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/
The 4th annual Report on Terrorism and Radicalisation in Europe by ReaCT – The Observatory is available in Pdf format and on Amazon as of 23 May
SIMTERRORISM – Modeling Religious Terrorism in Populations impacted by Climate Change
This volume examines the combined effects of risk propensity, relative deprivation, and social learning of deviance on the collective grievance within a religious population under the assumption of civil unrest caused by extreme climatic events. We designed an agent-based model to demonstrate how greater or lesser amounts of grievance towards political authority are likely to create an ideal en-vironment for organized violence to emerge when resources are threatened by climate change.
Scholars have tried to formulate a generally accepted definition of religious terrorism for almost four decades, but its investigation is still controversial, especially in the context of the emerging study of the political and social consequences of climatic events. This particular form of terrorism is nevertheless highly diffuse and observed to be coming from smaller clubs of radicalized individuals instead of main-stream religious groups. However, we find that doctrinal explanations appear irrelevant in explaining how terrorist cells emerge and organize themselves.
Switzerland: Two decades of terrorism trials.
by Ahmed Ajil, University of Lausanne (Switzerland) – Researcher, Criminologist
An overview of the cases tried by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court since 9/11
Although Switzerland has not experienced a large-scale
attack of the kind experienced in other European countries in the last decade,
the phenomenon of politico-ideological violence in the jihadist spectrum is nevertheless
present. In December 2021,
the Federal Intelligence
Service counted 41 so-called
“persons at risk” considered to be posing “a priority threat to
Switzerland’s internal and external security”. In the context of its
“jihad monitoring”, it also identified 714 people who were active
online (since 2012), showing sympathy for jihadist terrorist organisations by
disseminating propaganda or by talking to people who defend the ideology of
these groups. Since 9/11, 91 individuals have left Switzerland to join a
terrorist organisation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria or Iraq.
Some people have returned, while others, now held by
Kurdish forces in Syria, are seeking to be actively repatriated, something the Federal
Council refuses to do.
While there are different ways to confront the terrorist
phenomenon, the use of criminal law constitutes the most obvious one. In its
2020 annual report,
the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (FPO) reported 35 pending criminal
investigations for terrorism in 2016, 34 in 2017, 30 in 2018, 31 in 2019 and 26
in 2020. In this short contribution, I would like to present a few findings
from a research project on the repression of terrorism by the Federal Criminal
Court (FCC), conducted together with my colleague Kastriot Lubishtani, of which
some results have recently been published in Jusletter (31 May 2021).
The FCC, operative since 2004, is the judicial authority
that is charged with the sentencing of terrorism-related offences. The few
criminal proceedings opened by the cantonal prosecution authorities are taken
over by the FPO and then judged by the TPF, except for those relating to
minors. Analysing the sentencing pattern of the FCC in this domain enables us
to gain quite a comprehensive view of the most severe cases which “make” it
through all stages of the so-called “crime funnel” (entonnoir pénal). At
this point, it is important to note that the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (FPO)
can also single-handedly
sentence individuals as long as the punishment does not exceed six months of
liberty-deprivation. The FPO frequently resorts to this option, but given that
these verdicts are, in principle, not accessible to the public, they are not
accounted for here.
legal perspective, there are mainly two provisions that are applied to
terrorism-related offences. One of them is article 260ter of the
Swiss Criminal Code which criminalises the support of and participation in
criminal organisations (a term that includes terrorist groups). The other one
is the Federal Law prohibiting the organisations Islamic State and Al-Qaida and
related groups (in short: IS/AQ-Law), which entered into force on 1 January
We collected all sentences related to these two provisions
and then selected only those related to terrorism. The only form of terrorism
handled by the FCC since its inception in 2004 is jihadism-inspired terrorism.
Since the publication of our article in May 2021, two hearings took place and
led to convicting three (3) individuals in total, which I am including in this
2004 and until November 2021, the TPF has tried a total of 17 criminal
proceedings related to jihadist terrorism cases. Most of these proceedings took
place after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war and the subsequent territorial
expansion of the group IS in June 2014. In fact, three (3) proceedings were
conducted between 2004 and 2014 with eleven (11) persons formally indicted
during this period, while there were fourteen (14) proceedings and twenty-one (21)
persons tried by the TPF between 2014 and 2020. The language of proceedings was
German in twelve (12) of the proceedings conducted in Bellinzona, while French
was used three (3) times and Italian twice (2).
proceedings are relatively complex, which is reflected in the length of the
pre-trial proceedings, as well as in their costs. On average, 882 days, or
almost 2.5 years, elapsed between the initiation of criminal proceedings
against an accused person and his or her indictment. The direct costs related
to the investigation, the defence and the court hearing reached up to 800’000
Swiss Francs for a single case.
the 17 procedures, a total of 32 individuals appeared before the Federal
Criminal Court. This means that in several proceedings – more precisely, seven
(7) – several persons were tried. Specifically, four (4) proceedings involved
two (2) persons, while the remaining three (3) proceedings involved three (3)
persons, four (4) persons and the last one involved seven (7) persons. In each
of the remaining ten (10) proceedings, only one (1) person was indicted.
overwhelming majority of the terrorism cases brought before the FCC led to
convictions. In total, 30 individuals were convicted by the FCC and two (2)
persons were acquitted of all charges. As of 20 November 2021, there are
twenty-one (21) final and enforceable convictions. Of these, six (6) persons
were eventually not convicted in relation to terrorism-related offences. Hence,
to date, there have been 24 convictionsfor terrorism-related
offences, of which fifteen (15) are final and nine (9) are pending.
are the Swiss terrorists?
