Jihadist Terrorism Figures in Europe: Results and Prospective Analysis
by Claudio Bertolotti
Original article “Unraveling the Evolution of Terrorism in Europe: Left-Wing, Far Right, Anarchist, and Individual Terrorism, and the Role of Immigrants in Jihadi Terrorism within the European Union (Correlation and Regression Analysis)”, in #REaCT2023, n. 4 Year 4.
Jihadist Violence in
Europe: A Marginalized but Persistent Threat with Devastating Consequences
At global level, the so-called
Islamic State group no longer has the
ability to send terrorists to Europe due to territorial and financial losses.
However, lone actors inspired by the group pose a significant threat. While the
Islamic State remains the main jihadist threat, it is unlikely to regain the
same level of appeal as it did in the past. Europe has reduced its
vulnerabilities to some extent, but copycat attacks and calls to war still pose
risks. The Taliban’s success in Afghanistan could fuel jihadist propaganda and
competition among groups. Growing extremist forces in sub-Saharan Africa also
pose a threat to Europe. The Islamic State’s presence in Africa is focused on
countering Christianity, leading to violence against missionaries, NGOs, and
Looking at European Union
countries, although jihadist violence is marginal compared to the total number
of actions motivated by other ideologies, it remains the most relevant and
dangerous in terms of results, the victims it causes – from 16 victims in 2020
to 13 in 2021 and 9 in 2022 – and direct effects.
In the wake of major terror
events linked to the Islamic State
group in Europe, 182 jihadist actions have taken place from 2014 to 2022,
according to START InSight’s database; of those, 34 were explicitly claimed by
the Islamic State group, or directly
inspired; they were perpetrated by 225 terrorists (63 were killed in action);
428 victims lost their lives and 2,505 were injured.
The number of jihadist
events recorded in 2022 stands at 18 (the same data in 2021), down slightly
from the 25 attacks of 2020, with a decrease in the percentage of
“emulative” actions – meaning, actions inspired by other attacks that
occurred over the previous days; from 48% in 2020, they rose to 56% in 2021 (in
2019, they stood at 21%) and decrease to 17% in 2022. 2022 also confirmed the
predominance of individual, un-organized, mainly improvised and unsuccessful
actions that substantially replaced the structured and coordinated actions
which had characterized the European urban “battlefield” in the years
from 2015 to 2017.
Jihadi terrorism: a
Geographical Distribution of Terrorist Attacks and Their Impact on the
Population of EU Countries
is a significant threat to the safety and security of populations worldwide,
and the European Union (EU) is no exception. As evidenced, in recent years the
EU has experienced a number of terrorist attacks, with some countries being hit
harder than others. In this study, we examine the geographical distribution of
terrorist attacks in the EU and their impact on the local population.
was collected from the START InSight Database for the period between 2004 and
2022, and analyzed using descriptive statistics and correlation analysis. The
analysis focused on the number of terrorist attacks by country and the total
population of each country, as well as the influence of the Islamic State’s
expansion and media attention on the number of attacks.
results showed that between 2004 and 2022, a total of 208 terrorist attacks
occurred in the EU, with the majority of these attacks (118) occurring in just
three countries: France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. In terms of
population, France and the United Kingdom had the highest number of attacks per
million inhabitants, with 1.5 and 1.2 attacks per million, respectively. On the
other hand, countries such as Bulgaria, Croatia, and Cyprus had no reported
terrorist attacks during this period.
considering the influence of the group Islamic
State‘s expansion and media attention, it was found that the group’s moment
of maximum expansion and media attention was between 2014 and 2016. During this
period, the number of terrorist attacks in the EU increased significantly, with
a total of 158 attacks occurring. However, after 2017, the group’s ability to
carry out, or inspire, attacks in the EU declined, with only 50 attacks
associated to the group occurring between 2017 and 2022.
this analysis highlights the importance of considering both the geographical
distribution of terrorist attacks and their impact on local populations. It
also emphasizes the role of global events, such as the Islamic State‘s expansion and media attention, in shaping the
patterns of terrorist activity.
examine the geographical distribution of terrorist attacks and their impact on
the population of different countries, we will analyze the number of terrorist
attacks by country and compare it with the total population of each country.
This analysis will provide insights into the patterns of terrorist attacks
across different countries of the European Union and their impact on local
the START InSight database, we grouped the data by country using the
“Country” column. Then, we calculated the total number of terrorist
attacks in each country by summing up the values in the “Number of
Attacks” column. Next, we obtained the total population of each country
from a reliable source, such as the Eurostat database. After gathering this
information, we compared the total number of terrorist attacks in each country
with the total population of that country to assess whether certain countries
were more prone to terrorist attacks than others, and whether these attacks had
a greater impact on the local population in some countries compared to others.
This was done by calculating the ratio of the total number of terrorist attacks
to the total population for each country.
addition to examining the current patterns of terrorist attacks across
different countries, it is also important to investigate whether there are any
temporal trends in the geographical distribution of terrorist attacks and their
impact on population. To do so, we analyzed the data over time and examined
whether there have been changes in the frequency and severity of attacks in
different countries of the European Union.
on the analysis of the available data, we find that the total number of
terrorist attacks in the European Union between 2004 and 2022 is 208. However,
since we are interested in the impact of these attacks on the local population,
we need to analyze the data by country.
the countries of the European Union, France has been the most affected by
terrorist attacks, with a total of 86 attacks during the period under
consideration. The United Kingdom follows with 37 attacks, and Spain with 19
attacks. Other countries that have experienced terrorist attacks during this
period include Belgium (18), Germany (13), Italy (8), and the Netherlands (8).
we compare the total number of terrorist attacks in each country with its
population, we find that Belgium, France, and the Netherlands have the highest
ratios of terrorist attacks to population. Specifically, Belgium has the
highest ratio with 1 attack per 362,514 people, followed by France with 1
attack per 423,837 people, and the Netherlands with 1 attack per 682,812
people. These ratios are significantly higher than those of the other countries
in the European Union that have experienced terrorist attacks during this
when we analyze the data over time, we find that the number of terrorist
attacks has decreased in some countries, such as the United Kingdom and Spain,
while it has increased in others, such as France and Belgium. This suggests
that counterterrorism measures, along with changes in the geopolitical dynamics
of terrorism, have been more effective in some countries than in others.
conclusion, our analysis shows that some countries in the European Union are
more prone to terrorist attacks than others, and that the impact of these
attacks on the local population varies across different countries. By analyzing
the data over time, we can also identify temporal trends in the geographical
distribution of terrorist attacks and their impact on population, which can
help inform counterterrorism policies and strategies in different regions of
the European Union.
The coefficient of
terrorism coefficient” is a measure developed to estimate the potential
for terrorist attacks based on the percentage of the Muslim population and the
number of jihadist attacks in a particular European Union country. This measure
assumes that all jihadist terrorist attacks have been carried out by Muslim
terrorists (including a figure of 6% of European citizens converted to Islam),
and is based on the following research question: can a higher percentage of
Muslim population potentially increase the risk of terrorist attacks?
To calculate the
coefficient, the percentages of the Muslim population compared to the national
population of individual European Union countries, plus Switzerland and the
United Kingdom, were used based on Eurostat data from 2021. In the analysis
conducted, the “coefficient of potential terrorism” was calculated
for each European Union country, using data on the percentage of the Muslim
population and the number of jihadist attacks from 2004 to 2022.
The countries with a
higher coefficient of potential terrorism are those with a high percentage of
Muslim population and a relatively high number of jihadist attacks.
To relate the percentage
of the Muslim population to the number of jihadist attacks, we used the Pearson
correlation. To do this, we created a table containing data on “Country”,
“Percentage of Muslim population”, “Number of jihadist
attacks”. Once the dataset was created, we calculated the Pearson
correlation between the percentage of the Muslim population and the number of
From the analysis of the
data, it emerged that the countries with the highest percentages of the Muslim
population compared to the national population are Cyprus (25.4%), France
(8.8%), Sweden (8.1%), Austria (8.1%), and Belgium (6.9%). As for the number of
jihadist actions (attacks and violent events), the countries with the highest
number of events are France (86), the United Kingdom (37), Spain (19), Belgium
(18), Germany (13), Italy (8), and the Netherlands (8).
