Islamist Terrorism in Europe

A History

Petter Nesser

This rigorous account is the first overview of Islamist terrorism in Europe since 9/11.

Watch Petter Nesser introducing his book on C-Span here:

Bibliographic Details
Islamist Terrorism in Europe Hardback
January 2016£30.00

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The lethal attacks in Paris of January and November 2015 demonstrated the threat posed by militant Islamist extremism in Europe. While the death of Osama bin Laden and the advent of the ‘Arab Spring’ fed expectations that international jihadism was a spent force, Europe is still facing an increase in terrorist plotting. This has led to growing security concerns over the fallout of the Syrian conflict, and the sizeable contingents of battle-hardened European foreign fighters.

This book provides a comprehensive account of the rise of jihadist militancy in Europe and offers a detailed background for understanding the current and future threat. Based on a wide range of new primary sources, it traces the phenomenon back to the late 1980s, and the formation of jihadist support networks in Europe in the early 1990s. Combining analytical rigour with empirical richness, the book offers a comprehensive account of patterns of terrorist cell formation and plots between 1995 and 2015. In contrast to existing research which has emphasized social explanations, failed immigration and homegrown radicalism, this book highlights the transnational aspects. It shows how jihadi terrorism in Europe is intrinsically linked to and reflects the ideological agendas of armed organizations in conflict zones, and how entrepreneurial jihad-veterans facilitate such transnationalization of militancy.


Petter Nesser is a senior research fellow with the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI). Trained in Social Science, Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic, Nesser has conducted extensive research on jihadism in Europe for more than a decade, while focusing on motivational drivers, recruitment and radicalisation processes.


‘Nesser’s detailed analysis of the threat we face could hardly be more timely. Its main focus is on the individuals involved, their backgrounds, motivations and modus operandi.’ — The Independent

‘Petter Nesser’s unflashy book analyses jihadi activity in Europe from the 1994 attempt by Algerian hijackers to crash an Air France jet into Paris to the massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s offices and the kosher deli hostage crisis one year ago.’ — The Times

‘A forensic look at 20 years of terrorist attacks. … This is not a book to read if you want to sleep easy.’ — The Sunday Times

‘Petter Nesser is one of the longest standing and most objective observers of this phenomenon. His book is full of detailed information that will make it a work of reference for many years to come. More than any other book on the subject, it shows the continuities and discontinuities, allowing readers and analysts to make sense of what has changed and what has remained the same. An absolute must read for anyone studying jihadist terrorism in Europe.’ — Peter Neumann, Director, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), King’s College London

‘Petter Nesser is to be commended for a clear and well-researched explanation of jihadist terrorism in Europe that is impressive in historical range and depth of coverage. His study is essential for understanding a subject that is of paramount importance to the public and policy makers as well as scholars.’ — Martha Crenshaw, Senior Fellow, Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), Stanford University

‘Several of the very best studies on terrorism have emerged from scholars around the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI). This is another of them. Petter Nesser’s history of Islamist terrorism in Europe explains more than two decades of terrorist plotting like no other single-author study — a must read for counter-terrorist professionals and academics, but also for all concerned citizens who want to make sense of “senseless violence.”’ — Alex P. Schmid, Editor-in-Chief of Perspectives on Terrorism and former Officer-in-Charge of the Terrorism Prevention Branch of the United Nations