Identifying sponsors of jihadist attacks on Europe and North America?

More than 400 people have died in jihadist attacks in the West during the past three years. What can we learn?

Although the vast majority of Islamist attacks are elsewhere in the world, an unprecedented number in Europe and North America – more than 50 in total – have put the authorities under great pressure to prevent further deaths.

What do we know of the individuals who carried out the attacks – their life in the West, whether they were known to the authorities and with whom they were working?

The first look at the data behind the attacks – everything from the age of the perpetrators, to immigration status – offers counter-terrorism officials, and the public, an insight that could help them identify the best responses.

The BBC identified 52 attacks between December 2014 and early June 2017 that we considered to be acts of jihadist terrorism.

This period follows the declaration of a “caliphate” by the so-called Islamic State in parts of Syria and Iraq in June 2014.

A relatively limited number of countries were affected.

Six were in Europe: France – the worst affected country, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden.

There were also attacks in the United States and Canada.

Regardless of country, most attacks were in large towns and cities – including London, Paris, Nice, Berlin, Brussels and Orlando.

A few attacks hit iconic targets, such as the Champs-Elysees and the Louvre museum in Paris, and Westminster in London.

Many others targeted crowded spaces such as busy pedestrian areas, entertainment venues or transport hubs.

But some terrorist attacks have hit more unusual places, including an office Christmas party and a service at a church.


How the attacks were identified

We looked at attacks motivated by jihadist ideology, that involved deliberate acts of violence against other people and were intended to intimidate or convey a message to a larger group. Other organisations use different definitions.

  • Researchers used open-source material and interviews with officials
  • It is possible that some attacks did not come to our attention, or that full details are not available
  • The research covers the US, Canada and the 28 member states of the EU, plus Norway and Switzerland
  • Attacks motivated by other ideologies – such as the murder of Jo Cox – are not included in this study

The dead and injured

In total, the 52 attacks caused 403 deaths and left more than 1,600 people injured.

The perpetrators are not included in these figures.

The Paris attack of November 2015 was the deadliest, with 130 people killed, including 90 at the Bataclan theatre.

France also saw the Nice lorry attack, which left 86 people dead.

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