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Downplaying European terrorism committed by Muslims

Europol's annual collation of terrorist incidents shows that very few are attributable to Muslims. However Europol does not collate fatalities. The death toll from terrorism in the European Union since 2001 is overwhelmingly due to terrorism by Muslims.

Summary

1 July 2016

Over the last eight years I have often found myself discussing what David Cameron calls “violent Islamist extremism” with other Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, in both formal and informal settings.

From time to time I encounter people who tell me that Europol statistics show that the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks in Europe have nothing to do with Muslims. The very first time I encountered this point, I downloaded the relevant Europol report and glanced through it.

It was immediately obvious that the contention was both true and irrelevant as the Europol statistics do not distinguish cases by severity. I resolved to write about it but other topics have always taken priority. However, encountering the same point again recently was the final irritant which has led me to write this page.

How people cite the Europol reports

While I have no records of what people have said to me over the years, a quick search of the Internet has found the illustrative examples below. They are consistent with what my interlocutors have said.

Graphic: Islamist terror accounts for only 0.7% of attacks in Europe

This page makes the point:

“Islamists were responsible for only 0.7% of terror attacks in Europe between 2006 and 2013, according to Europol statistics.”

Updated Europol Data: Less Than 1% of Terrorist Attacks by Muslims

This page on the Islamophobia Today website looks at the Europol data for the years 2006-2010. To quote from the page:

“The first available such report was for the year 2006.  The data from 2006, 2007, and 2008 showed that about 0.4% of terrorist attacks in the European Union were committed by Muslims–less than 1% (actually, less than half of 1%).

Today, I’d like to update our readers with new Europol data: the data for 2009 and 2010 is now available.

Once again, a minuscule percentage of terrorist attacks in Europe were committed by Muslims.  In 2009 and 2010, there were a grand total of 543 terrorist attacks, of which only 4 were committed by Muslims.  This means that only 0.7% of terrorist attacks–again, less than 1%–were committed by Muslims.”

The myth of Islamic terrorism in Europe & USA

The website MuslimsAreNotTerrorists.com says the following about the Europol data:

“In Europe there is Europol, essentially serving the function of the Interpol, who have kept a good database since 2006. Looking through the annual reports it became quickly obvious that the 90% figure was more than a bit off. From the period of 2006-2011 there were a total of 4441 terrorism related arrests and detentions, of which 1056 were Islamic. A figure of about 24%. There were further numbers however, ones that showed that many of these were only on suspicion, and in fact, most were never charged, and of those that were charged a very high percentage (35%) were exonerated. In fact, only 55 Muslims were found to be directly related to terrorist attacks during that period. Europol’s database tracked a total of 2313 terrorist incidents during that same period.”

The above summaries are indeed an accurate condensation of the information in the Europol reports. However, they are also severely misleading as I will explain below.

What the Europol reports show, and don’t show

Europol is the European Union’s law enforcement agency. One of its outputs is that every year it publishes the “EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report” based upon data reported by EU member states. The report labelled 2007 contains the data for calendar 2006, and so on.

The Europol website has a page which presently contains the 2007 - 2015 reports. I have downloaded each of these reports, glanced through them, and summarised the data below.

Year on report cover

Total terrorist attacks

Islamist attacks

Total number of people arrested

Islamist cases number arrested

Comments

2007

498

1

706

257

 

2008

583

4

1,044

201

 

2009

515

-

       1,009

          187

 

2010

294

1

587

110

Very incomplete. No UK data

2011

249

3

611

179

No UK data categorisation

2012

174

-

484

122

No UK data categorisation

2013

219

6

537

159

No UK data categorisation

2014

152

24

535

216

No UK data categorisation

2015

199

2

774

395

No UK data categorisation

Total

2,883

41

6,287

1,826

 

Note: Starting with the 2012 report, the category "Islamist" was replaced with "Religiously inspired." I have included the data for that categorisation in the "Islamist" column as Europol reports provide no further breakdown.

The statistics published by Europol can only be as good as the information provided by member states. As the above table states, for a number of years the UK has provided no breakdown of terrorist incidents by category at all. I have not checked all of the other member states but the UK is both a large state in population terms and I am acutely aware of the significant number of foiled Islamist extremist plots in the UK, as well as those which have proceeded to become a terrorist incident.

More seriously, the Europol statistics give no details of severity. I glanced through each year’s report looking for information on deaths from terrorism. While the narrative of the reports sometimes mentions incidents when there were deaths, there is no attempt made to tabulate deaths.

As I did not wish to rely on my quick visual glance through the reports, for each year’s report I used the ability to electronically search PDF files to search for the words “fatality” and “death” as well as variants. This has confirmed my conclusion from the visual review that Europol simply does not collect data on deaths (or for that matter injuries, serious or otherwise) from terrorist incidents. All it does is collect data on terrorist incidents, including categorisation when the member states supply categorised data.

Fatalities caused by terrorism in Europe

I have found two good sources.

Data from The Economist

A few months ago I was struck by a graphic in the Economist weekly newspaper. That graphic can also be found in the article of 16 November 2015 “Daily chart: Terror attacks and arrests in western Europe” on The Economist website.

A larger size image of the graphic is also available.

What the Economist chart shows

Above the chart, we see that during the period single-death attacks killed a total of 45 people whom 14 died in the UK. There is no categorisation of these deaths.

The graphic part of the chart shows attacks causing two or more deaths. It is immediately obvious that the green squares representing deaths from Islamist terrorism massively outnumber the orange squares representing deaths from other causes or grey squares where there is no attribution of any kind.

There is one very large non-Islamist incident, which is of course the mass murder carried out by Anders Breivik in Norway. Otherwise the large casualties come from the 2004 Madrid train bombings in Spain, the 7 July 2005 bombings in London, the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the mass casualty attacks in France in November 2015.

Data from Statista

The Statistics Portal “Statista” has a page “Victims Of Terrorist Attacks In Western Europe” which has data going although back to 1970. For the convenience of readers, I have also embedded the chart below.

Infographic: Victims Of Terrorist Attacks In Western Europe | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

What the Statista data shows

The Statista data shows how the profile of terrorism has changed over time since it goes all the way back to 1970. For the United Kingdom the overwhelming majority of deaths from 1970 to 1998 were from Northern Ireland republican and loyalist terrorism, apart from the very large death toll caused by the Lockerbie aeroplane bomb.

The major incidents from 2001 onwards are of course the ones mentioned in The Economist section above, Madrid, London, Paris (all Islamist terrorism) and Norway (Breivik). The death toll from these dwarfs the death toll from all other terrorist incidents in the period from 2001 to 2015.

Conclusion

If one merely counts terrorist incidents, without any evaluation of their seriousness, then the Europol data (even allowing for some categorisation incompleteness as mentioned above) clearly shows that the overwhelming majority of terrorist incidents in the European Union are not related to violent Islamist extremism.

However, while the above statement is true, it is also completely misleading.

When one looks at the death toll from terrorist incidents in the European Union since 2001, a very significant majority of the total comes from violent Islamist extremism, even taking into account the number of people killed by Anders Breivik.

The above is the data on actual deaths. It takes no account of the scale of the attempted killings in the case of terrorist plots that have been foiled. Had the UK’s liquid bombs plot aimed at destroying multiple aeroplanes in flight (which was attempted Islamist terrorism) succeeded, the death toll would almost certainly have exceeded 1,000.

Accordingly, in my opinion it is entirely wrong to use the Europol data to downplay the seriousness of the threat we face from violent Islamist extremism.

 

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