The terrorist threat in Europe reached its peak in the last 20 years and continues to grow, said the head of Europol Rob Wainwright in an interview with Neuen Osnabruecker Zeitung last Tuesday, June 27.
According to him, last year 718 people were arrested in Europe for their ties with jihadists.
“This is a substantial increase that shows how much radicalized the part of the Islamic society has become,” Rob Wainwright said.
In his opinion, law enforcement agencies need to expand their functions to monitor the communication of individuals suspected of terrorism through online messengers.
“Due to the fact that communication channels are now moved to the Internet, the police have lost most of their ability to control terrorists. This issue needs to be changed,” the head of Europol said.
Reportedly, 18 terrorist acts took place in Europe in the last two years with 326 people killed and more than 1,000 injured. At the same time, the number of lesser-scale attacks has seriously increased.
Thus, for example, residents of the UK witnessed four attacks on people in four months: attacks on the Westminster Bridge, an explosion at the Manchester Arena indoor stadium, an attack on the London Bridge and the nearby Borough market, as well as a van attack on people at a mosque in Finsbury park.
According to some experts, a recent incident may be an Islamophobic response to the complicated security situation.
“Over the past weeks and months, Muslims have endured many incidents of Islamophobia and this is the most violent manifestation to date,” said Harun Khan, head of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).
Commenting on the recent attacks on people in London, Professor Clive Williams from the Australian National University noted that the security situation has become challenging.
“However, I don’t think people are panicked – wary perhaps. [..] Most of the attacks are directed against members of the US-led coalition against IS – so hardly unexpected. Attacks that have few intelligence indicators like lone wolf attacks are hard to prevent. It then depends on the efficiency of protective security measures, such as barrier systems and security patrols,” the expert told PenzaNews.
In his opinion, there is virtually no direct correlation between the financing of the special services and the level of the terrorist threat.
“I can’t see the security situation changing for a long while no matter how much money is put into counterterrorism. It is rather like hoping to stop all crime by giving the police more resources,” Clive Williams explained his view.
From his point of view, the situation is complicated by a number of factors that are almost ignored by the governments of the EU countries.
“The West is reluctant to acknowledge that many of its problems are created by Saudi Arabia’s promotion of Wahhabism which creates a fertile environment for Islamist extremists. The West also fails to acknowledge that many Islamist insurgencies have legitimate separatist aspirations, as in the Philippines and Thailand. Iran and Shia Islam would probably be a better long-term security fit for the West than the Gulf states,” the analyst said.
Meanwhile, Josef Janning, Head of Berlin office and Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations, suggested that the last incident was not related to the activities of any terrorist groups.
“There are no indications of this incident being carried out by a terrorist group or backed by it. It appears to be a case of counter-violence that is occasionally observed following terrorist acts by extremists. As such, it serves the interests of terrorist groups, in this case IS, as ist adds to the public scare and helps to mobilize activists from Muslim communities in Europe,” the German expert said and added that public security in Europe remains at risk.
Meanwhile, he reminded that several larger attacks were detected in the planning stage, and were thus prevented.
“Indeed, it has become difficult for terrorist groups to carry out large scale attacks because sensitivity of security organizations is high, and the level of cooperation between security services across the EU has increased substantially. Further measures will be introduced this year to more effectively monitor the movements of people into and out of the EU. […] The low intensity, low skills and low logistics actions we have seen in Paris, London and Berlin over the past months are in themselves a consequence of improved security and surveillance,” Josef Janning said.
Assessing the level of fear among European citizens, the expert pointed to the presence of some anxiety, which, in his opinion, does not lead to panic or public unrest.
“People want to see authorities in control of the situation. As this is largely the case, many people are prepared to live with the residual threat of becoming victim to terrorist attacks as parts of the general risks of life in urban environments,” the analyst stressed.
According to him, terror attacks in Europe have done a lot to overcome the resistance of EU member states to work more closely together.
“There is more police cooperation, there is ‘more Europe’ in law enforcement, more intelligence cooperation and sharing than there has ever been. Europeans are now much more aware of the need to control and protect the EU borders as a common task. The threat of terrorism will not disappear any time soon, but the means to deal with the dangers effectively will improve,” ECFR Berlin Office Head said.
In turn, Tatiana Baeva, Media Officer, Directorate of Communications, Council of Europe, stressed that in different parts of Europe the security situation is of course different.
