The Escalation of Terrorism in the West: 2017 in Review

In recent years, Western liberal democracies have witnessed a dramatic uptick in terrorist attacks from a broad range of extremist groups, a newly-released report from the Henry Jackson Society states. Titled “Terrorism in the West: An Age of Extremes,” the report provides a statistical analysis to assess the level of terrorism violence in the West, as well as the non-state actors and certain extremist organizations involved. It concludes that while Islamist terrorism decreased in 2017 from the previous year—at the same time during a rise in Far-Right —and -Left— attacks, Islamist-perpetrated attacks in the West remain the most prevalent and deadly.

The first section of the document provides a definition of terrorism as well as a short summary on the various extremist milieus present in the West. The report defines terrorism as: “Acts which seek to cause fear through the use, or attempted use, of potentially lethal force or severe violence by a non-state group or individual, when seeking to further a political or religious ideological cause.”

The following section of the report is a data analysis that segments the information into the resulting categories:

  • “Attacks” to include: “Attacks by Region and Country, Injuries and Fatalities, Response by Authorities, Areas of Attacks, Targets of Attacks, Types of Attack, Number of Assailants, Organizations, and Claims of Responsibility.”
  • “The Assailants” to include: “Gender of Assailants, Age of Assailants, Place of Residence of Assailants, Country of Origin, Nationality, Assailants Known to the Authorities, Training and Combat Experience, Training by Number of Casualties, and Injured and Fatalities.”

Key findings include:

  • “The amount of terrorist violence in Western countries increased in 2017 compared to 2016. There were 68 terrorist attacks recorded in 2017. This had risen from 54 attacks in the previous year. […]
  • The United Kingdom (UK) witnessed more attacks than any other Western country, with 19.12% of all incidents in 2017 occurring there. This was a significant increase from 2016, when 9.26% of all terrorism in the West occurred in the UK.
  • The greatest share of attacks continue to be carried out by Islamists. In 2017, 48.53% of all attacks recorded in the West were Islamist, which had however decreased from 2016 when 66.67% of these incidents were perpetrated by Islamists.
  • The ideology that saw the greatest increase in the number of attacks was the Far Right. In 2017, 20.59% of all attacks recorded in the West were perpetrated by assailants from that ideology. This was a near fourfold increase from 2016 when just 5.56% of all terrorism was from this group. As an absolute number, Far Right terrorist attacks rose from 3 to 14, more than quadrupling.
  • Along with the rise in attacks from the Far Right, 2017 saw the same proportion of attacks coming from the Far Left, also representing 20.59% of attacks that year. This was a more modest rise from 2016 when 16.67% of attacks were carried out by the Far Left. As an absolute number, attacks from this ideology rose from 9 to 14.”

Additionally, the report notes that although its violent campaigns in the West has declined in recent years, the Islamic State carried out more attacks than any other terrorist organization in 2017. The second most violent organization in the West in 2017 was the Far-Left group, Conspiracy Cells of Fire. The report also highlights the rise of Far-Right-perpetrated violence, which increased nearly fourfold compared to the previous year.

Although “Terrorism in the West” does not attempt to assess the nexus between the increasing polarization of the Western political environment and the sharp rise in recruitment and activity of extremist organizations, the report alludes to the pernicious consequences of identity politics in the West.

For more information on issues related to terrorism, please visit the HSDL Featured Topic on Global Terrorism, Lone Wolf Terrorism, and Domestic Terrorism.

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