International Terrorism Trends in Europe

In 2018, terrorism continued to pose a major security threat throughout Europe.

In its European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2019, EUROPOL provides insight into the key trends observed throughout 2018.


Key Trends and types of terrorism


Jihadist terrorism

‘Jihadist terrorism’ refers to acts carried out by Islamic terrorist groups such as Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda.

In 2018, 13 people were killed as a result of 7 different jihadist attacks committed by individuals acting alone, whilst 16 jihadist terrorist plots were thwarted. This is a considerable decrease compared to 2017, when ten attacks killed 62 people.

Jihadist networks in the EU focused on carrying out activities in the EU as opposed to travelling to conflict zones, where hundreds of European foreign terrorist fighters remain in detention.

Completed jihadist attacks were carried out using arms and basic weapons such as knives. There was, however, an increase in the use of improvised explosive devices (IED) in disrupted plots, three of which involved the use of CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) materials.

Jihadist terrorism convictions remained the highest in number out of all the different types of terrorism.


Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda

The military defeat of IS in Iraq and Syria had a significant impact on the digital capabilities of the group, whose cyber-attack capabilities have been deemed as unsophisticated. Although IS succeeded in maintaining an online presence due to unofficial supporter networks and pro-IS media outlets, 2018 was marked by decreased IS activities.

EU Member States assess that IS’ diminishing territorial control is likely to be replaced by increased al-Qaeda efforts to reclaim power and influence. EUROPOL states that “al-Qaeda’s strategy relied on building alliances with local tribes while exploiting political grievances at local and international level, including in Europe.”

Both IS and al-Qaeda continue to explore new technologies to assist in the spread of propaganda. There is a growing concern that individuals with criminal backgrounds, including those currently imprisoned, are vulnerable to indoctrination through this propaganda, and might engage in terrorism.


Ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism

Ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorist attacks in the EU continued to greatly outnumber other types of terrorist attacks.

In 2018, these types of attacks occurred exclusively in France, Spain and the UK. An example is activity carried out by the New Irish Republican Army (NIRA) in Northern Ireland, with attacks involving firearms and improvised explosive devices.


Right-wing and left-wing terrorism

According to EUROPOL, “right-wing extremists prey on fears of perceived attempts to Islamicise society and loss of national identity.”

Left-wing terrorist groups belong to the “anarchist sphere” and demonstrate similar ideological and operational traits.

Whilst the number of arrests were relatively low, there was a noted increase in left-wing and right-wing terrorism convictions throughout 2018.


Terrorism financing

The majority of terrorist acts committed in 2018 were unsophisticated and required minimal or no financing. Where funding was required, a range of methods were used including the misuse of credit systems, non-profit and charity organisations, and small-scale business ventures. Hawala banking continued to be an important instrument in terrorism financing.


Types of offences

A large number of 2018 cases involved participating in the activities of a terrorist group. A smaller number of cases involved offences including:

  • Glorification of terrorism and humiliation of victims of terrorism
  • Recruitment and training for terrorist purposes
  • Financing of terrorism
  • Travel to a zone controlled by a terrorist group
  • Instigating or attempting to commit terrorist acts

The average prison sentence for terrorist offences in the EU in 2018 was seven years.

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