Whence the threat

Europol has recently released the latest EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TE_SAT 2010). One statistic in particular jumped out at me from this report. In 2009 there were 294 terrorist incidents in the EU (with another 124 in Northern Ireland). How many of these were perpetrated by Islamist/Jihadist groups or cells? Just one. And that was an amateurish effort by a Libyan to suicide bomb a military barracks in Milan, Italy. In that incident (noted in this previous post) the attacker managed only to seriously injure himself. The remainder of the attacks came from ethno-nationalist, separatist and left-wing/anarchist groups (almost all in France, Spain and Northern Ireland).

Of the 587 individuals arrested for terrorism offences in 2009, 110 were linked to Islamist activities (a decline of 41% from 2008 when 187 were arrested and continues a downward trend from 2007 when 201 were arrested for suspected jihadist links). Interestingly, two-thirds of those arrested in 2008 and 2009 could not be linked to a specific organisation, and nearly one-third were EU citizens. It might be reasonable to suggest that the decline in arrests is due to a reduction in the number of plots or attempted attacks being undertaken by jihadists in Europe.

The Europol report suggests that jihadist groups are using the EU as a platform from which to conduct support activities (fundraising, recruitment, logistics) rather than conducting actual attacks. Further, zones of conflict in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and others are acting as a magnet, attracting those who might try and do something in Europe to go and fight elsewhere. The other implication is that such groups are still limited by their organizational resources and capabilities within Europe and are not capable of mounting meaningful actions within EU member states.

Sadly the dissident Republican groups in Northern Ireland do not appear to have any problem in getting their devices to explode. The increase in the threat from Republican paramilitary groups was underlined in the latest UK Intelligence and Security Committee report, in which it was revealed that the Security Service (MI5) was facing “considerably more what we would call priority 1, i.e. life- threatening investigations, in Northern Ireland than we do in the rest of Great Britain” and as a result had increased its allocation of resources dedicated to combating Irish terrorism from 13 per cent in 2009/9 to 18 per cent in 2009/10. Jihadist attempts to cause mass casualties may still generate greater headlines and hyperbole, but the main threat in Europe still emanates from those groups who have both the intent and the capability to mount attacks.

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