Europol report highlights shifting nature of terror threat

Jihadist attacks in Europe more than doubled in 2017 although they killed fewer people.
Friday 22/06/2018
Commuters walk past a London police officer standing on London Bridge after it was reopened following an attack that left seven people dead and dozens injured in London, on June 5, 2017. (Reuters)
Commuters walk past a London police officer standing on London Bridge after it was reopened following an attack that left seven people dead and dozens injured in London, on June 5, 2017. (Reuters)

LONDON - Jihadist attacks in Europe more than doubled in 2017, Europe’s police agency Europol said, although they killed fewer people, demonstrating the shifting nature of the jihadist threat.

In its annual report, Europol said 33 terror attacks were reported across Europe, ten of which killed a total of 62 people. This compares with 13 reported attacks in 2016, ten of which led to a combined 135 fatalities.

The report stated there were 205 foiled, failed and completed terrorist attacks reported by nine EU members in 2017. The United Kingdom experienced the highest number of attacks (107), followed by France (54) and Spain (16). There were 142 foiled, failed or completed attacks in 2016; 193 in 2015 and 226 in 2014.

“The numbers in this report are not just statistics. We must never forget that behind every number, there is 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 is essential to have optimal information exchange and accurate data,” said Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle.

The report said the threat from the Islamic State (ISIS) “remains acute,” despite the group’s series of defeats in the Middle East. The report noted an increased risk of low-tech attacks.

“The increase in the number of jihadist terrorist attacks in 2017 run parallel to a decrease in sophistication in their preparation and execution,” Europol’s “Terrorism Situation and Trend Report” stated.

Incidents included the attack on London’s Westminster Bridge on March 22, 2017, and a similar attack on London Bridge two months later. In both incidents, attackers drove vehicles into pedestrians and attacked bystanders with knives.

The London Bridge attack resulted in the death of 13 people and the wounding of 98 others.

The report confirmed that recent attacks by jihadists followed three patterns: indiscriminate killings such as the London Bridge attack; attacks on symbols of Western lifestyle such as the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017; and attacks on symbols of authority, such as attacks in Paris targeting police and soldiers.

“New attacks in the EU by jihadist terrorists following one of these patterns or a combination thereof are highly likely,” the report warned.

The report played down the threat posed by jihadists from abroad.

“Jihadist attacks are committed primarily by home-grown terrorists, radicalised in their country of residence without having travelled to join a terrorist group abroad,” said the report. “This group of home-grown actors is highly diverse, consisting of individuals who have been born in the European Union or have lived in the European Union most of their lives, may have been known to the police but not for terrorist activities and often do not have direct links to ISIS or any other jihadist organisation.”

The report called for much more to be done to fight jihadist propaganda online, given the crucial role that tool plays in radicalisation.

“Online propaganda and networking via social media are still essential to terrorist attempts to reach out to EU audiences for recruitment, radicalisation and fundraising. As ISIS’s capacities to produce new propaganda material are severely affected by losses of both operatives and infrastructure, the group continues to spread its message to wide audiences, by increasingly redistributing older material by new means,” the report added.