Terrorist Attacks Against Jewish Targets in the West (2012-2019): The Atlantic Divide Between European and American Attackers.

AuthorSilber, Mitchell D.

While Jews and Israel have been fixtures as enemies in the cosmology of both Sunni jihadi ideology and extreme right (a) groups that lean heavily on white supremacist/neo-Nazi ideology, during the last seven years in Europe and the same period (but particularly the last seven months) in the United States, these doctrinal tenets have been acted upon to deadly effect with a frequency of success that is a sharp break from the previous decade, 2001 to 2011. (b) Although during the first decade following the attacks of September 11, 2001, al-Qa'ida and other transnational Sunni jihadi groups reiterated their long-standing antipathy toward Jews and Israel, there were no successful attacks launched by jihadis against these targets in Europe between 2001 and 2011. (1) Now, that has changed, coincident with the rise of the Islamic State and a new wave of jihadi violence.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ideological spectrum and across the Atlantic, at a much broader level, the United States has seen a decade-long phenomenon of extreme-right violence directed at immigrants and ethnic/religious minorities between 2008 and 2018. (c) However, it was only in October 2018 with the deadly attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that Jews became casualties of this recent, broader trend in the United States. (d) It is worth noting that in May 2019 a senior FBI official said the bureau was observing a significant rise in the number of white supremacist domestic terrorism cases and that the current year's numbers were on track to match or exceed levels of 2017 and 2018. (2)

This article will seek to explore the doctrinal drivers behind the targeting of Jews both in Europe and the United States and seek to determine the specific justifications for anti-Semitic violence that have mobilized the attackers. These include historic religious anti-Jewish polemics, (3) Nazi race war ideology, (e) direction from past and current al-Qa'ida leadership, (4) recommendations from the Islamic Global Resistance Call (f) and a current manifestation of Middle East (Palestinian-Israeli conflict) politics playing out on a different battlefield. (g) Underpinning this analysis will be the detailed examination of relevant case studies from Europe (jihadi) and the United States (white supremacist/extreme right).

While determining causality of terrorist violence is never simple and there are differences between the factors that sustain terrorist plotting against Jewish targets on both sides of the Atlantic, there are also similarities. Some common threads that are worth considering and which repeat among the case studies separate into the categories of message, medium, and motivation. For example, under message, while the core philosophies of white supremacists and jihadis differ, both ideologies derive from doctrinal manifestos that direct followers to target Jews. (5) Moreover, both philosophies argue that their constituents are in a "cosmic war" (h) with Jews that requires action from their adherents. (6) In terms of medium, to promote their worldviews, both jihadis and right-wing extremists use remarkably similar social media strategies to recruit and radicalize. (7) And lastly, though far from exclusive to attacks against Jewish targets, there is the "copycat" effect where extensive media coverage of one attack can inspire other alienated individuals to copy these actions and commit similar crimes.

Part one of this article focuses on jihadi terrorism against Jews. It starts by providing an overview of jihadi doctrine related to targeting Jews, before presenting case studies on the deadly terrorist attacks carried out against Jews in the West (i) between 2012 and 2019, which all occurred in Europe. Part two of this article focuses on extreme right-wing terrorism against Jews. It starts by examining the doctrines behind such attacks, focusing on the violent extremist far-right scene in the United States, the location for all the deadly far-right terrorist attacks on Jews in the West between 2012 and 2019. Case studies are then presented for each of these attacks.

Part One: Jihadi Terror Threat To Jews in the West

Four deadly terrorist attacks launched specifically against Jewish targets have taken place during the 2012 to 2019 time period in Europe. (j) Each was launched by an individual or individuals with either an aspirational or actual association with a jihadi terrorist group. Underpinning the motivation for these different attacks has been a mix of al-Qa'ida/Islamic State ideological doctrines, ancient Islamic anti-Semitic tropes, and current Palestinian-Israeli political tensions.

Jihadi Doctrine in Relation to Jews

Both in Usama bin Ladin's original declaration of war against the United States in 1996 and his subsequent statement in 1998, (8) Israel and Jews figured very high on the organization's list of priorities as al-Qa'ida's enemies. From these important statements, it is clear that bin Ladin was not focusing on Jews as a religious minority, but rather in the political incarnation--the Jewish State of Israel and that the United States is seen as doing its bidding in the Middle East, whether related to the plight of Palestinians, Lebanese, or Iraqis. But most importantly, al-Qa'ida's founder was establishing the doctrinal legitimacy of "Jews" as a target.

