Jihadism in the West has a roughly four-decade long history. Its first, embryonal presence dates back to the 1980s, when scattered groups of Western-based volunteers traveled to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union. Around the same time, a few Middle Eastern and North African jihadists fleeing their countries of origin received asylum in various Western countries. Since then, both Europe and North America have steadily been home to pockets of sympathizers of jihadist ideology. These pockets have historically been extremely heterogeneous and have undergone huge changes over time. They have always varied in size and complexity; while some are relatively large and tied to established recruitment pipelines, others are more spontaneous, constituted by isolated individuals and small groups of friends who radicalize independently. Their composition has always been extremely varied, encompassing men and women, recent arrivals to the West from all over the world and Western converts, old and young, seemingly well-adjusted individuals and those living at the fringes of society, and so on. Moreover, pockets of jihadist sympathy have historically been geographically unevenly distributed, with some countries and regions experiencing a much larger presence than others. Yet, irrespective of all these extremely important differences, it is fair to say that a jihadist scene is a permanent fixture in Europe and, to a lesser degree, North America. The vicissitudes of this scene are shaped by the interactions of two macro variables. The first is internal, and it is constituted by the characteristics of the Western jihadist scene, which is of course different from Western country to Western country. Various elements shape it, from the presence of radicalizing agents to the socio-economic marginalization of local Muslim communities, from the effectiveness of local counterterrorism efforts to migration patterns. The second element, which plays a major role in determining the size and direction of the Western jihadist scene, is constituted by geopolitical developments taking place outside of the West. Historically, it has always been events such as the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Bosnian war in the 1990s, the September 11th attacks and subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and finally, the surge of the Islamic State (IS) and its June 2014 declaration of a caliphate that drove spikes in the numbers of jihadist sympathizers in the West, the activism of Western-based jihadist networks, and their mobilization choices. In substance, the history of Western jihadism is characterized by ebbs and flows. There are moments, triggered largely by important events that take place outside of the West, in which the numbers of jihadist sympathizers swell and jihadists become more active. That increased activity, in turn, manifests itself in various ways, but principally in the form of travel to join jihadist groups abroad, and planning and execution of terrorist attacks. These moments are followed by others, generally corresponding to a lack of triggering events outside of the West, in which the Western jihadist scene, while still active, no longer attracts large number of new sympathizers and its members mobilize (travel or plan attacks) with a lower degree of intensity.
Vidino, Lorenzo; Marone, Francesco; Program on Extremism, George Washington University; and National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center, "Jihadist Attacks in the West: 2014-2022" (2022). Reports, Projects, and Research. 13.