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.”
In the wake of a train stabbing, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has warned that Germans should be prepared for further attacks carried out by small groups and radicalized “lone wolves.”
On 18 July, five people were wounded, two critically, by a 17-year-old who went on the rampage on a train in Wurzburg in the southern state of Bavaria. According to witnesses, the attacker, who has been named as Muhammad Riyadh, screamed “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) three times. Riyadh, who arrived in Germany last year as an unaccompanied migrant, was shot dead holding an axe and a knife. A video has since emerged, in which he states that he was a soldier of the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. Through its news agency IS has claimed that the teenager was a follower. Authorities found a hand-painted IS flag in his room.
Riyadh had only just moved to a foster family in Wurzburg from a refugee centre at Ochsenfurt, which is located south of Frankfurt. He was described as a quiet boy who had had a work placement in a bakery. He apparently did not display any radical behaviour. Questions however have been raised about whether he was really from Afghanistan, with reports emerging that a Pakistani document was found in his room. It is common knowledge that Afghan refugees are more likely to be given asylum in Germany than irregular migrants from Pakistan, so there have been many cases of migrants pretending to come from Afghanistan. Furthermore, several clues to his origin have also emerged from the video that he filmed before he carried out the attack on the region al train near his home. His use of the Pashto language suggests that he spent at least some time in Pakistan, because of his choice of words. When speaking of Syria, Riyadh chose to use the word Sham, a word that is commonly used in Pakistan. In Afghanistan, Pashto speakers would say Shuria. Furthermore, his choice of term for army is also key as he states, Fauj, which is common in Pakistan, rather than Aurdu, which is the word that is used in Afghanistan.
Interior Minister de Maiziere has since reported that the teenager had been “incited” by IS propaganda, adding however that there was no evidence that he was following the militant group’s orders. Furthermore, Riyadh was unknown to German intelligence agencies and no concrete link has yet been established with IS. The minister has warned that while the government is doing all it can in order to prevent such attacks, there could be no guarantee. The minister described Monday night’s attack as “perhaps half-way between running amok and terror,” adding that “in Germany, we must also expect attacks by small groups or radicalized ‘lone-wolf’ attackers.”
The attack has raised questions about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy. The attack is likely to deepen worries about so-called “lone wolf” attacks across Europe and could put political pressure on Merkel, who over the past year has welcomed hundreds of thousands of migrants to Germany. Unlike neighbouring France and Belgium, Germany in recent years has not been the victim of a major attack by Islamist militants, however security officials have disclosed that they have thwarted a large number of plots.
On 13 May, Germany’s lower house of parliament approved a draft law effectively declaring Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia as safe countries. The move was done in a bid to ease deportation of failed asylum seekers from those North African states.
The law passed easily in the Bundestag lower house, where Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their left-leaning Social Democrat coalition partners hold a majority. Only three lawmakers abstained from the vote while 424 voted for bill and 143 voted against it. The government commissioner for human rights, Baerbel Kofler, voted against the bill, stating that there were “proven and documented human rights violations” in those three countries. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has defended the law, stating that only 0.7 percent of asylum applicants from the three North African countries were granted refugees status in the first three months of this year.
The bill, which has been criticized by human rights groups as well as the opposition Greens and hard left Die Linke, still needs to be receive final approval from parliament’s upper house. If passed, the law will effectively allow German authorities to speed up the processing of asylum applicants from those countries and deport them if they are rejected.
In January, the German government tightened asylum rules in a bid to stem an influx of migrants, which last year saw more than one million people entering the country. Most of those who entered Germany in 2015 were asylum seekers fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
Over the past several years, Greece has been increasingly strained by the tens of thousands of migrants reaching its shores. Perhaps more than ever before, Greece could potentially be close to the breaking point. Starting in Sweden and Denmark, governments across Europe have imposed new border restrictions, inadvertently creating a chain-reaction. In mid and late-January, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia announced new restrictions on migrants. Several governments, including Austria, are developing plans to cap the total number of migrants. Almost all the countries recently imposing border restrictions are focusing on original country of origin. The asylum process will increasingly prioritize migrants from conflict areas, particularly Syria. Over this past fall and winter, Macedonia has repeatedly closed important crossings at the Greek border with no warning. One closure on 21 January, for example, resulted in a backlog that took multiple days to clear. When such closures occur, many migrants are left without adequate food or shelter, creating a stressful situation that often results in violence.
The Wall Street Journal has quoted a confidential Bank of Greece report, which estimates the Greek Government could spend 600 million Euros in 2016 assisting migrants. The migrant-related costs could potentially reach 0.3% of Greece’s Gross Domestic Product. The operation of migrant reception centres could constitute 35% of the total cost, followed by search and rescue efforts 26%. Since the beginning of January, the UNHCR has reported that over 74,000 migrants have reached Greece alone. Over the course of 2015, over 821,000 migrants reached Greece, the vast majority doing so in small boats. Greek officials and international observers are expressing concerns that Greece will have to support tens of thousands more migrants in 2016 if border restrictions further north remain in effect. The European Agenda on Migration had been intended to ease the migrant-related pressures faced by the Italian and Greek governments. However, the European Commission announced on 10 February that only 218 migrants had been relocated from Greece. Only 15 European Member-States agreed to participate, providing a total of 1081 places (far below the 66,400 target).
As spring starts to approach, the total number of migrants attempting to reach Europe is anticipated to increase once again. As the European Union struggles to develop a coordinated approach, Greece will remain at the forefront of the migration crisis. Even with European Union and NATO support, it may well be unable to sustain tens of thousands more migrants, especially if many of them cannot travel further into Europe.
German media reports indicated on Friday that German security services are searching for a man who is wanted in connection with last month’s terror attacks in Paris, France.
According to sources, the 42-year-old man, who has been only named as Huseyin D, is believed to have spent time with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged organizer of the attacks. German newspaper Der Spiegel, which carried a photo alleged to be of Huseyin D with Abdelhamid Abaaoud, has indicated that the suspect is believed to be in Turkey. Huseyin D is reportedly from Dinslaken, in northwestern Germany, and was part of a group that had travelled to Syria. Abaaoud was killed in a gun battle with police just days after the attacks, which were claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. The 13 November Paris attacks killed 130 people and prompted a Europe-wide security alert.
Meanwhile in another development, German prosecutors disclosed that they raided the flat of a man suspected of possibly helping plan an attack on last month’s Germany-Netherlands football match. The Hannover stadium was evacuated just under two hours before kick-off. At the time, police disclosed that the decision to evacuate was made after a “concrete security threat.”
While German police gave no details of Thursday’s raid, and no arrests were made, De Spiegel has reported that the suspected 19-year-old student believed to have made a short video at the stadium in which he says “pray for Raqqa” and the Islamic State group’s name.
Two men linked to the Paris attacks – Salah Abdeslam and Mohammed Abrini – remain on the run and investigations have been launched in several European states. Furthermore, Belgian prosecutors are also seeking two other men thought to have helped Abdeslam travel to Hungary in September.