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.”
On 16 June, a Belgian court cleared the extradition to France of two suspects who are currently under investigation in connection with Islamist militant attacks that occurred in Paris last November.
A statement released by the Belgian government disclosed that a Brussels appeals court “declared enforceable” European arrest warrants issued by France for Moahmed Amri and Ali Oulkadi. The prime surviving suspect of the 13 November Paris attacks, which killed 130 people, is Salah Abdeslam, a French citizen who was born and raised in Belgium. He was captured in Brussels on 18 March, after a four-month manhunt, and was handed over to French authorities on 27 April. In May, France sought the extradition of Amri. According to investigators, Amri drove to Paris shortly after the attacks to fetch Abdeslam and bring him to Belgium. Oulkadi, a Frenchman who lived in Brussels, has ben accused of driving Abdeslam on 14 November.
The Paris bomb and shooting attacks were claimed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, as were the 22 March bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station, which killed 32 people.
A court in Belgium has approved the extradition to France of Mohamed Abrini, a key suspect in both the Paris and Brussels attacks. Prosecutors however have disclosed that he may not be handed over for some time as he is currently being investigated in Belgium. Mohamed Bakkali, another suspect in the November 2015 attacks in Paris, will also be extradited.
Belgian judges have agreed that both men should be sent to France in order to face questioning over the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people. Prior to the hearing, Belgian prosecutors disclosed that Abrini would not be handed over the French authorities immediately, as he was still being investigated over the bombings at Zaventem airport and at a metro station immediately after. According to a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office, “the timeline is not at all fixed,” adding that it was possible that Abrini could stand trial in Belgium first before being handed over to France, or he might be questioned in Belgium by French investigators.
Abrini, a 31-year-old Belgian of Moroccan descent, was identified as “the man in the hat,” seen on CCTV just moments before the explosions at Brussels airport in March. He was also filmed at a petrol station in northern France with fellow suspect Salah Abdeslam, two days before the Paris attacks. He reportedly told investigators that he was at the scene of the 22 Mach suicide bombings in Brussels, which killed 32 people.
Investigators claim that the Brussels and Paris attackers were part of the same network, adding that they were backed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) group. Abrini was said to be part of that cell, and before his arrest in Brussels in April, he was one of Europe’s most-wanted men.
The other suspect who will be extradited, 29-year-old Mohamed Bakkali, is believed to have rented the Brussels apartment where the suicide vests that were used in the Paris attacks were assembled.
According to the United States State Department, there was a marked fall in the number of terror attacks that occurred around the world in 2015.
In a newly released report this month, the State Department attributed the 13% decline from 2014 to fewer attacks in Iraq, Nigeria and Pakistan, which are three of the five countries that have been the worst affected by terrorism. The other two are Afghanistan and India. Together, more than half of the 11,000 attacks that occurred last year happened within the borders of these five countries.
Data compiled by the University of Maryland indicates that more than 28,300 people died – a 14% decline – and about 35,300 others were wounded in 11,774 terrorist attacks that occurred worldwide last year. State Department Acting Co-ordinator for Counterterrorism Justin Siberell notes that attacks and deaths increased in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, the Philippines, Syria and Turkey. The State Department also reported that figures indicate that the terror threat “continued to evolve rapidly in 2015, becoming increasingly decentralized and diffused,” adding that extremists were exploiting frustration in countries “where avenues for free and peaceful expression of opinion were blocked.” The State Department highlighted that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group is the biggest single threat, adding that the group has attracted affiliates and supporters in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It noted that while IS was losing territory in Iraq and Syria, it was gaining strength in Libya and Egypt. The United Nations has also warned that IS is increasingly focusing on international civilian targets. The UN has reported that over the past six months, IS had carried out attacks in eleven countries. This does not include the militant group’s ongoing activity in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
The State Department report also disclosed that Iran was the biggest state sponsor of terrorism, stating that it supported conflicts in Syria and Iraq and that it was also implicated in violent Shia opposition raids in Bahrain. Bahrain has accused Iran of supplying weapons to Shia militants behind bomb attacks on security forces however Iran has denied this.
Terrorist attack on a police station in Zvornik
Tensions are high in Bosnia and Herzegovina this week following an attack on a police station in Zvornik, the Serbian-dominated Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska, last week. The attack, which is being referred to as a terrorist attack, carried out on April 27, left one policeman dead and two injured. The attacker, who has been identified as Nerdin Ibric, a Bosniak man (Muslim Bosnian), was killed in the shootout with police officers at the station. The effects from the attack have had a ripple effect across Bosnia, reopening wounds and creating unease far from the town where the actual shooting took place.
According to Republika Srpska officials, the local man from Sapna, near Zvornik, parked his car in front of the police station, armed with a rifle and other weapons, got out of his vehicle and immediately started shooting at policemen, while shouting “Allahu Akbar”, Arabic for “God is Great”. Police have subsequently arrested two suspects in connection with the terrorist attack, whilst several locations in the Zvornik area were raided by teams from the State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA, as well as local and entity police. However, the ramifications of this attack spread far wider than the small northeastern border town of Zvornik.
Before the war broke out in Bosnia in 1992, an estimated 60 percent of Zvornik’s population was Bosniak. However, following years of ethnic cleansing and expulsion in the region, as well as a massacre of the town’s non-Serbian citizens by Serb paramilitary groups at the beginning of the Bosnian war in 1992, the ethnic demographic of the town is very different today. After the war, in 1995, Bosnia was divided into two politically autonomous regions: Republika Srpska (the Serbian dominated entity) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (primarily inhabited by Bosniaks, Bosnian Croatians, and Serbians). With both entity governments linked by a central government in the capital, Sarajevo.
Tensions between the two political entities have already been strained of late, as after six months of political wrangling, Bosnia and Herzegovina only just secured its State-level and Federation entity governments. In April, the leaders of Bosnia’s ruling parties finally approved new State and Federation entity governments, after months of political infighting, administrative problems, and procedural shortcomings had blocked the formation of new governments on multiple levels. Whilst the entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been politically strained, so have the populations, and a terrorist attack like the one in Zvornik has only served to cause greater concern over the threat of Islamic extremism emanating from the region. As such, the attack has reopened unhealed wounds of ethnic violence across the country and raised security concerns among Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs alike.
Roughly 40 percent of Bosnia’s population is Muslim and although Bosnia’s Muslim population is known to practice a moderate form of Islam, an influx in Bosnians traveling to Syria and Iraq to join “Islamic State” in recent years has raised concerns about Islamist extremists carrying out terrorist attacks on home soil. Unfortunately, the attack in Zvornik is not Bosnia’s first taste of Islamic extremism this year. Among other smaller incidents, Bosnia’s northern village of Gornja Maoca, in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is home to followers of the “radical Wahabbi” branch of Islam, recently made headlines and heightened fears of Islamic radicalization of Bosnia’s citizens. Earlier this year, images of the village displaying Islamic State (IS) flags and symbols caused national and regional unrest. Therefore, last week’s terrorist attack in Zvornik coupled with alarming possibilities of Islamic extremism in the country has strained relations between Bosnia’s entities. Moreover, it has not only heightened tensions in the country, but Bosnia and Herzegovina’s regional neighbors are well aware that it has dangerous potential to threaten ethnic relations in the region and indeed, the stability of the Western Balkans.
A week on from the terrorist attack in Zvornik, the ethnic and political tensions that were exasperated by the attack are beginning to give way to major security concerns. As the local, entity, and state police, institutions, and international experts consider ways to improve Bosnia and Herzegovina’s current security situation.