(30) accused were men, while one (1) woman was charged as a co-defendant and
one (1) as main defendant. Twelve (12) of the accused were Swiss nationals, seven
(7) of whom had dual citizenship. Of these, one (1) Turkish-Swiss dual national
was subjected to a citizenship stripping, confirmed by the Federal Administrative
Court in 2021. Nine (9) defendants had a residence permit. Ten (10) defendants
were asylum seekers. Seven (7) of them had their asylum applications pending and
three (3) had been provisionally admitted. One (1) defendant had never resided
in Switzerland but was staying there at the time of her arrest.
overwhelming majority, i.e., twenty-six (26) persons had no previous criminal
record. This fact raises doubts regarding the pertinence of the crime-terror
nexus hypothesis for the Swiss context. The other six (6) persons had been
convicted of various offences under the Road Traffic Act in the case of three
(3) of them, under the Weapons Act in the case of one (1) defendant, and for
breach of a maintenance obligation in the case of another (1) defendant.
Finally, one (1) of the defendants had been convicted on several occasions for
illegal entry, threats, and coercion.
(19) of the defendants were unemployed and dependent on social assistance at
the time of the judgment. Five (5) defendants had no taxable income and were in
debt. In addition, three (3) defendants were employed and had a regular monthly
income at the time of the sentence. Finally, the economic situation of the remaining
five (5) defendants is unknown. These observations provide some evidence for
the pertinence of the biographical availability hypothesis, which
suggests that a lack of structure and occupation may facilitate engagement for
high-risk activism or illegal causes.
thirty (30) convicted persons (twenty-one (21) final convictions and nine (9)
pending convictions), custodial sentences were handed down in twenty-five (25)
cases, with an additional financial penalty in four (4) of these cases. Nine
(9) of the custodial sentences were conditional and six (6) were partially conditional,
which means that ten (10) entirely unconditional custodial sentences were pronounced.
In five (5) cases, the FCC imposed only pecuniary sentences, of which two (2)
most lenient punishment was a conditional 25-day fine at CHF 100 per day. The
most severe punishment was a custodial sentence of 70 months, coupled with a
15-year ban on entering the country.
are “terrorist activities” in the Swiss context?
terms of the nature of the criminal acts committed, one notes that since 2001,
no acts of terrorist violence have been committed on Swiss soil and brought
before the Federal Criminal Court (the attacks of Morges and Lugano in 2020
still being under investigation).
on the 24 convictions for terrorism-related offences (6 convictions did not end
up concerning terrorism-related offences), one notices that the acts that were
prosecuted in relation to jihadist terrorism were mainly related to activities
on Internet platforms. Two (2) proceedings involving a total of four (4)
persons concerned the operation of Internet sites containing propaganda
material, such as photos and videos, as well as comments glorifying the leaders
of major jihadist terrorist organisations such as Osama Bin Laden. Three (3)
people were recently convicted in connection with the production of a filmed
interview with a jihadist rebel in the Syrian conflict, Abdullah Al-Muhaysini. For
seven (7) of the convicted persons, the charges were limited exclusively to
activities on social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and messaging
applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram, consisting of sending and/or
sharing videos, images and comments, and in one case translating media
communications of jihadist groups.
some cases, the activity was mainly taking place in the digital realm, but
individuals were convicted of being part of a network. In one conviction of (3)
men, the case was opened on suspicion of a potential attack, but in the end, they
were only convicted for their activities on social networks. In one (1) case, the single defendant was
convicted of maintaining contacts with persons abroad affiliated with terrorist
organisations, but also of encouraging a person in Lebanon to carry out an
attack against Hezbollah or the US military.
most physical acts were attempts to travel to combat zones or activities
related to foreign fighting: Four (4) people were charged for attempting to
travel to the Syrian-Iraqi territory to join IS, one (1) for joining an armed
group in Syria and recruiting others, and another one (1) for practicing proselytism
in Switzerland and providing logistic support for foreign fighters in Turkey.
conclusion, it appears that out of the 24 individuals who were convicted by the
FCC for terrorism-related offences, 18 convicted individuals were engaged in
exclusively or predominantly digital activities, while six (6) mobilised
physically to support terrorist groups. It important to note that although they
were more physically involved than others, their activities on social media and
via messaging platforms, that were occurring alongside, were aspects of
essential relevance for their conviction.
widening of the net
speaking, individuals were primarily convicted for supporting criminal
organisations or AQ/IS-affiliated groups. Only three individuals were convicted
for participating in a terror group. This can be explained by two
things. On the one hand, it is difficult to prove membership and participation
in the loosely organised networks and groups that characterise the jihadist
phenomenon after 9/11. On the other hand, the analysis of the cases in question
makes it clear that, compared with the quite restrictive definition of
participation, the notion of support is a very large one and has come to
mean basically any activity that can be considered as putting a terrorist
organisation in a favourable light. By way of example, one individual was partly
convicted for posting an image on Facebook of a functioning hospital in a zone
controlled by the group IS to show that infrastructures are not all damaged
under the terror group’s reign. In another case, an individual was convicted
for sending three propaganda images via Whatsapp to another person. It is
therefore barely surprising that most of the cases lead to convictions for the
rather loosely treated notion of support.
Swiss anti-terror dispositif’s evolution is also part of a larger trend,
bolstered by the attacks of 9/11, to expand the applicability of criminal legal
frameworks into the pre-criminal sphere, thereby widening the penal net in
relation to acts that are considered to fall under the umbrella of
terrorism-related activities. This is understandable from a political
perspective but poses a number of challenges from a legal and ethical
perspective. In fact, the preventive turn of Swiss anti-terror laws and the way
they are applied leads authorities to investigate and sentence acts that are
increasingly detached from the actual act of violence that is sought to be
prevented. In an increasingly pre-criminal sphere, it is impossible to
cover the entirety of punishable acts and therefore differential and unequal treatment
becomes more likely. These aspects need to be considered when thinking about
future ways to strengthen and expand anti-terror efforts in the Swiss context.
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)
New Insurrectional Terrorism ignites individual terrorism in Europe
by Claudio Bertolotti
From Africa to Afghanistan: Europe looks with concern at jihadist exaltation
The Islamic State no longer has the strength to
dispatch terrorists to Europe as the loss of territory, financial strenght and
recruits reduced its operational capability to zero. However, the threat
remains significant due to the availability and action of lone actors, self-starters
driven by emulation without a direct link to the organization.
