Europe has been the target of a series of deadly Islamist terror attacks since 2004, when 191 people were killed by an explosive device on a commuter train in Madrid. One year later, in London, four suicide bombers attacked a bus and three underground trains, killing 52 people. For both of the attacks the terrorist cell Al-Qaeda took responsibility.
Since then Europe has been lightly affected by the wave of terrorism, until 2014 when the jihadist militant group ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), following an extremist version of Islam, proclaimed itself a worldwide caliphate. Even though the statehood has been rejected by governments and international organisations, more than 8 million people live in territories occupied by the group, which also boasts about a force of more than 30,000 fighters.
Shortly after the proclamation, major Islamist terror attacks hit Belgium, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom, with Spain joining the list on the 17th of August.
The incidents at the beginning of the century involved bombs and highly organised plots. From 2014, we have faced alternative methods of killing. The ‘new terrorist’ profile is usually a young local, with little prospects at home. Usually, they become indoctrinated by to Islamist extremism and helped by regional jihadist gangs, attack with no more than a knife, a vehicle and on some occasions, improvised explosive devices. Instead of attempting to breach the symbolic sites of western countries, they kill people on pavements, main streets and popular events such as concerts, national celebrations and Christmas markets.
This systemic terrorism is a series of mindless, random attacks in which the main aim is to destroy “Western” economic and cultural beliefs, with the whole population as target.
ISIL not only claims authority over Muslims all around the world, but also encourages people to take part in the fight, the so called ‘foreign fighters’, who, according to the Soufan Group, are more that 20,000. How can ISIL do that?
The main difference between terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaeda and ISIL is that ISIL proclaimed itself a state. A state with laws (the Sharia), a system of bureaucracy, a leader (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), ministers and a territory which includes Iraq and Syria and a capital, Raqqa (Syria). What links ISIL with the ‘lone wolves’ all around the world, is their massive online propaganda apparatus. This includes social media, apps, mainstream videos and an online magazine ‘Dabiq’. The promise is: a life away from the Western oppression full of happiness and well-being. ISIL utilises these technologies and is one of the richest terror groups in history. By controlling dozens of oil fields and refineries in Iraq and Syria, experts have valued the daily income of ISIL between $ 1 million to $ 2 million.
The terrorist assaults perpetrated by ISIL in Europe have led to important changes in the European mentality. They have produced a feeling of insecurity among EU citizens. EU governments have introduced a series of important security measures, like checking bags and suitcases at train stations or before entering a public space, and citizens are not hostile to them.
The recent attacks have exposed how vulnerable the EU State borders are. According to the Schengen Agreement, Europeans can freely travel from one State, that has to be a member of the Treaty, to another without being controlled. This happened with the attackers of Paris and Brussels, who crossed the borders with impunity.
In November 2015 the EU took a major decision in order to increase the security level of its border, it decided to register whoever is leaving or getting into the country. This measure called Passengers Name Record (PNR) was initially applied only for air travels, but now is also applied to train and sea travel, hotel rooms and car rental.
With our security hung by a thread, there are increasing controls on every sector of our lives; from where we go, what we do and who we meet and who we contact or who are we contacted by. It would seem that our private life is in a state of emergency as well.
Words, Giulia Radice