A White Man Committed Europe’s Worst Terror Attack in the Past 10 Years
Don’t forget about the nativist far right
Many commentators have asserted that the Charlie Hebdo massacre—and the attack on a French Kosher grocery store—is the worst terrorist atrocity in Europe in a decade.
“This is the worst terrorist attack in Europe since the attacks in London in July of 2005,” former CIA deputy director Michael Morell told CBS News on Jan. 7. “We haven’t lost this many people since that attack.”
The killings in Paris are no doubt absolutely tragic and a sickening assault on free expression.
But what Morell said simply isn’t true. The worst terror attack in the past 10 years in Europe occurred on July 22, 2011. That’s when far-right radical Anders Breivik bombed several government buildings and shot up a summer camp in Norway.
The Islamists who attacked the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo killed 12 people, and the related grocery store shooter killed five people. At least 21 others sustained injuries. Breivik’s rampage killed 77 people and wounded 319, mostly teenagers.
The worst terrorist attack in Europe in the 21st century was the 2004 Madrid train bombings, when a radical Islamist cell murdered 191 people.
But Breivik’s stated motive was different. He hated Muslims, immigrants and multiculturalism. If we’re also starting from a point of comparison, it would be more accurate to say that the Charlie Hebdo killings and grocery store siege were the worst terrorist attacks in Europe since Anders Breivik.
And he’s not the only one with these sentiments. Europe is home to a plethora of far-right movements and organizations, many of which espouse strong fascist and racist ideologies.
The case of Anders Breivik is a curious one. Since he was a sole perpetrator, he’s often written off as a lone wolf—a terrorist who’s not part of a larger movement or organization.
But Breivik very much saw himself as part of a wider movement to rid Europe of multiculturalism and immigrants, although he reserved his greatest loathing for Muslims.
He was also narcissistic, highly intelligent and knew how to cover his tracks—a worst-case scenario for the security services.
After detonating an ammonium nitrate bomb in downtown Oslo—killing eight people—Breivik took a boat to rural Utøya island and killed 69 more. Most of his victims were youths camping on the island during a trip sponsored by the Workers’ Youth League, affiliated with the Norwegian Labour Party.
When police arrived, Breivik surrendered without a fight. He said his motivation was to bring attention to his 1,518-page manifesto, titled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence.
The document advocates for the violent destruction and deportation of European Muslims. He rails against multiculturalism, feminism and immigrants—calling each a danger to European culture.
In the manifesto, Breivik claims that patriarchy can save European society. He calls for European Christians to renew the Crusades and wage war on the Muslim world. He also writes glowingly of the Knights Templar and refers to himself as a “modern-day crusader.”
The document cites a wide range of influences, including the far-right populist Freedom Party of Austria, the Swiss People’s Party and the English Defense League. Breivik also praises genocidal Serbian paramilitary units and death squads active during the Yugoslav civil wars.
He extensively cites the prolific, far-right Norwegian blogger Fjordman. In his self-published book Defeating Eurabia, Fjordman writes that “Islam and all those who practice it must be totally and physically removed from the Western world.”
As the shooting was in progress, Fjordman expressed little sympathy for the victims. He wrote that they were a “gang of anti-Israeli, pro-Palestine youth-socialists.” He continued to criticize immigrants, multiculturalism and stated that a Muslim was almost surely behind the attacks.
After apprehending Breivik, police investigated connections between the blogger and the terrorist. Breivik quoted Fjordman 111 times in his manifesto. The police searched the blogger’s house and computer. The media then outed Fjordman as daycare worker Peder Are Nøstvold Jensen.
As the case unfolded, Jensen distanced himself from Breivik. The blogger called Breivik a “psychopath” and advocated giving him the death penalty. Jensen has continued writing and advocating for right-wing causes.
Breivik hasn’t stopped, either—even in prison.
In 2012, the newspaper Verdens Gang reported that Breivik wanted to create an pan-European organization for right-wing activists. He wanted to call it the “Conservative Revolutionary Movement.”
While in prison, Breivik wrote to German neo-Nazi Beate Zschäpe, and to the Swedish spree shooter Peter Mangs, who carried out attacks against dark-skinned Swedes and immigrants.
In November 2012, Polish authorities announced the arrest of Brunon Kwiecien, a lecturer at the Agricultural University of Cracow—an admitted Breivik admirer.
Kwiecien came to the authorities’ attention during an investigation of Breivik’s contacts in Poland. The Norwegian terrorist ordered some of his bomb-making ingredients online, and had the chemicals shipped from Poland.
Polish agents arrested Kwiecien for stockpiling firearms—illegally purchased in Belgium—and building improvised explosives for a planned attack on the Poland’s parliament. Kwiecien also allegedly wanted to assassinate Polish journalist Monika Olejnik and Warsaw mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz.
Prison guards have recently clamped down on Breivik’s activities, heavily vetting and screening his correspondence. But years after his killings, Breivik continues to receive frequent mail from admirers and supporters.
The Charlie Hebdo attack came when tensions between immigrants and the European far right were already high. On Christmas Day, someone in Sweden firebombed a mosque, injuring five. Two other mosques came under attack within a week.
On New Year’s Day, someone wrote “Go home Muslim shit” on the door of a mosque in Uppsala—after witnesses reported a man throwing a Molotov cocktail at the building. Many Swedes came out to show solidarity with the Muslim community.
In Germany, the Dresden-based group Pegida—Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West—staged protests around the country against asylum seekers and Muslim refugees, many whom fled for their lives from radical Islamist groups.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel—a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union—condemned the Pegida marches and voiced support for the Muslim community.
The Charlie Hebdo attacks have given new energy to far-right organizations and commentators, who hold it as proof that multiculturalism has failed, and that immigrants—especially Muslims—pose a grave danger to European culture and security.
These voices have downplayed the fact that the first officer to respond was French Muslim Ahmed Merabet, an eight-year police veteran who had just passed his detective exam.
The terrorists shot him in the groin as he tried to stop them, then executed him at point-blank range as he bled on the sidewalk.
Merabet’s brother, Malek, later gave a statement. “He was very proud of the name Ahmed Merabet, proud to represent the police and of defending the values of the Republic—liberty, equality, fraternity,” the brother said, holding back tears in his eyes.
Later when gunmen unloaded on a Kosher grocery store, Lassana Bathily—a Malian Muslim immigrant—hid several customers in a freezer before running for help. Several survivors hailed him as a hero.
But that hasn’t stopped a new string of attacks against Muslims in France. In recent days, there’s been firebomb attacks on several mosques, and a blast at a Kebab shop. Someone allegedly shot at a car belonging to a Muslim family.
Thankfully, no one has died in these retaliatory acts of violence. Merabet and Bathily rushed into action as extremists went on the warpath. Their example complicates simplistic narratives about a clash between East and West.
That narrative relies on a false dichotomy — one symbiotically shared by Al Qaeda and far right, racist groups — and exploited by both to their mutual advantage. Let’s not forget that.