Lone terrorists: A study of run-over attacks in Israel

AuthorBadi Hasisi,Gali Perry,Simon Perry
Publication Date01 Jan 2019
European Journal of Criminology
2019, Vol. 16(1) 102 –123
© The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1477370818769257
Lone terrorists: A study of
run-over attacks in Israel
Simon Perry, Badi Hasisi and Gali Perry
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
There is agreement amongst scholars regarding the lack of a unique profile for lone wolf actor
terrorists. Therefore, this study focuses on the characteristics of the lone attack, which has
rarely been studied. The study seeks to fill these gaps, examining the element of opportunity and
situational conditions by focusing on the offence/attack rather than on the offender/attacker in
cases of run-over terrorist attacks. In order to shed more light on this dangerous phenomenon
of lone-actor terror in general, and lone run-over attacks more specifically, this study examines
all 62 run-over attacks carried out in Israel between January 2000 and March 2016. Data for
this study were obtained from confidential and open sources. The study’s findings reveal certain
characteristics of lone run-over attacks regarding the ‘four pillars of opportunity’ (target, weapon,
tools/training and facilitating conditions). These findings suggest that, in order to prevent run-
over terrorist attacks or to minimize the damage, one should not concentrate primarily on
identifying the profile of the potential attacker. Rather, effective counter-measures should identify
the run-over attack elements of situational opportunities and introduce effective situational crime
prevention measures that have been found to be effective in preventing non-terrorist crime.
Counter-terrorism, lone wolf actors, run-over attacks, situational crime prevention,
target hardening
Over the last decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the volume and the severity
of ‘lone wolf’1 fundamentalist terrorist attacks.2 By ‘lone wolf’ actors we refer not neces-
sarily to individuals who truly act in isolation, without contact with other individuals, but
to terrorists who before and during an attack have no ties and orders from a known ter-
rorist organization (see Burton and Stewart, 2008; Spaaij, 2010). Security agencies are
Corresponding author:
Simon Perry, Institute of Criminology, Faculty of Law, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mt. Scopus,
Jerusalem, 91905, Israel.
Email: simon.perry@mail.huji.ac.il
769257EUC0010.1177/1477370818769257European Journal of CriminologyPerry et al.
Perry et al. 103
experiencing difficulties in coping effectively with this form of terrorism, which is
receiving growing public attention. The agencies’ difficulties stem from the fact that this
form of terrorism is often less traceable and more unpredictable in comparison with
organizational terrorism.3 Whereas terrorist organizations maintain infrastructure and
communication channels that allow monitoring and interception (Perry, 2014), individu-
ally planned and executed attacks are more difficult to detect prior to the act. Owing to
the challenge that dealing with lone terrorists presents, there arises the need to study the
phenomenon and possible ways to prevent it, or at least to minimize its damage.
Limited research has focused on lone terrorists, mostly concentrating on identifying
risk factors (such as personal, mental, social, economic, political, religious and other
ideological characteristics) that increase the probability of involvement in terrorism.
These studies tend to focus on the profile of the perpetrator (Martin, 2015). Yet it appears
that there is agreement amongst scholars that there is no specific profile for lone-actor
terrorists (Bakker and De Graaf, 2011; Gill, 2015; McCauley and Moskalenko, 2014).
If there is no specific profile of the lone attacker, one may ask whether there is a pro-
file for the attack itself. Few studies (Gill, 2015; Schuurman et al., 2017) examine the
characteristics of lone-wolf attacks, their apparatus and methods of preparation, and
assess how these attacks differ from what we already know regarding attacks carried out
by terrorist organizations. This study seeks to fill those gaps, using the Rational Choice
approach (Felson and Clarke, 1998). It examines the element of opportunity by focusing
on offences rather than on offenders and by studying the characteristics of the attacks
(rather than those of the attackers).
Freilich and Chermak (2009) and Kennedy (2010) recommend conducting in-depth
analyses of specific kinds of terrorist attacks. In keeping with their recommendation, this
study specifically examines lone terrorist run-over attacks, which are carried out by uti-
lizing a vehicle or heavy machinery, to run over the victims of the attack. This is because
this deadly attack method is relatively common amongst lone attackers (and receives
encouragement from terrorist elements). The two deadly attacks in Europe – Nice in July
2016 (Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel), and Berlin in December 2016 (Anis Amri) – illus-
trate the danger of this phenomenon of run-over attacks, which require little advance
planning or logistical support but have distressing consequences.
In order to shed more light on this dangerous phenomenon, this study specifically exam-
ines the situational conditions as well as the characteristics of lone run-over terrorist attacks
in Israel. The main question of the study is whether there are specific characteristics of lone
run-over attacks. The study attempts to comprehend the decision-making choices that lone
terrorists make before and during their run-over attack. Our assumption is that these choices
are an outcome of specific opportunities, as perceived by the attacker, to commit such acts
of terror. This means that individuals make their decision to engage in acts of terror in par-
ticular settings. Should such conceivable common features for lone run-over attacks exist,
it might enable effective situational crime prevention (SCP) counter-measures to prevent
specifically lone run-over attacks or at least minimize their damage.
Although we studied the entire population of the attacks (62 cases between January
2000 and March 2016), all of the cases occurred only in Israel. The literature on terrorism
has many examples of the Israeli context, owing to the fact that it is a Western-style
democracy, has a relatively high per capita income, and experiences a high frequency of

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