Minimal link between asylum seekers and terror attacks, study finds

The vast majority (73 per cent) of the 51 successful terror attacks carried out in Europe and North America since June 2014 were carried out by citizens of the country where the attack took place

People gather at an impromptu memorial where a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas, in Barcelona, Spain, August 20, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera
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Only five per cent of all successful terrorist attacks in Europe and North America in the past three years were carried out by refugees or asylum seekers, according to a recent study.

Fear Thy Neighbour: Radicalisation and Jihadist attacks in the West, a study by the Institute for International Studies in Italy, revealed that, of the 51 attacks that took place since Isil declared a Caliphate in June 2014 until June this year, 73 per cent of attackers were citizens of the country where the attack took place, some of whom had dual citizenship. A further 14 per cent were either legal residents or legitimate visitors from neighbouring countries.

“As we know, today migrants - and Muslim migrants, in particular - are often victims of prejudices and negative stereotypes,” said Dr Francesco Marone, associate fellow at the institute’s programme on radicalisation and international terrorism.

“So it is not entirely surprising that migration is also associated with terrorism, despite relatively few examples for this possible link. Actually, as said, the threat is to a large extent home-grown and domestic.”

The majority of the attacks took place in France, which had 17, 16 in the United States, six in Germany, four in the United Kingdom and three in both Belgium and Canada followed by one in both Denmark and Sweden. That brings the number of attacks to 32 in Europe, or 63 per cent, and 19 in North America, 37 per cent, causing 395 deaths and 1,549 injuries.

“Terrorism and mass migration are two distinct and very different challenges that Europe face,” Dr Marone said. “In our work, we found little evidence of a direct link between these two phenomena. Our report shows that, compared to attackers who were citizens, legal residents or visitors from neighboring countries, those who were residing illegally in a country or came from abroad is small.”

In a discussion on Thursday on the evolution of Jihadist terrorism in Europe, he spoke of the lack of social and economic integration as a serious problem.

“But we show that the levels of radicalisation are uneven throughout Europe and are not automatically associated with the levels of integration,” Dr Marone saidon on Thursday during the online forum Security Debate Plus, moderated by Abu Dhabi-based counter extremism think tank Hedayah, among others.


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“Several radicals and terrorists in Europe have no link with a specific country or a specific local conflict. They belong to a global jihadist movement.”

He suggested combining "hard," repressive measures with "soft," preventative measures of counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation.

“Our idea is that in many cases between the individual and society, the role of networks and small groups is crucial,” Dr Marone said. “Personal relations, including pre-existing family and friendships ties, are often very essential – let’s think about the presence of the many brothers in terrorist cells from the Boston Marathon, to Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan attack and Barcelona.”

The study notes that eight per cent of terrorist attacks were carried out by individuals acting under direct orders from Isil’s leadership, while 26 per cent were committed by people with no connections whatsoever to Isil or other jihadist groups but were inspired by their message. The majority, 66 per cent, were carried out by individuals who had some form of connection to Isil or other jihadist groups but acted independently.

And although Isil appears to be waning and its fall near, Dr Marone said it seemed nonetheless likely that the cause of global jihadism would survive the group and continue to represent a threat to the West in the years to come. “IS, with its ‘state’, has represented a formidable catalyst for jihadist mobilisation in Europe and in the world,” he added. “In short, the problem has diverse and deep roots.”

Experts call it one of the most urgent problems facing the world today.

“Over the last couple of months, we’ve had some good success in driving Daesh out of Syria and Iraq but let’s not fool ourselves,” said Jamie Shea, deputy assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges at Nato. “We know that this is a very flexible type of organisation that has already turned up in Afghanistan, Libya, increasingly in Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria, so we know it has a very adaptable business model. Even if it’s been defeated on the battlefield, a considerable propaganda capability via social media has driven many so-called lone wolves into attacks.”