Trains, Concert Halls, Airports, and Restaurants—All Soft Targets: What the Terrorist Campaign in France and Belgium Tells Us about the Future of Jihadist Terrorism in Europe

The terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, which left 130 dead, and in Brussels on March 22, 2016, in which another 35 people were killed, underscore the heightened terrorist threat Europe faces as those who left European countries to join the ranks of the Islamic State or other jihadist fronts in the Middle East return home. Some come back disillusioned, others traumatized by their experience, but some return determined to bring the war home. Their goal is slaughter. Their targets vary—concert venues, sports stadiums, churches, restaurants, trains, airport terminals—all public places where people gather. That coincides with a long-term trend identified in previous MTI research—public surface transportation is especially attractive to terrorists seeking high body counts. The attacks in Paris and Brussels were part of a continuing campaign of terrorism that began in 2014. Many of the earlier events attracted less international attention because police uncovered the plots or because their attacks failed. By connecting the events, the authors were able to discern more about the group behind the campaign. And this, in turn, told the authors more about the subculture from which this terrorist enterprise emerged. The network responsible for the terrorist campaign combined fighters returning from Syria with local confederates who provided the returnees with logistical support and additional recruits. This combination enhanced the group’s operational capabilities. The relationships among the participants preceded the terrorist campaign. Many were petty criminals and had carried out crimes or served in prison together. Those returning from Syria were clearly a more violent bunch—they carried out most of the suicide bombings or died in shootouts with police. The terrorist network emerged from a subculture that transcended the criminal underworld and a radicalized underground. While these young men went to Syria to fight for the Islamic State, some saw Syria as a base from which to launch a terrorist campaign at home. The network appears to be the creation of a terrorist entrepreneur who the Islamic State either ordered or exploited to carry out the campaign. It is not clear whether the Islamic State was the incubator or, as French authorities believe, the central command behind the attacks. While this particular network has been largely dismantled, a number of suspects remain at large and the embryos of new networks have been uncovered. The terrorist threat to Europe remains high. The number of Americans going to Syria is a fraction of that seen in Europe, and domestic intelligence efforts have proved remarkably effective in uncovering terrorist plots.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Digital/other
  • Edition: Final Report
  • Features: References;
  • Pagination: 41p

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01753984
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Source Agency: UC Berkeley Transportation Library
  • Report/Paper Numbers: CA-MTI-16-1532, MTI Report WP 12-10
  • Contract Numbers: DTRT12-G-UTC21
  • Created Date: Jun 21 2016 6:13PM