Europe is currently facing a vicious, new form of international terrorism. The clear shift in Islamic State’s strategy of carrying out special forces-style attacks in the international environment, with a particular focus on Europe, as well as the growing number of foreign terrorist fighters, demonstrates the new challenges facing the EU and its Member States.
To ensure an effective response to these challenges, in January 2016 Europol created the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC), an operations centre and hub of expertise that reflects the growing need for the EU to strengthen its response to terror.
international cooperation among counter terrorism authorities.
The ECTC’s principal task is to provide operational support to Member States in investigations, such as those following the Paris, Nice and Brussels attacks. It cross-checks live operational data against the data Europol already has, quickly bringing financial leads to light, and analyses all available investigative details to assist in compiling a structured picture of the terrorist network.
In the event of a major terrorist event, the ECTC can contribute to a coordinated response. Different teams are available for this purpose, often combined with counter terrorism experts temporarily seconded from Member States, depending on the nature of the event.
The ECTC can build on Europol’s established tools and counter terrorism networks, which have already played an important part in the European response to terrorist threats. For example, after the Paris attacks, Europol set up Taskforce Fraternité, under which it assigned up to 60 officers to support the French and Belgian investigations. By early 2016, the two countries had provided Europol with many terabytes of information, resulting in 800 intelligence leads and more than 1 600 leads on suspicious financial transactions.
The ECTC’s specialist teams of analysts and experts collate operational information from law enforcement from all Member States as well as from third parties. The teams work on this information to establish the wider EU perspective on counter terrorism for both operational and strategic goals.
As a result of the ECTC’s information sharing operations, Europol has been able to upgrade its overall counter-terrorism capabilities. It is now better equipped to provide Member States, and key partners such as Interpol and Eurojust, with new possibilities for the effective management of counter terrorism intelligence.
The ECTC has 39 staff members and 5 seconded national experts (January 2016).