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In the last two years, “lone wolf” jihadists seemed to emerge as the new face of terrorism. In December 2015, husband and wife Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik attacked a Christmas party held by Farook’s employer, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, killing 14. In June 2016, Omar Mateen killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida—the deadliest attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. And in July, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove a truck through a Bastille Day celebration in Nice, killing 86 people. The attacks by the San Bernardino killers, Mateen, and Bouhlel followed an increasingly common pattern: the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) claimed credit for them, but the perpetrators appear to have planned and executed their operations alone.
Analysts traditionally define a lone wolf as a terrorist who is not part of a group or directed by an outside organization. In reality, few lone