The Lone Wolf Palestinian Assailant: A Profile

Few assailants in the terror wave have links to militant groups or prior record; security officials’ recent analysis does not include incitement on the Internet or in the Palestinian media as a main impetus for attacks.

A Palestinian is checked by Israeli soldiers patrolling the streets of the West Bank city of Hebron on December 15, 2015.
AFP

Most assailants in the current terror wave operate alone or in pairs, in few cases are affiliated with terror groups and in even fewer cases have a record of security-related offenses, Israeli defense officials say.

And even if the attackers have a record, it is usually minor.

On October 1, a Hamas cell murdered Eitam and Naama Henkin near Nablus in an attack that marked the beginning of the terror wave. But since then no attack has been identified as planned and initiated by a terror group.

The data, current as of last week, include 123 assailants, most of them Palestinians who attacked or tried to attack Israelis. But the list also includes Palestinians who were stopped at roadblocks by soldiers or police and were found to be carrying knives. Under interrogation, they said they intended to carry out stabbing attacks.

The average age of the assailants on the list is 21. At the time of the attacks, 51 of the assailants were 20 years old or under. Some were very young – boys and girls 13 and 15.

Fifteen were women, 110 were unmarried, eight were married with children and four were married without children. And one – a 72-year-old woman who was shot by soldiers and whom the Israel Defense Forces said was trying to run them over – was a widow.

Thirty were from East Jerusalem, 90 were residents of the West Bank and three were Arab citizens of Israel. Of the West Bank residents, 28 were residents of Hebron and 19 were from villages and towns nearby.

Sixty-eight of the assailants were from cities, 48 were from villages and 12 were residents of refugee camps. Of the latter group, eight were from Shoafat and Qalandiyah near Jerusalem.

The analysis is also based on interviews with assailants who were arrested and have been in Israeli prison since the attacks.

Unlike many assessments published in recent months, the analysis does not say incitement on the Internet or in the Palestinian media was the main impetus for the decision to carry out an attack.

In most cases the perpetrators made their final decision quickly, sometimes in as little as an hour before the attack, security officials say. More than once they made their decision following the report of an incident on television, or based on rumor.

Not all the assailants were active on social media and some did not even have regular access to the Internet. More traditional networks had no less of an impact than social media and technology on the assailants’ decision to act, such as family and clan relationships.

In many cases, young assailants committed their acts in an attempt to emulate male or female terrorists from their neighborhood or clan, or to avenge the death of friends or relatives who were killed in incidents that were broadcast on television or radio.

This has particularly been the case in Hebron following the death of Hadeel al-Hashlamoun, who was shot to death in September by Israeli soldiers as she was holding a knife.

One assailant who was killed and revered by Palestinians is Muhannad Halabi of the village of Surda near Ramallah. He stabbed two Israelis to death on Hagai Street in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on October 3; it was the second attack in the current terror wave.

Halabi, who was active in the Islamic Jihad cell of the university in Abu Dis, has had streets and squares named after him, in a number of cases in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.