MS Risk Blog

Terrorist Threat in Western and Southern Europe

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It is no secret that the threat of jihadist terrorism has been of pressing concern for intelligence agencies and communities across Western and Southern Europe for a considerable length of time now. From a UK perspective, in mid-November 2022, the director of MI5, General Ken McCallum commented that the threat of jihadist terrorism contributed to” three quarters” of MI5’s terrorism caseload. Moreover, the United Kingdom’s latest publication of CONTEST, the UK’s strategy for combatting terrorism, notes that between January to December 2022 there were a total of 169 arrests in the United Kingdom for terrorism-related offences. As of March 2023, 232 individuals are in custody for terrorism-related offences in Great Britain. As we can see, the threat of jihadist terrorism within the UK certainly presents itself as a troubling and ever worrying issue for both Counter Terrorism Policing and MI5, collectively. Going further afield into Europe, in 2022, 266 arrests were made for suspected jihadist terrorism offences. 233 of the 266 arrests recorded were in the Western European countries of France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands. Specifically, France recorded 93 arrests, Spain recorded 46 arrests, Germany recorded 30, Belgium recorded 22, with both Italy and the Netherlands reporting 21 arrests each.  


A recent Europol report, published in December 2023 highlights that in 2022, six competed and foiled jihadist attacks occurred across the European Union. Out of the six attacks reported, four were foiled, with three of the four foiled attacks occurring in France and one in Belgium. The foiled attacks in France consisted of plans to attack a church in Challans, a knife attack against unclear targets in France and a case in which seven individuals were arrested in November 2022 for planning to carry out an attack in Strasbourg. The two successful attacks out of the six reported occurred in France and Belgium, resulting in the deaths of two victims. Foiled attacks relating to jihadist terrorism have also taken place in the UK across 2022 and 2023. In March 2022, Al-Arfat Hassan and a 15-year-old teenager were arrested after plotting to carry out an Islamic State inspired IED attack in central London. As of 2023, both perpetrators have admitted to carrying out terrorism offences and are due to be sentenced on February 2nd, 2024, in court. Other foiled attacks that have occurred in the UK over the include a July 2022 foiled attack in which a 15-year-old boy was accused of attempting to prepare to carry out an Islamic extremist inspired attack targeting the Isle of Wight Festival, and a foiled attack on 20thJanuary 2023, in which Mohammed Farooq was arrested outside St James’s hospital in Leeds after the discovery of a suspicious bag which contained a 13kg pressure cooker IED. Both Farooq and the teenager involved in the Isle of Wight Festival plot have subsequently been charged under Section 2 of the Terrorism Act 2006 and have had other terrorism-related charges pressed against them.  


The data collected above from 2022 and 2023 clearly shows that the threat from jihadist terrorism certainly shows no signs of slowing down. It is a constant concern and avid threat for both the national security of the UK and for the national security of various regions across Western and Southern Europe. Unfortunately, this threat has now been amplified by the unfolding conflict between Israel and Hamas across the Gaza strip, which consequently has heightened the fears of jihadist terrorism spilling over from the ongoing conflict into the UK and elsewhere within Western and Southern Europe.Since October 7th, 2023, in the UK there have been 33 arrests for terrorism offences, with 19 related to protests which have been occurring up and down the country, 13 to social media activity and one arrest with regards to carrying out an alleged attack. Moreover, UK’s Counter Terrorism Policing units have received a 25% increase in the amount ofintelligence coming to them surrounding the threat of jihadist terrorism and violent extremism. Over 3,000 referrals for extremist material online have also been received by the UK’s counter-terrorism internet referral team since October 2023, 700 of which have been identified as having a direct link to the United Kingdom. This proves that the conflictbetween Israel and Hamas has reenergised jihadist terrorist groups and moreover, it has actively contributed to increasingtheir threat to the UK’s national security apparatus.  


