Terrorism in Europe

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2004 Madrid train bombings
Air India Flight 182 bombing
City of Poros cruise ship attack
The bombings of the Madrid train system in 2004 (left, makeshift shrine), the bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985 (centre, memorial), and the City of Poros ship attack in 1988 (right, City of Poros in 1988) constitute the deadliest attacks carried out in Europe on land, in aviation, and in nautical transport respectively, killing 192, 329, and 11 people.

There is a long history of terrorism in Europe. This has often been linked to nationalist and separatist movements (separating countries), while other acts have been related to politics (including anarchism, far-right and far-left extremism), religious extremism, or organized crime. Terrorism in the European sections of the intercontinental countries of Turkey and Russia are not included in this list.



Defining terrorism is difficult, and there are more than one hundred definitions of it in scholarly literature. The term is used in polemical contexts, thus it can become a move in a campaign rather than an aid to thought.[1] A simple definition would be "use of force against innocent people for political purposes". Some scholars argue that there is no true or correct definition due to terrorism being an abstract concept without a real presence. Legal definitions contain internal contradictions and might be misused.[2] There is an overlap between terrorism and various other forms of conflict and violent action, including civil wars[3] or non-international armed conflicts. This is the case with several significant non-international conflicts in Europe, where there thus can be dispute as to what counts as terrorism: examples include the Irish War of Independence (1919–21), the breakup of Yugoslavia and subsequent conflicts,[4] the First (1994–6) and Second Chechen Wars (1999–2009), and the War of Dagestan (1999).

Early history[edit]

In the Middle Ages, maritime nations in Europe sponsored pirates and privateering against rivals, which can be compared to terrorism.[5][6] The term "terror" is used about the reign of terror in France, carried out by the Jacobins in 1792-4.

Modern trends[edit]

Terrorism in Europe around the beginning of the twentieth century was often associated with anarchism.[7][8]

Terrorism within the European Communities since 1951 has often been linked to separatist movements, including the Irish Republican Army within the United Kingdom, and Euskadi Ta Askatasuna within Spain. Other perpetrators have been linked to far-right and far-left extremism, environmental extremism and anarchism. Since 2001, there has been an increase in attacks linked to extremist Islamist groups, particularly in France. Many separatist terrorist activities also have a religious angle, as, for example, with Chechen separatism in Russia. The internationally co-ordinated element has seen increasing attempts by governments to seek to weaken extremist ideology, particularly Islamic extremism.

It remains the case that the majority of deaths from terrorism do not occur in the "West".[9] When the Al Qaeda attacks against the United States in 2001 are excluded, only 0.5% of all deaths from terrorism have occurred in Western countries – European nations, United States, Canada and Australia – in the years 2000-14.[10] There have been recent increases in the number of high-fatality attacks. There had been a decrease in the number of overall fatalities from terrorist attacks between 1990 and 2015, compared to those between 1970 and 1990.[11] Prior to 1990, on average 150 people died each year from terrorist attacks; this figure would be even higher if the large number of people who died in 1988 from the Pan Am 2013 bombing were included. From 1990, an average of a little under 50 people died each year. There was an increase of fatalities from 2011, with the attacks by far-right extremist Anders Breivik in Norway, and Islamist extremist attacks in France in 2015 and 2016.

Europol has published an annual trend report on terrorist attacks (including failed, foiled, and completed attacks) and terrorist-related arrests in the EU since 2006.[12] The reports identify that perpetrators' known or suspected affiliations have been disparate in nature. Europol break these down into five categories: jihadist terrorism (previously termed "religiously-inspired terrorism"); ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism; left-wing and anarchist terrorism; right-wing terrorism; and single-issue terrorism. Europol's reports do not provide a breakdown of the proportion of attacks that have been completed or the type of damage inflicted. According to these data, the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the EU between 2006 and 2013 were affiliated with ethnonational or separatist motives, followed by left-wing and anarchist attacks, and those that are registered as 'unspecified'. A significant number of terror attacks were motivated religiously or associated with right-wing groups. Among those arrested on terror-related crimes, most were religiously motivated and form the largest group, followed by separatist related terror suspects.

