#ReaCT2022: 3rd Report on Radicalization and Terrorism

Director’s introduction: The new terrorism among pandemic, social unrest and jihadist extremism

In my role as ReaCT’s Executive Director, I am pleased to introduce #ReaCT2022, the 3rd Report on Radicalisation and Counter-Terrorism in Europe (go to #ReaCT2022, n.3 year 3).

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 threats 

Terrorism adapts, 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 

Most data 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

Although 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

As highlighted 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 entities.

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 enhancing prevention. 

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 violence

Mattia Caniglia 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.

Within this 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.

Conspiracy theories from pop culture to violent militancy: the NoVax paradox

Andrea Molle 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.

Updating Terrorism Risk Assessment Instruments

In 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 Assessment Instruments (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.

Neo-Nazi 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

In this 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.

And 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 Network (2019-2021). 

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 input.


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).

Report #ReaCT2021 – Director’s note: terrorism in the time of Covid-19

In my role as Executive Director of the ReaCT Observatory, I am honoured to introduce #ReaCT2021, the 2nd Report on Radicalisation and Counter-Terrorism in Europe.

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.

Claudio Bertolotti – Executive Director




Countering International Terrorism (SIOI, N.° 4/2019)



FRANCO FRATTINI – Introduction
ALESSANDRO POLITI – The Terrorist Next Door
GERMANO DOTTORI – States and Terrorism
MATTEO BRESSAN- The Evolution of the Terrorist Threat after Al-Baghdadi’s Death
CLAUDIO BERTOLOTTI – The Numbers and Geography of Jihadist Terrorism in Europe
CHIARA SULMONI- Perspectives on Radicalisation. Notes from a Journey through Five European Countries
ALESSIA MELCANGI – The Libyan Chaos and the Jihadist Threat: Perspectives and Potential Outcomes
MICHELA MERCURI – Libya: A Black Hole in the Geopolitical Map of Terrorism
CINZIA BIANCO – Visions, Instability, Tensions: Saudi Arabia at a Crossroads
TIZIANO LI PIANI – A Quantitative Assessment of the Mechanical Input for Terrorist Attacks to Soft Targets in Highly Urbanized Settings, based on the Behavioural Analysis of t he Input Carrier
GIUSEPPE CUSIMANO – Cyber and Terrorism
ANDREA MANCIULLI – The Future of Global Jihad. Main Trends, Counter-Terrorism Tools and Prevention Strategies

Full publication available here: Download the Volume


Perspectives on radicalisation in Europe – a series

Direct link to the Reportage “Laser – Radical Rift” –  RSI Rete 2

A radio report by Chiara Sulmoni for RSI

Individual profiles of Islamist extremists differ greatly from one another. With a view to prevention, focussing on contexts and mechanisms leading to radicalisation is therefore very important. This in-depth radio report was broadcast by Swiss National Radio in the Italian language and gathers three perspectives on this issue.

Raffaello Pantucci, Director of International Security Studies at RUSI and author of a detailed book on the evolution of violent Islamism in the UK – We love death as you love life – Britain’s suburban terrorists –  depicts the British jihadist scene;

Douglas Weeks,  researcher, academic, and consultant specializing in radicalization, de-radicalization, and counter-terrorism policy, explains what radicalisation is about (“the key issue here is that radicalisation is not occurring solely because of the existence of ISIS or al-Qaeda or any other radical groups or for what people find on the internet”);

Hanif Qadir, founder and CEO of the Active Change Foundation, recounts how his own experience of Islamist extremism brought him to Afghanistan in the early 2000s. The author of a best-practice guide Preventing and countering extremism and terrorist recruitment also illustrates some faultlines between government policies and practitioners.