Trends of radical islamist terrorism

Radical Islamist terrorism poses a significant security threat in Europe and the conflict zones in the short and medium term. Radical Islamism is a form of Islamism based on Salafi-Jihadist ideology aiming to create, by using violence, an Islamic society governed by sharia law.

The development of the threat is affected by changes in the activities of terrorist organisations and their supporters, factors exposing to radicalisation, operating environment, and capability of authorities. The most important radical Islamist terrorist organisations are the “Islamic State” (ISIL) and al-Qaida.

Al-Qaida and especially ISIL have adjusted their modus operandi and adapted to the changes taken place in their operating environment. Trends in terrorist organisations’ activities observed in the past years include the rapid growth and subsequent gradual decrease of conflict travelling, simple attack methods becoming common, heterogeneous attacker profile, shortened action timespan, and diversification of attack targets.

Changes occurring in the conflict area have a key impact on the development of radical Islamist terrorism. Prolonged conflicts and weak states contribute to the continuation of terrorist organisations’ activities. Failed regime changes or revolutions will possibly maintain the affected areas’ vulnerability to conflicts also in the future.

Structural changes in ISIL and al-Qaida are possible. ISIL will likely change its modus operandi and develop into a loose network like al-Qaida. It is also possible that ISIL will try to re-establish administrative structures in the areas of fallen or conflict states. The organisation’s propaganda continues to influence radical Islamist actors.

In the medium term, it is possible that the foreign terrorist fighters having travelled to ISIL’s caliphate will disperse and some of them will return to Europe. Prison sentences imposed on those who have participated in terrorist activities will possibly increase radical thinking among prisoners and lead to a heightened threat in the long term.

Attacks carried out by simple means will likely continue in the West. The attacker profile is shaped also by the returnees and those having taken part in terrorist support activities in the conflict zones, also including women and children. Furthermore, technological development offers terrorists new possibilities for disseminating their ideology and carrying out attacks.

The capabilities of security authorities have been enhanced in many ways in the past years. However, it alone is not enough to prevent all strikes, because personal vulnerabilities and societal factors exposing to radicalisation will likely persist in the long term. Although terrorist organisations and their modus operandi change, the support for radical Islamist ideology will likely continue.