Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who killed 22 people at a Manchester pop concert this week, started life advantageously enough: to parents who had fled Gadhafi’s Libya for a new life in Britain. But actually it was that kind of dislocation that would send him off kilter two decades later, says Olivier Roy, one of France’s top experts on Islamic terrorism.
“An estimated 60 percent of those who espouse violent jihadism in Europe are second-generation Muslims who have lost their connection with their country of origin and have failed to integrate into Western societies,” Roy says.
They are subject to a “process of deculturation” that leaves them ignorant of and detached from both the European society and the one of their origins. The result, Roy argues, is a dangerous “identity vacuum” in which “violent extremism thrives.”
Born in Britain in 1994, Abedi would later be drawn to violent fundamentalism after a life in limbo. On the one hand, he tried to reconnect with Libya, where he traveled shortly before this week’s attack, while on the other, he strove to emulate the same British young people he killed.
“Unlike second generations like Abedi’s, third generations are normally better integrated in the West and don’t account for more than 15 percent of homegrown jihadis,” Roy says. “Converts, who also have an approach to Islam decontextualized from any culture, account for about 25 percent of those who fall prey to violent fundamentalism.”
With little if any understanding of religion or Islamic culture, young people like Abedi turn to terrorism out of a “suicidal instinct” and “a fascination for death,” Roy says. This key element is exemplified by the jihadi slogan first coined by Osama bin Laden: "We love death like you love life.”
“The large majority of Al-Qaida and Islamic State jihadis, including the Manchester attacker Abedi, commit suicide attacks not because it makes sense strategically from a military perspective or because it’s consistent with the Salafi creed,” Roy says. “These attacks don’t weaken the enemy significantly, and Islam condemns self-immolation as interference with God’s will. These kids seek death as an end-goal in itself.”