While on the ideological level the Islamic State
remains the main jihadist threat, it is however unlikely that it will be able
to replicate the overwhelming appeal the “Caliphate” enjoyed in the
2014-2017 period, as it lost the advantage of novelty, which constituted its
strength, particularly with younger people. In addition, both from a legislative
and operational perspective, Europe has been able to significantly reduce its own
vulnerabilities, although there were greater achievements in terms of counter-terrorism
rather than prevention. On the whole, however, the scenario remains uncertain due
to the risks connected to copycat attacks (“effetto
emulativo” in Italian) and the “call to war” issued in relation to
international events, which can mobilise individuals in the name of jihad. The
most important event which occured in 2021 that has provided and will continue
to provide impetus with respect to transnational jihad is the success of the
Taliban in Afghanistan as, on the one hand, it feeds jihadist propaganda via
the underlying message that “victory results from fighting to the bitter
end”; on the other hand, it fuels a competition between jihadist groups
engaged in exclusively local forms of struggle and resistance and those which,
like the Islamic State, understand and promote jihad solely as an means of
fighting to the bitter end on a global level.
In this overall and constantly evolving picture, we
must pay attention to growing extremist forces in some areas of Africa, specifically
in sub-Saharan Africa, the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and, furthermore, in Rwanda
and Mozambique, in order to counter the rise of new “caliphates” or
“wilayats” that could directly threaten Europe.
In its prolific jihadist propaganda, the Islamic
State boasts of its spread throughout the African continent and emphasizes
how the goal of countering the presence and spread of Christianity will lead
the group to expand into other areas of the continent. In the Maghreb, Mashreq
and Afghanistan, the activities of the Islamic State are centered around the
intra-Muslim sectarian struggle, while in Africa its presence imposes itself as
part of a conflict between Muslims and Christians with the help of propaganda
insisting on the need to stop the conversion of Muslims to Christianity by
“missionaries”, and under the “pretext” of humanitarian
aid. Within this context, there’s no
shortage of violence taking place; kidnappings and murders of religious
missionaries, attacks against NGOs and international missions from Burkina Faso
to Congo, and attacks on Christian villagers, especially during Christmas and
New Year’s holidays.
A drop in attacks,
but the threat of terrorism persists
Over the past three years, from a quantitative
perspective, the frequency of terrorist attacks
remained linear. From 2017 to 2020, 457 attacks took place in the European
Union, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, including failed and foiled attacks:
from 2014 to 2017, their number stood at 895.
In 2020, there were 119 attacks -including 62 in the
UK and 2 in Switzerland-. According to Europol (TeSat 2020) 43% of those are attributed to radical left-wing
movements (with a decrease from 26 to 25); 24% to separatist and
ethno-nationalist groups; 7% to far-right groups (compared to 2019, there was
an increase in percentage yet they decreased in absolute term); 26% are
jihadist actions. 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 direct effects.
In the wake of major terror events linked to the
Islamic State group in Europe, 165 jihadist actions have taken place from 2014
to 2021, according to START InSight’s database; of those, 34 were explicitly
claimed by the Islamic State; they were perpetrated by 219 terrorists (63 were
killed in action); 434 victims lost their lives and 2,473 were injured.
The number of jihadist events recorded in 2021 stands
at 18, down slightly from the 25 attacks of the previous year, but with an
increase in the percentage of “emulative” actions – meaning, actions inspired
by other attacks that occured over the previous days-; from 48% in 2020, they rose
to 56% in 2021 (in 2019, they stood at 21%). 2021 also confirmed the
predominance of individual, un-organized, mainly improvised and unsuccessful
actions that progressively replaced the structured and coordinated actions which
had characterized the European urban “battlefield” in the years from 2015
The “European” terrorists
terrorism is a male prerogative: out of 207 attackers, 97% are male (7 are
women); unlike in 2020, when there were 3 female attackers, 2021 did not record
the active participation of women.
median age of the 207 terrorists (male and female) is 26: 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
of the attacks (where we have complete information) were carried out by second
and third-generation “immigrants” and first-generation immigrants,
both legal and irregular.
the 154 out of 207 terrorists analyzed through START InSight’s database, 45%
are legal immigrants; 24% are descendants of immigrants (second or third
generation); 19% are irregular immigrants; this last figure is growing, rising
to 25% in 2020 and doubling to 50% in 2021. The presence of an 8% of citizens
of European origin who have converted to Islam is significant. Overall, 77% of
terrorists are regular residents of Europe, while the role of irregular
immigrants stands out with a ratio of about 1 for every 6 terrorists. In 4% of
the attacks, children/minors (7) were found to be among the attackers.
The ethno-national map of terrorism in Europe
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 France).
Increase in recidivism and individuals already known to
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, and were down
to a single case in 2021. 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
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 44% and 54% of the total in 2021 and
2020 respectively, compared to 10% in 2019 and 17% in 2018.
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 23% in 2021, slightly down from the previous year
(33% in 2020) but in line with 2019 (23% in 2019, 28% in 2018 and 12% in 2017);
this confirms the hypothesis that sees prisons as places of radicalization.
Is the offensive capacity of terrorism being reduced?
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.
at the strategic level is marginal
of the actions 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 and 6% in 2021. 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 2021 on average in 50% 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 2014-2021 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 six 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 real success is at operational level. The
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.
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 “functional
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 34% of the attacks which
took place since 2004, terrorism has proven its effectiveness by inducing a “functional
blockade” in an average of 82% of the cases, with a peak of 92% in 2020 and 89%
in 2021: an impressive result, when considering the limited resources deployed
by terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is, no doubt, in favour of terrorism.
