The Vienna attack became arguably the most notorious Jihadist assault of 2020
(January 5th 2020)
Islamic extremism in Europe has been a significant problem over the past few years, with large co-ordinated mass-fatality attacks carried out in 2015, 2016, and 2017, leading to dozens being killed in the assault. In 2018 and 2019 however, largely thanks to the deterioration and collapse of Islamic State, the presence and success of jihadist terrorism declined significantly as attacks became far less complex and far less deadly and damaging. Nonetheless, the threat still remains within the continent, and various external circumstances such as international tensions with Iran may give new life to extremism within the continent. Bizarrely, the continent was handed a "break" by Islamic jihadists due to the outbreak of Coronavirus. Islamic State members encouraged their followers to “stay away from the land of the epidemic” and advised them not to travel to fight for the group in fear or the virus spreading. Other aspects may also come into play, as given the extensive and almost 24-hour coverage the virus has received in Western media, an Islamic jihadist attack is unlikely to receive much coverage and therefore reduced notoriety. Lockdown measures that forbid mass-gatherings also result in few opportunities for successful public attacks. Nonetheless, the threat of Islamic jihadism still remains across the continent. Here, we track Islamic jihadist activity throughout the year 2020 (this is not an exhaustive list).
1 - January 3rd - Villejuif (Paris) stabbing attack - 1 killed, 2 injured
One man is killed and two women are injured after a stabbing attack in a Parisian public park just three days into the year. The perpetrator, 22 year old "Nathan C", was known to have mental health issues and although the attack was originally believed to be a criminal incident and not terrorist-related, upon further investigations police found evidence towards his conversion to Islam and radicalisation, as well as preparation for his attack. Police also found Salafist writings inside a bag belonging to the attacker. The perpetrator was shot dead by police, and the two injured women have since left hospital. The day after the attack, French police insisted the attack was being "treated as terrorism" and counter-terrorism police took over investigations.
2 - January 9th - Her Majesty's Prison Whitemoor - England - 0 killed, 5 injured
No-one was killed but five prison guards were injured after two inmates, one a convicted terrorist identified as Brusthom Ziamani, and another a Muslim convert, attacked staff at a prison in Whitemoor (England) using improvised blades before being subdued. The perpetrators are also alleged to have worn fake suicide vests. The attack immediately raised questions about radicalisation in British prisons, as Whitemoor especially was known to hold a significant amount of radicalised offenders and was known to have been problematic regarding internal radicalisation. Ziamani himself was convicted in 2015 of plotting to behead a British soldier having been inspired by the public execution of Lee Rigby, and as a result was sentenced to 22 years. The prison was also the same location where the perpetrator of the London Bridge stabbing in 2019 was held before his release. Counter-terrorism police took over investigations soon after the attack.
3 - February 2nd - South London (UK) stabbing - 0 killed, 2 injured
No-one was killed but two people were injured after a knifeman attacked pedestrians in Streatham, South London. Responding police shot the attacker dead and evacuated the nearby area after he as found to be wearing what looked like an IED vest, although this turn out to be a hoax device. A further person also suffered minor injuries however this is believed to have been from shattered glass as a result of police gunfire. The attack was quickly labelled as a terrorist incident by London Metropolitan police. The perpetrator, Sudesh Amman, was known to police and was already being monitored by counter-terrorism police within the UK, having recently been released from prison after serving time for terrorist offences. In 2018 he was convicted for "disseminating terrorist material and collecting information useful for terror attacks", and admitted 13 terror offences. The incident drew similarities to the 2019 London Bridge stabbing attack as both were carried out by convicts who had been sentenced on terrorist offences.
4 - April 4th - Romans-Sur-Isere (France) stabbing - 2 killed, 5 injured
Two people were killed and at least 5 were injured after a Sudanese man believed to be around 33 years old attacked people with a knife in the French town of Romans-Sur-Isere. The attack began inside a tobacco shop before the knifeman moved onto two other locations nearby. He was arrested whilst on his knees praying in Arabic and a representative of the National Police Alliance union said the man had asked police to kill him. After a raid on his home police found "handwritten documents with religious connotations". A further Sudanese suspect who lived at the address was also arrested, and a counter-terrorism investigation was opened.
5 - April 27th - Colombes (France) car attack - 0 killed, 3 injured
Three police officers were injured after a car ramming attack in Colombes, a commune in northwestern Paris. Police were believed to have been conducting an ID check before a man in a black car slammed into them, leaving three officers injured. The perpetrator, a 29 year old known only as "Yousef T" is believed to have said "I did it for ISIS!" whilst a letter found inside his vehicle stated he wanted to impose Sharia law across the world (he was also believed to have had a knife inside his car). The day after the attack, a counter-terrorism investigation was opened up by French counter-terrorism police, and the attacker was left facing terrorism charges.
6 - June 22nd – Forbury Park stabbings (Reading, UK) – 3 killed, 3 injured
Three people were killed and three more were injured during a mass-stabbing attack in Forbury Gardens in Reading, England. The lone perpetrator used a kitchen knife to attack people at random before being apprehended by responding police. The Libyan-born attacker was known to MI5 and had a lengthy criminal charge sheet, having only recently left jail having been sentenced for assault and for possessing a bladed article. The incident was soon after declared a terrorist attack.
7 - August 19th - Berlin A100 motorway rammings (Berlin, Germany) - 0 killed, 3 injured
Three motorcyclists were injured after an Iraqi suspect named as Samrad A targeted them in his car on a Berlin motorway. The attacker claimed to have ammunition inside his vehicle (although this was false) and is reported to have shouting "Allahu Akhbar". It is also believed he lived in refugee accommodation and may have become radicalised there. The incident is being treated as an "Islamist-motivated attack", although prosecutors did not rule out psychological problems of the perpetrator.