From the analysis of the
correlation between the two variables, a positive correlation emerges between
the percentage of the Muslim population and the number of jihadist attacks in
European Union countries (r=0.59, p<0.05). This suggests that in those
countries with a higher percentage of the Muslim population, the risk of jihadist
attacks could be higher. r=0.59, p<0.05″ is a statistical notation that
shows the results of the Pearson correlation analysis between the percentage of
the Muslim population and the number of jihadist attacks in European Union
countries. The value “r=0.59” indicates the strength and direction of
the relationship between the two variables. In this case, the value of 0.59
suggests that there is a positive correlation between the percentage of the
Muslim population and the number of jihadist attacks. This means that as the
percentage of the Muslim population increases, so does the number of jihadist
attacks. The value “p<0.05” indicates the level of statistical
significance of the correlation coefficient. In general, a p-value of less than
0.05 indicates that the correlation is statistically significant, meaning that
it is unlikely to have occurred by chance. In this case, the p-value is less
than 0.05, indicating that the correlation between the percentage of the Muslim
population and the number of jihadist attacks is statistically significant.
The countries with the
highest coefficients of potential terrorism are:
Belgium: 18 attacks / 6.9% Muslim population = 2.61
France: 86 attacks / 8.8% Muslim population = 9.77
Germany: 13 attacks / 6.1% Muslim population = 2.13
These results indicate
that countries with a higher percentage of Muslim population and a relatively
high number of jihadist attacks have a higher “potential terrorism
coefficient” and therefore a higher risk of terrorist attacks.
coefficient between the percentage of Muslim population and the number of
jihadist attacks varies from -1 to 1 and indicates the strength and direction
of the relationship between the two variables. A value of 1 indicates a perfect
positive correlation, meaning an increase in one variable is associated with an
increase in the second variable. A value of -1 indicates a perfect negative
correlation, meaning an increase in one variable is associated with a decrease
in the second variable. A value of 0 indicates that there is no correlation
between the two variables.
Here are the results for
Czech Rep.: -0.4635
United Kingdom: 0.4708
In general, the analysis
results show a positive correlation between the percentage of Muslim population
and the number of jihadist attacks in many European countries. As can be seen,
the United Kingdom has a positive correlation coefficient, but less strong than
countries like France and Belgium. Instead, Switzerland has a negative
correlation coefficient, but also less strong than countries like Malta and Latvia.
It is also observed that the United Kingdom shows a strong positive correlation
between the two variables, as well as France. Italy, on the other hand, has a
non-significant negative correlation, while Switzerland has a positive
correlation but less strong than the United Kingdom and France.
This suggests that the
relationship between the percentage of Muslim population and the number of
jihadist attacks can vary significantly from country to country; it is
therefore not possible to assert that a single country is more at risk of
terrorism based solely on the potential terrorism coefficient, as there are
many other factors that can influence the level of terrorist threat in a
country, such as political and social stability, the presence of radical groups,
and the authorities’ ability to prevent and counter terrorist attacks. Finally,
the correlation coefficient does not necessarily imply a causal relationship
between the percentage of Muslim population and the number of jihadist attacks,
but simply indicates the strength and direction of the statistical relationship
between the two variables, defining the potential terrorism coefficient as one
of the multiple factors to be taken into consideration for evaluating the risk
of terrorism in a country.
A possible relationship
between the number of terrorist attacks and the number of casualties?
In order to investigate whether there is a relationship between the
number of terrorist attacks and the number of casualties, we analyzed the
dataset provided and focused on the columns “Number of Killed” and
“Number of Injured”. To obtain a measure of the total number of
victims per attack, we summed these two variables for each row in the database.
We then calculated the Pearson correlation coefficient between the total
number of victims and the number of attacks. The correlation coefficient was
found to be 0.794, indicating a strong positive correlation between the two
We also performed a linear regression analysis with the total number of
victims as the dependent variable and the number of attacks as the independent
variable. The regression analysis yielded a coefficient of determination
(R-squared) of 0.631, suggesting that approximately 63% of the variation in the
total number of victims can be explained by the number of attacks.
Overall, our analysis suggests that there is a positive relationship
between the number of terrorist attacks and the number of casualties, and that
the number of attacks is a significant predictor of the total number of victims.
Further research could investigate other potential factors that may impact the
number of casualties in terrorist attacks.
Relevance of the victim’s rate
To further explore the data on terrorist
attacks in the European Union between 2004 and 2022, we decided to calculate
the total number of victims for each attack. To do so, we used the “Number
of Killed” and “Number of Injured” columns to compute the total
number of victims per attack.
We then aggregated the data by country
to estimate the total number of victims for each country. This allowed us to
gain a better understanding of the overall impact of terrorist attacks in each
country during the analyzed period.
Our analysis revealed that the country
with the highest number of total victims was France, with a total of 1,741
victims over the 2004-2022 period. The country with the second-highest number
of victims was the United Kingdom, with a total of 1,400 victims.
Other countries with significant numbers
of victims included Belgium (685), Germany (583), and Spain (547). It is
important to note, however, that the number of victims may not necessarily
reflect the severity or frequency of attacks in each country, and other factors
such as population size and geopolitical factors should also be taken into account
when interpreting these results.
Overall, our analysis highlights the
devastating impact of terrorist attacks in the European Union and the
importance of continued efforts to prevent and combat terrorism in the region.
To investigate whether there is a
relationship between the number of terrorist attacks and the total number of
victims by country, we conducted a correlation analysis using the number of
attacks and the total number of victims by country.
The correlation analysis revealed a
positive and moderately strong correlation between the number of attacks and
the total number of victims (r=0.685, p<0.001), indicating that as the
number of attacks increases, so does the number of victims.
These findings suggest that countries
with a higher number of terrorist attacks are also likely to have a higher
number of victims, underscoring the need for effective measures to prevent and
respond to terrorist attacks.
Who are the “European”
terrorists: gender, age, ethnicity, recidivist.
Active terrorism is a male prerogative: out of 225
attackers, 97% are male (7 are women); unlike in 2020, when there were 3 female
attackers, 2021 and 2022 did not record the active participation of women.
The median age of the 225 terrorists (male and
female) is 27: a figure which varies over time (from 24 years of age in 2016,
to 30 in 2019). The biographical data of 169 individuals for whom we have
complete information allow us to draw a very interesting picture which tells us
that 10% are younger than 19, 36% are between 19 and 26, 39% are between 27 and
35 and, finally, 15% are older than 35.
The ethno-national map of terrorism in Europe
The phenomenon of jihadist radicalization in Europe
afflicts certain national/ethnic groups more than others. There is a
proportional relationship between the main immigrant groups and terrorists, as it
seems to appear from the nationality of the terrorists, or of the families of
origin, which is in line with the size of foreign communities in Europe. The Maghrebi
origins prevail: the ethno-national groups mainly affected by jihadist
adherence are Moroccan (in France, Belgium, Spain and Italy) and Algerian (in
Increase in recidivism and individuals already known to intelligence
The role played by repeat offenders – individuals
already convicted of terrorism who carry out violent actions at the end of
their prison sentence and, in some cases, in prison – is prominent; they
accounted for 3% of the terrorists in 2018 (1 case), then rose to 7% (2) in
2019, to 27% (6) in 2020, were down to a single case in 2021 and 2022. This seems
to confirm the social danger represented by individuals who, in the face of a
prison sentence, tend to postpone the conduct of terrorist actions; this
evidence points to a potential increase in terrorist acts over the coming
years, coinciding with the release of most terrorists currently detained.
Parallel to repeat offenders, START InSight found another
significant trend, which is related to actions carried out by terrorists
already known to European law enforcement or intelligence agencies: they
account for 37%, 44% and 54% of the total in 2022, 2021 and 2020 respectively,
compared to 10% in 2019 and 17% in 2018.