Michele Brunelli (ed.), Understanding radicalisation, terrorism and de-radicalisation. Historical, socio-political and educational perspectives from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Italy (Book Review)
By Andrea Carteny,Elena Tosti Di Stefano
In recent decades, radicalisation and
terrorism have come to the forefront of International Relations, giving rise to
a wealth of conceptualisations and study perspectives, which shed light on the multiple,
diverse connections between terrorist phenomena, radical ideologies, and
global, regional, or local conflicts. Particularly relevant in this respect is
the need to consider factors such as ethnicity, religion, historical heritages,
as well as migration. Such consideration is even more salient if the military
dimension of counteraction is flanked – and sometimes replaced – by prevention,
deterrence, and integration strategies involving the educational, economic, and
social resilience spheres.
It is on this premise that the volume Understanding radicalisation, terrorism and
de-radicalisation. Historical, socio-political and educational
perspectives from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Italy was developed.Published
by Rubbettino in the editorial series “Laboratorio sull’Intelligence dell’Università
della Calabria”, the collective work presents the results of an intense and
fruitful two-year research activity carried out within the project PRaNet – Prevention ofRadicalisation Network (2019-2021).
The PRaNet project, led by the Italian
University of Bergamo, entails the creation of a university network between the
latter institution and two universities from countries belonging to the Organisation
of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Algeria and Azerbaijan, with the aim of deepening
knowledge and understanding of phenomena linked to radicalisation, as well as promoting
social inclusion and developing de-radicalisation policies for integration
purposes. Project activities have been implemented within the framework of the
multiannual programme “Strategy for the Promotion of Italian Higher Education Abroad
2017/2020”, jointly supported by the Italian Ministry of Education, University
and Research (MIUR) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International
Cooperation (MAECI). These include, in addition to research initiatives,
exchanges of students, teachers, researchers, and trainees through ad hoc
programmes, such as the MaRTe Master’s degree at the University of Bergamo in “Prevention
and Fight Against Radicalisation, Terrorism and for International Integration
and Security Policies”, as well as vocational activities at the University
Mohamed Lamine Debaghine (Sétif 2), in Algeria, and the ADA University fi Baku
The book draws on the consolidated
experience of Michele Brunelli, Professor of History and Institutions of
Islamic Societies at the University of Bergamo and Director of the Master
MaRTe, who has coordinated international projects concerning de-radicalisation
and prevention of violent extremism in Algeria, Azerbaijan and Burkina Faso, and
edited, also last year and for the same publishing house, the volume Prevention and countering of confessional
terrorism and radicalisation.
The scientific quality of the book derives not
only from addressing, through various perspectives, the main key-categories for
understanding terrorism (definition, causality, consequences, and response), but
also from analysing the historical, cultural, and socio-economic factors
relating to the phenomena of radicalisation, terrorism, anti-terrorism, and de-radicalisation,
taking as case studies three different confessional contexts: Italy, as a traditionally
Christian society; Algeria, a Sunni Islamic country; and Azerbaijan, characterised
by a Shia Muslim majority but a prevailingly secular society.
As the title suggests, the study revolves
around three concepts – radicalisation, terrorism, and de-radicalisation – which
are in turn the subjects of the three sections of the book respectively.
The first section scrutinises the complex
relationship between radicalisation and the question of minorities and identity
cleavages. Lala Jumayeva, Assistant Professor in
International Affairs at the ADA University of Baku with an expertise in conflict resolution, investigates the link between ethnic
minorities and radicalisation in the Caucasian area, while Naouel Abdellatif
Mami, Professor of Psycho-pedagogical Sciences and Foreign Languages at the University
Sétif 2, deals with the issue of identity and freedom of expression as drivers of
extremism in the Algerian context. Šeila Muhić, Researcher at the University of
Bergamo specialised in the field of human rights, explores the migration
phenomenon in Italy as a potential fertile ground for radicalisation. Further insights are offered by the second chapter of
the section, which brings together a series of essays on female radicalisation
and women victims or actors of terrorism. Anar
Valiyev, also a Professor at ADA University and an expert on history and
institutions of the post-Soviet space, discusses case of ISIS in relation to women
and children victims of radicalisation in Azerbaijan, with particular reference
to Salafist environments. Next, Naouel
Abdellatif Mami examines the condition of women in Algerian history, focusing
on the “black decade” (1991-2002) as well as on women’s role in the development
of approaches to resilience. The last study of the second chapter, carried out
by Emilija Davidovic – an expert on human rights in the post-Yugoslavian
scenario – concerns the involvement of women in extremist violence in the
European (Western and Balkan) context. The third chapter then provides a broad
overview of the phenomenon of political-religious radicalisation in post-Soviet
Azerbaijan, which mainly affects minority religious and ethnic communities
(Sunni and alloglot).
The second section of the book addresses terrorism
and its several conceptualisations. First, Ilas Touazi, Researcher at the University
Sétif 2 with an expertise in terrorism/counter-terrorism, presents an analysis
of the jihadist threat in Algeria, placing emphasis on the transnationalisation
of local terrorism. Professor Michele Brunelli subsequently explores the
evolution of politically and ideologically motivated terrorist crimes in the
European scenario, notably in Italy. The book
continues with the contribution of Aydan Ismayilova, a graduate of the MaRTe
Master’s course and an expert on jihadism, who examines terrorist phenomena in
the Caucasus area, focusing on Armenian terrorist movements and religious
extremist groups. Further food for thought is
provided by the fifth chapter, which includes research contributions on
critical infrastructure as the main targets of terrorist attacks. As such, Inara
Yagubova (Project Manager at the ADA University of Baku) deals with the
terrorist threat to energy infrastructure in Azerbaijan, while Nabil Benmoussa, Professor of Economics at the University
Sétif 2, analyses the economic implications of terrorism in Algeria and the related
policies of contrast. The essay written by Fabio Indeo, Analyst at the NATO
Defense College Foundation and expert in energy geopolitics of Central Asia, explains
the vulnerabilities and the strategies of protection of European critical
infrastructure, also in light of the new challenges posed by cybercrime. Afterwards,
Commander Mario Leone Piccinni, Officer of the Italian Guardia di Finanza and specialist
in cybercrime, outlines the intricate financing systems of terrorist
organisations at the international and local level.
