that literal term or any other colloquial equivalent. Rather he calls on individuals to engage in uncoordinated attacks of the type that have commonly come to be referred to in English as ‘lone wolf.’”

In the Summer 2015 edition of Inspire magazine (Issue #14) the terms “Lone Jihad” and “Lone Mujahid” are found throughout various articles, but no lone wolves. The issue begins with an “Editor’s letter” that announces:

We at Inspire, and in the cause of the events of 9/11 encourage the Muslims in the West to join the Lone Jihad caravan. The caravan that has and will always continue to trouble and bring nightmares to the west. In this issue, we have presented for the Lone Mujahid ways and methods to enable him to give victory to the religion and prophet.

Here Azzam’s influence is obvious, though the caravan metaphor nullifies the adjective “lone.”  And though the term “lone wolf” was absent in AQAP’s rhetoric, Western analysts inserted it anyway. 

Even the respected Site Intelligence Group fell into the pattern. In its analysis of Inspire Issue #14, a Site commentator inserted “lone wolves” for the original’s “Lone Mujaheed.” It did the same with Dabiq Issue #10.  

It was probably inevitable that ISIS, with its emphasis on reaching English language speakers, would adopt the term that had achieved such widespread acceptance in the American media.  Though difficult to pin down precisely when this happened, it seems to have begun late in 2015. 

A turning point came on November 23, 2015 when ISIS released a video in Russian that not only used the Russian terms “Lone Wolf” and “Lone Wolves” (again, as confirmed to me by MEMRI editors), but also featured an image of a wolf in the video.  

In early 2016 ISIS released an updated English-language version of a 64-page booklet called Lone Mujahid, but the word “wolf” was added to form the new title: Lone Wolf Mujahid.

By May 2016 when Issue #15 of Inspire came out, Al-Qaeda had begun using the term. An article titled “The Lone Jihad, Between Strategy and Tactic” begins with an epigram of sorts: “And this individualism and independence is the main reason for it (Lone Jihãd) to be termed as a Lone Wolf attack.” The article by Sheikh Nasser Al-Anisi uses the term “Lone Wolf” once, “Lone Wolves” once, “Lone Mujahid” three times, and “Lone Jihad” 18 times. 

The media loop had come full circle but only in terminology. Al-Anisi shows that he uses the term merely as a convenience. He undercuts its logic by advising the successful “Lone Jihad to return to his fellow Mujahid brothers and coordinate with them in order to unite the efforts,” demonstrating that the “Lone Jihad” is not really lone at all.  

A Better Metaphor

The phenomenon of the lone mujahid cries out for a better metaphor, based on a social structure that more closely resembles the character and rhetoric of the global jihad. Rather than the social world of wolves and pack life, the social world of bees and hive life suits the situation much better.

A lone wolf is an individual. Its strongest instinct is self-preservation, and it can survive alone. But a solitary bee is a member of a community that instinctively works to grow and defend that community. Each bee will sacrifice its life in defense of the hive and die for the colony without which it cannot survive. Azzam came close to this metaphor when he wrote that “it is necessary that the whole body of the Islamic Ummah rally together to protect this organ.” Azzam’s Islam rejects most expressions of individuality, favoring an all-encompassing collectivism and a hive mentality. As he put it “Jihad is a collective act of worship.”

Even Al-Anisi’s description of the lone mujahid returning to coordinate with his brothers “to unite the efforts” seems like a description of a worker bee returning to the hive to communicate to the colony and plan the next step.


After decades of overuse, the lone wolf analysis is probably not going away quickly. At best, the public will continue to be mildly titillated by its sensationalism and, at worst, continue to be led astray by it. Politicians and law enforcement officials have been guilty of both. When he was still Attorney General, Eric Holder said that fear of a lone wolf is “frankly what keeps me up at night.” Last year, Director of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson told ABC news that “we’re very definitely in a new phase in the global terrorist threat, where the so-called lone wolf could strike at any moment.” 

Lately the lone wolf analysis has crept into political campaigns with Hillary Clinton promising to be the president who will stop lone wolves and Chuck Schumer bringing the lone wolves out in the latest battle of his ongoing war against gun ownership: “It’s a new America, with ISIS preying on lone wolves who can easily get guns. That has to stop before there’s another Orlando.”

The idea that a terrorist group could successfully call on its sympathetic global constituency to carry out attacks as “lone wolves” shows how unstable the term’s logic is. And yet its use continues.

Ultimately the “lone wolf” analysis provides a useful tool for anyone seeking to disconnect Islam from jihad attacks. In spite of Omar Mateen’s mid-attack pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, US Senator Bernie Sanders said that we may never know what inspired him to attack. Portraying the growing legion of attackers as “lone wolves” is a way of denying the existence of the global movement Azzam started. The Obama administration uses the term “lone wolf terrorist” to denote an unaffiliated and unconnected terrorist “wannabe” rather than a member of a movement. Much of the federal government seems puzzled by the threat, crippled by a fear of offending Muslims, and guided by a president who continues to insist that ISIS is not Islamic.   

By refusing to look for jihadists, and then after their attacks looking for reasons other than jihad, we make it easier for them to hide. 

Sebastian Gorka might be overstating the origin of the term “lone wolf” by declaring it designed to make Americans stupid, but he just might be correct about its effects.

Appendix of Jihadists Misidentified as “Lone Wolves”

The following list is by no means complete. The focus is on the West – mostly North America and Europe. Including Asia, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula would obviously make the list much longer.

