The problems of preventing the financing of lone wolf terrorism

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

In light of the recent London Bridge terror attack, it seems prudent to revisit a real problem area of the financial services industry has in the countering of terrorism financing with particular focus on ‘lone wolf’ attacks.

The phenomenon of lone wolf attacks has been on the rise since the 1990s. In the last decade, a number of factors have produced a spike in terror attacks of this nature. Social media and online communication networks have been harnessed to indoctrinate and radicalise individuals as well as small groups to conduct terror attacks. The nature of these attacks represents a departure from the more typical group-network attacks of the 2000s and early 2010s.

With the existence of such a departure of the typically known terror cells, it is vital that counter terrorism finances adapt to meet this evolved threat. As FBI Director James Comey remarks “By their very nature, lone offender and small scale terrorist attacks are less vulnerable to many of the traditional tools in the counter-terror finance toolkit”. What Comey is alluding to is whether the rules and mechanisms in place to uncover the financing behind the more traditional large-scale group network attacks, can be applied to the funding streams behind these smaller attacks?

Lone wolf attacks present several issues for counter terrorism financing:

  1. Such attacks are low dollar financial transactions, thus limiting the effectiveness of traditional detection and reporting tools. Funds are normally amounts often considered too small to detect solely through the tracking of financial transactions – although the monitoring of specific patterns may help identify the illicit behaviour.

  2. Lone w