The study says repressive measures were “inevitable” and that Western countries will “probably” have to strengthen intelligence co-operation, but that “soft” approaches were also needed.
The authors said governments should construct a “well-balanced” response and avoid dividing society further which, they said, was the aim of Islamist terrorists.
The study found that almost six out of 10 terrorists had a prior criminal background — rising to three out of four among converts.
The research, ‘Fear Thy Neighbour’, was conducted by experts from the Institute for International Political Studies in Milan; the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, based in The Hague; and the Programme on Extremism at George Washington University.
In a foreword, Magnus Ranstorp of the EU Radicalisation Awareness Network, states that there is an average of five terror attacks per month in the West.
“Isis is determined to target the ordinary citizens through these terrorist attacks to create polarisation, fostering mobilisation and radicalisation together with further recruitment,” he said.
He said radicalisation is “growing at an alarming rate” in the West through a “kaleidoscope of root causes”. He said the research “dunked the simple theory of social conditions as a major driver”.
The report says Europe and North Africa have been hit by an “unprecedented wave” of jihadi attacks.
Between June 2014, when the so-called Isis caliphate was declared, and June 2017, it found that:
- There were 51 terror attacks, 32 of them in Europe and 19 in North America, with France hit the most with 17 attacks;
- There were 395 deaths from the 51 attacks, with a further 1,549 people physically injured;
- The average age of attackers was 27, with five of the 65 terrorists underage;
- 73% of attackers were citizens of the country targeted — described as the report’s “standout” figure;
- 5% of attackers were refugees or asylum seekers, with 6% in the country illegally;
- 17% of attackers were converts to Islam, including 14% in Europe — but the figure was only 4% in France and zero in Belgium, Sweden, and Germany.
- 57% had a prior criminal background, rising to 73% among converts;
- 42% had a clear operational connection with a jihadist group (mostly IS) and 63% pledged allegiance to a jihadist group;
- 18% were previously foreign fighters.
The report states that IS claimed 39% of attacks, but found just 8% were under the direct orders of IS, while 66% of attackers had some form of connection to IS or other jihadist groups but acted independently.
In 26% of cases, the attackers were inspired by IS or other jihadist groups but had no connections with them.
It said the rise of IS and its declaration of a caliphate had inspired scores of Western Muslims, who were captivated by its “gestures and slick online propaganda”.
The report says most researchers agreed that radicalisation was a “highly complex and individualised process, often shaped by a poorly understood interaction of structural and personal factors”.
Researchers said the formation of “radicalisation hubs” around extremist groups, radical mosques, and charismatic personalities, was often a key factor in jihadi hotpots.
“The vast majority of individuals who radicalise do so in small groups of like-minded individuals, generally under the influence of radicalising agents,” it said.