#ReaCT2021 – Numbers and profiles of jihadist terrorists in Europe

by Claudio Bertolotti

The new terrorism in Europe, in numbers

436 terrorist attacks, including failed and foiled ones, were recorded on European soil from 2017 to 2019 (895 in the 2014-2017 period): 63% were attributed to separatist and ethno-nationalist groups: 16% to radical leftist and anarchist groups (on the increase); 2.8% to far-right groups (decreasing); while 18% were jihadist. Although jihadist attacks are a marginal number, they were responsible for all deaths from terrorism in 2019 and for 16 killed in 2020.

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).

Twice as much emulative actions

In 2020, a total of 25 events took place in Europe compared to 19 in the previous year, with a substantial rise in the “emulative effect”. “Emulative” and autonomous actions by self-starters, which are inspired or triggered by a main event and which occur within the following 8 days, represent 48% of the total attacks in 2020 (up from 21% in 2019). 2020 was characterized by a progressive decrease in structured and coordinated actions; the now preveailing individual, unorganized, often improvised and unsuccessful actions have taken over the European urban “battlefield”.

Personal data of “European” terrorists

Terrorism and gender: terrorist attacks are a male prerogative as indicated by the 97% of male attackers (182 terrorists), although in 2020 there were 3 events conducted by women (12% of the total in 2020). Furthermore, the number of terrorist attacks increases as the stock of male immigrants increases too.

The median age of the 188 terrorists who carried out attacks is 26: this figure varies over time (24 in 2016, 26 in 2017, 25.5 in 2018, 30 in 2019 and 25 in 2020). The personal data of the 138 terrorists who were identified, allow us to draw a very interesting picture, showing that 10% of the subjects are under the age of 19, 36% are aged between 19 and 26, 39 % between 27 and 35 and, finally, 15% are over the age of 35.

Increase in recidivism and individuals known to intelligence

Cases of recidivism are on the rise – individuals already convicted for terrorism who carry out attacks at the end of their prison term and, in some cases, within prison walls: from 3% in 2018 (1 case), to 7% (2) in 2019, to 27% (6) in 2020. This data highlights the social danger of convicted individuals who do not abandon their violent intent; this evidence suggests a potential increase in terrorist actions over the coming years, cuncurrently with the release of currently detained terrorists.

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, compared to 10% in 2019 and 17% in 2018.

Also on the increase is the percentage of individuals already convicted and detained (for crimes not necessarily associated with terrorism): 33% in 2020 – they were 23% in 2019, 28% in 2018 and 12% in 2017. This evidence confirms the hypothesis that prisons can be conducive to radicalization.

Increase in the “functional blockade”: an indirect success of terrorism

The “functional blockade” represents the most significant outcome for terrorism on European soil; one which is obtained regardless of tactical success (death or destruction of a target): security forces’ operational activities, transport, urban mobility, emergency health services, everyday life were all impacted.

Compared to a 34% of “success” obtained by terrorists from 2004 onwards, terrorism has proven its “effectiveness” by causing a “functional blockade” in 82% of the cases (2004-2020); in 2020, 92% of attacks led to a “functional blockade”: an impressive result, despite the attackers’ access to limited resources.


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