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Europol: Jihadist Terrorism

This portion from a comprehensive Europol report on counterterrorism summarizes the ideological motivations for Jihadist terrorism as well as examples of attacks both committed and thwarted in Europe over the last decade.

Jihadist Terrorism Defined

"The TE-SAT uses a narrow definition of jihadism.

Jihadism is defined as a violent sub-current of salafism, a revivalist Sunni Muslim movement that rejects democracy and elected parliaments, arguing that human legislation is at variance with God’s status as the sole lawgiver. Jihadists aim to create an Islamic state governed exclusively by Islamic law (shari’a), as interpreted by them. Major representatives of jihadist groups are the al-Qaeda network and the so-called Islamic State.

Contrary to other salafist currents, which are mostly quietist, jihadists legitimise the use of violence with a reference to the classical Islamic doctrines on jihad, a term which literally means ‘striving’ or ‘exertion’, but in Islamic law is treated as religiously sanctioned warfare.

They use the historical comparison with the Christian crusades of the Middle Ages to describe current situations: Sunni Islam is believed to be under attack from a global non-Muslim alliance, comprising Christians, Jews and other religions such as Buddhists and Hindus but also secularists. Governments of the Muslim world allied with these ‘enemies of Islam’,

for example through membership of the United Nations (UN), are declared non-Muslims – an act known as takfir – and, therefore, legitimate targets. Some jihadists include in their spectrum of perceived enemies Shi’is, Sufis and other Muslim minorities.

In sum, the term jihadism refers to a violent ideology exploiting traditional Islamic concepts. It is preferable to the more vague term ‘religiously inspired terrorism’ used in previous editions of the TE-SAT.


In another failed attack in France, on 24 May, a 23-year-old Algerian male student, residing irregularly in Oullins,

remotely detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) containing triacetone triperoxide (TATP), nails and screws,

which was placed in a pedestrian zone in Lyon. The explosion injured 13 people.

In Italy, on 17 September, a 23-year-old Yemeni man attacked an Italian soldier in the central station in Milan in an attempt on his life. The offender, acting alone, stabbed the soldier in the neck with a pair of scissors, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is great’).

On 3 October, a male IT specialist working for a police intelligence unit in Paris, stabbed and killed four officers

inside a police headquarters before being shot and killed. He had converted to Islam in 2008, and had previously made

disparaging remarks about the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on the occasion of the jihadist attack on its editorial

team in January 2015. The 2019 attack was referred to in IS’s weekly Arabic newsletter al-Naba’ on 10 October, albeit

without a claim of responsibility. Another failed attack was reported by Italy.

On 4 November, a 26-year-old Liberian citizen of no fixed abode, holding a resident permit for subsidiary protection, launched a bottle rocket against a wall in Rome when he saw an army patrol. The offender did not injure anyone and was immediately detained. He was carrying in his backpack another bottle filled with petrol.


A number of recent terrorism cases have raised the question of the mental state of the perpetrators or suspected perpetrators and whether their acts should indeed be considered to constitute terrorism in the sense of politically motivated violence. In many cases, it is impossible to clearly distinguish between terrorist offences and violent acts perpetrated by people suffering from a mental disorder. Some individuals suffering from mental disorders display signs of radicalisation, which are a consequence of their illness rather than ideological conviction. Nevertheless, they

might emulate modi operandi typical of, or promoted by, terrorist groups. Ultimately, multiple motives may underlie a decision to carry out an attack, and the intent to commit a terrorist act is only one of several factors to consider when assessing the threat posed by an individual."

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