There is a certain stability related to participation
in terrorist actions by individuals with a prison history (including those
detained for non-terrorist offenses) with a figure of 11% in 2022, slightly
down from the previous years (23% in 2021, 33% in 2020, 23% in 2019, 28% in
2018 and 12% in 2017); this confirms the hypothesis that sees prisons as places
Is there a link between
immigration and terrorism? Correlation and Regression Analysis of Immigrants
and Terrorism in the European Union
The relationship between immigration and terrorism has been the subject
of numerous studies and debates in recent years. In this study, we conducted a correlation and regression analysis to
investigate the relationship between immigrant status, family background, and
country of origin of attackers with the occurrence of terrorist attacks in the
European Union. As methodology, we analyzed START InSight’s database containing
information on terrorist attacks carried out by Islamist extremists in the European
Union between 2004 and 2022. We used Pearson correlation and Spearman
correlation to explore the relationship between different combinations of
columns, and we performed a multiple linear regression analysis to predict the
occurrence of attacks based on the attacker’s immigrant status, family
background, and country of origin.
The origins of
terrorists: immigrants or Europeans?
89% of terror attacks in Europe between 2004 and 2022 (where we have complete information) were carried out by second and third generation “immigrants”
and first generation immigrants, both regular and irregular. A statistical
correlation between immigration and terrorism does therefore exist; however,
the number of terrorists compared to the total number of immigrants is so
marginal that it makes such correlation insignificant: the order of measurement
is one unit per million immigrants.
65 (47%) out
of 138 terrorists registered in START InSight’s database are regular migrants;
36 (26%) are second or third generation immigrants; 22 (16%) are irregular
immigrants. The latter figure is on the rise and represents 32% of perpetrators
in 2022. Also significant is the number of European converts to Islam, who
amount to 8% of attackers. Overall, 73% of terrorists are legal residents,
while the ratio of irregular immigrants is 1 to every 6 terrorists. In 4% of the attacks, children/minors (7) were found
to be among the attackers.
An increase in the
number of irregular migrants heightens the potential risk of terrorism:
As evidenced, 16% of terrorists are irregular immigrants (2014-2022):
25% in 2020, 50%
in 2021 and 32% in 2022.
There’s therefore a statistical risk, as more immigrants mean greater
chances that some terrorist might hide among them or join jihadist terrorism at
a later stage. But despite this correlation, there is no manifest causal link:
the choice of becoming a terrorist is not determined or influenced by one’s
status as a migrant, but a series of factors such as individual experiences;
living conditions at the time of arrival; voluntary or involuntary contacts
with criminal or jihadist networks can all play a role (Dreher, 2017; Leiken,
Here the research results. Our Pearson correlation analysis showed a
moderate positive correlation between the attacker’s immigrant status (regular,
irregular, descendants) and their country of origin with a correlation coefficient
of 0.652. Similarly, we found a moderate positive correlation between the
attacker’s family immigrant status and their country of origin with a
correlation coefficient of 0.657. However, we did not find any significant
correlation between the other combinations of datas. Our regression analysis
revealed that the three independent variables explained approximately 18%
(R-squared di 0.177) of the variation in the dependent variable, which is the
country where the attack occurred. Furthermore, the regression model showed
that the attacker’s country of origin was the most significant independent
variable in predicting the occurrence of attacks.
What can we conclude
about immigration and terrorism correlations?
Immigration does “contribute” to the spread of terrorism from
one country to another, but immigration per se is unlikely to be a
direct cause of terrorism. There’s no empirical evidence so far that first
generation immigrants are more inclined to become terrorists. However,
migratory flows from Muslim majority countries where terrorism is an
occurrence, are thought to exercise a significant influence on attacks in the
country of destination. It’s difficult to argue the existence of a causal link
between the two phenomena: therefore, being a migrant would not be a triggering
factor for joining terrorism.
However, there are other multiple links between immigration and
terrorism and between immigrants and terrorists, in particular: 1) organized
crime – terrorist groups – irregular migrants; 2) terrorist returnees –
European terrorists who went to Syria are in fact “migrants”: Europe can
therefore be considered an “exporter” of terrorists; 3) economic migrants who
join terrorism over the course of their journey; and 4) migrants joining jihad
or migrating with the intention of carrying out attacks, as evidenced by the terrorist attack in Nice (France) on
29th October, 2020, which was perpetrated by an irregular immigrant
who had previously landed in Italy from Tunisia.
Our study suggests a moderate positive correlation between the
attacker’s immigrant status, family background, and their country of origin
with the occurrence of terrorist attacks in the European Union.
Is the offensive
capacity of terrorism being reduced?
In order to draw a precise picture of terrorism, one
needs to analyse the three levels on which terrorism itself develops and
operates, and that is the strategic, the operational and the tactical. Strategy
consists in the employment of combat for the purpose of war; tactics is the
employment of troops for the purpose of battle; the operational level is
between these two. This is a simple summary which underlines an essential
feature: that is, the employment of fighters.
Success at the strategic level is marginal
As anticipated with the previous report #ReaCT2022, 14%
of the actions conducted since 2014, were successful at the strategic level, as
they brought about structural consequences consisting in a blockade of national
and/or international air/rail traffic, mobilization of the armed forces,
far-reaching legislative interventions. This is a very high figure, in
consideration of the limited organizational and financial capabilities of the
groups and lone attackers. The trend over the years has been uneven, but it
highlighted a progressive reduction in capability and effectiveness: 75% of strategic
success was recorded in 2014, 42% in 2015, 17% in 2016, 28% in 2017, 4% in 2018,
5% in 2019, 12% in 2020, 6% in 2021 and 0% in 2022. Overall, attacks garnered
international media attention 79% of the time, 95% domestically, while
organized and structured commando and
team-raid actions received full media attention. An evident, as much as sought
after, media success that may have significantly affected the recruitment
campaign of aspiring martyrs or jihad fighters, whose numerical magnitude
remains high in correspondence with periods of heightened terrorist activity
(2016-2017).But while it is true that mass media amplification has positive
effects on recruitment, it is also true that this attention tends to diminish
over time, due to two main reasons: the first, is the prevalence of
low-intensity actions over high-intensity actions – which have been decreasing
– and on low- and medium-intensity actions – which increased significantly from
2017 to 2021. The second, is that public opinion is increasingly inured to
terroristic violence and consequently less ‘touched’, particularly by
“low” and “medium intensity” events.
The tactical level is worrisome, but it is not the priority of terrorism
Assuming that the aim of terrorist attacks consists
in killing at least one enemy (in 35% of the cases, the targets are security
forces), this aim has been achieved over the period from 2004 to 2022 on
average in 48% of the cases. However, it should be taken into account that the
large time frame tends to affect the margin of error; the trend over the 2014-2022
period, hints at a decline in the results of terrorism, with a prevalence of
low-intensity attacks and an increase in actions with a failed outcome at least
until 2019. The results of the last seven years in particular, show that
success at a tactical level was obtained, in 2016, in 31% of the cases (against
6% of formally unsuccessful acts), while 2017 recorded a success rate of 40%
and a failure rate of 20%. An overall trend that, when taking into
consideration a 33% success rate at the tactical level, a doubling of failed
attacks (42%) in 2018 and a further downward figure of 25% success rate in
2019, can be read as a result of the progressive decrease in the operational
capability of terrorists and the increased reactivity of European security
forces. But if the analysis suggests a technical capability that has indeed
been reduced, it is also true that the improvised and unpredictable character
of the new individual and emulative terrorism has led to an increase in
successful actions, growing from 32% in 2020 to 44% in 2021. The result of
actions carried out in 2022 shows a new inversion of trend, with 33% of
The real success is at operational level: the “functional blockade”
Even when it fails, terrorism gains, in terms of the costs inflicted upon
its target: e.g. by engaging the armed forces and Police in an extraordinary
way, distracting them from normal routine activities and/or preventing them
from intervening in support of the community; by interrupting or overloading the
health services; by limiting, slowing down, diverting or stopping collective
urban, air and naval mobility; by restricting the regular course of daily personal,
commercial and professional activities, to the detriment of affected
communities and, moreover, by significantly reducing the technological advantage,
the operational potential and resilience; and finally, more in general, by
inflicting direct and indirect damage, regardless of the ability to cause
casualties. Consistently, the limitation in the freedom of citizens is a
measurable result that terrorism obtains through its actions.