The third and last section deals with de-radicalisation
policies and strategies. The seventh chapter hence investigates counter-terrorist
responses, with a first essay by Stefano Bonino, a criminologist expert in
terrorism and organised crime, who discusses Algerian counter-terrorist
strategies – from the most repressive ones to “soft” measures. As for the other
two countries under consideration, counter-terrorism and radicalism activities in
the Azerbaijani context are examined by Anar Valiyev, while the Italian case is
carefully analysed by Stefano Bonino and Andrea Beccaro, the latter being Professor
of Strategic Studies and War Studies at the University of Turin and the State
University of Milan respectively. The following chapter puts emphasis on the
role of education in preventing and responding to terrorism and radicalism, as
clearly emerges from the case study of Azerbaijan, here discussed by Valiyev. Likewise, Benmoussa outlines the recent educational
reforms in Algeria, conceived as part of the response to these phenomena; Šeila
Muhić, for her part, illustrates the programmes
of civil society involvement to counter violent extremism at the European
level. Last but not least, the ninth chapter closes the book with an essay by
Karim Regouli (Researcher at the University Sétif 2) on the delicate process of
reconciliation in Algeria after the decade of violence triggered by Islamic terrorism.
radicalisation, terrorism and de-radicalisation. Historical, socio-political
and educational perspectives from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Italy undoubtedly constitutes a point of
reference for scholars and experts, as well as for national and international institutions. The adopted multidisciplinary approach – historical,
political-institutional, economic, social, operational, and socio-educational –
provides for a comprehensive and articulated framework, which can be applied not only to religiously motivated
terrorism and radicalisation, but also to the many historical-political
expressions of such phenomena.
On a global scale, terrorism has (long)
tended to make fewer victims, despite a wider geographical spread and the fact
that, particularly in Syria and sub-Saharan Africa, the threat has grown. This
is the picture drawn by the Global Peace Index (GPI)
2021, which measures the impact of a series of indicators on the
peacefulness of nations. The same document depicts an international context where,
on the one hand, “the conflicts and crises that emerged in the past decade
have begun to abate”; on the other, COVID19 brought about new tensions.
Between January 2020 and April 2021, there were more than 5’000
pandemic-related violent events. The economic, social and even psychological
impact of the different measures put
in place to contain the spread of the virus helped create the conditions for a rise
in extremism and in the number of militants and supporters of various causes,
including conspiracy theories – be it
of a political, identity, anti-technological, no-vax nature – which found their
echo in anti-government protests and demonstrative actions, such as dozens of
attacks against 5G masts suspected of spreading COVID19; disruptions at vaccination centers; and threats directed at
scientists, politicians and even, as occasionally
reported in Italy, shopkeepers and restaurateurs requesting their clients to
exhibit Green Passes. On the Internet and in the streets, different orientations
more frequently happen to coexist and overlap, converging temporarily on common
causes and battles and/or driven by the aim of increasing their own visibility
and support base.
According to terrorism expert Ali Soufan, in
the future law enforcement, analysts and researchers might look to 2020 as a
watershed moment in terms of recruitment by non-state actors. It
should be emphasized, however, that the significant and progressive increase in
protests, civil unrest and political instability has been captured by the GPI since
2011; this is a particularly pronounced trend in the United States, where the
scale of the problem clearly came to light on 6th January, 2021 when
a diverse crowd of supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump, convinced
that they could overturn the outcome of the vote, felt legitimized by the
narrative of the “stolen elections” – which was pushed forth by some in the
political spectrum and the media – to storm the Capitol. The insurrection
against the transfer of power between the two American administrations, which caused
five victims and left a hundred others wounded, generated a greater, albeit
belated, awareness of the risks associated with an internal extremist drift which
has now become a priority issue for national security. The 700 plus individuals
who were arrested and prosecuted – including a 12% with a military background, according
to data gathered by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University – are
a jumble of exponents, supporters and sympathizers of various ideologies and
acronyms linked to the worlds of white supremacism, neo-Nazism, armed militias
and the conspiracy universe (QAnon above all), who were identified and
incriminated also thanks to their activities and interactions, fully visible on
social platforms. A substantial part of these citizens did not
appear to be officially affiliated to any organization; in this context, some experts today speak of mass
The new normal
of radicalization, shifting profiles and risks
Twenty years since the attacks of 11th
September, which opened a long chapter in the fight against terrorism at the national
and international levels that took various shapes – from military interventions
to the strengthening of police and intelligence measures, from legislative
changes to more interdisciplinary study of the subject, to prevention and
de-radicalization initiatives – not only has the threat not vanished; today, it
is more widespread, fragmented and complex to deal with. The ecosystem of
violent extremism is characterized by strong competition, but also by a growing
exposure to the strategies, tactics and “perceived victories” of ideologically
distant groups – analysts have not failed to point out, for example, the
attention paid by far-right circles to the “success” of the Taliban, whose
return to power after a long insurgency doesn’t merely motivate al-Qaeda and /
or fighters within the jihadist galaxy, but also other (armed) groups who make “traditional
society” their bulwark, oppose liberal values in the West and/or aspire to
civil conflict. The proximity and sometimes the cohabitation of themes – e.g.
jihadist vis-à-vis Accelerationst – narratives and symbolism does not entail a
watering down of ideological principles or beliefs but rather, as one can read
in a research on the subject (ICSR, January 2022), “an enhanced focus on
results over practice”. With reference to the Salafi-jihadist sphere, in
ReaCT2022 Michael Krona also explains that “supporter groups online are
expanding the terrorism universe by forming new entities that are less inclined
to attach themselves to a single organisation and instead promote wider
ideological interpretations (…)“. Today, the production of propaganda
and extremist narrative – but also calls for action – are no longer a
prerogative of terrorist movements’ media, but an operation which sees the
significant contribution of a large base of followers and militants acting on
their own, both with regard to the creation of new content – where topics might
differ from those addressed by the group’s official channels – and to its dissemination;
a large number of indictments and convictions for crimes related to terrorism
(not only of a jihadist nature) actually concern activities such as collection,
assembly and dissemination of material which might also be useful for planning
attacks. Because of this fragmentation, the tech giants’ battle to “clean up
the Internet” is far from easy, due to the skills of those “instigators” in
disguising the content of posts and accounts; in deceiving algorithms; in migrating
from platform to platform (including those popular with youngsters, like
TikTok) and in moving along grey areas and through encrypted Apps.
