The European Union (EU) police agency Europol warned early this month that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group is likely to launch more attacks in Europe, noting that several dozen militants are already in place and more are possibly arriving as IS continues to face setbacks in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.
In a report on the threat that IS poses to the EU, Europol disclosed that the most probable forms of attack would be those used in recent years – ranging rom the mass shootings and suicide bombings that were seen in Paris and Brussels to stabbings and other assaults carried out by ‘lone wolfs,’ effectively radicals who are acting alone. In the report, Europol officials warn that car bombs and kidnappings, which are common in Syria, could emerge as tactics in Europe. It notes however that protected sites, such as power grids and nuclear power stations, were not seen as being top targets. The agency went on to say that essentially the entire EU is under threat as almost all of its governments back the US-led coalition in Syria, warning that IS was likely to infiltrate Syrian refugee communities in Europe in an attempt to inflame hostility to immigrants that has shaken many EU governments.
In a statement, Europol disclosed “if IS is defeated or severely weakened in Syria/Iraq by the coalition forces, there may be an increased rate in the return of foreign fighters and their families from the region to the EU or to other conflict areas.” It went on to say that IS was also likely to start planning attacks and sending militants to Europe from Libya and that other groups, including al-Qaeda and its affiliates, also continue to pose a threat to the European continent.
While Europol Director Rob Wainwrigth has disclosed hat EU states have increased their security cooperation in the wake of IS attacks in the last couple of years, which in turn has allowed for more plots to be thwarted, he noted that “nevertheless…Today’s report shows that the threat is still high and includes diverse components which can b only tackled by even better collaboration.”
Last year, a record number of terrorist attacks were planned, foiled or carried out within European Union (EU) countries, with the United Kingdom reporting the highest number of attacks.
EU law enforcement agency Europol has reported that in 2015, there were 211 attack, the highest since records began in 2006. The failed, foiled and completed terrorist attacks occurred in six EU member states: Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and the UK. Of these countries, the UK had the highest number of attacks, 103 in total, in which most are believed to have been in Northern Ireland.
France had the highest number of planned, foiled or completed attacks – 72 – followed by Spain with 25. A spokeswoman for Europol has disclosed that it did not have a breakdown of the number of terror attacks that had actually been carried out in the EU.
According to the agency’s EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, there were 1,000 arrests for terrorist-related offences last year, in which 424 occurred in France. Europol has further reported that more than half of arrests that occurred in the EU – 687 – were “for jihadist terrorism,” adding that of these arrests, 94% were later found guilty in court. In addition to the jihadist terrorist arrests, there were 67 arrests for left-wing terror; 11 for right-wing terror; and 168 separatist. A further 144 arrests were unspecified. Europol has reported that 151 people died and that more than 360 were injured in terrorist incidents that occurred last year.
In its report, Europol states that “as in previous years, the attacks specifically classified as separatist terrorism accounted for the largest proportion, followed by jihadist attacks.” Europol also noted that the report outlines two “worrying developments,” stating that “the overall threat is reinforced by the substantial numbers of returned foreign terrorist fighters that many member states now have on their soil, and the significant rise in nationalist (xenophobic), racist and anti-Semitic sentiments across the EU, each resulting in acts of right-wing extremism.” While Europol has indicated that there was “no concrete evidence to date that terrorist travellers systematically use the flow of refugees to enter Europe unnoticed,” it noted that two of the men who carried out the 13 November terror attacks in Paris France, which killed 130 people, had entered the EU through Greece as part of the influx of refugees from Syria.
The report also highlighted that nuclear power plants and nuclear weapon facilities in the EU “remain potential targets for terrorists,” as does “the deliberate contamination of water supplies,” adding “explosive remnants of war and illicit trafficking in explosives from former conflict areas present a significant threat to the EU.” The report goes on to state that “chemical facilities or companies, especially these perceived as having a low profile until recently, can become a vulnerable target,” adding, “terrorists prefer the use of conventional firearms and explosives because of their availability, simplicity and effectiveness. Europol also described cyber terrorism as “high potential but currently low probability.”
International crime-fighting agencies Interpol and Europol reported on Tuesday that people smugglers have made over US $5 billion from the wave of migration into southern Europe last year.
A report released by the two agencies disclosed that nine out of ten migrants and refugees who entered the European Union (EU) in 2015 relied on “facilitation services,” which comprised of mainly loose networks of criminals along the routes, noting that the proportion was likely to be even higher this year. The report further indicated that about 1 million migrants entered the EU in 2015, adding that most paid between 3,000 – 6,000 euros (US $3,400 – $6,800), so the average turnover was likely to be between US $5 billion and US $6 billion. According to the report, to launcher the money and integrate it into the legitimate economy, couriers carried large amounts of cash over borders while smugglers ran their proceeds through car dealerships, grocery stores, restaurants or transport companies. Furthermore, while the main organizers came from the same countries as the migrants, they often had EU residence permits or passports. The report states that “the basic structure of migrant smuggling networks includes leaders who coordinate activities along a given route, organizers who manage activities locally through personal contacts, and opportunistic low-level facilitators who mostly assist organizers and may assist in recruitment activities.” The report added that corrupt officials may let vehicles through border checks or release ships for bribes, as there was so much money in the trafficking trade. About 250 smuggling “hotspots,” often at railway stations, airports or coach stations, have been identified along the routes, in which of these 170 were inside the EU while 80 were located outside. The reports authors however found no evidence of fighting between criminal groups, noting however that larger criminal networks slowly took over smaller opportunistic ones, effectively leading to an oligopoly. Last year, the vast majority of migrants opted to take risky boat trips across the Mediterranean from Turkey or Libya, and then travelling on by road. The report states that around 800,000 were still in Libya waiting to travel to the EU, noting however that increasing border controls effectively mean that air travel is likely to become more attractive, with fraudulent documents rented out to migrants and then taken back by an accompanying facilitator. The report also indicates that migrant smuggling routes could be used to smuggle drugs or guns, adding that there is a growing concern that radicalized foreign fighters could also use these routes in order to enter the EU. The report however adds that there currently is no concrete data yet to suggest that militant groups consistently relied on or cooperated with organized crime groups.