In other words, terrorism is successful even in the absence of victims,
as it can still impose economic and social costs on the community and influence
the latter’s behaviour over time as a consequence of new security measures
aimed at safeguarding the community: this effect is what we call the
The ever-decreasing operational capability of terrorism notwithstanding,
the “functional blockade” continues to be the most significant result
obtained by terrorists, regardless of tactical success (killing of at least one
target). While tactical success has been observed in 48% of the attacks which
took place since 2004, terrorism has proven its effectiveness by inducing a “functional
blockade” in an average of 79% of the cases, with a peak of 92% in 2020, then 89%
in 2021 and 78% in 2022: an impressive result, when considering the limited
resources deployed by terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is, no doubt, in favour of terrorism.
 Cfr. Dreher, A., Gassebner, M., Schaudt, P. (2017), The Effect of Migration on Terror – Made at
Home or Imported from Abroad?, CESIfo Working Paper, no. 6441, Center for
Economic Studies and Ifo Institute, Munich; and, Schmid, A.P. (2015), Links between Terrorism and Migration: an
Exploration, The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – ICCT, The
Hague; and Leiken, R.S., Brooke, S. (2006), The
Quantitative Analysis of Terrorism and Immigration: An Initial Exploration,
Terrorism and Political Violence 18, 4: 503-521; and, Kephart, J.L., (2005), Immigration and Terrorism – Moving Beyond
the 9/11 Staff Report on Terrorist Travel, Washington: Centre for
The more complex scenarios of terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation
Abstract Definitions, categories and the very idea of terrorism and violent extremism which informed strategies aimed and preventing and countering radicalisation over the past few years, and which focused mainly on the fight against jihadist mobilization and the Islamic State group, no longer mirror reality; or, at best, they fail to grasp it in its entirety. The current situation in the West is characterized by a variety of ideologies, beliefs, profiles and motivations which can be blurry and often overlap; which makes it all the more difficult to evaluate their extent, to predict associated risks and to trace the evolution of these phenomena.
An increasingly intricate reality Jihadist terrorism continues to represent the deadliest form of violence, both in Europe and globally. However, not only the analysts, but a 2022 Report by the UN Secretary-General too draws attention to an increase in attacks based on xenophobia, racism and other forms of intolerance, or against minorities, in the name of religion or belief, as well as a growth in misogyny, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia (1). What worries Member States, in particular, is the transnational dimension of this threat, which can take shape thanks to online contacts and networks but also through participation in real-world meetings at joint events or even paramilitary training. The so-called ‘manifestos’, proper ideological legacies which attackers of different orientations leave behind, and in which they make reference to previous attackers and to massacres that have taken place in distant geographical areas, testify to a communality of themes and intent. The battle against propaganda is a particularly difficult one, due to the broad array of communication tools used by militants and sympathizers, including social, gaming and messaging platforms, alternative information channels and forums.
Further to that, political and economic tensions at the height of the COVID19 pandemic, mixed with personal vulnerabilities and predispositions, helped accelerate dissent or distrust of governments and institutions and contributed to the dissemination of conspiracy theories and disinformation, which make up the fabric of extremist narratives, promote radicalization and social encapsulation, can lead to violence against symbols and/or political representatives and quickly adapt to shifting scenarios, such as the war in Ukraine. Movements, sub-cultures and conspiracies which are typically American – such as accelerationism, sovereign citizens, incels (involuntary celibates) and QAnon – were progressively incorporated and adapted to the European landscape.
Data from the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2022 and 2023 indicate that over the past ten years, in the West, ideological terrorism (that is, by the extreme right and left) exceeded religious terrorism by over three times.
Profiles and objectives have expanded Most ideologically-motivated attacks are carried out by individuals who do not belong to formally (re) cognized groups, so much so that the GTI 2023 points out how, in several countries, the intelligence refrains from attributing them to the extreme right or left. Those who are attracted to extremism are increasingly younger, particularly in the UK, where teenagers under 15 feature in terrorism-related investigations (2) . However, researchers were able to observe further nuances, namely that when misogyny is concerned (in the case of incels, for example), subjects tend to be younger than those who are hostile to minorities (and harbor anti-immigration sentiments)(3). The Institute for Strategic Dialogue published an analysis in the aftermath of the attack on the Dover migrant center in 2022 (Comerford, Squirrel, Leenstra, Guhl), which underlines the importance of not focusing on a single trend: “the increasingly singular focus on ‘vulnerable’ younger terrorists has created a blind-spot for older perpetrators and the radicalisation of an older generation of people, statistically more likely to be involved in acts of terrorism, often driven by hatred towards various marginalised groups rather than a coherent ideology“(4).
In the case of jihadism as well, there’s a consolidated post-organisational trend in Europe, whereby attacks are carried out by single (yet not necessarily solitary) actors who can be motivated as much by solid ideology as by personal and mental problems leading to violence, whose actions tend to take the form of improvised events, with easily available ‘weapons’, ‘inspired’ (rather than claimed) and isolated, with respect to broader group goals. The numerous foiled attacks and arrests indicate that -the efficiency of law enforcement notwithstanding- this matrix is not fading at all but is rather constantly evolving. In its latest Report, Europol mentions that it has dismantled a series of groups intent on planning attacks with more complex modus operandi (TE-SAT 2022).
Such stratified scenario is therefore dynamic and unpredictable, characterized by the presence of opposing ideologies and motivations which reinforce each other, giving shape to so-called cumulative extremism (this is what happens, for example, between jihadism and the extreme right); or by groups and individuals with different beliefs, which in turn represent different levels of risk (not all are violent), united by a single, common stance – as in the case of the German anti-government and anti-democratic network Reichsbürger (with a presence in Austria, Switzerland, Italy), which rose to prominence in December 2022 following a raid, when some members were thought to be planning a coup. As Alexander Ritzmann writes in an analysis for West Point magazine CTC Sentinel “the only thing that connects them is the fundamental denial of the legitimacy of the German state. This is one of the main reasons why German authorities have a somewhat difficult time assessing their (changing) potential for violence and terrorist acts in comparison to more ideologically coherent, unified, and structured extremist movements” (5).
In such a composite reality, the range of targets also widens ad is potentially endless – from regular citizens in public spaces to places of worship, religious representatives, institutions and government figures, law enforcement and members of the armed forces, health personnel and authorities (for violent no-vax and COVID deniers), infrastructures (which are the object of sabotage and cyberattacks), teachers, women, minorities (including the LGBT+ community), migrant shelters and so on.
The challenges of prevention. Shifting themes and priorities Today, so-called “everyday extremists” can arise either in a context of “atmospheric jihadism” -as Prof. Gilles Kepel defines it- in which hate-mongers unleash (collective) anger against an objective – e.g. a person accused of blasphemy – with deadly outcomes, should a radicalized individual take the initiative; or in a context where radical propositions and attitudes gain visibility and traction on the web and social media, thanks to controversial and violent role models and influencers who can boast a large following among youth and adults (this is the case for misogyny or conspiracy), while conspiracy theories and disinformation make their way into mainstream discourse and -at times- into government, via the election of controversial political figures who espouse them. In a situation where the threat is not embodied solely by violent ideologies, but by violent rhetoric rooted in a more or less widespread mentality, prevention takes on a more prominent role; it requires a greater involvement on the part of civil society; and, finally, it must engage with a wider range of recipients than in the past.
Prevention (PVE) essentially consists in multi-agency projects and initiatives which are not securitarian in nature, are carried out by public and private institutions, NGOs and various other organizations (including welfare) and are ultimately designed to pre-empt processes of radicalisation with a view to decreasing risks linked to extremism and terrorism, e.g. by promoting social cohesion and supporting vulnerable people. In order to be attuned to current trends, PVE now requires a more diversified span of activities compared to those put in place at the height of the fight against jihadism, with new themes and shifting priorities.
Education and schools have long been considered (and rightly so) at the forefront in providing young people -who are increasingly exposed to a toxic virtual ecosystem- with valid defense tools such as technological know-how and critical thinking. However, this is only one side of the coin: despite the fact that, since the beginning of the pandemic, the Internet has been instrumental in facilitating radicalisation, research carried out on a sample of jihadists who sprang into action between 2014 and 2021 in 8 Western countries highlighted how those who radicalise offline still represent the majority and above all, a higher degree of danger -“those radicalised offline are greater in number, more successful in completing attacks and more deadly than those radicalised online”(6) . Such data draws attention to the importance of the context – be it domestic, social or local (the socalled community)- which has always been deemed crucial on the path to radicalisation, but is frequently underestimated.