“The Council of Europe rather tries to make sure that in the efforts to fight terrorism the states don’t ignore human rights,” she said.
Moreover, Tatiana Baeva reminded that the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) published last week its annual report about the situation in Europe in 2016.
“In response to several very serious terrorist attacks that occurred in 2016, some member states of the Council of Europe have taken strong measures, ranging from reintroducing border controls within the Schengen-area to declaring a state of emergency. In some cases, forms of ethnic or racial profiling have been observed in the carrying out of police and military operations. While terrorism continues to be a real and deadly threat against which all member states need to safeguard their populations, human rights and the principles of proportionality and non-discrimination need to be respected. Adherence to these principles is also important in order to avoid alienating and radicalising sections of the population, which undermines anti-terrorism efforts in the long run,” she cited the report.
Vanessa Newby, Visiting Fellow, Department of International Relations, Australian National University, paid special attention to the lack of any reaction of the American president to the terrorist attack against British Muslims in London.
“Donald Trump’s silence on this issue via his Twitter feed illustrates he felt little if any empathy with the victims. We must never forget that this is what violent extremist organisations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS seek – a differentiation between religions to generate a conflict that they feel they can dominate and ultimately seek power from. Whilst the definition of terrorism remains hotly debated, I maintain any attack on innocent civilians is a form of terrorism,” the analyst said.
From her point of view, there is a lot of collaboration across the security agencies currently both within Europe and more broadly across continents, but it’s almost impossible to stop a lone wolf attack. So the most valuable asset available to security agencies is civilian vigilance, she believes.
“The intensely personal nature of the violent attacks is what is so frightening. Bomb attacks whilst frightening can feel remote. The idea that the person sitting next to you on the train could suddenly attack you with a knife, in my opinion, is more frightening. I think people are frightened and will become more so if attacks increase,” Vanessa Newby said.
“I think governments in Europe, unlike the US, are doing their best to reassure people but as the whole paradigm of terror attacks has changed in the last ten years or more, I think it’s hard for governments and security agencies to strike a balance between providing warnings and avoiding fear mongering,” the expert added.
In turn, Julian Richards, Co-Director, Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies (BUCSIS), University of Buckingham, said the security situation in Europe remains pretty solid.
“Clearly, threat levels are very high at the moment, and it is probably the case that the terrorists are attempting to conduct a wave of attacks which will overwhelm the authorities and panic the public. It is the case that the major capital cities in northern Europe are probably facing a higher level of terrorist threat than they have seen for some years. But there are important things to remember. Firstly, this is not the first time in history that London or Paris or other cities have experienced a period of intense terrorist threat, and such periods usually fade away. The current threat level is high, of course, but it’s not the highest it has ever been. Secondly, the terrorists are not very well organised. It remains the case that most plots are either foiled, or the terrorists fail to conduct their attacks successfully. Certainly the security agencies in Europe are facing a very stiff challenge at the moment, but generally speaking they are better resourced and organised than the terrorists and should be able to keep the threat at bay from escalating too much. For the most part, security agencies are reasonably effective against terrorists and their organisations and they just need to keep to the plan,” the British expert said.
According to him, terrorist attacks in the UK shocked people, but did not affect the behavior of the citizens.
“Most people are still visiting major cities and attending events in exactly the same way as before. People are shocked, but they are also angry and determined to carry on as normal. The government meanwhile is conducting a general information campaign for heightened vigilance: here it is called ‘see it, say it, sort it’, which means if you see anything out of the ordinary or have concerns, you should report it to the police and they will investigate it. But it is fairly low level in tone as a campaign and there is not a sense of mass panic or lockdown. To be honest, the political crisis here seems to be more important to most people than the terrorist threat at the moment,” Julian Richards said.
He said that a significant part of the tragic incidents is linked to the situation in the Middle East and particularly in Iraq and Syria, that shows no sign of being resolved in the foreseeable future. So, that means the threat from ISIS-inspired attacks and possibly from reactionary xenophobic attacks as we saw in London recently, will remain with us for a while, he added.
“These threats come at a time of severe austerity in pubic sector budgets, and that is putting a strain on the police and the security services. This, in turn, is feeding into the political crisis. At the same time, we must remember that the big picture is that Europe generally remains much safer than it has ever been in its history, and we have to keep this in its proper perspective and historical context. As long as we stick to our plans and our values, which include not allowing xenophobic counter-attacks to happen, then peace and common sense will eventually prevail,” the British expert concluded.
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