Home News Terrorist threat remains high in European Union despite decline of IS in Iraq and Syria

Terrorist threat remains high in European Union despite decline of IS in Iraq and Syria

by Brian Sims

Europol’s 2018 EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report provides a concise overview of the nature of the terrorist threat the European Union (EU) faced in 2017. Last year, 68 innocent victims lost their lives as a result of terrorist attacks in the EU – reason enough for Europol not to reduce its efforts in combating terrorism in all its forms. Even though the number of casualties decreased in 2017, the number of attacks on European soil did not. The number of Jihadist-inspired attacks more than doubled in number.

“The numbers in this report are not just statistics,” said Europol’s executive director Catherine De Bolle. “We must never forget that, behind every number, there’s an innocent victim. It therefore goes without saying that supporting Member States to combat terrorism will remain a top priority for Europol. To fight terrorism, it’s essential to have optimal information exchange and accurate data.”

Nine EU Member States reported a total of 205 foiled, failed and completed terrorist attacks in 2017 (2016: 142). This represents a 45% increase compared to 2016 and a shift from a downward trend that started in 2014.

These attacks killed 68 victims and left 844 injured. Nearly all casualties (62) were the result of Jihadist terrorist attacks. The number of Jihadist terrorist attacks grew from 13 in 2016 to 33 last year.

Overall, ethno-nationalist and separatist attacks accounted for the largest proportion (137) of attacks. More than half of these (88, in fact) were security-related incidents in Northern Ireland. The number of attacks carried out by left-wing and anarchist terrorist groups and individuals decreased slightly in 2017 (24). Five foiled, failed or completed terrorist attacks (2016: 1) attributed to right-wing extremists were reported for 2017, in turn leading to the arrest of 20 suspects (2016: 12).

975 individuals were arrested in the EU for terrorism-related offences (2016: 1 002). Most of these arrests were related to Jihadist terrorism, for suspicion of participating in activities of a terrorist group, planning and preparing attacks and facilitation activities such as dissemination of propaganda, recruitment and financing of terrorism.

Continued threat

“Terrorism will continue to be a threat for the world, Europe, our citizens, our security and our way of life for the foreseeable future,” added Dimitris Avramopoulos, European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship. “Last year, while Jihadist-inspired attacks increased, so did our preventive actions with at least 11 attacks foiled.  This is the strongest testament to the necessity of working together to defeat terrorism. Europol’s Annual Report leaves no doubt that the problem affects all of us equally. We can only address it with collective action, unity of purpose and, above all, trust. A genuine and effective Security Union in Europe is the surest way to tighten the screws on terrorists until they no longer have space to commit their atrocities.”

Julian King, European commissioner for the Security Union, added: “As this latest EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report shows, Europe continues to be a target for terrorism. We need to keep our collective eye on the ball and strengthen our efforts at the EU level to deny terrorists the means they need to carry out attacks including arms, explosives and funding. We must work on evolving areas such as CBRN threats and continue to tackle radicalisation and all types of violent extremism.”

More details and context can be found in the report itself which duly highlights some of the main trends. For example, recent attacks by Jihadist terrorists have followed three trends: the preference for attacking people, rather than other targets, to provoke an emotional response from the general public (Paris in May this year and Barcelona back in August 2017), attacks on symbols of authority (Liège, May 2018 and Trèbes, March 2018) and attacks on symbols of Western lifestyle (Manchester last May).

New attacks in the EU by Jihadist terrorists following one of these patterns, or a combination thereof, are very likely.

Less sophisticated preparation

Along with the increase in Jihadist attacks, their preparation and execution have become less sophisticated. Jihadist terrorists are often found to be lone actors, either preparing themselves alone or facilitated by friends and relatives. However, online propaganda and networking via social media are still essential means by which to recruit, radicalise and raise money. The often rudimentary knowledge of Islam makes potential attackers vulnerable to influence and manipulation.

Recent Jihadist attacks were committed primarily by home-grown terrorists, radicalised without having travelled to join a terrorist group abroad. Among the highly diverse range of attackers, some were known to police, but not for terrorist activities, while most had no direct links to any Jihadist organisation.

The degradation of the so-called Islamic State’s (IS) organisational structures doesn’t imply a reduction of the threat posed by Jihadist terrorism. Terrorist activities in the EU ordered, guided or inspired by IS, Al-Qaeda or other Jihadist organisations remain a very real possibility.

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