In 2015, a total of 211 completed, failed, or foiled terrorist attacks were reported by EU states, resulting in 151 fatalities (of which 148 were in France, with 130 of them occurring during the November 2015 Paris attacks) and over 360 people injured. As in previous years, separatist attacks accounted for the largest proportion (65), followed by jihadist attacks (17). Jihadist attacks caused the largest number of fatalities (150) and injuries (250). The United Kingdom reported the largest number of attacks (103) but did not provide statistics on suspected affiliation.[13] Tackling jihadist terrorism threats has become an over-riding priority for security services, although many commentators express concerns that the risk of far-right terrorism is currently being underestimated.[14]

In 2017, British intelligence MI5 said that Northern Ireland is the most concentrated area of terrorist activity "probably anywhere in Europe", with weekly threats from dissident Irish republicans.[15]

Europol report all deaths from terrorist activity in 2018 were caused by jihadist terrorism. As of 2019, Europol reported that left-wing terrorist groups in the EU had appeared to have ceased their operational activities.[16]


International cooperation[edit]

The seat of the European Police Office (Europol) in The Hague.
Cover of the Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TE-SAT) 2017

European states were at the fore of plans for an international criminal court under the League of Nations in the 1930s, working through the Committee for the Repression of Terrorism (CRT). The CRT sought to define terrorism and get nation's domestic policies to support anti-terrorism activities. Opposition by Britain and tensions over fascism in Germany and Italy limited the final proposals.[17]

Current European cooperation in the field of counter-terrorism includes the European Police Office (Europol), an EU agency, and Interpol. TREVI was an early example of EU cooperation in this field.

The main transnational activity to combat terrorism in recent years has been through Europol. They have categorised acts of terrorism that have either failed, been foiled or been successfully executed within the European Union (EU) as either pertaining to religious issues, right-wing, left-wing or separatist movements. The field is subject to considerable cooperation among national authorities.

National authorities[edit]

In July 2014 France introduced legislation to combat terrorism by toughening surveillance, making it lawful to detain individuals linked to radical "Islamist" groups, and to block Internet sites that incite anti-Semitism, terrorism and hatred. The country's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve revealed 600 French nationals were in Syria at the time or planned to go there. The bill includes a ban on foreign travel for up to six months for those believed to hold terrorist sympathies, provides for the confiscation and invalidation of passports, and prohibits airlines from allowing such individuals to fly.[18]

From 2005, the United Kingdom government introduced the CONTEST strategy, which seeks to improve co-operation between security services, and other public and private organisations.[19] This includes four strands, namely Pursue, (seeking to apprehend potential terrorists), Prevent, (seeking to reduce risks of 'radicalisation', deter potential terrorists and share information), Protect, (seeking to ensure the security of potential targets and organisations is optimised), and Prepare, (seeking to ensure an effective response in the immediate aftermath of any attack). Similar strategies have been adopted by other countries across the European Union, and there have been increases in co-operation between nations and security forces.


Terrorism deaths in Western Europe 1970-2017, based on the Global Terrorism Database. Red is for deaths in the UK, orange for Spain, green for Italy, blue for France and purple for Germany. Grey are other countries.

Deadliest attacks[edit]

The following is a list of terrorist incidents in Europe which resulted in at least ten civilian deaths. It lists attacks on civilians by non-state actors that are widely referred to as terrorism. It excludes attacks that took place in transcontinental countries such as Turkey and Russia. For incidents in Russia, see Terrorism in Russia and for incidents in Turkey, see Terrorism in Turkey.

