Random attacks rooted in Middle Eastern conflict and religious divisions predate Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre (WTC) in New York and on Washington.
But that concerted attack on a symbol of Western capitalism and power set a benchmark. It also presaged a new pattern of attack on Western institutions and soft targets – tourism sites, urban hubs, anywhere that a message of hatred could be driven home to maximum effect.
Since then the pace of attacks has stepped up – though none has matched the scale of that audacious strike in the US – and the organisations driving the campaign have diversified. Western intelligence agencies, including Australia’s, have warned that disaffected Western Muslim citizens seduced by the extremist call to arms in the Middle East would eventually return home with weapons training and other skills that could be used to plot or commit random attacks of terror. Some of the most recent attacks in Europe have followed that pattern.
These are the principal events that have shaped the present state of high alert against imminent terrorism across Europe and the Western world. (We recognise that there have, of course, been infinitely more attacks in the Near and Middle East by and against Al-Qaeda, the self-proclaimed Islamic State group known as ISIS, and their affiliates, that have claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions of people.)
October 12, 2000: The USS Cole bombing in the Yemeni port of Aden was a precursor to the 9/11 attack that announced the intentions of Al-Qaeda, a shadowy group devoted to spreading Jihad – a supposedly righteous and holy war sanctioned by the Quran – to the West.
Al-Qaeda supporters trained in Sudan steered a boat laden with explosives against the US guided missile destroyer and detonated it, killing 17 US sailors and injuring 39.
An Al-Qaeda recruiting video released three months before the WTC attack featured the group’s leader, Osama Bin Laden, boasting about that attack and threatening more.
September 11, 2001: A team of 20 al-Qaeda extremists hijacked four long-haul passenger jets from east coast airports, planning to turn the fuel-laden craft into flying bombs with which they would attack the deeply symbolic twin towers of the WTC, the Pentagon (home of the US military high command) in Washington DC, and one other target, never clearly identified.
Three aircraft hit their targets, destroying the World Trade Centre’s towers 1 and 2, both of which collapsed within two hours of catching fire on impact, and damaging the Pentagon.
The fourth plummeted to the ground over Pennsylvania state, killing all aboard, after passengers tried to overpower the hijackers. It is believed the hijackers intended flying that aircraft into the presidential residence, the White House, also in Washington DC.
The “War on Terror” that ensued dragged the US and its allies into a futile attempt to quell Islamic states seen to be sponsoring terrorism from Iraq and Osama Bin Laden’s base, north-east Afghanistan.
March 11, 2004: An Islamist group affiliated to Al-Qaeda bombed four commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, killing 192 people and injuring nearly 2000. Spain rounded up and convicted 21 conspirators, most of them Moroccans.
September 1-3, 2004: A band of Islamic extremists took 1,100 people, including 770 children, hostage at a Russian school in Beslan, North Ossetia, demanding recognition of Chechnyan autonomy and withdrawal of Russian troops from that disputed – and traditionally Muslim – territory.
After negotiations broke down on the third day of a tense stand-off the extremists began killing their hostages.
The Russian military stormed the building, using heavy weapons including tanks and rockets to break through. In the ensuing slaughter 385 hostages were killed, 186 of them children, and much of the school was gutted by fire.
July 7, 2005: Suicide bombers, later identified as Al-Qaeda recruits, attacked three London Underground trains during the morning rush-hour. A fourth detonated his backpack bomb on a bus. There were 52 commuters killed and about 700 injured.
March 11-19, 2012: A disaffected Algerian petty criminal resident in France went on a shooting rampage across the south-west of France, shooting dead a policeman, three soldiers, and a rabbi and three students at a Jewish school before he was gunned down. He was regarded by law enforcement as a lone wolf, radicalised by Salafist Muslim extremists but not affiliated to any formal terror group.
January 7, 2015: Two Islamic brothers who had trained at terror camps in Yemen forced their way into the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had frequently run material disparaging Islamic extremism and adherence to its prophet Mohamed.
Twelve people including four cartoonists and the editor were gunned down.
While making their escape the men killed two policemen. They were tracked down to an industrial estate where, after a short siege, paramilitary forces stormed their hideout and killed them.
January 9, 2015: Amedy Coulibaly, the first attacker in Europe to profess clear allegiance to ISIS, killed four people and held hostages in a kosher supermarket in Paris. After his death a video was found linking him to the brothers who staged the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
November 13, 2015: Several teams of Islamic extremists, some of whom had infiltrated from Brussels, launched coordinated attacks across Paris, shooting diners and hostages at a theatre and detonating suicide bombs. The attacks claimed 127 lives and more than 100 people were seriously injured. French intelligence agencies said the attack was carried out by ISIS adherents.
Most of the attackers killed themselves but one suspect, French citizen Salah Abdeslam, escaped to Belgium where he remained in hiding until he was arrested four days ago.
Under interrogation over the weekend, when Abdeslam had told Belgian security forces many other cells of extremists survived, the Belgian Interior Minister, Mr Jan Jambon, said Belgium expected that a revenge attack might be launched and placed the country on high alert.
It took only 24 hours for those fears to be realised. – Compiled by The Newsroom Team from news reports, published records and web sources.