ISIS may use car bombs, extortion, kidnappings in new terrorist attacks in EU – Europol report
Intelligence sources suggest that Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has “assembled teams in Syria” that are being sent to European Union countries to carry out attacks, the report, entitled “Changes in Modus Operandi of Islamic State Revisited,” from Europol’s European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) warned on Friday.
“Estimates from some intelligence services indicate several dozen people directed by IS may be currently present in Europe with a capability to commit terrorist attacks,” Europol warned.
“Modi operandi employed in Syria and Iraq, such as the use of car bombs, may emerge as a method of attack in the EU,” it said.
Automatic firearms are the weapons of choice for terrorist cells, and easier access to them in countries neighboring the EU, particularly in Ukraine and Western Balkan countries, “may lead to a significant number of those weapons becoming available via the black market, posing a significant threat in the near future,” the report says.
IS ‘interested’ in use of chemical weapons
There is evidence that IS has also shown an interest in using chemical and/or biological weapons, Europol noted.
“IS is known to have used sulphur mustard gas in Syria and is thought to be able to produce the gas itself. IS is believed to include people who were formerly engaged in Iraq’s weapons program and it is assumed that the group has access to Iraqi and Libyan storage sites of chemical weapons. In addition, there are indications that IS is experimenting with biological weapons,” the report says.
Counter terrorism experts are concerned that Libya could develop into a “second springboard for IS, after Syria, for attacks in the EU and the North African region,” Europol said.
“Terrorists acting in the name of IS are able to plan relatively complex attacks – including those on multiple targets – quickly and effectively,” the report said, adding that the scale and impact of lone actor attacks is also on the rise.
In addition to France and Belgium, all other EU member states that are part of the US-led coalition against Islamic State are “prone to be attacked by terrorists led or inspired by IS,” it warned.
Syrian refugees ‘vulnerable to radicalization’
“Attacks may also be carried out to compromise Syrian refugees as a group and to provoke member states to change their policies towards them,” the report added.
There is a “real and imminent danger” that Islamic State recruiters targeting Sunni Muslim refugees from Syria who are “vulnerable to radicalization once in Europe” will be successful, Europol said, noting that a number of jihadists are traveling through Europe specifically for this purpose. According to unconfirmed information, as of April 2016, German authorities had recorded around 300 attempts made by jihadists to recruit refugees trying to enter Europe, the report says.
Europol warned that if Islamic State is defeated or severely weakened by the coalition forces in Syria and Iraq, it may trigger a surge of foreign fighters and their families returning from the region to the EU or other conflict areas, like Libya. “Those who manage to enter the EU, will pose a potential security risk for the Union. Given the high numbers involved, this represents a significant and long-term security challenge,” the report says.
‘Soft targets’ new IS priority
Europol pointed out that the jihadists have shifted their focus away from attacking symbolic targets like law enforcement officers and military personnel towards soft targets, like the concert goers and football fans killed during the Paris attacks in 2015. “Terrorists have a preference for soft targets,” the report said, adding that attacking critical infrastructure like power grids, nuclear facilities, and transportation hubs is currently “not a priority” for them.
The same applies to cyber-attacks, due to their relatively low impact on the general public, according to the report.
“We have to be vigilant, since the threat posed by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and returning foreign fighters is likely to persist in the coming years. These people are trained to use explosives and firearms and they have been indoctrinated by the jihadist ideology,” EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove stated in a press release.
The report also noted that Islamic State is not the only terrorist group with the “intent and capability to carry out attacks against the West, or to inspire individuals and groups residing in EU Member States to do so.” Al-Qaeda and/or Al-Nusra affiliated or inspired groups and individuals continue to pose a serious threat to EU countries and Western interests in general, it added.
Besides the “threat of major attacks” being carried out by terrorists acting on Islamic State instructions is the risk of those committed by so-called “clean skins” – lone self-radicalized individuals, not associated with known extremists and unknown to security services, Europol warned.
Islamic State is a terrorist group based mostly in Iraq and Syria that has also expanded into Libya and Afghanistan. It has masterminded several high-profile attacks in large European cities over the past two years, most notably in Paris and Brussels. On November 13 of last year, a wave of bombings and shootings killed 130 people and injured hundreds more in the French capital. In March of 2016, the same terrorist cell carried out suicide attacks at the airport and a metro station in Brussels, leaving 23 people dead and more than 300 injured.
On Bastille Day this year, a truck plowed through a crowd in Nice in the south of France, leaving 85 people dead and hundreds injured.