Matt Jukes, the head of the UK’s Counter Terrorism Police force recently commented on January 20th, 2024, that the conflict in Gaza has become a “radicalisation moment” for the UK and has directly contributed to what he described as an “unprecedented” rise in the threat of terrorism. Indeed, this is certainly the case. Recent pro-Palestine protests in London, which occurred on January 13th and 14th 2024, have resulted in the Metropolitan Police arresting 4 individuals under terrorism offences. Three of the four individuals arrested were arrested under section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 for inviting support to a proscribed terrorist organisation, with the fourth individual being arrested for attending a rally outside a West London police station in protest to the three individuals that were originally arrested. This demonstrates that the war in Gaza is linked to the rising terror threat in the UK. Another recent event that highlights the threat of jihadist terrorism spilling over from the Israel-Hamas conflict is the UK’s very recent decision to proscribe Hizb-ut-Tahri, an international Sunni Islamist political organisation as a terrorist group. The group has been proscribed due to being an antisemitic organisation, which actively advocates for and encourages conducting terrorist attacks. Additionally, Hizb-ut-Tahri actively praises the October 7 Hamas attacks and has attended rallies outside of Egyptian and Turkish embassies in London, where it called for Muslims to attack Israel. Moreover, on an international scale the group looks to establish a caliphate in the Middle East. The recent proscription of Hizb Ut-Tahri as a terrorist organisation in combination with multiple terrorism-related arrests at pro-Palestine rallies clearly gives further concrete evidence towards the argument that the Israel-Hamas conflict is actively contributing directly to a surge in jihadist extremism within the UK. Going forward, MI5 and Counter Terrorism Police must continue to monitor, deter, and apprehend individuals and groups who express any signs to carry out jihadist terrorist attacks or support such views in any shape or form. The threat of jihadist terrorism within the UK as a result of the conflict between Israel and Hamas is highly likely to continue be a pressing threat to the wider national security of the UK both now and in the near future.  


Whilst most of this report so far has focused on the threat of jihadist terrorism in the UK since October 2023 to January 2024, there have been other clear indications across Western and Southern Europe over the past month and in December 2023 which highlight the dangers that the Israel-Hamas war has created for the national security of the region. For example, France witnessed a Jihadist terrorist attack on December 2nd, 2023, in which Rajabpour-Miyandoab stabbed, killed a German tourist, and proceeded to attack two other individuals with a hammer in Paris. Miyandoab was swiftly arrested by French police following his attack. Miyabdoab’s motivation for carrying out the attack was because he was angry about events occurring in Gaza between Israel and Palestine. On December 14th, 2023, four Hamas members with close links to Hamas’ military branch were arrested across Germany and the Netherlands on suspicion of conspiring to carry out cross border attacks on Jewish institutions across Europe. One of the Hamas members arrested, Lebanon- born Abdelhamid Al A had been tasked by Hamas leaders to seek out and find sources for weapons in Europe. Once found, these weapons were meant to be taken to Berlin and harboured so the small four-man cell could use them to carry out potential terrorist attacks against Jewish institutions across Europe. 


During October 2023, three of the four Hamas members travelled to Berlin on multiple occasions to search for weapons for the attack. Additionally, three other individuals were also arrested in Denmark on sperate terrorism charges on December 14th, 2023. Danish authorities heavily suspect that these terrorism-related arrests were also Hamas related. In Germany on December 24th, 2023, a 30-year-old Tajik national was arrested in Wesel, Germany, after police received information that he was allegedly planning an attack on the Cologne Cathedral after visiting the site. A week later, on New Year’s Eve, German police arrested three more people in connection with the attack and arrested a fifth suspect on the same day. The attack on the Cathedral is believed to have involved the group using a Vehicle Bourne Improvised Explosive Device. All five preparators were part of a jihadist cell who were affiliated with Islamic State-Khorasan, an offshoot group of ISIS who operate in Afghanistan. It has also been reported that the attack was motivated by the Israel’s bombing of Gaza, which adds further weight to the argument that jihadist terrorism is on the rise in Europe due to the Gaza conflict. More recently in January 2024, Belgian Police stopped a bus travelling from Brussels to northern France and arrested 3 people after a passenger reported that they had overheard the group discussing a terrorist plot. 


What is clear from the recently foiled Hamas terrorist attacks that have taken place across Western and Southern Europe in December 2023 and from the unprecedented threat of jihadist terrorism that has occurred in the UK from October 2023 to January 2024  is that the ongoing war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas is starting to have serious effects on the national security environment for both the UK and various regions across Western and Southern Europe. With the war in Gaza showing no signs of stopping anytime soon despite countless calls for a ceasefire and protests in various regions over the world, it is painstakingly visible that the threats of jihadist terrorism have recently been stemming increasingly from the Israel-Hamas conflict. The threat of Hamas influencing foreign and affiliated individuals or groups are likely to be a reoccurring theme in 2024 and beyond. With events such as the Olympics being scheduled in France later this year as well as other important events taking place across Western and Southern Europe, the UK, and other countries in Western and Southern Europe must continue to mitigate and police the threat of jihadist terrorism spilling over into Europe as a result of the widening influence of the Israel-Hamas conflict. As Matt Jukes recently pointed out, “it’s hard to remember a more unstable, dangerous and uncertain world.” Tragically, his words ring true.