Europe’s uptick in ter­ror­ism doesn’t match years past

In 1970s and ’80s, rad­i­cal­ism was po­lit­i­cal — and the toll greater

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Kim Hjelm­gaard @khjelm­gaard USA TODAY

A truck ram­page kills 86 on Nice’s famed French Riviera. Care­fully co­or­di­nated mass shoot­ings leave 130 dead at cafes and at a Paris con­cert hall. Eight die in a stab­bing spree out­side pubs and restau­rants in Lon­don. A low-tech sui­cide bomb at a con­cert in Manchester kills 22 peo­ple, many of them teenagers.

These high-pro­file at­tacks in Western Europe have trig­gered the ter­ror the Mus­lim per­pe­tra­tors in­tended, pro­duced mas­sive me­dia cov­er­age, un­leashed a back­lash against Is­lam and pro­pelled gov­ern­ments to de­vote huge re­sources to pre­vent fu­ture ran­dom as­saults on their cit­i­zens.

The public hys­te­ria, how­ever, masks the fact that the num­ber of at­tacks and deaths from ter­ror­ism in Western Europe is down sig­nif­i­cantly from 20 to 40 years ago, when po­lit­i­cal rad­i­cal­ism rather than re­li­gious fa­nati­cism was the spark.

The re­gion was tar­geted by 604 ter­ror at­tacks that killed 383 peo­ple in 2015 and 2016, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent fig­ures com­piled by the Univer- sity of Mary­land’s Global Ter­ror­ism Data­base.

In 1979 and 1980, by con­trast, 1,615 ter­ror­ist in­ci­dents killed at least 719, the most at­tacks and deaths since the data­base be­gan track­ing at­tacks in 1970.

“Ter­ror­ism in Western Europe re­mains less fre­quent com­pared to the num­ber of at­tacks that took place in the re­gion in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s,” said Erin Miller, a re­searcher who man­ages the data­base.

This year, at least 39 Euro­peans have died in 11 ter­ror at­tacks.

Most of this year’s ter­ror inci- dents are the work of Is­lamic ex­trem­ists, ei­ther na­tives or im­mi­grants mo­ti­vated by rad­i­cal groups, such as the Is­lamic State, which have de­clared war on Western val­ues.

Ter­ror­ists in past decades were po­lit­i­cal fa­nat­ics or agents of state-spon­sored at­tacks, in­clud­ing North­ern Ire­land’s Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army, Spain’s Basque separatists, Ital­ian rad­i­cals and Libyan agents’ bomb­ing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Locker­bie, Scot­land, in 1988.

Re­cent ter­ror at­tacks in the United States are far less com­mon than in Europe, and Amer­i­cans can thank ge­og­ra­phy and as­sim­i­la­tion for that.

There were 100 at­tacks that killed 97 peo­ple in the U.S. in 2015-16, com­pared with 604 at­tacks that claimed 383 vic­tims in Western Europe dur­ing the same time pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land’s Global Ter­ror­ism Data­base.

“There are oceans sep­a­rat­ing North Amer­ica from the main con­flict zones in the Mid­dle East and Africa,” where re­cent ter­ror­ists have been rad­i­cal­ized, said Phil Gurski, a for­mer Cana­dian in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst who runs a threat- and risk-con­sult­ing firm. “It is far eas­ier for ex­trem­ists to get to Italy from Libya than it is for them to go from Libya to Canada or the U.S.”

Gurski said it also is pos­si­ble that “North Amer­ica has done a much bet­ter job at in­te­grat­ing im­mi­grants than gov­ern­ments in Europe. You just need to look at what has hap­pened in some of the so-called (im­mi­grant) ghet­tos in France, Bel­gium and the United King­dom.”

This year, at least 39 peo­ple have been killed in 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Western Europe, com­pared with five at­tacks in the U.S. that have caused seven fa­tal­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to PeaceTech Lab, a group that an­a­lyzes con­flict-re­lated data.

Since 1970, there have been more than 16,000 at­tacks in Western Europe com­pared with at least 3,200 in North Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to the Global Ter­ror­ism Data­base.

Ter­ror­ist in­ci­dents in the U.S. date to the early 1900s and are mo­ti­vated by a va­ri­ety of causes, said Robert Mug­gah of the Igara- pé In­sti­tute, a se­cu­rity and de­vel­op­ment think tank in Brazil.

On Wall Street in 1920, an ex­plo­sion on the back of a horse­drawn car­riage killed 30 peo­ple in an at­tack blamed on an­ar­chists. Six years be­fore the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks by rad­i­cal Mus­lims that killed nearly 3,000 peo­ple, there was the Ok­la­homa City truck bomb­ing led by antigov­ern­ment fa­natic Ti­mothy McVeigh that killed 168 peo­ple. It re­mains the dead­li­est in­ci­dent of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism in U.S. his­tory.

“There is this per­cep­tion that ter­ror­ism in the U.S. is im­ported from a small num­ber of Mid­dle East states, when in fact there are an equiv­a­lent num­ber of threats emerg­ing from non-Is­lamic ex­trem­ists such as right-wing groups and eco (war­riors),” Mug­gah said.

Since 1970, there have been more than 16,000 at­tacks in Western Europe com­pared with at least 3,200 in North Amer­ica.


Eight peo­ple were killed and dozens wounded June 3 af­ter three ter­ror­ists drove a van into pedes­tri­ans on Lon­don Bridge in the heart of the cap­i­tal. Po­lice killed the at­tack­ers.


Lon­don po­lice pa­trol af­ter a ter­ror­ist at­tack June 3. This year, at least 39 peo­ple have died in at­tacks in Western Europe.

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