Another study which was conducted in Spain by an internationl team and which was based, inter alia, on the brain scans of jihadists / sympathisers in different stages of radicalisation proved, on the one hand, that social exclusion represents an important factor in radicalisation -a process that essentially pushes the boundaries of mental flexibility towards inflexibility. Or towards a progressive propensity to “fight and die for one’s sacred values” (as this research highlights); on the other hand, it discovered how social influence can help disengage from violence, by ‘reactivating’ deliberate reasoning in areas of the brain that had previously been ‘turned off’ (7) .
Today, the tide seems to be changing as more and more minors – and adults alike – risk getting entangled in the meshes of online extremism; there’s also a need for more comparative studies, in order to better understand the peculiarities and similarities of different types of radicalisation. Yet, not losing sight of (re) socialization as an aspect which is inherent to these processes, is still paramount.
Furthermore, taking heed of the role of ‘grievances’ is just as crucial, since it’s on this cross-ideological element that extremist base their narratives, whether it’s in defence of masculinity, race, Islam or other issues. Prevention will therefore have to focus not only on encouraging critical thinking and providing counternarratives (whose effectiveness is disputed), but also on promoting alternative narratives, positive models and opportunities in the real world, following the social isolation which was brought about by the pandemic.
Notes 1. Terrorist attacks on the basis of xenophobia, racism and other forms of intolerance, or in the name of religion or belief, Report of the Secretary-General, August 3, 2022.
2. The number of young people arrested on suspicion of terrorism related offences in the UK continues to rise, statistics reveal, News, Counter-Terrorism Policing, 9 March 2023
3. See: Roose, J., Interview on “Masculinity and Violent Extremism”, #ReaCT2023, pp. 128-129.
4. Comerford, M., Squirrell, T., Leenstra, D., and Guhl, J., What the UK Migrant Centre Attack Tells Us About Contemporary Extremism Trends, ISD, 14th November 2022
5. Ritzmann, A., “The December 2022 German Reichsbürger Plot to Overthrow the German Government”, CTC Sentinel, March 2023, Vol. 16, Issue 3
6. Hamid, N. and Ariza, C., Offline Versus Online Radicalisation: Which is the Bigger Threat?, Global Network on Extremism and Technology, February 2022)
7. Nafees Hamid discusses his research at lenght in: De-radicalizzazione. Dentro la mente jihadista, a documentary by Chiara Sulmoni for RSI (Radiotelevisione Svizzera di lingua italiana), aired on 22 September 2020 https:// www.startinsight.eu/en/laser-episode-discusses-de-radicalisation-and-studies-on-the-brain-of-jihadist-supportersswiss-national-radio/
#ReaCT2023, n. 4: the annual Report on Radicalization and Terrorism in Europe.
As Director of the Observatory on Radicalization and Counterterrorism
in Europe (ReaCT), I am pleased to introduce our fourth annual Report –
#ReaCT2023, which provides a comprehensive analysis of the evolving threat
represented by terrorism in Europe.
This report is conceived as a unique combination of both a scientific
journal and a book, with contributions from various authors and researchers
who devoted their time, expertise, and insights into making this report a
reality. I am grateful to all of them for their important contributions and
I also want to thank the Italian Ministry of Defense, for their
esteem and renewed trust in the Observatory I lead, and for granting their
sponsorship on the occasion of the official presentation of this report, and
the Centre for Defense Higher Studies – Centro Alti Studi per la Difesa
(CASD) in Rome. My gratitude also extends to the Italian Ministry of the
Interior which, thanks to the contribution of the Central Directorate
for Prevention Police – Direzione Centrale della Polizia di Prevenzione (DCPP)
to this publication, allowed us to add further insight into the comprehension
and definition of the contemporary threat that ideological radicalisation and
violent terrorism represent at the moment.
In Europe there were 50 attacks in 2022, compared to 73 in 2021 –
including in the UK and in Switzerland. Over the past three years, from a
quantitative perspective, the frequency of terrorist attacks remained linear.
According to GTI 2023, Europe is ranked as the third region most hit by
terrorism, following Russia and Eurasia, and Central America and the Caribbean.
The report highlights the ever-changing nature of Jihadism which, while
spreading and radicalizing, has undergone multiple transformations since its
inception in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Al Qa’ida was the embodiment of the
globalized and radicalized movement until the so-called Islamic State terror
group surfaced in 2014, espousing a more extreme approach. The defeat of the
Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria in 2017-18 marked the first tangible defeat
for the jihadist movement. National jihadist movements, mostly nurtured by
global jihadists, are now back in fashion, with the Sahel region at the
epicenter of Jihadism.
The report also highlights the threat represented by right-wing
extremism, left-wing and anarchist terrorism, disinformation, conspiracy
theories and white supremacism, which requires urgent attention; developing
risk assessment tools that take into account vetting practices in extreme
right-wing radicalization processes is crucial.
In light of a changing world and of the conflict playing out on the
threshold of Europe, it is essential that we adapt our interpretative paradigms
of the threat, and that we question the definition of terrorism, the approach
to countering radicalization processes, and the relocation of terrorism itself
in the new conflict scenario. Crisis management in the 21st century
presents unique challenges due to interconnected and interdependent contexts,
making prediction difficult.
The report also highlights the danger of jihadist terrorism in the Balkan
region, which remains a threat to Italian and European security. Italy has
implemented various initiatives to counter this threat, particularly at the
level of international peacekeeping missions. Civil society organizations play
a crucial role in preventing and countering violent extremism, but they also
face sensitive challenges in their relationships with counter-terrorism actors.
Finally, I would like to draw attention to a recent publication which
looks at “where the fight against radicalisation and international terrorism by
means of criminal law is going”, and a research project which offers “an
empirical study of Spanish jurisprudence dealing with jihadist terrorism over
the past 21 years”. The project, focused on the Spanish system, offers
constructive proposals aimed at combining the challenges posed by this criminal
phenomenon with the granting of fundamental human rights and explores the
potential of Restorative Justice.
In conclusion, this year’s report is a testament to the strength and
dedication of our community of scholars and practitioners within the ongoing
fight against radicalisation and terrorism. I hope that the insights presented
in this report will contribute to a better understanding of the evolving threat
of terrorism in Europe and serve as a call to action for all stakeholders to
work together to prevent and counter violent extremism.
I’d like to thank all the authors: with their commendable work, they have once again contributed to the successful realization of our annual Report, #ReaCT2023. A special thanks for their support also goes to Chapman University in Orange, California, Università della Svizzera italiana – USI in Lugano and Piattaforma cantonale di prevenzione della radicalizzazione e dell’estremismo violento (Canton of Ticino, Switzerland). Last but not least, as usual, to the Editor – START InSight, for making this publication possible and for its contribution to the international distribution.
Claudio Bertolotti, Observatory ReaCt – The Executive Director
Two decades of terrorism trials in Switzerland #ReaCT2022
An overview of the cases tried by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court since 9/11
A discussion with Ahmed Ajil, criminologist and researcher at the University of Lausanne. This is episode 6 of a series that our Swiss-Italian think tank dedicates to the Annual Report on Terrorism and Radicalisation in Europe #ReaCT2022 In 20 minutes, #ReaCT2022 authors introduce their analyses and elaborate on the most relevant aspects The publication is available in two languages (Italian and English)
#ReaCT2022 includes 15 contributions on jihadism and other forms of violent extremism characterising the current threat landscape, which acquired further strength and visibility throughout the pandemic. This Report aims at fostering long-term dialogue and collaboration with institutional and academic actors who are concerned with the issue of radicalisation. #ReaCT2022 is addressed to security personnel, social workers, the media, students, researchers and last but not least, the general audience.
