The Israel-Hamas War and Resurgent Jihadist Threats to Europe and the United States

Moreover, a series of incidents across North America and Europe have been linked closely to the Oct. 7 attack. In Germany, on Oct. 18, two individuals allegedly threw burning bottles filled with liquid at a synagogue in what police are calling an attempted arson. Fire also damaged the Jewish section of a cemetery in Vienna, Austria. A similar incident took place in Montreal, Canada, where local police reported a series of arson attempts outside a Jewish charity’s offices and a nearby community center on Nov. 9. Police also reported in January that a triple stabbing the month before in the Canadian city of Saguenay, Quebec, was being investigated as having a possible link to terrorism. The alleged perpetrator, Ahmed May, posted praise for Hamas on his Facebook profile the day before the stabbing. His lawyer, though, told Global News that the incident resulted from an argument among colleagues at the burger restaurant where he worked and was due to a “deteriorating work climate over several months.”


Al-Qaeda Adapting the Attack to Its Narrative

Al-Qaeda quickly attempted to use the Oct. 7 attack to inspire members of its regional branches and lone actors to take action in Europe and North America. A message released online by al-Qaeda General Command in November called for attacks against U.S. and Israeli interests around the world. “O sons of the Ummah from the Muslim communities amongst the arrogant West: Your opportunity today to support your brothers is great,” the statement read. “So, you must kill and abuse the Zionists, but do not consult anyone in killing them or destroying their property.”


Al-Qaeda-affiliated media sources have reacted to actions taken in the West since October as well, including the arson attacks in Montreal. Wolves of Manhattan, an Arabic language pro-al-Qaeda magazine targeted at readers in the West, praised “the heroic operations in the Canadian city of Montreal.”

Lone-actor attacks inspired by propaganda can occur with little or no detectable warning. Historically, directed attacks—like the shooting at Air Base Pensacola in Florida or the Charlie Hebdo shooting in France—have been the most deadly, but attacks by inspired sympathizers are more difficult for security services and law enforcement to predict and prevent. As of yet, al-Qaeda’s calls for action have not resulted in a plot or an attack tied directly or indirectly to the organization.

The Islamic State’s Aggressive Approach

The Islamic State, its Afghanistan-Pakistan branch, and pro-Islamic State propagandists have taken a different position on the Israel-Hamas war. These actors have taken to directly criticizing Hamas and have been much more bellicose in threatening and calling for violence against Jewish and Western interests around the world. The Islamic State has already yielded greater success than al-Qaeda in its campaign to incite violence in Europe and the West.

The Islamic State views Hamas as apostates and tools of Shiite Iran. Notably, statements and media from pro-Islamic State sources cast Hamas as an impediment to rule by Islamic law and have even gone so far as to categorize them as the “Jews of Jihad,” according to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

The Islamic State has sought to exploit hostile sentiments among Muslims over the bombardment and invasion of Gaza. In an editorial featured in its weekly al-Naba newsletter, “Practical Steps to Fight the Jews,” it called for “a serious and rapid field effort to target the Jewish presence in the entire world,” specifically urging attacks on “Jewish neighborhoods, in America and Europe, which constitute the backbone of the Jewish economy and the hotbeds of control in Western Crusader decision-making circles supporting the Jewish statelet.” Additionally, the article directs Islamic State followers “to target and attack Jewish and Crusader embassies everywhere.”


Since the mid-2010s, the Islamic State has out-competed al-Qaeda in inspiring and mobilizing its followers to violence and has posed a comparatively greater threat to European security. The Islamic State leveraged the establishment of its caliphate in Iraq and Syria and the subsequent U.S.-led military intervention to build momentum and incite its expanded supporter base to violence in the West. This cut deeply into al-Qaeda’s Western market share and took the wind out of its sails, with the organization struggling to contend with the Islamic State’s more bellicose and less restrained jihadist culture.

Smith and Webber conclude:

The invasion of Gaza is proving to be a potent motivator for fueling hostile sentiments toward not just Israel but the West as well. Domestic and national security agencies are facing a diverse set of threat actors employing a range of tactics toward diverse targets—but typically directed at Israeli interests, Jewish institutions, and what the Islamic State views as symbols of Western complicity in the fighting.

Ideological and sectarian differences between Hamas, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State continue to pervade international jihadist networks’ responses, but all of the major franchises of these organizations are seeking to draw inspiration from the well of the conflict. Given how the war looks set to drag on for quite some time, the flow of incidents, calls for incitement, and potential attacks by these organizations are likely to continue.