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London Train Bombing: What’s Behind Europe’s Rise in Terror Attacks?

London train bombing: Why is Europe seeing so many terrorist attacks?

The Sept. 15 bombing in a crowded London subway station, which injured at least 30 passengers but caused no fatalities, adds to a series of terrorist attacks in Western Europe in recent years.

In mid-August, attacks in Barcelona and the nearby city of Cambrils resulted in 16 deaths and more than 130 injuries, just days before a knife-wielding attacker in Finland killed two and wounded eight others. Earlier this year, assaults in London and Manchester, England, left numerous casualties.

Since 2015, there has been a notable increase in both the frequency of attacks and the casualties caused by terrorism in Europe. As an observer of European security matters, I identify three main factors contributing to this trend: the presence of a significant and often poorly integrated Muslim population in Europe, proximity to volatile regions such as the Middle East and North Africa, and a shift in terrorists’ focus towards vulnerable “soft” targets.

London Train Bombing: What's Behind Europe's Rise in Terror Attacks?

London Train Bombing: What’s Behind Europe’s Rise in Terror Attacks? (Credits: The Conversation)

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the recent London attack via its Amaq news outlet.

While contemporary terrorism in Europe is primarily associated with Islamic extremism, the continent has experienced various waves of terrorist violence since World War II. In the 1970s and 1980s, secular Marxist groups like Italy’s Red Brigades and Germany’s Red Army Faction, as well as separatist organizations such as Spain’s ETA and Northern Ireland’s IRA, posed significant threats.

However, since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, radical Islam has emerged as the predominant terrorist threat facing Europe.

In many Western European countries today, Muslims constitute between 5 and 10 percent of the population. The integration of second and third-generation European Muslims has been challenging, partly due to issues like unemployment and xenophobia. This lack of integration creates a pool of disaffected young individuals susceptible to radicalization and extremist violence, though only a minority of them engage in terrorism.

In contrast, the United States has a smaller proportion of Muslim residents—approximately 1 percent of the population—who are generally well-integrated into society.

London train bombing: Why is Europe seeing so many terrorist attacks?

Geographically, Europe is more accessible to jihadists fleeing conflict zones like Iraq and Syria compared to distant countries like the U.S., Canada, or Australia. The Schengen Agreement, which abolished internal border controls within the EU, facilitates movement for terrorists, although the UK does not participate. Despite improved counterterrorism cooperation among European nations, security and intelligence efforts remain fragmented.

Nevertheless, Europe experiences fewer terrorism-related incidents than regions like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Nigeria. In 2016, Western Europe accounted for a small percentage of global terrorist attacks and deaths.

Despite this, the number and severity of attacks in Europe have risen in recent years, partly due to terrorists’ evolving tactics. While al-Qaida favored complex, well-planned operations, IS has embraced indiscriminate violence, urging attacks using simple methods like vehicle ramming and knife attacks.

Security services across Europe have become more adept at identifying and thwarting terrorist plots. However, preventing every attack is impossible, as terrorists can utilize everyday items to carry out their acts.

The broader impact of ongoing terrorism on European politics and society remains a subject of debate. European democracies grapple with questions regarding governmental powers, public safety measures, and the integration of Muslim communities.

Many Europeans have resigned themselves to the reality of sporadic terrorist violence, adjusting to what some perceive as the “new normal.”

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