Britain is among
the European countries most affected by terrorism and radicalization and for
this reason, it anticipates and provides very important data and food for
thought. Recently Dean Haydon, Senior National Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Policing outlined the new profiles that are changing the equation in the
country: in short, according to the latest trend, it’s more common today to
come across individuals of British origins or nationality, increasingly young
and attracted to the ideologies of the extreme right, who self-radicalize
online and act on their own initiative. But 2020/21 data on referrals for
suspected radicalisation to the Prevent programme -which steps in when people are
thought to manifest early signs of extremism – reveal that 51% of the cases concern
“mixed, unstable or unclear ideologies” (MUU). Considering that there’s also a very high percentage,
a preponderance even of situations where mental health problems, addiction and/or
other difficulties might play a role – making youth particularly vulnerable to
online propaganda – violence prevails over ideology as a motivating factor, as
a channel for venting personal discomfort and – according to experts – as a
means to “acquire significance”. As a remarkable number of people suffering
from autism spectrum disorder have entered the Prevent circuit, the Independent
Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation Jonathan Hall stated that “it is as if a
social problem has been unearthed and fallen into lap of counter-terrorism
professionals.” Within this context, radicalization takes on the
connotations of a public health problem that must be studied and addressed from
a broader perspective than the one adopted till now, which placed a strong
emphasis on the role of ideology and consequently, with a view to countering
the phenomenon, on counter-narrative. An attack which took place in August 2021
in Plymouth, where a 22-year-old who was familiar with the incel
environment shot 7 people before taking his own life, is emblematic of the various nuances that make the
task of identifying what new forms of violence represent a terrorist threat
particularly difficult. Well-known in the United States and relatively new to
Europe, incels are “involuntary celibates”, individuals who fail to
establish a relationship with the opposite sex; scholars explain that within this
“bubble” – which is also dubbed incel
“culture” and is endowed with its own specific jargon – one can come across resentment
and hate speech spurring violence against women. More generally, it harbors a mix of misogynist, racist, anti-Semitic
and conspiracy beliefs. From March to November 2021, there was a
six-fold increase in visits by British users – which include children aged 13
and over – to the three main online forums linked to incel ideology (data
collected by The Times with the Centre for Countering Digital Hate). Official
statistics say that 2021 set a record in the number of children arrested for
The new horizons of
radicalization are not to be observed solely in the Anglo-Saxon world; with
reference to jihadism, the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service in their 2020
Report had already drawn attention to individuals “whose radicalisation and violent
tendencies are rooted more in personal crises or psychological problems than in
ideological conviction. The frequency of such acts of violence, which have only
a marginal link to jihadist ideology or groups, will in general remain the same
or possibly even increase.” Within the same year, the first two
such attacks in Switzerland took place in Morges and Lugano with the
perpetrators – a man and a woman – fitting this description.
Rethinking radicalisation with a view to prevention
Over the past 15 years, security policies and counterterrorism initiatives focused mainly on propaganda and recruitment by al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and related groups. Jihadism does remain the form of terrorism causing more victims; Europol itself reports that in 2020 – possibly also due to the pressure of the pandemic on security forces? – the number of attacks which were carried out exceeded that of foiled/failed ones and more than doubled, compared to the previous year. However, as previously highlighted, there’s today a new risk emanating from a post-organized reality, where militants and (potential) terrorists are only vaguely inspired by the Islamic State; they act independently and alone, yet “exalt” and encourage one another in group, within communities and ecosystems. Outside of the academic environment, this aspect of (re)socialization – the search for a sense of sharing and acceptance, be it in a real or virtual community – is not always sufficiently grasped; yet, it is paramount in order to fully understand the process of radicalization, which lists social exclusion among its most significant triggers. Today, society at large is characterized by similar dynamics of belonging and identification with a movement or cause, in opposition to others; concurrently with strong polarization and growing “social encapsulation”, these are all elements favoring the incubation of extremism. From this perspective, the battle against conspiracy theories and fake news, which are embedded in the narratives of many, more or less violent acronyms – especially those linked to the far-right – acquires strategic significance and calls for more awareness on the part of politics and the media. Due to the many facets of social problems which might lead to violence at this historical moment, it is the time to “rethink radicalization” by paying more attention to the sociological and psychological aspects, with a view to enhancing prevention – which does not consist in repression by means of security / Police interventions in the pre-criminal phase, but rather in being engaged on the ground and in planning activities aimed at strengthening support networks where social and personal hardships may manifest at the local level. As highlighted in ReaCT2021, this approach implies long-term collaboration among different actors (NGOs, public and private institutions, civil society, families) and constant dialogue among researchers, field operators, law enforcement agencies and legislators. Faced with terrorism’s creativity and adaptability, as well as with the new normal of radicalisation which defines the current era, updating approaches and tools at our disposal to counter this threat is of the utmost importance.
In their assessments, the
authors who submitted their work for this issue took into account the
repercussions of new social and conflict dynamics brought about by COVID-19 and
also the effects of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan.
