On Monday, September 26, the EU Counter-Terrorism Co-ordinator Gilles de Kerchove told the members of the EU Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee that: "The terrorist threat has never been so high in the last 20 years.”
Significant failures of ISIS on the ground in Syria and Iraq may provoke an increased (even dramatic) rise in terrorist attacks on major European cities. Thousands of well-organised and trained jihadis are heading home from the Middle East with the intention of wreaking havoc on European streets.
According to the Director of the FBI in the US, there could be "A a terrorist diaspora sometime in the next two to five years like we've never seen before." (Shutterstock/Krill Makarov)
De Kerchove suggested that there is an heightened risk that lawless Libya will be used as a ‘springboard’ by ISIS operatives from which to launch attacks on Italy and the wider European continent.
According to Europol, more than 5,000 European passport holders have left to fight for Daesh in Middle East. They have no need to pose as ‘refugees’ if they wish to return. The problem in tracking these people is that there are still significant gaps in the information being fed to Europol. Even knowing that the number of 5,000 is accurate, Europol's database includes the names of 2,956 foreign fighters (in April 2016).
European intelligence and emergency communities have to expect as a raise of lone wolf incidents, as well as well-organised large-scale attacks. Knowing that ISIS is adept in using car bombing techniques, it may be expected that homegrown jihadis may pack cars full of explosives and detonate them in public places to cause civilian casualties on a massive scale.
There is a serious concern that chemical weapons might be used as well.
Meanwhile, Daesh may use some new for Europe (but not new for Middle East) modus operandi. There is a heightened risk terrorists using children and teenagers as perpetrators (see the author’s article in the next CRJ, published December 2017).
Gilles de Kerchove is relatively pessimistic about the EU’s capacity to deal with all returnees: "We will have to handle a high number and a diversity of profiles: people who have worked on the frontline as fighters, people who have worked in the back office, but also wives of fighters and children. We know more than 500 children were born there."
USA FBI Director James Comey shares the fears of European collegueas: "The so-called caliphate will be crushed. The challenge will be that through the fingers of that crush are going to come hundreds of very, very dangerous people. They will not all die on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq. There will be a terrorist diaspora sometime in the next two to five years like we've never seen before."
As far as the quantifiable nature of the threat, Comey has in the past drawn a comparison between ISIS forces and radicalised Al-Qaeda militants in the 1980s and 1990s. Last July at a cybersecurity conferemce he said: "This is 10 times that or more.This is an order of magnitude greater than anything we’ve seen before."