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Trends in terrorism: What’s on the horizon in 2022? (Colin P. Clarke)

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National Security Program

With the world still reeling from the global COVID-19 pandemic, nearly two years in the making, few know what to expect terrorism trends to look like heading into 2022. However, certain trends from previous years seem likely to continue and may grow more severe. The terrorist threat is arguably more diverse than at any point in recent memory, with the threat posed by far-right extremists and jihadists joined by a growing roster of political and socio-cultural motivations, including ‘technophobia’ or neo-Luddite terrorism, violent anarchists, and extreme misogynists, especially those following the so-called ‘Incel’ ideology. ‘Salad bar’ ideologies, those that combine a sampling of different ideologies, sometimes diametrically opposed to one another, are also on the rise and are best exemplified by neo-Nazis growing fetishization of jihadist ideology. And while the most lethal terrorist threats are likely to remain jihadism and far-right extremism, it is important to think about how recent developments could shape patterns of terrorism over the coming year.

The recently discovered Omicron variant of the coronavirus is already forcing vaccine mandates and new waves of lockdowns in countries worldwide, fueling violent protests from anti-vaxxers and anti-government extremists, respectively. In Italy, anti-vaxxers have linked up with far-right extremists, a combustible mix likely playing out in many other countries, not just in Europe but also in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Even good news related to the pandemic is likely to be a double-edged sword. If significant progress can be made against the virus in 2022, lifting restrictions could provide extremists with a range of new potential targets, especially soft targets where crowds may begin to congregate, including sporting events, concert venues, and farmers’ markets.

Several geopolitical hotspots will inform forecasts about terrorism trends in 2022. Iran nuclear deal is on the verge of collapse, and if Tehran continues to move ahead with enriching uranium, moving to create bomb-grade nuclear fuel in a matter of weeks. That development alone could lead to a broader conflagration, with Israel unlikely to sit by idly as Iran moves closer to developing the ingredients for a nuclear weapon. Israeli strikes against Iran have the potential for an Iranian response through its global network of terrorist proxies, like Lebanese Hezbollah, a group that has attacked Israeli targets on multiple continents over the years.

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