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Domestic Terrorism

The recent domestic terrorist attacks in Europe have brought attention to the issue of domestic terrorism however it has been an issue for years in Europe. Domestic terrorism is largely defined as terrorism in which the perpetrator targets his/her own country. It represents the largest terrorist threat in Europe, a trend that will likely continue.

Types of Domestic Terrorists

There are several types of domestic terrorists.  In our article we will refer to them as two different types, Islamic Domestic Terrorists and all other groups will be referred to as Domestic Terror Groups.

Domestic Terror Groups

There are several types of categories of domestic terrorists; separatists, left and right-wing extremists, animal activists, etc. All present a threat to civilians, with separatists attacks occurring the most frequent.  Islamic extremist attacks do however average more deaths per attack than any of the Domestic Terror Groups. Separatist attacks tend to focus on assassinations and assaults on government officials or agencies. Those type of attacks typically are meant to influence a specific audience.

Islamic Domestic Terrorists

Islamic Domestic Terrorists are homegrown and often conduct attacks that are meant to be spectacular, with the end goal being to rally local Muslims. In many instances Islamic terrorists conduct attacks that are meant to provoke resentment of Muslims themselves. In these instances, the attackers hope to stop other Muslims from complying with Western society and create a divide among the communities. Islamic terrorists rarely want to negotiate, they aren’t looking for a political solution. An example of that would be how often Islamic terror groups take a hostage, only to behead them before ever seeking a deal.

Understanding Islamic Terrorism

To understand Islamic terrorism, you must understand their end goal. Domestic Terror Groups usually have two goals; to convince who they view as the enemy to meet their demands and to garner support for their cause. Islamic terrorists on the other hand have no interest in the enemy meeting their demands. Their focus is to rally support from Muslims.  Their end goal is to use the support to form a Caliphate with all Muslims obliged to submit to the Caliph, or leader of the Caliphate.

Islamophobia Causing Attacks?

Like the United States, Europe has many who feel that Islamophobia is to blame for the current crisis. There is much suspicion and distrust of westerners among European-born Muslims, and vice versa. Many European-born Muslims feel alienated as a result of the contrasts between European cultures and Islamic cultures. Police raids into Muslim communities often feed into the feeling of distrust as well. Islamophobia causes Muslims to develop a dislike of non-Muslims. This leads them to violence against non-Muslims. This violence in turn justifies the non-Muslims Islamophobia and thus creating a never ending circle of distrust, dislike, and violence. 

Islamophobia or Legit Concern?

Numbers show that a number of extremist Muslims live in Europe. The recent increase of attacks carried out by European nationals, and the large numbers who traveled to fight for the Islamic State, raise suspicion among non-Muslims.  More than 5,000 European extremists left to join the fight in Iraq and Syria. By contrast, less than 200 extremists have left the United States to join. In the United Kingdom alone, more than 850 have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight for ISIS.  Security services are reportedly monitoring more than 3,000 additional individuals. 

Also a recent report by the Henry Jackson Society “Islamist Terrorism: Analysis of Offenses and Attacks in the UK (1998-2015)” highlights the number of extremists living in the UK alone.  The report states, only one in ten terrorist offenses was carried out by someone who acted alone. The other 90 percent acted as part of a larger group who likely remained behind to plan future attacks. Additionally, all four of the attackers in the July 7, 2005 London bombing were British-born. Seven of the nine who conducted the 2015 attacks in Paris were European nationals. Also, three of the five attackers who conducted the attacks in the United Kingdom so far in 2017 were British citizens, with two being British-born. The numbers that joined ISIS and the increasing number of domestic terror attacks give European non-Muslims reason for caution. It has also created distrust of Muslims among many non-Muslims.

Attacks by the Numbers

Europe in recent years has increased their ability to gather intelligence, track, and disrupt ongoing terrorist plots. Because of this, terror arrests have increased in the last 10 years according to EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2017 (TE-SAT).  Also according to the report, “the total number of terrorist attacks dropped by 33% in 2016 (142) compared to 2015 (211)”. The majority of the attacks were conducted by Separatists (99), attacks by left-wing and anarchist groups more than doubled (13 in 2015 to 27 attacks in 2016). Religiously inspired attacks were reported in France (5), Belgium (4), and Germany (4) but those attacks caused by far the most casualties (374 of 379) and most deaths (135 of 142). Attacks using firearms also dropped from 57 in 2015 to 6 in 2016.


Failed, foiled, and completed attacks in 2016 per EU Member State and per Affiliation. PHOTO CREDIT: EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2017 (TE-SAT)

What do the Numbers Mean?

What do the numbers and information tell us about traveling safely to Europe in regards to Domestic Terrorism? You are more likely to experience an attack by a Domestic Terror Group (Separatists group), but are much more likely to lose your life if you encounter a religiously inspired attack by a Islamic Domestic Terrorist. According to recent trends, the weapon you would likely meet is a bomb.  That’s not to say you couldn’t encounter a variety of items used as weapons. The vehicle attacks in Nice and London are recent examples of that.

Bottom Line

Overall in regards to the terrorist threat to Europe there are many concerns. Foreign-born Islamic Terrorists, Domestic Terrorists, and European-born Terrorists all present a threat that one should take seriously.

Foreign-born Islamic Terrorists

As we discussed in Potential Travel Threats in Europe: Foreign-born Islamic Extremists, fighters returning from war-torn countries present a danger in returning with a new set of war fighting skills.  They are also likely to have become more radicalized from their time among other Islamic extremists. The third attacker in the June 2017 London attack, Youssef Zaghba had earlier been arrested in Italy. He was trying to get to Syria at the time of his arrest but was still able to get into the UK to conduct attacks. Security services in Europe will likely become more and more overwhelmed with the return of fighters.  As the Islamic State continues to have major losses on the battlefield, those numbers are certain to rise.

Domestic Terrorists

Domestic terrorism presents the largest danger when it comes to the threat of a terrorist attack in Europe. All types of domestic terror groups have proven the willingness to conduct fatal attacks although religiously inspired attacks are clearly more deadly and becoming more and more prevalent. Domestic terrorists are nevertheless extremely dangerous and present a threat when traveling to Europe.

European-born Islamic Terrorists

Currently the greater concern in Europe comes from Muslims who are European citizens. Salman Ramadan Abedi, the Manchester, UK bomber, is an example of a European-born Islamic terrorist. He was born and raised in Manchester. He traveled to Libya to learn bomb making skills, using student loans to pay for his travel. Studies of recent attacks show many attackers have traveled to terrorists training camps to receive training just before they conduct their attack. This is one of the few ways to catch these perpetrators beforehand and it underscores how difficult lone wolf attackers are for authorities to stop.  These type of extremist rarely share their plot to others before carrying out their attack, making it much less likely that they expose themselves to authorities.

Up Next

In our next article we will discuss the threat that crime presents when traveling to Europe and look at some tips to avoid becoming a victim.

Next Article:  Travel Threats in Europe: Crime Threat