Homeland Security

Scholar: European Terror Attacks are Becoming the Norm

WASHINGTON – In a discussion marking the anniversary of 9/11, Heritage Foundation scholars last week detailed statistics that highlight how deadly terrorist attacks have become commonplace in the UK and the EU.


There have been more than 150 terror plots and attacks throughout the European Union since 2014, according to Heritage, which have left more than 350 people dead and more than 1,500 people injured. That compares to 97 Islamic terror plots and attacks in the U.S. since the September 11, 2001, attack. Just in the past few weeks, there have been two attacks in Spain, an attack in Finland, an attack in Brussels, a sword attack at Buckingham Palace in London and today’s bombing on a London Underground train.

“Now, some guy with a sword takes it to Buckingham Palace and tries to stab policemen with it, it kind of feels like that’s on the bottom of the fold on page 9,” Robin Simcox, a Margaret Thatcher Fellow at Heritage, said Sept. 8. “I mean, it barely makes a dent anymore. This is how norm to an extent people have become in Europe with the pace of these attacks. I think that’s a very concerning development.”

In Germany, there were more terror plots recorded in 2016 than the entire 2000 to 2015 period, with the vast majority of 2016 attacks having some kind of Syrian refugee connection, Simcox said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel led the way in accepting about a million refugees and migrants from places like Syria and Iraq in 2015. According to Simcox, Germany was targeted in 5 percent of EU attacks in 2015, but in 2016 that jumped to 27 percent.


Terror plots are becoming increasingly difficult to predict as many of the attackers act individually or without a direct link to terror groups. Weapons of choice are also no longer bombs but knives and vehicles, Simcox said.

“The use of trucks and vehicles, which is what terrorists are increasingly using, has so far got a 100 percent success rate,” he said. “There haven’t been any plots in Europe that have been thwarted where someone has been trying to carry out an attack using a truck, and obviously we’ve seen the consequences of that in Berlin, in Nice, in Stockholm and also of course, in Barcelona recently.”

David Inserra, a policy analyst for homeland security and cyber policy, described statistics for the 97 attacks and plots in the U.S. since 2001, 82 of which have been foiled. However, of the 15 that were successful, 10 of those occurred in the last three years, including Omar Mateen’s shooting rampage inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., which claimed 49 lives.

Of the 82 foiled plots, three were foiled by luck, which Inserra said involved a shoe or underwear bomb not going off as planned. Ten were foiled with significant help or entirely by international law enforcement, most notably British intelligence, and 69 were foiled by U.S. law enforcement. Just under 90 percent of the U.S. attacks and plots involved a homegrown element – an American citizen or resident who had been radicalized.


Inserra said that military locations are the most common targets, though there have been rapid increases in public gathering places – like bars, nightclubs, concert halls, beaches and parks. New York City, he said, remains the most targeted American city. In May, 26-year-old Richard Rojas allegedly drove his vehicle through Times Square while high on PCP-laced marijuana, killing one person and injuring 22 others. New York City agencies are known in law enforcement circles for heavily researching in the wake of international terror attacks in order to prevent recurrences in New York.

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