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Study Examines Jihadist Attacks in Europe, North America Related to Islamic State Group since 2014

Report from GW Program on Extremism Provides First Comprehensive Accounting of Attacks in the West since Declaration of the Caliphate
June 14, 2017

Brett Zongker: [email protected], 202-994-6466
Jason Shevrin: [email protected], 202-994-5631

WASHINGTON (June 14, 2017)—A new report examines all jihadist-motivated terrorist attacks carried out in Europe and North America since the declaration of the Caliphate by the Islamic State group in June 2014. The Program on Extremism at the George Washington University released the study “Fear thy Neighbor: Radicalization and Jihadist Attacks in the West,” which includes the first comprehensive accounting of attacks carried out in the past three years.

The researchers found the country with the largest number of attacks was France (17), followed by the United States (16), Germany (6), the United Kingdom (4), Belgium (3), Canada (3), Denmark (1) and Sweden (1.) The 51 attacks since 2014 caused 395 deaths and at least 1,549 physical injuries, excluding the perpetrators. France is the country with by far the largest number of victims (239), followed by the United States (76).

Program on Extremism Director Lorenzo Vidino authored the report with Francesco Marone and Eva Entenmann. The report was published in co-operation with the Italian Institute for International Political Studies and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. It includes forewords written by Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University and Magnus Ranstorp of the Swedish National Defense College.

“The terrorist threat to the West is unlikely to decline in the near future and might actually increase as the Islamic State loses territory,” said Dr. Vidino, director of the GW Program on Extremism and author of the report. “This report seeks to provide empirically-based analysis to shape the responses to this threat.”

The researchers analyzed the attacks carried out in the West since June 2014 as well as current trends in radicalization dynamics. The report includes these key findings:

  • Of the attackers, 73 percent were citizens of the country in which they committed the attack. Another 14 percent were either legal residents or legitimate visitors from neighboring countries, and 5 percent were refugees or asylum seekers at the time of attack. Also, 6 percent were residing in the country illegally at the time of the attack.
  • At least 57 percent of attackers had a prior criminal background.
  • Despite a general trend of increasingly younger people radicalizing, the average age of attackers is not unusually young at 27.3 years.
  • Only 18 percent of attackers are known to have previously been foreign fighters. However, these individuals tended to be involved in the episodes with the highest lethality.
  • Some 63 percent of attackers pledged allegiance to a jihadist group, almost always the Islamic State, during or before the attack.
  • Jihadist groups, almost always the Islamic State, claimed 38 percent of attacks.
  • From an operational perspective, the attacks that have hit the West since June 2014 can be divided into three macro-categories:
    • Terrorist attacks carried out by individuals who were acting under direct orders from the Islamic State group’s leadership: 8 percent of attacks
    • Terrorist attacks carried out by individuals with no connections whatsoever to the Islamic State or other jihadist groups, but were inspired by its message: 26 percent of attacks
    • Terrorist attacks carried out by individuals who had some form of connection to the Islamic State or other jihadist groups but acted independently: 66 percent of attacks.

The report was released Wednesday to coincide with a discussion on the future of the Islamic State group in the West at a time when the group is suffering territorial losses in Iraq and Syria.