COVID and the Taliban drive diverse terrorist
evolves and is affected by events which ignite violent actions in the name of
an ideology that justifies its methods, aims and purposes. Trends recorded in 2021
are coherent with the dynamics of the past few years; they also anticipate a likely
scenario for 2022, a year that will continue to be shaped by
two major developments: the
Covid-19 pandemic and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. These two
developments, in different ways, contribute to an increasingly threatening
landscape.On the one hand, the social consequences of the Covid-19
pandemic will increase heterogeneous radical phenomena and bolster violence
linked to conspiracy or ideologically-driven extremist movements; on the other
hand, the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan represents a leitmotif within the
global jihadist narrative.
The terrorism landscape we face in 2022
presented in this paper are drawn from START InSight’s database, which provides
annual trends in jihadist terrorism and events in Europe.
In more general
terms, the West is currently looking with concern at jihadist exaltation, from
Afghanistan to Africa. The Islamic State no longer has the strength to dispatch
terrorists to Europe as the loss of territory, financial strenght and recruits
greatly reduced its operational capability. However, the threat remains
significant due to the availability and action of lone actors and self-starters
without a link to the organisation yet mobilised by jihadist narratives around
global events. Risks connected to emulative attacks are high; 56% of the events
in 2021 can be categorised as emulative actions, according to START InSight’s
database. This trend is growing. Over the past three years, from a quantitative
point of view, the frequency of terrorist attacks has remained linear. Europol
attributes 43% of the attacks to radical left-wing movements, 24% to separatist
and ethno-nationalist groups, 7% to far-right groups, while 26% are jihadist
actions. While jihadist violence might be marginal in absolute terms, it
continues to be most relevant in terms of its consequences and the number of
victims. The number of jihadist events which took place in Europe in 2021
stands at 18 (START InSight).
Two decades of terrorism trials in Switzerland
Switzerland has not experienced a large-scale attack of the kind experienced in
other European countries over the last decade, the phenomenon of
politico-ideological violence in the jihadist spectrum is nevertheless present.
Ahmed Ajil explains that from 2004 until November 2021, the Swiss
Federal Criminal Court has tried a total of 17 criminal proceedings related to
jihadist terrorism cases. Most of these proceedings took place after the
outbreak of the Syrian civil war and the subsequent territorial expansion of the
IS group in June 2014.
The African challenge
by Enrico Casini and Luciano Pollichieni, since the early 2000s,
a growing number of jihadist organizations emerged in Africa. They are
characterised by a globalist rhetoric but remain deeply connected to local
dynamics (political, ethnic, or criminal) and they are also increasingly
involved in illicit traffics of different types and shapes (from smuggling to
human trafficking and slavery to maritime piracy). In virtue of its contiguity
with the Mediterranean, instability generated by terrorist groups in Africa has
an immediate effect on Europe, as demonstrated by the various migration crises
of the last years.
Jihadist communities online expand the terrorism universe
by forming new entities
We asked Michael Krona, a media scholar
researching salafi-jihadist propaganda, to provide us with his take on the
dynamics of jihadist online communities; he underlines how communities that
were previously started as direct extensions of a specific organization (like
the Islamic State – IS) increasingly become intertwined with broader
ideological strains, rather than only relaying official IS propaganda.
Supporter groups online are expanding the terrorism universe by forming new
The new horizons of radicalisation
Two decades since
the 9/11 attacks and in pandemic times, the threat of terrorism has become more
widespread, fragmented and complex to deal with. Chiara Sulmoni writes that the ecosystem of violent extremism is
characterized by strong competition, but also by a growing exposure to the
strategies and narratives of different groups. New profiles underline the
domestic character of the threat and indicate how terrorists and individuals
who radicalise frequently have a history of mental distress and exhibit a
propensity for violence rather than ideological conviction. As society itself
is becoming increasingly polarized and extremism finds its way into the
mainstream, there’s a need for renewed attention on the sociological and
psychological aspects inherent to radicalisation processes, with a view to
The EU supports the Western Balkans with a new project
on prevention of radicalisation
With reference to the Western Balkan area, Matteo
Bressan explains how prevention of radicalisation leading to violent
extremism and terrorism represents a key priority for EU Member States and
Western Balkan partners. As common challenges require a common approach, the
Commission will support the region in preventing and countering all forms of
radicalisation. The Commission will mobilise practitioners’ expertise within
the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) to support prevention work and
facilitate exchanges among professionals.
Dealing with radicalised minors: the Italian approach
Minors are among
the targets of jihadist propaganda and extremist ideologies more in general.
They can be involved in different ways: as unaware victims of adults’ choices
or as direct recipients of an ideology which exploits their need to belong. In
her case study, Alessandra Lanzetti illustrates how the State Police’s Central Directorate of the
Prevention Police (DCPP) gained experience in this field and how it developed
an experimental intervention protocol on child returnees, based on the criteria
of timeliness and multidisciplinarity.
New radicalisms and other terrorisms fueled by the
pandemic effects. Far right, radical left, anti-Semitism: from conspiracy to
explains how one of the most worrying trends in 2021 has been the increasing
attraction exercised by right-wing violent extremism on young people. This is
probably linked to the fact that right-wing extremist propaganda is mainly
disseminated online, and gaming platforms have been increasingly used to spread
extremist and terrorist narratives. Evidence from investigations and research activities
that emerged over the past year suggests that, in some instances, RWVE seek to
emulate jihadists with respect to recruitment techniques, modi operandi
and propaganda strategies. Furthermore, high-profile terrorist attacks –
whether Islamist or far-right in nature – can increase reciprocal
radicalization processes, where neo-Nazis and jihadists attempt to
“up the ante” by increasing the frequency and lethality of attacks.
context, there’s also a growth in anti-Semitic sentiment; Sarah Ibrahimi
Zijno discusses the extreme and easy propagation of substantially
anti-Semitic points of view, first within the American alternative right and
later also within the alternative European right, with particular reference to
the former communist part of the continent; as well as the substantial
rapprochement of some left-oriented press towards the same conspiracy algorithm
already of the alternative right, with the silent, progressive abandonment of
the distinction – already fragile and questionable in itself – between
anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
theories from pop culture to violent militancy: the NoVax paradox
explains how the NoVax movement is now spearheading the rise of militant
conspiracy and rapidly replacing religious radicalism as the primary concern
for national security. His paper analyzes some of its essential traits,
highlighting the risk of mass radicalization it carries.
