Islamist terrorism in Europe: A ghost from the past

The rapid rise of Islamist terrorism in Europe brings back abhorrent memories of violence and death

2 November 2020. Few hours remained until a nationwide lockdown was imposed in Austria. Citizens in Vienna were able to enjoy these last moments of freedom that each and everyone values even more now during the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, at 8:00 pm, these last moments turned into horror when shootings started indiscriminately in Schwedenplatz. 

Four people lost their lives and 23 others injured by Kujtim Fejzullai, a 20-year-old ISIS sympathizer that spread mayhem in the Austrian capital. The incident was subsequently labeled as Islamist terrorism, and Austria was not the only country in Europe that experienced it recently. 

Within a week, Europe has shockingly suffered from two more Islamist terrorist attacks that took place in France: The beheading of Samuel Paty and the knife attacks in Nice that killed three people. The attacks triggered a response from France that aims to tackle Islamist radicalization and discussions upon the issue are taking place along the continent.

As it seems so, there is an outburst of Islamist terrorism in Europe. “How” and “why” this is the case is a whole different story. The only thing that’s for sure though is that, inevitably, these ghastly images of bloodshed and dread bring back memories that Europe struggles to forget. Yet, they come back as a dreadful reminder that something is (still) wrong.

Paris attacks (2015)

Jesse Hughes, singer of the band Eagles of Death Metal that was performing live during the terrorist attack in Bataclan theatre, pays tribute to the victims

13 November 2015. Hell on earth overshadows the French capital after a synchronized onslaught by ISIS members. Parisian suburb Saint-Denis became the place in which Islamist terrorists will conduct no less than 6 attacks: Outside Stade de France, at Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at La Bonne Biere café, inside Bataclan theatre, at La Belle Equipe bar and at Le Comptoir Voltaire restaurant on the Boulevard Voltaire. Within an hour, mass shootings and suicide bombings haunt the streets of Paris. 130 people were killed (90 of them in Bataclan theatre) while more than 400 were injured during the inferno of the worst Islamist terrorism act in Europe since the 2004 train bombings in Madrid.

Back in 2015, the territorial expansion of ISIS in Iraq and Syria gave the terrorist group enough influence to orchestrate strategic attacks in Europe. The deadly attack in Paris was one of them, with ISIS claiming responsibility and naming the atrocities “retaliation” for the French airstrikes during anti-ISIS coalition operations in Iraq and Syria. The response from France was immediate when the country launched a barrage of new airstrikes against the jihadist group. Unfortunately, fear continued to pose as a threat inside France where a state of emergency was declared and public gatherings were restricted.

Suicide bombings in Brussels (2016)

Inside the Brussels Airport moments after the explosions of the suicide bombers

22 March 2016. Islamist terrorism in Europe made a fatal comeback in the capital of Belgium, Brussels. Perpetrators of the Paris attacks organized another round of horror at the heart of European and transatlantic institutions. This time, the targets were the Brussels Airport in Zaventem and the Maalbeek metro station where two and one suicide bombings respectively took place. The massacre could have been worse in the Brussels airport if a third suicide bomber was not stopped from blasting his own vest by the strength of a previous explosion. 32 people lost their lives and 340 were injured in the terrorist attack by ISIS that is being perceived as the deadliest one ever in Belgium. 

The horrific events in Belgium led to a series of tightening security measures across the European continent. At first, flights were canceled and airports were closed as images of dread were transmitted from Brussels. Public transport was subsequently shut down by the government for preventive reasons and the army took over the streets in key places of potential new attacks to ensure safety. Fear was injected once again as a poison that threatened the sustainability of European social cohesion.

Nice and Berlin truck attacks (2016)

The vehicle that was hijacked by the terrorist Anis Amri to conduct the attack in Berlin, Germany

14 July 2016. A day that made painfully clear that the brutality of Islamist terrorism in Europe cannot be easily countered when a vehicle can regularly be used as a weapon. The terrorist attack was planned early ahead by members of ISIS and France was again the target. During celebrations of Bastille Day, the national day of France, in the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, a truck was intentionally driven into crowds of people. 86 people were killed ferociously and 434 others were injured. In the aftermath of the terrorist act, France intensified afresh airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, as the state of emergency that was imposed after the Paris attacks became one more time active. 

Later that year, on 19 December 2016, the same kind of attack was instructed by ISIS in Berlin. A truck was hijacked and deliberately driven into the Christmas market next to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at Breitscheidplatz. 12 people were killed and 56 others were injured by the terrorist attack. The last time Germany experienced such a deadly terrorist attack was back in 1980. The terrorist who conducted the hijacking and the attack was a rejected asylum-seeker from Tunisia, something that raised controversy regarding German migration policies and the control of the refugee flows that Europe struggled to manage.