Key: motivation

  Nationalism/Separatism   Islamist   Right-wing   Left-wing   Other

Date Country/Region Incident Casualties Perpetrator
28 Jul 1835  France Assassination attempt on King Louis Philippe I 18 killed, 23 injured (inc. 1 perp.)[20] Giuseppe Marco Fieschi
13 Dec 1867  UK Clerkenwell explosion 12 killed, 120 injured[21] Irish Republican Brotherhood
7 Nov 1893  Spain Gran Teatre del Liceu bombing 20+ killed,[8] 40+ injured[22] Santiago Salvador Franch
7 Jun 1896  Spain Barcelona Corpus Christi procession bombing 12 killed, 44 injured[22] Anarchists (suspected)
28 Apr 1903  Ottoman Empire Thessaloniki bombings of 1903 16 killed (inc. 6 perp.), 16 injured[23] Boatmen of Thessaloniki
31 May 1906  Spain Botched assassination of Alfonso XIII 30 killed, 100 injured[24] Mateo Morral Rocca
15 Aug 1906 Poland Congress Poland Bloody Wednesday 19 to 200 killed, 43 to >100 injured[25][26] Combat Organization of the Polish Socialist Party
13 Dec 1921  Romania Bolgrad palace bombing 100 killed[27] Bessarabian Separatists
23 Mar 1923  Italy Diana Theatre bombing (Milan) 21 killed, 172 injured[28] Anarchists
16 Apr 1925  Bulgaria St Nedelya Church bombing 150 killed, 500+ injured[29] Bulgarian Communist Party
1 May 1947  Italy Portella della Ginestra massacre 11 killed, 33 wounded[30] Salvatore Giuliano
18 Jun 1961  France Vitry-Le-François train bombing 28 killed, 100+ injured[31] Organisation Armée Secrète
12 Oct 1967  Cyprus Cyprus Airways Flight 284 bombing 66 killed[32] Unsolved
12 Dec 1969  Italy Piazza Fontana bombing 17 killed, 88 injured[33] Ordine Nuovo
21 Feb 1970  Switzerland Swissair Flight 330 bombing 47 killed[34] PFLP-GC
4 Dec 1971  UK McGurk's Bar bombing 15 killed, 17 injured[35] Ulster Volunteer Force
26 Jan 1972  Czechoslovakia JAT Flight 367 bombing 27 killed[36] Ustaše (suspected)
5 Sep 1972  West Germany Munich massacre 17 killed[37] Black September
17 Dec 1973  Italy Rome airport attacks 34 killed, 22 injured[38] Black September
4 Feb 1974  UK M62 coach bombing 12 killed, 38 injured[39] Provisional IRA
17 May 1974  Ireland Dublin and Monaghan bombings 34 killed, 300 injured[40] Ulster Volunteer Force
4 Aug 1974  Italy Italicus Express bombing 12 killed, 48 injured[41] Ordine Nero
8 Sep 1974  Greece TWA Flight 841 bombing 88 killed[42] Abu Nidal Organization
13 Sep 1974  Spain Cafetería Rolando bombing 13 killed, 71 injured[43] ETA
21 Nov 1974  UK Birmingham pub bombings 21 killed, 182 injured[44] Provisional IRA
5 Jan 1976  UK Kingsmill massacre 10 killed, 1 injured[45] South Armagh Republican Action Force
17 Feb 1978  UK La Mon restaurant bombing 12 killed, 30 injured[46] Provisional IRA
12 Jul 1979  Spain Hotel Corona de Aragón fire 80+ killed[47] ETA (suspected)
2 Aug 1980  Italy Bologna massacre 85 killed, 200+ injured[48] Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari
26 Sep 1980  West Germany Oktoberfest bombing 13 killed (inc. 1 perp.), 211 injured[49] Gundolf Köhler
20 Jul 1982  UK Hyde Park and Regent's Park bombings 11 killed, 50 injured[50] Provisional IRA
6 Dec 1982  UK Droppin Well bombing 17 killed, 30 injured[51] Irish National Liberation Army
23 Dec 1984  Italy Train 904 bombing 16 killed, 267 injured[52] Sicilian Mafia
12 Apr 1985  Spain El Descanso bombing 18 killed, 82 injured[53] Islamic Jihad Organization
23 Jun 1985 Republic of Ireland Atlantic Ocean in Irish airspace Air India Flight 182 bombing 329 killed[54] Babbar Khalsa
23 Nov 1985  Malta EgyptAir Flight 648 hijacking 60 killed (inc. 2 perps.)[55] Abu Nidal Organization
27 Dec 1985  Italy
Rome and Vienna airport attacks 23 killed (inc. 4 perps.), 139 injured[56] Abu Nidal Organization
14 Jul 1986  Spain Plaza República Dominicana bombing 12 killed, 32 injured[57] ETA
19 Jun 1987  Spain Hipercor bombing 21 killed, 45 injured[58] ETA
8 Nov 1987  UK Remembrance Day bombing 12 killed, 63 injured[59] Provisional IRA
11 Dec 1987  Spain Zaragoza Barracks bombing 11 killed, 88 injured[60] ETA
11 Jul 1988  Greece City of Poros ship attack 11 killed (inc. 3 perp.), 98 injured[61] Abu Nidal Organization
21 Dec 1988  UK Pan Am Flight 103 bombing 270 killed[62] Abdelbaset al-Megrahi
22 Sep 1989  UK Deal barracks bombing 11 killed, 21 injured[63] Provisional IRA
29 May 1991  Spain Vic bombing 10 killed, 44 injured[64][65] ETA
15 Aug 1998  UK Omagh bombing 29 killed, 300+ injured[66] Real IRA
16 Feb 2001  FR Yugoslavia Podujevo bus bombing 12 killed, 40 injured [67] Kosovo Albanian Militants (suspected)
27 Sep 2001  Switzerland Zug massacre 15 killed (inc. 1 perp.), 18 injured[68] Friedrich Leibacher
11 Mar 2004  Spain Madrid train bombings 193 killed, 2,050 injured[69] Al-Qaeda
7 Jul 2005  UK 2005 London bombings 56 killed, (inc. 4 perps.), 784 injured[70] Al-Qaeda
11 Apr 2011  Belarus Minsk Metro bombing 15 killed, 204 injured[71] Dzimitry Kanavalau and Vlad Kavalyou
22 Jul 2011  Norway Norway attacks 77 killed, 319 injured[72] Anders Behring Breivik
7–9 Jan 2015  France January 2015 Île-de-France attacks 20 killed (inc. 3 perps.), 22 injured[73] Al-Qaeda
13 Jan 2015  Ukraine Volnovakha bus attack 12 killed, 18 injured[74] Donetsk People's Republic (suspected)
13 Nov 2015  France November 2015 Paris attacks 137 killed (inc. 7 perps.), 413 injured[75][76] Islamic State
22 Mar 2016  Belgium Brussels bombings 35 killed (inc. 3 perps.), 340 injured[77] Islamic State
14 Jul 2016  France Nice truck attack 87 killed (inc. 1 perp.), 434 injured[78] Islamic State
19 Dec 2016  Germany Berlin Christmas market attack 13 killed, 55 injured[79][80] Islamic State
22 May 2017  UK Manchester Arena bombing 23 killed (inc. 1 perp.), 250 injured[81] Salman Ramadan Abedi
3 Jun 2017  UK 2017 London Bridge attack 11 killed (inc. 3 perp.), 48 injured[82] Islamic State
17–18 Aug 2017  Spain 2017 Barcelona attacks 24 killed (inc. 8 perps.), 152 injured[83][84] Islamic State
19 Feb 2020  Germany Hanau shootings 11 killed (inc. 1 perp.), 6 injured[85] Tobias Rathjen