Terrorism Risk Assessment Instruments
recent years, with the advance in Europe and the United States of more or less
organised forms of extreme right-wing extremism and white supremacism, notes Barbara
Lucini, the Terrorism Risk
(TRA-I) have been the subject of renewed reflection with
respect to their adaptive capacity, resilience and effective assessment of the
multiple and varied paths of radicalisation that are being witnessed.
extremism and deradicalisation
The case study presented by Luca Guglielminetti is the first in Italy that concerns a so-called
deradicalization activity aimed at a boy involved in subversive activities of
the neo-Nazi far right. The path undertaken was born in the framework of a
European project “Exit Europe”, which involved partners from 5
countries with a view to integrating P/CVE interventions.
Future wars: the new centrality of
intelligence and the redefinition of cyberspace
analysis, Marco Lombardi shares his reflections on some emerging aspects
of warfare, intelligence and the role of terrorism. The scenario of
the future war seems to underline the maintenance, indeed the strengthening of
the operating methods of terrorism in recent years, which has found its success
for the ability to penetrate media communication and for the innovative (ie
surprising) use of technologies. It almost seems that the terrorism
of the first twenty years of the new century has experienced the new
opportunities of warfare, which then consolidated into widespread practices
among all the actors in the conflict.
finally, Andrea Carteny and Elena Tosti Di Stefano reviewed for
us a recent publication –Understanding
radicalisation, terrorism and de-radicalisation. Historical, socio-political
and educational perspectives from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Italy – which
collectively presents the results of an intense and fruitful two-year research
activity carried out within the project PRaNet – Prevention of Radicalisation
Thanks to all the Authors who have contributed to the
current #ReaCT2022 Report. My gratitude goes in particular to the Editor,
Chiara Sulmoni, START InSight’s President, for her fundamental and special
Claudio Bertolotti (ENG), Director’s introduction: The new terrorism among pandemic, social unrest and jihadist extremism
Claudio Bertolotti (ENG), New Insurrectional Terrorism ignites individual terrorism in Europe
Ahmed Ajil (ENG), Two decades of terrorism trials: an overview of the cases tried by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court since 9/11
Claudio Bertolotti (ENG), Afghanistan, Syria and the Sahel: the ‘New Insurrectional Terrorism’ (NIT) takes root. A revolutionary, subversive and utopian phenomenon looks to the West
Enrico Casini, Luciano Pollichieni (ENG), Caliphs, trafficking, and discontent: convergences and perspectives of jihadist terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa
Michael Krona (ENG), Jihadist communities online build their own brands and expand the terrorism-universe by forming new entities
Chiara Sulmoni (ENG), The new horizons of radicalization
Alessandra Lanzetti (ENG), Case study – Radicalised minors: the Italian model, between security protection and social reintegration
Matteo Bressan (ENG), The EU supports Western Balkans with a new project on prevention of radicalization
Barbara Lucini (ENG), TRA-I and radicalisation processes: current considerations and future prospects
Mattia Caniglia (ENG), Right-wing violent extremism in 2021: a rising threat across Europe?
Sarah Ibrahimi Zijno (ENG), New anti-Semitism: main factors and trends after the pandemic
Luca Guglielminetti (ENG), Case study – Neo-Nazi extremism and deradicalisation: the first case study in Italy
Andrea Molle (ENG), Conspiracy theories from pop culture to violent militancy: the NoVax paradox
Marco Lombardi (ENG), Future wars: the new centrality of intelligence and the redefinition of cyberspace
Andrea Carteny, Elena Tosti Di Stefano (ENG), Review – Understanding radicalisation, terrorism and de-radicalisation. Historical, socio-political and educational perspectives from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Italy, M. Brunelli (edited by).
#ReaCT2022: The 3rd Report on Terrorism and Radicalisation in Europe
#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.
🔴📚 OUT SOON! #ReaCT2023 Annual Report on Terrorism and Radicalisation in Europe | Start Insight ⬇ 16 articles by different authors discuss current trends and numbers. Available in Italian and English startinsight.eu/en/out-soon-r…
🔴@cbertolotti1 a FanPage sulle varie ipotesi dell'attacco👉"(...) non si tratterebbe di droni in grado di fare danni significativi, ma piuttosto di una tipologia di equipaggiamento in grado di fare danni limitati con l'obiettivo di portare l'attenzione mediatica sulla questione" twitter.com/cbertolotti1/s…
Per fornire le migliori esperienze, utilizziamo tecnologie come i cookie per memorizzare e/o accedere alle informazioni del dispositivo. Il consenso a queste tecnologie ci permetterà di elaborare dati come il comportamento di navigazione o ID unici su questo sito. Non acconsentire o ritirare il consenso può influire negativamente su alcune caratteristiche e funzioni.
L'archiviazione tecnica o l'accesso sono strettamente necessari al fine legittimo di consentire l'uso di un servizio specifico esplicitamente richiesto dall'abbonato o dall'utente, o al solo scopo di effettuare la trasmissione di una comunicazione su una rete di comunicazione elettronica.
The technical storage or access is necessary for the legitimate purpose of storing preferences that are not requested by the subscriber or user.
The technical storage or access that is used exclusively for statistical purposes.L'archiviazione tecnica o l'accesso che viene utilizzato esclusivamente per scopi statistici anonimi. Senza un mandato di comparizione, una conformità volontaria da parte del vostro Fornitore di Servizi Internet, o ulteriori registrazioni da parte di terzi, le informazioni memorizzate o recuperate per questo scopo da sole non possono di solito essere utilizzate per l'identificazione.
L'archiviazione tecnica o l'accesso sono necessari per creare profili di utenti per inviare pubblicità, o per tracciare l'utente su un sito web o su diversi siti web per scopi di marketing simili.