Islamist terrorism: A new report helps inform an evidence-based response

Seventy per cent of offenders are British nationals - and other useful information


A majority of Islamist terrorism offences in the UK are committed by British nationals (72 per cent), with the number rising to 88 per cent for the most serious crimes.

That’s one of the findings of a new 1,000-page report from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) think tank launched today at an event parliament hosted by former Conservative Party leader Lord Michael Howard.

The report, Islamist Terrorism: Analysis of Offences and Attacks in the UK (1998 – 2015), is an encyclopaedic review of all offences for Islamist terrorism – from travelling abroad to join a proscribed terrorist group to aiding, planning or carrying out an attack in Britain. (You can read a preview here.)

Profiles of every person convicted for an Islamist terrorism related offence (as defined by the Terrorism Act 2000) are produced with information about age, gender, education, nationality, where they live, and other factors, along with the details of their offence.

This data is then fed through spreadsheets and used to generate some general statistics, with conclusions about why certain patterns emerge left open to readers.

The report provides a valuable resource for anyone hoping to understand Islamist terrorism, have evidence-based debates around it, and to formulate policy.

As the report’s author, HJS Senior Research Fellow Hannah Stuart, told Left Foot Forward at the launch:

“If we’re going to defeat terrorism we need to understand it, and that means we’ve got to have terrorism data to see if there are any patterns or trends [among offenders] or any changes in terrorism itself.”

Stuart has worked in this field for over a decade, advising government officials and MPs and giving evidence to Select Committees, and her research has informed counter-radicalisation policy.

When Left Foot Forward asked if she was surprised by any of the findings, Stuart said the role of the families of offenders was interesting, as ‘families could be a protective factor but also an enabling one’.


Along with the findings about offenders’ nationality, (which run counter to fringe calls for Britain to emulate Donald Trump’s travel ban), the report finds 76 per cent of offenders were known to the authorities before their offence.

Ninety-three per cent of offenders were male, against seven per cent female. Interestingly, there was little correlation between terrorism and education or employment status.

A quarter (26 per cent) had some form of higher education, while nearly half (47 per cent) were employed or in education. Thirty-eight per cent were unemployed.

But offenders lived in areas with a higher than average level of deprivation, as well as a larger Muslim population. The top locations from which offenders hailed were east London and Birmingham.


Of the 53 per cent of offences where the target of an attack is known, one third of attacks targeted civilians, while another 30 per cent targeted ‘urban soft targets’ like shopping centres, transport terminals and leisure facilities.

Thirty-two per cent targeted ‘critical infrastructure’, while fewer than a quarter (24 per cent) had military targets.

Seventy-four per cent of the attack-related offences – whether attempted, planned, or carried out – involved bombings, compared with 15 per cent for beheadings or stabblings and 12 per cent of attacks using vehicles.

Drawing conclusions

During the Q&A section of the launch, two questions which always came up at events on this subject were asked, one being whether the Qur’an justifies terrorism, and the other a defence of Islam against generalisations.

The latter was taken as a statement, which it was, while on the former, Stuart replied that jihadist propaganda, such as videos and online magazines, was more of a factor than theology.

What this report offers is a body of evidence on which to base our views about Islamist terrorism in Britain, rather than repeating the tired arguments of the period in question (1998-2015) based on evidence-slim conjecture.

You can see more infographics here and read a preview of the ‘Islamist Terrorism’ report here

Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

See: VIDEO: Donald Trump ran for president as a racist. This Muslim ban is not about security

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