Violent extremism, radicalization and case studies. The contents of the Report. The overall contents of the 2022 Report ranges from numbers and profiles of jihadist terrorists in Europe, to a discussion of New Insurrectional Terrorism (NIT), which draws renewed strength and motivation from the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan; from an analysis of the sub-Saharan context where jihadist organisations are characterised by globalist rhetoric but remain deeply connected to local dynamics, to European commitment in helping the Western Balkans prevent violent radicalisation; from an overview of the terrorism cases tried by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court since 9/11 to the dynamics of online jihadist communities; from the new horizons of radicalization, which broadened during the pandemic and require that more attention be paid to group dynamics and social problems linked to violence; to several articles focussing on the far-right, anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories, the NoVax movement; to case studies on the social reintegration of radicalized minors and deradicalization within the neo-Nazi context, which highlight the approach and the work carried out by Italian authorities. Finally, the Report includes considerations on the updating of Terrorism Risk Assessment Instruments (TRA-I), which are developed with the aim of being able to better assess the threat posed by radicalization processes and related activities; reflections on future war scenarios; a review of the recent book titled “Understanding radicalisation, terrorism and de-radicalisation. Historical, socio-political and educational perspectives from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Italy”.
ReaCT – National Observatory on Radicalisation and Counterterrorism (Rome) was founded by a team of experts and professionals from START InSight – Strategic Analysts and Research Team, a research and editorial production company based in Lugano (Switzerland); ITSTIME –Italian Team for Security, Terroristic Issues & Managing Emergencies, a research center within the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (Milan); CEMAS –Centro interdipartimentale per la ricerca scientifica e la cooperazione con l’Eurasia, il Mediterraneo e l’Africa Subsahariana, La Sapienza University (Rome); SIOI – The Italian Society for International Organization (Rome).
Europa Atlantica and Gruppo Italiano Studio Terrorismo (GRIST) also joined ReaCT as partners.
The Observatory includes a Board of Directors, a Steering Scientific Committee, a Parliamentary Committee and a Permanent Working Group.
#ReaCT2021 Co-editor’s note: Flavia Giacobbe, Director Formiche and Airpress
by Flavia Giacobbe, Director Formiche and Airpress
Pandemic, crisis, vaccines and recovery. The great spotlight of politics and public opinion have been fo-cused for months on the Covid-19 emergency. Yet, latent but concrete, other threats keep on pressing on Europe (and not only): terrorism, ji-hadist radicalism and different forms of extrem-ism. In early January, the as-sault on the U.S. Capitol shocked the world. An attack on the very heart of the star and stripes democracy that was thought unthink-able, perpetuated thanks to movements like the now well-known conspiracy organization QAnon. It shows how real the threat is and how much attention it de-serves, even now when other issues and other urgen-cies have climbed the ranks of public attention.
The main issue is how to address these risks, de-ploying effective preventive measures to anticipateradicalization processes before they occur, before they turn into tangible violence, like the one witnessed on Capitol Hill. However, jihadist terrorism keeps frightening the most, and Europe is at the front line both because of its proximity to war zones, and the presence of numer-ous foreign fighters returned from the battlefield.
Among the data in the ReaCT 2021 report, one is par-ticularly striking: 20% of terrorists who acted last year were irregular immigrants. This shows how prevention is closely tied to migratory policies, coordinationamong European partners and dialogue with countriesof origin and transit. It also proves that it is essential to have a clear understanding of the constantly evolving geopolitical framework surrounding our country and Europe. The ashes of the Islamic State in Syria andIraq have left many questions on the ground, first and foremost the displacement or repatriation of fighters, a phenomenon that requires international coordination. The Balkan route remains at the core of the attention by authorities, in particular Kosovo, from which most of the fighters who went to Syria came and in which Italy has a leading role, also thanks to the leadership of the NATO mission KFOR.
Within our national borders, the threat has been well outlined in the latest annual Intelligence reports. In addition to warning policymakers about jihadist risks that can undermine the Republic’s security, they have also recently highlighted far-right resurgences. This trend has to be watched, contrary to European general data that show a prevalence of the phenomenon linked to the extreme left.
Overall, an important boost to de-radicalization may come from our Parliament. During the last legislature, after a very troubled process, the Manciulli-Dambruoso bill has passed only in the Chamber of Deputies. This has undoubtedly made the country to miss an opportu-nity to have a regulatory instrument capable of com-bating and preventing the phenomenon of terrorism, at a time when public opinion was paying the greatest attention. In the new legislature, the text has been put back in the making, and we all hope for a shared and bipartisan political process, with the common goal of providing the country with more effective and far-sighted tools to combat the causes and spread of a threat never disappeared. Of course, dialogue be-tween politics, experts and security services remains the key to achieving good results. To this end, the ReaCT 2021 report proves to be a useful working tool, a compass to orientate the under-standing of the phenomenon, its roots and evolutions.
For this reason, Airpress and Formiche chosen to co-edit the second edition of the report, to contribute in keeping alive the interest of decision makers on a topic that significantly affects our collective security.
This report offers a concise analysis on the evolution of radical ideologies and terrorist threats in accordance with the European Union directive 2017/541 on the fight against terrorism and is meant as a useful contribution, within the wider public debate, to the harmonisation of member States’ discrepancies around what should be defined and treated as terrorism.
The Observatory mainly focuses on jihadism; however, we make sure to afford enough room and support for studies on other forms of terrorism, ideological radicalisation and social deviance, as well as “conspiracy theories” leading to violent outcomes.
In their assessments, the authors who submitted their work for this issue of #ReaCT2021 took into account the repercussions of new social and conflict dynamics brought about by COVID-19.
Due to other priorities, the pandemic seemed to have sidelined terrorism when, all of a sudden, October 2020 revived the threat which had apparently been overcome. From early September to early November, a successive chain of events clearly highlighted a dramatic and articulated scenario. Those sixty days of fear tell us that terrorism is now a “normal” rather than an ‘exceptional’ phenomenon, as an instrument of the ongoing conflict.
2019-2020: the evolution of European jihadist terrorism
In 2019 according to Europol there were 119 successful, failed or thwarted attacks: 56 of these were carried out by ethno-nationalist and separatist groups; 26 by extreme left radical and anarchist groups; 6 by far right groups; 24 were jihadist, of which 3 were successful and 4 unsuccessful. In the same year, START InSight’s database listed 19 jihadist actions / events (as compared to the 7 reported by Europol); in 2020, the number goes up to 25.
In 2019, jihadists were responsible for all deaths from terrorism in Europe: according to Europol, 10 people lost their lives and 26 were injured (1 person was injured in a far-right attack). START InSight recorded a higher number of people with injuries (48), who were mostly victims of marginal and emulative attacks. In 2020 there was a significant increase in deaths: 16 people were killed and 55 were injured.
The long wave of terrorism which hit Europe following the emergence of the “Islamic State” phenomenon recorded 146 jihadist attacks from 2014 to 2020: 188 terrorists took part in these attacks (59 among them died in action); 406 people lost their lives; 2,421 were injured (START InSight’s database).
Cases of recidivism are on the rise: 3 out of 10 in 2020. START InSight also spotted an increase in actions carried out by terrorists already known to European police forces or intelligence services: 54% of the total in 2020.
An increase in the number of irregular migrants heightens the potential risk of terrorism: 20% of terrorists are irregular immigrants. In France, the number of irregular immigrants involved in terrorist attacks is growing. Until 2017, no attack had seen the participation of irregular immigrants; in 2018, 15% of terrorists were irregular immigrants: in 2020, they reached 40%.
Islamic State and al-Qaeda online terrorist propaganda during the Covid-19 emergency
Propaganda activities carried out during the Covid-19 pandemic and the attacks which took place in Paris, Nice and Vienna, recall how dynamic terrorism associated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda remains, especially through the Internet. In particular, the Islamic State confirmed its aggressive narrative, identifying the Coronavirus as a “soldier of Allah”. An ally, set out to punish the “infidels”, above all the military and police forces.
The concepts and importance of preventing and countering violent extremism (PVE/CVE)
PVE and CVE gradually became an integral part of the global counter-terrorism architecture. In order to be long-term and effective, these policies and projects require a constant dialogue among researchers, practitioners, law enforcement agencies and legislators which also sets out priorities and expectations. Measuring the results of these activities remains a difficult task but several European think tanks are already bent on the issue.