8 - September 25th - Charlie Hebdo stabbing attack (Paris, France) - 0 killed, 2 injured
Two people are injured after a stabbing attack outside the former offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The offices were the scene of a deadly Islamist shooting in January 2015 that left 12 dead and 11 injured following an attack by jihadists who sought revenge for the magazine publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. In early September 2020 Charlie Hebdo announced they would be republishing the cartoons owing to the upcoming trial of 14 people accused of providing assistance to the 2015 massacre. The 2020 stabbing attack was found to be in retaliation for the magazine republishing those same cartoons earlier in the month. The perpetrator, a 25 year old Pakistani-native, was apparently unaware the magazine had moved offices, and that he'd inadvertently targeted a TV production crew. He was arrested along with six others who were accused of providing support to the assault.
9 - October 16th - Beheading of Samuel Paty (Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, Paris, France) - 1 killed, 0 injured
A French schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, is killed and beheaded in the street by a knifeman who sought retaliation for the teacher having shown pictures of the Prophet Mohammed to his middle-school class. Paty showed images of the Prophet Mohammed (included caricatures published by Charlie Hebdo) which lead to widespread condemnation by Muslim parents within the community. The perpetrator, 18 year old Abdoullakh Anzorov, waited for Paty after school had ended, asking children to point him out before following him down the street armed with a 30 inch knife. Anzorov beheaded Paty before posting a graphic photo of his head to Twitter along with pro-jihadist text aimed at French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron himself called the murder "a typical Islamist terrorist attack".
10 - October 21st - Dresden stabbings - 1 killed, 1 injured
Just days after the murder of Samuel Paty in France, one tourist is killed and another is seriously injured after a stabbing attack in the German city of Dresden. The attack was carried out by a 20 year old Syrian native believed to have had an extremist background including "soliciting support for a foreign terrorist organisation". The attack is being treated as a terrorist incident.
11 - October 29th - Nice (France) church attack - 3 killed, 0 injured
Just days after the two prior incidents, a stabbing attack inside the Notre Dame De Nice left three people dead, one of whom was beheaded. The perpetrator, a 21 year old Tunisian who was not known to French intelligence authorities, repeatedly shouted "Allahu Akbar" while carrying out his attack and whilst facing off with responding police. The suspect was eventually subdued after being tased by multiple officers and then shot, leading to him being arrested with life-threatening injuries. The incident was classed almost immediately as jihadist terrorism. Two further people were later arrested in connection with the attack. The incident left Europe with 11 fatalities to Islamic jihad for the year of 2020, making it deadlier than the previous year (which had 10 deaths).On the same day, multiple incidents occurred throughout France and Europe, some of which were originally believed to have been jihadist terror related. A knife-wielding suspect in Avignon was originally believed to have been a jihadist perpetrator, although later he was found to have been a part of "Generation Identity", the group who Christchurch gunman Brenton Tarrant showed connections with. Another knife incident in Sartrouville was originally believed to have been an attempted jihadist attack seeking to copy the assault in Nice, but the perpetrator was soon after released without prosecution. An alleged car attack in Kempen (Germany) left 1 dead and 3 injured and drew attention as a possible jihadist assault, however this is now believed to have been an unintentional car accident. A shooting outside a church in Lyon was originally speculated as a jihadist attack, however this is now believed to have been a personal dispute within the church.
12 - November 2nd - Vienna (Austria) shootings - 4 killed, 23 injured
Just a week after the Nice church attack, a lone-gunman opened fire upon multiple locations in the Austrian capital of Vienna. The gunman is believed to have tried to enter the cities central synagogue, but found this to be closed. The gunman moved throughout the city, opening fire on bars, restaurants and passers-by before being shot dead by police. Numerous reports gave a different account of what occurred, with some insisting there were shots fired and a possible hostage situation at numerous Vienna hotels, whilst photographs implied there to be multiple suspects on the loose and later arrested. As many as seven suspects were believed to have carried out the marauding attack however after further investigations Vienna police found no evidence of additional attackers. The attack took place just hours before Vienna was placed into lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic, meaning a large amount of people were occupying bars and restaurants for one final time before their closure. By the end, four people were killed, 23 were injured, seven of whom were in a critical condition.The incident was quickly confirmed as a terrorist attack, and soon after officials confirmed the shooter had ISIS sympathies. The gunman, 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzullai, was identified as having Austrian and North Macedonian dual-citizenship and had previously been sentenced to 22 months in prison for attempting to travel to Syria to join Islamic State. The group claimed responsibility for the attack and soon after a video surfaced of the gunman posing with weapons whilst speaking in Arabic to pledge allegiance to ISIS. In response to the shooting, Vienna police moved quickly to close down multiple mosques believed to be radical.With 15 people killed in jihadist attacks so far throughout the year, the attack made the year of 2020 more deadly than the previous two years. In 2019, ten people were killed by Islamic jihadism while in 2018 thirteen people were killed.
13 - Lugano (Switzerland) stabbing - 0 killed, 2 injured
Two people are injured, one was stabbed in the neck and another grabbed by the throat, after an attack inside a department store in the Swiss city of Lugano. The female attacker, a 28 year old Swiss citizen, is believed to have become radicalised after meeting a jihadist on social media and was known to Swiss counter-terror officials after an investigation dating back to 2017. Swiss police later confirmed the attack was being investigated as suspected jihadism.
As of the last incident (November 28th) there has been 13 incidents of Islamic jihadist terrorism in Europe in 2020, leading to 15 deaths and 51 injuries. This makes 2020 more deadly for Europe than the two previous years of Islamic jihadism within the continent. In comparison to the previous year, seven jihadist attacks were carried out within Europe in 2019, resulting in 10 deaths and 27 injuries.