The EU is facing a range of terrorist threats and attacks of a violent jihadist nature, from both networked groups and lone actors. The attacks in Brussels, Nice and Berlin in particular, with explosives (Brussels) and vehicles (Nice and Berlin) used to randomly kill and wound as many people as possible, again demonstrated the harm jihadist militants are able and willing to inflict upon EU citizens, legitimised by the interpretation they adopted of selectively sampled religious texts.
Jihadist actors can be both directed by Islamic State (IS) or merely inspired by IS ideology and rhetoric. Jihadist terrorists have been found to use a range of weapons to include bladed weapons, automatic rifles, explosives and vehicles, and are expected to continue to do so.
Attacks can be both carefully prepared and carried out spontaneously. Terrorists acting in the name of IS have proven to be able to plan relatively complex attacks – including those on multiple targets - quickly and effectively.
Jihadist terrorists are expected to continue using mostly low-tech smaller improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and improvised incendiary devices (IIDs) consisting of readily available products.
Violent jihadists target individuals, as well as small groups of people who represent values considered by them to be non-Islamic, and large unsuspecting crowds. Individuals or small groups targeted by terrorists can be both hard targets (police, the military) or soft targets (a church, synagogue, mosque). Large unsuspecting crowds, chosen with the intent on causing mass casualties are regarded to be soft targets by definition.
Attacks carried out in locations with international character, such as the metro station in Brussels (close to EU institutions), and Zaventem airport (an international airport), have a multiplier effect with guaranteed worldwide media attention.
Perpetrators of terrorist attacks in the EU include both foreigners, of whom a number may have resided in the EU for a long time, and nationals who have grown up in the countries they attacked.
The influx of refugees and migrants to Europe from existing and new conflict zones is expected to continue. IS has already exploited the flow of refugees and migrants to send individuals to Europe to commit acts of terrorism, which became evident in the 2015 Paris attacks. IS and possibly other jihadist terrorist organisations may continue to do so.
Terrorist groups continue to exploit the socio-economic grievances of Muslim immigrants to the EU, in order to recruit and incite them to engage in terrorist activities. IS ideology has a certain appeal amongst segments of the Muslim population in the EU, sometimes expressing admiration for “martyrdom”. Motivations may generally include a belief that Islam is under attack from the West.
Women and young adults, and also children, are playing increasingly operational roles in committing terrorist activities in the EU independently, not only facilitating other operatives in various ways, but in the (attempted) execution of terrorist attacks themselves. Female militant jihadists in the West perceive fewer obstacles to playing an operative role in a terrorist attack than men, and successful or prevented attacks carried out by women in western countries may act as an inspiration to others.
There is a decrease in the numbers of individuals travelling to the conflict zones in Syria/ Iraq to join the jihadist terrorist groups as foreign terrorist fighters. The number of returnees is expected to rise, if IS, as seems likely, is defeated militarily or collapses. An increasing number of returnees will likely strengthen domestic jihadist movements and consequently magnify the threat they pose to the EU.
In overall terms the level of activity in the EU attributed to jihadist terrorism remains high, with indications of it continuing to rise. 718 arrests related to jihadist terrorism were made in 2016, a number that has sharply increased in each of the last three years.
Refugees and ethnic minorities in the EU are facing increased violence. These crimes are arguably intended to seriously intimidate sections of the population however, despite showing some similarities, do not qualify as terrorism or violent extremism and are therefore not reported by Member States and consequently not included in the figures.
The deadly attack on a Labour Party MP in the UK in June 2016 demonstrated once again the threat coming also from lone actors who might be inspired by right-wing ideology but do not necessarily have a close connection with extremist groups. Based on this attack and various physical assaults against politicians that happened across the EU in 2016 , public figures, political parties, civic action groups and media that take a critical view of right-wing extremism, or advocate promigration policies, have to be considered as potential targets of right-wing extremist agitation. Anarchist and left-wing extremists, on the other hand, take advantage of peaceful demonstrations to carry out attacks on government property and law enforcement personnel.
In 2016 there were more than 800 attacks on public servants in Germany alone, including 18 direct physical assaults, according to an open source quoting the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). The most common crimes were coercion, threats, damage to property, inciting hatred, and arson. By September the count was 384 attacks by right-wing extremists, and 97 by left-wing extremists.