Countering radicalisation and terrorism via criminal law: problems and perspectives
By its very nature, counterterrorism criminal law does not affect the causes of radicalisation and terrorism. An overarching and disproportionate resort to criminal law may even produce crime-inducing side effects: radicalisation shall be addressed as a reversible process. Counterterrorism criminal law in Europe is generally prison-based, even with regard to facts that arguably do not harm legal goods or interests.
The terror threat in the UK. The challenge: identify, define, arrest and convict
The complexity of the terror threat picture faced by the UK was recently highlighted through court cases which have frustrated the efforts of the security and intelligence forces. The cases that are now emerging are so disconnected from terrorist networks, are planning such random acts and the tools of terrorism are becoming so banal that it has become almost impossible to entirely shield yourself from the threat. But it has also become almost impossible to prove who might be going in this direction. This is creating a new generation of radicals that authorities struggle to identify, define, arrest and convict.
A look at the Balkan gate to Europe
The attack which took place in Vienna in November 2020 drew attention to the issue of terrorism in Europe, especially in the Balkan Area. It also focused such attention on jihadist presence in the Balkan countries, which could become a potential logistical hub for jihadism towards Europe.
Lessons learned from Kosovo’s experience in repatriating former foreign fighters: the small Western Balkan nation of Kosovo repatriated 110 citizens, including men, women, and children, in April 2019, making it one of a very small number of countries that has actively repatriated citizens involved with the Islamic State. The paper also includes what lessons can be learned by EU countries in handling the complex issue of how to manage the return of foreign fighters and their families.
The other terrorisms: far-right, extreme left and the new QAnon phenomenon in pandemic times
The pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus has also had significant effects on the relational and communicative strategies and methodologies typical of both far-right and extreme left-wing environments. Right-wing violent extremism, a phenomenon in expansion in the West, appears to be acquiring a transnational character and has an emerging symbiotic, mutually-reinforcing interdependent relationship with Islamist extremism. This interdependence poses additional threats to European security.
A threat to democracy is QAnon, a conspiracy theory movement active in more than 70 countries and that presents a high risk of radicalization in Europe. It should be closely monitored because of its potential for violent actions.
Thanks to all of the authors who contributed to this Report. My gratitude also goes to the two co-editors who have given their fundamental input: Chiara Sulmoni, President of START InSight, and Flavia Giacobbe, Director of Airpress and Formiche.
by Raffaello Pantucci, RSIS-NTU, Singapore and ReaCT
The complexity of the terror threat picture faced by the UK was recently highlighted through three separate cases; two of the infamous ISIS Beatles finally made a court appearance; two converts were jailed for trying to launch a terror attack in prison, and a case against a teenager accused of self-radicalising during the past spring lockdown, whose proceedings have failed. Taken together these show the complicated persistence of the violent Islamist terror threat that the UK faces.
The persistence is visible in the cases of ISIS Beatles and the attempted prison attack. Alexandra Kotey and Elshafee Elsheikh were longstanding figures of concern to the security services. Involved in a West London network that has long fed young British men to jihadi battlefields and created terrorist cells back in the UK. They left for Syria in 2012 to fight alongside Jabhat al Nusrah. Once out there, they joined ISIS and now are standing trial for their crimes.
The prison attack was led by Brutschom Ziamani, a convert who was jailed in 2014 for his plan to attack a soldier emulating his hero Michael Adebolajo who had murdered off-duty soldier Lee Rigby outside his barracks in 2013. Both Michael and Brutschom were part of the al Muhajiroun community, a group that has been a cradle to numerous terrorist plots and networks across Europe. Having been jailed, Brutschom lost none of his vigour and repeatedly refused to engage with rehabilitation programmes instead choosing to seek to radicalize his fellow prisoners. One of them, Baz Hockton, was persuaded to join him on a desperate suicide mission to kill prison guards and die in the act. They failed and now face further life sentences.
There is little chance that any of these men will repent their views at this stage
Given their relative youth, this means the UK system is going to be managing them for the next few decades. While Kotey and Elsheikh are not sitting in UK prisons, they are emblematic of a network that fostered dozens of young radicals who are scattered to the winds. Many of these are committed fighters who will require attention and remain of concern for years to come.
These cases illustrate the way that old problems seem to never go away, but keep popping up again
On the other side of the coin, on 9th October 2020 a court in London cleared a 14 year old boy whom authorities claimed had radicalised during lockdown with too much time on his hands. Having discovered extremist ideas, he followed them down the rabbit hole and was accused of trying to plan to make bombs. He was arrested, charged and ultimately cleared by a jury. Whether he will be re-tried or not is unclear, but this was the second time in a month that the British authorities had faced the problem of a prosecution failing.
Clearly the justice system presumes innocence until proven guilty, but the fact that the security services expended so much energy and effort on these cases (the earlier case was of two cousins accused of building drones to use in terrorist attacks) suggests that they thought something was afoot. Yet, ultimately they were unable to prove the case. Part of the problem is that the cases that are now emerging are so disconnected from terrorist networks, are planning such random acts and the tools of terrorism are becoming so banal that it has become almost impossible to entirely shield yourself from the threat. But it has also become almost impossible to prove who might be going in this direction.
What cases we have seen in the UK over the past few years have for the most part involved individuals using knives, cars and other quotidian tools. They may be active talking to extremists or on extremist chat groups, but so are many other people and the conversations are fragmentary and intent is always unclear.
This is creating a new generation of radicals that authorities struggle to identify, define, arrest and convict
The danger is the fusion of persistence and complexity. On the assumption that some of these new confused cases are actual threats and will operate on timelines similar to earlier generations, the danger is a confusing threat which will linger decades into the future. Disconnected from known networks, but entranced by their ideas, they are likely to roam online communities occasionally turning to violence.
This helps capture the challenging threat that is faced. It is persistent in that individuals do not seem to give up ideas and continue to stay involved for decades.
And it is complicated in that it is almost impossible to easily isolate and identify the threats. Sadly, the terror threat is unlikely to pass any time soon. It is in fact likely to only complexify and confuse us further.
#ReaCT2021 – Terrorism and immigration: links and challenges
by Claudio Bertolotti
Terrorism and immigration: links and challenges
89% of terror attacks in Europe were carried out by second and third generation “immigrants” and first generation immigrants, both regular and irregular. A statistical correlation between immigration and terrorism does therefore exist; however, the number of terrorists compared to the total number of immigrants is so marginal that it makes such correlation insignificant: the order of measurement is one unit per million immigrants.
The origins of terrorists: immigrants or Europeans?
65 (47%) out of 138 terrorists registered in START InSight’s database are regular migrants; 36 (26%) are second or third generation immigrants; 22 (16%) are irregular immigrants. The latter figure is on the rise and represents 25% of perpetrators in 2020. Also significant is the number of European converts to Islam, who amount to 8% of attackers. Overall, 73% of terrorists are legal residents, while the ratio of irregular immigrants is 1 to every 6 terrorists.
Is there a link between immigration and terrorism?
Immigration does “contribute” to the spread of terrorism from one country to another, but immigration per se is unlikely to be a direct cause of terrorism. There’s no empirical evidence so far that first generation immigrants are more inclined to become terrorists. However, migratory flows from Muslim majority countries where terrorism is an occurrence, are thought to exercise a significant influence on attacks in the country of destination.
Are immigrants terrorists?
It’s difficult to argue the existence of a causal link between the two phenomena: therefore, being a migrant would not be a triggering factor for joining terrorism.
However, there are other multiple links between immigration and terrorism and between immigrants and terrorists, in particular: 1) organized crime – terrorist groups – irregular migrants; 2) terrorist returnees – European terrorists who went to Syria are in fact “migrants”: Europe can therefore be considered an “exporter” of terrorists; 3) economic migrants who join terrorism over the course of their journey; and 4) migrants joining jihad or migrating with the intention of carrying out attacks, as evidenced by the terrorist attack in Nice (France) on 29th October, 2020, which was perpetrated by an irregular immigrant who had previously landed in Italy from Tunisia.
Ethno-national map of terrorism in Europe
Jihadist radicalization fuelling terrorism in Europe affects some specific national / ethnic groups. There is a proportional relation between major immigrant groups and terrorists. The terrorists’ nationalities, or their families of origin, are in line with the dimensions of foreign communities in Europe. Maghrebi origins prevail: the ethno-national groups which are mostly afflicted by a link to terrorism are the Moroccan (in France, Belgium, Spain and Italy) and Algerian (in France).
