Europe’s uptick in terrorism doesn’t match years past
In 1970s and ’80s, radicalism was political — and the toll greater
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.