The murdering spree by two gunmen on the offices of a French satirical magazine have incited horror across the world. That’s completely justified. But what’s been lost in the mass outpourings of solidarity and condemnations of barbarity is the fact that so few of the terrorist attacks carried out in European Union countries are related to Islamist militancy. In fact, in the last five years, less than 2 percent of all terrorist attacks in the E.U. have been “religiously motivated.”
In 2011, not one of the 174 terrorist attacks in EU countries in 2011 were “affiliated or inspired” by terrorist organizations. 2010, 249 terrorist attacks, three of them were considered by Europol to be “Islamist.” In 2009, of 294 terrorist attacks, only one was related to Islamist militancy — though Europol added the caveat, “Islamist terrorists still aim to cause mass casualties.”
Here’s what these numbers look like:
The vast majority of terrorist attacks in E.U. countries have for years been perpetrated by separatist organizations.
Of 152 terrorist attacks in 2013, 84 of were motivated by ethno-nationalist or separatist beliefs. That’s more than 55 percent. That’s down from 76 percent the year before. While the report notes this decline, it also states that a number of separatist groups are showing “greater sophistication, incremental learning and lethal intent.”
Religious motivations makes up just a slightly larger portion of terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Islamist militants lag far behind other groups when it comes to carrying out terrorist attacks in the U.S. too. According to FBI data compiled by the Princeton University’s Loon Watch, Islamist extremists were responsible for just 6 percent of terrorist attacks between 1980 and 2005 — falling behind Latino groups, Extreme left-wing groups, and Jewish extremists.
Charles Kurzman, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, has called Muslim Americans “a minuscule threat to public safety.”
In his most recent report tracking Islamist militancy in America, he included this startling figure. “The United States suffered approximately 14,000 murders in 2013. Since 9/11, Muslim-American terrorism has claimed 37 lives in the United States, out of more than 190,000 murders during this period.”
Despite the low frequency of Islamist militant attacks, fears around them are continually stokes by politicians, law enforcement officials, and even the media which tends to highlight religiously-motivated attacks over political or environmental ones.
“These incidents get much more attention because of the rhetoric of Islamist extremism that’s used,” Ken Sofer, Associate Director for National Security and International Policy at Center for American Progress told ThinkProgress in a phone interview.
“People have a desire to explain [these incidents] as some sort of connected phenomenon,” he says, “but what caused an individual to [commit acts of terrorism] is so different in each scenario.”
Sofer adds that by conflating different incidents in different countries, the threat of Islamist violence seem larger than it is.