There are some ambiguous entries, such as Volkert van der Graaf who murdered Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn. van der Graaf had mixed motives and psychological problems in addition to his Islamist motivations (he said he acted “to protect Muslims”).

There are also ambiguous omissions, such as Timothy McVeigh – the most famous “lone wolf” ever, even though he acted with at least one fellow wolf and maybe more. McVeigh’s known partner, Terry Nichols, was named by the leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group as a participant in Ramzi Yousef’s Al-Qaeda bomb-making seminars at Cebu City in the Philippines where Nichols spent a great deal of time.

And finally, only in the most extreme cases have I included thwarted attempts. Again, the list would be much longer if it included all of the jihadists caught by law enforcement before carrying out their planned attacks or those whose behavior led to FBI sting operations. 

The very first member of Azzam’s global jihad to whom the misnomer “lone wolf” was applied was probably El Sayyid Nosair who shot and killed Rabbi Meir Kahane on November 5, 1990. The FBI eventually realized that Nosair was no lone wolf at all, and he was later also convicted of participating in the February 26, 1993 World Trade Center attack which he helped orchestrate from prison. Then came a long procession of “lone wolves.” 

January 23, 1993: Langley, Virginia, Mir Aimal Kansi shot 5 people, killing 2, outside the CIA Headquarters. 

February 23, 1997: New York City, Ali Hassan Abu Kamal, a Palestinian from Ramallah, shot 7 people on the 86th floor observation deck at the Empire State Building.

December 22, 2001: Richard Reid attempted to blow up American Airlines flight #63 with a shoe bomb.

May 6, 2002: Amsterdam, Netherlands, Volkert van der Graaf killed Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn. 

July 4, 2002: Los Angeles, California, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet shot 6, killing 2, at the El Al ticket counter at LAX airport.

October 2002: Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., “Beltway Snipers” John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo shot 13 people over a 3 week period, killing 10.

November 2, 2004: Amsterdam, Netherlands: Mohammed Bouyeri killed satirist Theo Van Gogh.

March 3, 2006: Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar drove his SUV into a crowd of people on the campus of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, injuring 9.

July 28, 2006: Seattle, Washington, Naveed Afzal Haq shot 6 women, killing one, at the Seattle Jewish Federation.

June 1, 2009: Little Rock, Arkansas, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad shot 2 soldiers at a military recruiting center, killing 1 and injuring the other.

November 5, 2009: Fort Hood, Texas, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, MD, killed 14. 

December 25, 2009: Detroit, Michigan airport (DTW), Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attempted to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight #253 with a bomb hidden in his underwear. 

February 2010: New York City, Najibullah Zazi attempted to detonate bombs in subway system.

May 2, 2010: New York City, Faisal Shahzad attempted to detonate car bomb in Times Square.

March 11-19, 2012: France, Mohammed Merah killed a soldier in Toulouse on March 11.  He killed 2 more soldiers in Montauban on March 15. On March 19 he attacked the Ozar Hatorah Jewish Day School in Toulouse, killing a Rabbi and 3 children.

April 15, 2013: Boston, Massachusetts, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev detonated two bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing 3 and wounding 260.

May 22, 2013: London, UK, Micheal Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale murdered and beheaded British Soldier Lee Rigby.

April to June 2014: USA, Ali Muhammed Brown killed 4 people on a multi-state killing spree.

May 24, 2014: Brussels, Belgium, Mehdi Nemmouche killed 3 and wounded 1 at the Jewish Museum.

September 24, 2014: Moore, Oklahoma, Alton Nolen beheaded a woman in the Vaughan Foods plant. 

October 20, 2014: Ottawa, Canada, Martin Couture-Rouleau ran over two Canadian soldiers with his car, killing both men.

October 22, 2014: Ottawa, Canada, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed an unarmed guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and then attempted to kill Parliamentarians.

October 23, 2014: New York City, Zale F. Thompson attacked 4 NYPD officers in Manhattan with a hatchet. 

December 15, 2014: Sydney, Australia, Sheikh Man Haron Monis held hostages and killed 2 at a café.

January 7, 2015: Paris, France, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi killed 12 at the headquarters of the French paper Charlie Hebdo.

January 8, 2015: Paris, France, Amedy Coulibaly killed 4 in a Kosher Deli.

February 14-15, 2015: Copenhagen, Denmark, Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein shot 4 killing 1 in an attack at the Krudttonden Cultural Centre, apparently targeting Lars Vilks who was speaking there on the evening of the 14th. Hours later El-Hussein attacked the Great Synagogue in Krystalgade, shooting 3 police and security officials, killing 1.

May 3, 2015: Garland, Texas, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi were killed during an attack at the AFDI’s “First Annual Muhhamad Art Exhibit and Contest,” wounding one police officer.

June 27, 2015: Tunisia, Seifeddine Rezgui killed 39 vacationers on a beach.  

July 18, 2015: Lyon, France, Yassine Salhi killed and beheaded Herve Cornara.

July 2015: Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez attacked a military recruiting center and then a Navy Operational Support Center, killing 4 and injuring 2.

December 2, 2015: San Bernardino, California, husband and wife Syed Rizwan Farooq and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 and injured 22 at a Christmas party at Farooq’s workplace.

June 12, 2016: Orlando, Florida, Omar Mateen shot over 100 people, killing 49, at a nightclub.


A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.


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