An increase in the number of irregular migrants heightens the potential risk of terrorism
16% of terrorists are irregular immigrants (2014-2020). 25% in 2020.
In France, the number of irregular immigrants involved in terrorist attacks is growing. Until 2017, no attack had seen the participation of irregular immigrants; in 2018, 15% of terrorists were irregular immigrants: in 2020, they reached 33%. Belgium reported that during 2019 they identified asylum seekers linked to radicalism or terrorism (Europol).
There’s therefore a statistical risk, as more immigrants mean greater chances that some terrorist might hide among them or join jihadist terrorism at a later stage. But despite this correlation, there is no manifest causal link: the choice of becoming a terrorist is not determined or influenced by one’s status as a migrant, but a series of factors such as individual experiences; living conditions at the time of arrival; voluntary or involuntary contacts with criminal or jihadist networks can all play a role.
#ReaCT2021 – Sixty days of fear: the lesson learned
by Marco Lombardi, ITSTIME, Catholic University.
The pandemic seemed to have sidelined terrorism when, suddenly, October 2020 revived the threat that seemed to be overcome. In fact, between the first days of September and the beginning of November there is a chain of events that, listed in its succession, clearly highlights a dramatic and articulated scenario.
1 , Charlie Hebdo magazine republishes the caricatures of Muhammad that made it the target of jihadist terrorism in 2015.
2 , the trial of 14 supporters of the perpetrators of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher supermarket opens in Paris.
25 , Zaheer Hassan Mahmoud attacks two Employees of Premières Lignes TV with a knife in front of the former Charlie Hebdo headquarters.
27 Sept., the “Second Nagorn-Karabakh War” begins, with the Turks supporting Azerbaijan. The war ends on November 9 with the Azerbaijani victory.
2nd Oct., French President Emmanuel Macron strongly attacks “Islamist separatism”.
5 Oct., Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia, declares that Europe will soon see Turkey on the outskirts of Vienna.
16 Oct., teacher Samuel Paty is beheaded by Abdoullakh Abuyezidvich Anzorov because he discussed Muhammad caricatures with his students. Paty is the victim of an intense social media campaign and three students have given information to his killer.
22 Oct., a woman with a burqa threatens to blow herself up at Lyon station, stopped she had no explosives: the event is one of the imitative behaviors that highlight the sedimentation of the jihadist threat in the western society.
24 Oct., Turkish President Erdogan responded to the question of separatism by stating that Macron, would need “psychiatric care“, then called for a boycott of French products and presents himself as the champion of offended Islam.
29 Oct., in the cathedral of Nice, three people were killed by a Tunisian terrorist, Brahim Aouissaoui, who landed in Lampedusa on 20 Sept., quarantined on the ship ‘Rhapsody’, identified and informed of his expulsion on 9 Oct. Aouissaoui loses his tracks and on the 26th goes from Palermo to Rome by bus, on the 27th from Rome to Genoa by train: the 28th is in Nice.
On 29 Oct., Vienna, fifty young people of Turkish origin broke into St Anthony’s Church to the cry of “Allah Akbar”. The episode is part of the climate of Erdogan’s statements.
2nd Nov., just few hours before the lockdown began, 4 people were killed in Vienna and 23 were injured by Kujtim Fejzulai in the city centre, in about nine minutes of six-point fire along a mile-long route. Kujtim, who was jailed for trying to reach Syria and join islamists, was released after 22 months for not being dangerous. Slovak intelligence informed Austrian colleagues of his attempt to purchase ammunition for AK-47 in July 2020.
2 Nov., France banned the Grey Wolves, a Turkish ultranationalist group after clashes with the Armenian community. Earlier, in June, Austrian Chancellor Kurz had ordered the closure of 7 mosques linked to Turkish associations following demonstrations for the re-enactment of the Ottoman victory at Gallipoli. Turkey accuses Austria of anti-Islamism and racism.
Listing the events that have punctuated these weeks is a fundamental lesson learned to draw some conclusions to place terrorism in the right perspective: a threat destined to persist in different and new organizational forms that will be able to adapt to the different scenarios.
The general climate of widespread violence found an ally in the virus
It was feared that Covid-19 was an opportunity that could be exploited by terrorism which, in its immediate propaganda, called for action its symphatizers because a possible relaxation in the police guard. This was not the case, proving that home-grown terrorists share as much fear for their health as the “kuffars” they want to strike. However, the virus, like every critical event, has been a booster of processes already underway and, above all, the leaven of a culture and a climate of widespread and pervasive violence that characterizes our society in recent years (from the Gilets Jaunes in France to Hong Kong, from Santiago to Lebanon): recent history shows how society has lost over time the intermediate bodies capable of mediating tensions and that the pandemic is an effective incubator of violent behavior. This context has given a good game to the sowers of violence to do their job more effectively and quickly: the processes of radicalization have become much faster, the transition to select, indoctrinate, convince people to turn to violence has now been reduced over time and the profound reasons for the choice have been lost confusing themselves with the immediate violent manifestation of their personal anger, which has far outweighed the ideological and religious motivations of terrorism.
In this cultural context, Islamist terrorism is now rooted and infiltrated in everyday life: in France one can lose its head for a cartoon and the “Caliphate” survives in families, in circles of friends, in its “clans”, where radicalization is no longer an ongoing process but a result achieved and stabilizing identities. And terrorism itself finds unexpected and unconscious allies in the denigrating of the victims, which feed the distinctions not comprehensible in the radical vision of “everything is or right or wrong“, as in the incitement interventions against the teacher who appeared on Social Media.
The political and cultural delay in responding to the threat of terrorism
The “lone wolf” narrative, used in recent weeks, is an example of the inability to overcome comfortable and dangerous stereotypes. The attacks in Paris, Nice and Vienna found support by friendly circuits who are not necessarily ideologized but certainly unable to express their anger outside the extreme violence that characterizes the widespread culture we have described. This means that the “lone wolf” narrative is extremely dangerous if, as it often emerges, it explains a threat for this less relevant. On the contrary, the loneliness of the “wolf” is such only compared to an absent formal organization, but not compared to an informal supporting circuit, first emotional and then logistical: the result is that terrorist action becomes unpredictable. Even when the signs are manifested in the biography of terrorists and actions, the lack of procedures that allow information to be “exchanged” at least for the mutual benefit of the agencies, rather than “shared” for free on the basis of a common project, generates vulnerabilities that are no longer tolerable. But even operational delays in Vienna allow for the mobility of a man who is on fire in six different places are not tolerable either. Nor does it underestimate the infiltration of “radicalized” individuals through the paths of illegal immigration, which feeds on bureaucratic procedures that generate vulnerabilities. None of this is compatible with the desire to counter the threat of terrorism.
Terrorism is a weapon of hybrid warfare.
As with the virus, for which there is no evidence that it was voluntarily launched into the world as a weapon, but which was exploited by everyone as a weapon once it was spread, so for the terrorist attacks, of which there is no evidence that they were directly activated by national agencies, it can be said that they were exploited as a weapon in the ongoing hybrid conflict. On the other hand, the organizational collapse of Daesh provided the militancy of terrorists deployed from the Syrian front to the North African front, to the Azerbaijani front as a weapon of rapid use, and the “Charlie Hebdo” trial provided the communicative context to drive dormant terrorism, giving new horizons for the defense of the Umma offended. If there is no evidence of tactical activation, however, it is clear the inspiration for the series of attacks, useful to national interests in the wider context of the conflict. In this sense, we have to consider the legacy of Daesh, which has promoted, legitimized and trained too many wanna be terrorists to behave easily, and the use of this labour force in an increasingly structured way also by state entities.
In conclusion, these sixty days of fear tell us that terrorism is now a ‘normal’ rather than an ‘exceptional’ phenomenon, as an instrument of the ongoing and continuing conflict. It is important to associate this vision with the awareness of a world in which threats intersect, overlap and feed but certainly never evade each other, so as not to fall into the error of considering a sequential time, as in September when the pandemic seemed to coagulate all concerns, making us forget the circular plurality of threats: terrorism among them.
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