Similarly, the current leader of al-Qa'ida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, argued in his December 2001 book Knights under the Prophet's Banner that "tracking down the Americans and the Jews is not impossible. Killing them with a single bullet, a stab, or a device made up of a popular mix of explosives or hitting them with an iron rod is not impossible. Burning down their property with Molotov cocktails is not difficult. With the available means, small groups could prove to be a frightening horror for the Americans and the Jews." (9)

In 2008, al-Zawahiri similarly endorsed "every operation against Jewish interests" and promised to "strive as much as we can to deal blows to the Jews inside Israel and outside it." (10) He also called specifically for attacks on Jews outside Israel, reinforcing bin Ladin's doctrine and noting, "today there is no room for he who says that we should only fight the Jews in Palestine... Let us strike their interests everywhere, just like they gathered against us from everywhere." (11)

Yet, with few exceptions, while Jews and Israel have been a target of fierce rhetorical attack by Usama bin Ladin and his acolytes, words were infrequently matched by deeds between 2001 and 2011. The exceptions of al-Qa'ida-directed attacks against Jewish and Israeli interests occurred in 2002 and 2003, outside of Europe. In April 2002, an al-Qa'ida attack was launched against the ancient El Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba. (12) A natural-gas truck, fitted with explosives, detonated at the front of the synagogue, killing 14 German tourists, three Tunisians, and two French nationals. (13) Later that year, in Kenya in November 2002 there was a two-pronged al-Qa'ida attack involving the suicide bombing of an Israeli hotel at almost the same time as two Russian SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles were fired at an Israeli civilian airliner taking off from the city's airport. (14) The third attack came in Turkey on November 15, 2003, when the Bet Israel and Neve Shalom synagogues in Istanbul were each struck by a truck carrying explosives that crashed into the locations, killing 23 and injuring more than 300. (15)

Despite the lack of successful attacks against Israeli or Jewish targets by al-Qa'ida in Europe between 2001 and 2011, it was not for a lack of effort. (k) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), al-Qa'i-da's chief of operations before and immediately after 9/11, asserted that he was responsible for efforts to try to hit Israeli targets in Australia, Azerbaijan, India, Kenya, and the Philippines as well as Israeli flights into and out of Bangkok and Mombasa. Moreover, he claimed that he provided financial support for operations against Jewish targets in the United States, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. (16)

While successful attacks against Jews in the European diaspora by al-Qa ida remained rare, in 2004, in the wake of al-Qa" ida's loss of its sanctuary in Afghanistan, The Global Islamic Resistance Call, published by Abu Musab al-Suri, suggested nine most important types of targets in the United States and in Western countries. (17) Number 6 was "places where Jews are gathered, their leading personalities and institutions in Europe, avoiding places of worship and synagogues." (18) Interestingly, number 3 was "media personalities and media centers that are leading the war against the Muslims and justifying the attacks on them, coming from the Zionist and Zionist friendly Crusader media institutions." (19)

Though not explicitly cited by any jihadi terrorists who carried out attacks, this strategic document and its target recommendation yet again reinforced the doctrinal legitimacy of attacks against Jews and at a minimum provided ideological reinforcement of al-Qaida's previous justification for jihadi attacks against Jewish targets. (l)

More recently, one must observe with significant concern Hamza bin Ladin's May 2017 call to attack Jewish targets, placing them at even a higher priority than attacking the United States. (20)

Case Studies on All Deadly Jihadi Terrorist Attacks on Jews in the West (2012-2019)

Every single fatal jihadi terrorist attack on Jews in the West between 2012 and 2019 took place in Europe, suggesting the continent is now at the focal point of the jihadi terror threat against Jews in the West.

Four deadly terrorist attacks occurred in Europe between 2012 and 2019, which were carried out by individuals motivated to attack explicitly Jewish targets by violent Islamist ideology. (m) There were no deadly attacks in Europe by extreme-right violent extremists against Jews during this period.

The 2012 Toulouse Terrorist Shootings

On March...

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