Future of terrorism outlined in new study

future of terrorism
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A new study has drawn on analysis of existing terrorism data to project scenarios modelling the future of terrorism in 2040.

The ‘Five terrorist dystopias’ report, published in the International Journal of Intelligence, Security and Public Affairs by University of Barcelona Professor Mario Toboso Buezo and Universidad Pablo de Olavide Professor Manuel Ricardo Torres Soriano, is based on the premise that the world has experienced a number of distinct ‘outbreaks’ of terrorism since the late 19th century; with ‘nihilist-anarchist’ terrorism prevailing between the 1800s and the beginning of World War One, followed by anticolonialism until the 1960s, ‘extreme left’ terrorism until the 1990s, followed by the rise of religious terrorism, which is still the predominant cause.

The report aims to predict the future of terrorism by analysing previous outbreaks; and outlines scenarios based on what its authors identified as the five prevailing trends affecting society:

  • Climate change;
  • Advances in biomedical technology;
  • Continuous expansion of cities and urban areas;
  • The emergence and propagation of new ideologies; and
  • Widespread automation and digitisation leading to structural unemployment.

Torres Soriano, who is a member of the Advisory Group on Terrorist Propaganda at Europol’s European Counterterrorism Centre, said: “Throughout the five scenarios developed in this investigation one can clearly perceive the possible emergence of new causes of dissatisfaction, old and new ideologies that will [legitimise] the action of terrorism, new tools to make possible the existence of organisations that will operate clandestinely and political structures that will make more attractive these kind of radical tactics.”

The report identified technophobia as the most probable cause of terrorism in the future. Torres Soriano said: “Technophobia’s transversal nature makes it possible for it to be a great mobilising force in the five raised scenarios, being potentially adopted by all and every class from the future societies regardless of ethnicity, beliefs, political culture or material development level…The current terrorist groups and the upcoming ones will adapt to their respective agendas, potentially having new priorities such as the total rejection of the technological society, and targeting against whatever the objective and collective they think should be erased. This will make it possible for new synergies which are unthinkable today to appear, such as jihadists, anarchists, anti-capitalists, extreme Christians, animalists, etc; all of them alienated in their blind fight against an unclear enemy.”


  1. I congratulate both professors Torres Soriano and Toboso Buezo for their interesting and provocative study about the future of terrorism. However, their study, like other studies on terrorism, assumes that there is a consensus about what terrorism is, which is a substantive assumption about such a highly contestable concept. They do not even attempt to define the term “terrorism.” Also, they assume that terrorism is practiced by nonstate actors, despite the fact that many states engage in practices that can be justifiably defined as terrorism. Since their last point that might lead to terrorism in 2040 is the “Widespread automation and digitization leading to structural unemployment” and such a practice is likely to be used by state rather than nonstate actors, it is crucial to offer a broad definition of terrorism that includes both state and nonstate actors. To argue or assume that terrorism can only be practiced by nonstate actors is just an unwarranted assumption in favor of states, which historically have deliberately killed or seriously harmed more innocent noncombatants than nonstate actors have done.


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