Costliest attacks[edit]

These are the incidents that had the highest financial damage. By far the biggest three are listed here below, all having occurred in the United Kingdom, and all by the same organisation.[86][87][88]

Date Country/Region Incident Cost (USD) Perpetrator
24 Apr 1993 United Kingdom London, UK 1993 Bishopsgate bombing $2 billion Provisional IRA
15 Jun 1996 United Kingdom Manchester, UK 1996 Manchester bombing $996 million Provisional IRA
10 Apr 1992 United Kingdom City of London, UK Baltic Exchange bombing $897 million Provisional IRA

Terrorism by country and region[edit]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Bakker, Edwin. "Characteristics of jihadi terrorists in Europe (2001–2009)." in Jihadi terrorism and the radicalisation challenge ( Routledge, 2016) pp. 145-158. online
  • Bowie, Neil G. (April 2021). "40 Terrorism Databases and Data Sets: A New Inventory" (PDF). Perspectives on Terrorism. Leiden University. XV (2). ISSN 2334-3745.
  • Burleigh, Michael. Blood and rage: a cultural history of terrorism. Harper, 2009.; major scholarly study
  • Chaliand, Gérard and Arnaud Blin, eds. The history of terrorism: from antiquity to al Qaeda. (University of California Press, 2007).
  • Ebner, Julia. The rage: The vicious circle of Islamist and far-right extremism (Bloomsbury, 2017).
  • Graef, Josefin. Imagining Far-right Terrorism: Violence, Immigration, and the Nation State in Contemporary Western Europe (Routledge, 20220.
  • Hewitt, Christopher. "Terrorism and public opinion: A five country comparison." Terrorism and Political Violence 2.2 (1990): 145-170.
  • Hof, Tobias. "From extremism to terrorism: The radicalisation of the far right in Italy and West Germany." Contemporary European History 27.3 (2018): 412-431.
  • Hof, Tobias. "The threat of transnational terrorism." in Understanding Global Politics (Routledge, 2019) pp. 375-389.
  • Jones, Seth G., Catrina Doxsee, and Nicholas Harrington. The Right-wing Terrorism Threat in Europe (Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 2020) online.
  • Kaunert, Christian, Joana de Deus Pereira, and Mike Edwards. "Thick Europe, ontological security and parochial Europe: the re-emergence of far-right extremism and terrorism after the refugee crisis of 2015." European politics and society 23.1 (2022): 42-61. online
  • Kaunert, Christian, and Sarah Léonard. "The collective securitisation of terrorism in the European Union." West European Politics 42.2 (2019): 261-277. online
  • Kepel, Gilles. Terror in France (Princeton University Press, 2017).
  • Koehler, Daniel. Right-wing terrorism in the 21st century: The ‘National Socialist Underground’ and the history of terror from the far-right in Germany (Routledge, 2016).
  • Land, Isaac, ed., Enemies of humanity: the nineteenth-century war on terrorism. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
  • Miller, Martin A. The foundations of modern terrorism: state, society and the dynamics of political violence. (Cambridge UP, 2013).
  • Norris, Jesse J. "When (and where) can right-wing terrorists be charged with terrorism?" Critical studies on terrorism 13.4 (2020): 519-544.
  • Pannier, Alice, and Olivier Schmitt. "To fight another day: France between the fight against terrorism and future warfare." International Affairs 95.4 (2019): 897-916. online
  • Ravndal, Jacob Aasland. "Explaining right‐wing terrorism and violence in Western Europe: Grievances, opportunities and polarisation." European Journal of Political Research 57.4 (2018): 845-866. online
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  • Samaan, Jean-Loup, and Andreas Jacobs. "Countering jihadist terrorism: A comparative analysis of French and German experiences." Terrorism and Political Violence 32.2 (2020): 401-415.

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