2016 was marked by a series of terror attacks around Europe as ISIL sought to strike back at the nations fighting it in Syria and Iraq.
France’s suffering continues
A huge crowd turned out on the 16th of July on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice to mourn the loss of life in yet another terrorist attack on French soil. Once again targeted by ISIL extremists the French felt compelled to show their sorrow for the victims and their families, and anger and determination not to be cowed by the terrorists.
Two days previously on the 14th July national holiday a lorry driven by a radicalised French resident from Tunisia had driven into a crowd of holidaymakers.
Eighty-six people from 19 different countries died in the carnage, including 15 children. The oldest victim was a 92-year-old Italian, the youngest a local girl aged two.
The month before France had again been the target, because of its participation in the war on radical Islam in Syria and Iraq. Police officers Jean-Baptiste Savaing and Jessica Schneider were murdered in their home by an attacker claiming allegiance to ISIL.
In August an even more shocking attack took place when priest Jacques Hamel, 85, had his throat cut in front of his congregation during mass in his church in Saint Etienne-du-Rouvray. ISIL claimed responsibility, and the police shot the two attackers dead.
ISIL also struck hard at Belgium with twin attacks on March 22. At 7h 58 in the morning two bombs exploded in the departure hall of Zaventem international airport in Brussels..
An hour later, another explosion ripped through a subway train at Maelbeek in the Belgian capital’s European district. In all 32 people were killed along with three terrorists.
The airport suicide bombers were rapidly identified thanks to CCTV footage, but one got cold feet or his device failed.
He abandoned his bomb and quietly left the airport. He would only be identified later upon his arrest on April 8th, when he admitted he was Mohamed Abrini, one of the suspected masterminds behind the 2015 Paris attacks.
Turkey on the frontline
Turkey has also suffered from a wave of attacks. Ankara was hit by two car bombs in February, killing 62 in the city’s administrative district. The bombs were claimed by a PKK Kurdish terrorist offshoot.
Istanbul did not escape the bloodshed. In March a suicide bomber attacked a popular pedestrian precinct, killing five people.
In June a car bomb was used, exploding as a police bus passed by in Vezneciler in Istanbul’s tourist heart, killing 11 people.
In June it was the turn of the Ataturk international airport to be attacked. Three suicide bombers opened fire in the entrance hall before blowing themselves up. The police managed to shoot two of them before they detonated their devices, but were not able to stop the massacre, attributed to ISIL. Forty-five people died.
And on December 10 with less than a minute’s interval, two bombs exploded near the Besiktas football stadium in Istanbul two hours after a match.
At least 44 people were killed, including 37 police officers. The bombs were claimed by a Kurdish terrorist group, which praised its two suicide bombers in a communique.
Germany gets dragged in
Germans will remember July 2016 for a long time. On the 18th a young Afghan refugee injured four tourists from Hong Kong on a train with an axe before injuring another person. He was shot dead by police. It was the first attack in Germany claimed by ISIL.
A few days later in Ansbach a Syrian who had had his asylum request turned down blew himself up outside a music festival to which he had been refused entry. Twelve people were injured.
Then on December 19th a truck careened through a packed Christmas market killing 12 people and injuring 48 – 18 of them seriously.
The method of the attack, using a truck to kill and maim pedestrians, was eerily similar to the Nice tragedy in July, as was the Tunisian nationality of the suspect.
In the morning light the sheer horror of the attack was laid bare. Stalls had been sent flying as locals as tourists and locals lingered around them, enjoying the festive season.
Grief was mixed with anger and questions many of which remain unanswered as forensic officers pieced together clues from the scene.
There was also a sense of defiance – “we are not even afraid” said one message left at the scene.
But 2016 was also notable for the capture in Belgium of Salah Abdeslam in March. He was accused of taking part in the 2015 Paris attacks. He was extradited the following month to face trial in France.
In the worst of the year’s attacks a total of 130 people had died in the streets of central Paris and the Bataclan concert venue, which has only just reopened following a memorial concert on November 13th.