West hit by 112 terrorist attacks in 15 years: Dutch intelligence service

Royal Palace, Dam Square, Amsterdam after Paris Attacks
The Palace on Amsterdam's Dam Square lit up in the colors of the French flag to show solidarity and support following the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov 13th, 2015@AmsterdamNLTwitter

A total of 112 terrorist attacks were committed in Western countries over the past 15 years. Three quarters of these happened in the last five years, a strong increase related to the rise of terrorist organization Islamic State since 2014, according to an analysis by Dutch intelligence and security service AIVD. The number of attacks decreased again since the fall of Islamic State, NOS reports. 

Fourteen Western countries including the Netherlands were hit by attacks. But 70 percent of all attacks occurred in just four countries - France, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. 76 percent of the 112 attacks were "successful" - they were actually committed and led to casualties or damage. Over the past five years, the "success" rate increased to 84 percent. 12 percent of the attacks left more than 50 people dead or injured.

In most cases attacks in the West were ordered by either al-Qaeda or ISIS, or inspired or stimulated by those two terrorist organization. ISIS in particular succeeded in mobilizing and inspiring sympathizers to commit attacks in their name, according to AIVD.

The vast majority of attacks, 80 percent, were committed by a single perpetrator. 41 percent of attacks were committed with a knife or other stabbing weapon. Explosives were used relatively frequently in the first 10 years AIVD looked at, but were much less popular in the past five years. In recent years terrorists started using vehicles as the form of attack. In the 2014 to 2018 period, a truck or passenger car was used in 17 percent of attacks. 

Most of the attacks happened at accessible places with little security that draw crowds, such as shopping streets, squares and Christmas markets. Terrorists only targeted a public event six times in the past 15 years - a marathon in Boston, a fireworks show in Nice, a footrace in the United States, and three Christmas markets. Police officers and soldiers were often targeted. 36 percent of attacks in the West were aimed at uniformed personnel, with a sharp increase in the last five years. According to the AIVD, attacks on soldiers and cops are aimed at the authority that they represent, not at the person themselves. 

The AIVD identified a separate category of attacks, those aimed at "blasphemies". These attacks target people the terrorists believe insult Islam, the Koran or the prophet Mohammad. The murder of Dutch populist politician Theo van Gogh in 2004 was the first such attack in the West. Almost all of these attacks are linked to controversy around cartoons, such as drawings by Dane Kurt Westergaard and the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The terrorist that stabbed two American tourists at Amsterdam Central Station last year also said he did so because PVV leader Geert Wilders announced a Mohammad cartoon contest. 

According to the AIVD, the "higher purpose" behind the majority of attacks never become known. "The claims by terrorist groups are not always reliable, statements by perpetrators sometimes change, and legitimacy is sometimes only invented afterwards." 

With this report, the AIVD wants to contribute to more objective knowledge about attacks committed in the west.