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Publication
March 24, 2017

Foreign Terrorist Attacks By The Islamic State, 2002-2016

by
Henry Jackson Society

A new report from The Henry Jackson Society, Foreign Terrorist Attacks By The Islamic State, 2002-2016, documents 152 incidents of terrorism or attempted terrorism conducted in the name of the Islamic State and its predecessors, and assesses how directly the attacks were linked to the group.

In light of yesterday’s terrorist attack in London, now claimed by the Islamic State, the report’s key findings are especially notable:

  • In the majority of cases, terrorism in the name of the Islamic State outside of its so-called caliphate was either controlled or guided by the organization;
  • Very rarely, just 15% of cases, were Islamic State attacks “lone wolf” attacks. Even when the Islamic State was not directly guiding or directing plots, terrorists were often supported by a network.

Other important findings were:

  • External attacks by the Islamic State movement date back to at least 2002 – the organisation having been founded in 1999 – and are therefore not solely a response to the loss of territory as its so-called caliphate is rolled back;
  • At least 34 states have been attacked by the Islamic State, with the top five most victimised countries being: France, the United States, Germany, Turkey and Australia;
  • The frequency and lethality of the Islamic State’s foreign terrorist attacks are increasing.

Kyle Orton, a Research Fellow for the Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism (CRT) at The Henry Jackson Society, said:

The Prime Minister has said of yesterday’s terrorist incident outside Parliament that it is ‘believed that this attacker acted alone’. A lone actor, however, is not necessarily a ‘lone wolf’. The arrests in Birmingham this morning, for example, could signify a wider network of co-conspirators. Incidents of wholly individual terrorism do occur, yet, as this report demonstrates, they are rare.

As Britain and her allies devise counter-terrorism policy, the Islamic State’s ability to reach into Western countries and guide terrorist attacks should be seen as a larger threat, for the moment, than self-radicalisation.

 It should simultaneously be recognised that the assumption that as the Islamic State lost ground in Iraq and Syria its international appeal would diminish has been falsified. The Islamic State is proving more capable of foreign attacks as its so-called caliphate shrinks, and the online infrastructure that the Islamic State uses to guide these attacks will survive long after its statelet is destroyed.”