Islamist radicalisation in Europe: the facts In recent years 9/11 has become a strong signifier, not only for the first major attack of Islamist terror against the West and the ensuing ‘war on terror’, but also as a trigger for an ongoing and controversial debate on the role of Western European countries as ‘hotbeds of radicalisation’. After all, the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks had been living and studying in Germany for several years, were indeed labelled the ‘Hamburg cell’ and were, as it turned out, part of a larger Al Qaeda network spread out all over Europe (Economist 2002). In fact, for a country such as France, experienced with confronting Algerian Islamist terrorism in the 1990s, the ties to Europe came as no surprise:
It is the result of a long evolution that had gone ignored by law enforcement, by the government, by the US, by Europe, the media, and the public . . . I am not a psychic, but I believe there will be an attack on the West, and that it is likely to be an American target here in Europe,
stated Jean-Louis Bruguière, chief antiterrorism judge as far back as 2002 (Sennott 2002). It took only two years for his prophecy, at least partly, to come true. In the early morning of 11 March 2004, ten bombs in four trains travelling to Madrid exploded within three minutes, killing 191 people (Alonso and Reinares 2006) and wounding 1,755 (HM Government 2009). With the Madrid attacks, Europe officially became, from a mere logistics and operational base, the target of global Islamist terrorism of the Al Qaeda type. A year later, on 7 July 2005, four bombs exploded in London, three around 8:50 am at the Liverpool Street and Edgeware Road stations and between King’s Cross and Russell Square and one an hour later on a double-decker in Tavistock Square. There were 52 people killed and 770 injured (BBC News 2005a). The London bombings posed, apart from the overall increase in threat levels all over Europe, the more significant question of ‘homegrown’ radicalisation. Three of the 7/7 bombers were UK citizens, of Pakistani origin but born and bred in the UK. The later assassin of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, Mohamed Bouyeri, is also a second generation immigrant, who, incidentally, wrote his martyrdom letter in
a typical Dutch rhythmic style (Nesser 2005). The question became, in other words, how European are European Islamist radicals and how European is Islamist radicalisation in Europe?