The overall terrorist threat to the security of the EU has increased over recent years and remains on a sharp upward trajectory.
The main concern of Member States is jihadist terrorism and the closely related phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters who travel to and from conflict zones.
The recent attacks in in the EU represented a clear shift in the intent and capability of jihadist terrorists to inflict mass casualties on urban populations designed to induce a high state of well-publicised terror.
The carefully planned attacks also demonstrated the elevated threat to the EU from an extremist minority, operationally based in the Middle East, combined with a network of people born and raised in the EU, often radicalised within a short space of time, who have proven willing and able to act as facilitators and active accomplices in terrorism.
Against this background the need has become apparent for an effective response to terrorism through enhanced cross-border cooperation between relevant counter-terrorist authorities.
To this end, Europol’s European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) officially started operations on 1 January 2016. Even before it was launched, Europol was already connecting its information-exchange and -analysis capabilities to support investigations into the November 2015 Paris attacks. Europol’s Emergency Response Team (EMRT) was immediately activated to support the investigations in France and Belgium on a 24/7 basis. This support included the deployment of analysts and specialists to Paris, to Interpol in Lyon, and to Brussels.
This EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TE-SAT), which Europol has produced each year since 2006, provides an overview of terrorist attacks that failed, that were foiled, or that actually took place in the EU, as well as of arrests made, convictions handed down, and penalties imposed.
According to the most recent TE-SAT, in the EU in 2015:
- 151 people died and over 360 were injured as a result of terrorist attacks;
- Islamic State (IS) introduced the use of suicide belts in mass-casualty attacks in the EU;
- There were 211 failed, foiled or completed terrorist attacks in six Member States;
- 1,077 individuals were arrested for terrorism-related offences;
- Courts issued 527 verdicts to 514 individuals tried on terrorism charges.
The latest TE-SAT also identifies the following as the key terrorist trends:
- Jihadist terrorism
- right-wing extremism
- ethno-nationalist terrorism.
Regarding the first, the way IS prepared and carried out the 2015 attacks in France has led Europol to take the view that similar attacks could be staged in the EU in the near future. The attacks were plotted by returnees who very likely received direction from the organisation’s leadership, and involved the use of local recruits.
Another area of concern is the significant percentage of female foreign terrorist travellers. Women have proven to be very successful in facilitating and recruiting for IS while still in the EU. Most of those who travel to Syria/Iraq marry fighters soon after arrival, give birth and are less likely to return than men.
Of particular concern are the children of foreign terrorist fighters who live with their parents in IS territory. In its propaganda, IS has often shown that it trains these minors to become the next generation of foreign terrorist fighters, which may pose a future security threat to Member States.
In addition, many EU Member States regard attacks carried out by radical Islamists who are lone actors or small groups to be a serious risk. Indeed, IS continues to encourage aspiring terrorists to conduct lone-actor attacks.
Europol also believes that right-wing extremists and groups will reinforce their efforts to portray the asylum policy in a polarising manner and exploit the debate for their own purposes.
Europol also suspects that developments in Turkey could provoke groups affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to extend their activities in the EU, seeking violent confrontations with parties regarded as sympathetic to Turkish nationalism and/or suspected of tolerating IS.