December 2, 2016
Report warns that threat will continue even if Isis is defeated in Iraq and Syria
Isis is likely to carry out new terror attacks across Europe in the “near future” as jihadis consider car bombings, chemical weapons and other methods to maximise casualties, security services have warned.
A new report by Europol, the EU-wide law enforcement agency, found that the terrorist group was changing its modus operandi as militants are driven out of key strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
Britain is among the top targets for atrocities, with at least 12 attempted attacks foiled in the past three years, and the threat level could now be increasing with the return of defeated foreign fighters with weapons training and links to Isis commanders.
Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terror coordinator, said the danger will last for years as battles against Isis continue in the Middle East and North Africa.
“These people are trained to use explosives and firearms and they have been indoctrinated by the jihadist ideology,” he added.
“An effective response requires a comprehensive approach and long term commitment.”
Intelligence services estimate that several dozen jihadis under Isis’ direction are already present in Europe with the capability to commit terrorist attacks, but Europol warns of the additional risk of “lone wolf” terrorists who have no direct contact with the group.
While the deadliest attacks so far, in Paris on 13 November 2015, were directed by Isis and carried out by militants deployed from its Syrian territories, the Nice attack and a succession of terrorist murders in France, Belgium and Germany were committed by extremists with no external aid or training.
Europol’s report, by the European Counter Terrorism Centre, said the vast majority of attackers in Europe have been young men with a criminal past, who feel discriminated, humiliated and marginalised in society, and may have mental health issues.
Not all are strict Muslims and may have recently converted to the religion, or solely to Isis ideology, either on their own or through terrorist recruiters.
“Religion may thus not be the initial or primary driver of the radicalisation process, but merely offering a ‘window of opportunity’ to overcome personal issues,” analysts said.
The report raised concern that Syrian refugees may be targeted by recruiters as Isis seeks to gather support for its cause by “inflaming the migration crisis to polarise the EU population and turn sections of it against those seeking asylum”.
The group uses a network of recruiters as well as a sophisticated propaganda machine churning out videos, magazines, terror manuals and websites aimed at gathering supporters and inciting attacks.
Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, the Isis propaganda chief who was killed in a drone strike in August, released a video in May calling on anyone prevented from travelling to the so-called “caliphate” to wage jihad in their home countries.
“Make examples of the crusaders, day and night, scaring them and terrorising them, until every neighbour fears his neighbour,” he urged ahead of a fresh spate of attacks in Europe.
“Know that your targeting [of] those who are called ‘civilians’ is more beloved to us and more effective, as it is more harmful, painful, and a greater deterrent to them.”
Europol warned that potential targets are difficult to predict as all countries participating in the US-led coalition’s air strikes have been singled out in propaganda videos, with a growing preference for “soft targets” like public transport that have little security and provoke “maximum fear”.