Following is an extract from the latest edition of Control Risks’ Terrorism Monthly report. To access the full report and our full-range of political, security and operational risk analysis, sign up for a trial of our Country Risk Forecast subscription service.
After the foiling in June of alleged plans to conduct attacks in France and a series of raids against terrorist plotters in Germany and Belgium, we assess the current nature and scope of the threat to Western Europe and how this will evolve.
Islamist extremists have perpetrated nine successful terrorist attacks in Western Europe since early 2012. Analysis of these incidents highlights a number of trends.
- The impact of successful attacks has been minimal in terms of the number of casualties and fatalities. Mohammed Merah’s shooting spree in France in February 2012 resulted in the most fatalities in this period: seven.
- Most recent successful Islamist extremist attacks in Western Europe have involved small groups of operatives, using basic – and relatively easily procured – firearms, as underlined by Merah’s attacks.
- Attacks have been driven by a belief that Islam – or the attackers’ interpretation of Islam – has been slighted, or that fellow adherents are being oppressed by ‘non-believers’. These trends have been seen in a March 2012 arson attack on a mosque and the stabbing in June 2012 of two police officers in Brussels (Belgium); a March 2012 package bomb attack against the Indonesian embassy in Paris (France); the targeted killing in May of a British soldier in London; and the injuring in May of two French soldiers in Paris in a knife attack that mimicked the London killing.
- ‘Core’ al-Qaida remains isolated from the broader jihadist movement, at least with respect to command and control, and logistical provision.
- Self-radicalisation is becoming more common, particularly through the consumption of online propaganda disseminated via social media or on jihadist forums. Copies of Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula’s Inspire magazine have been found in the possession of a significant number of would-be, or successful, terrorists.
- Syria has emerged as the latest jihadist hotspot, and has attracted fighters from around the world. It is estimated that between 600 and 800 European nationals had joined the rebels. Although not all will be extremists, or will be travelling to fight with Salafi jihadist groups such as the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, less radical recruits could develop deadly new skills and become radicalised through sustained exposure to unrelenting violence and the fanatical rhetoric espoused by certain opposition factions. However, neither of the two best-known jihadist groups in Syria has a history of conducting attacks against targets in Western Europe or an expressed intent to do so.
Islamist extremist terrorism will continue to pose a substantial, albeit largely contained, challenge to security in Western Europe over the next five years. Islamist extremist operations will continue to constitute a low proportion of overall terrorist attacks in Western Europe.
The threat to businesses in Western Europe from Islamist extremist terrorism remains secondary to that faced by government, military and religious targets. Attacks against critical national infrastructure remain possible, though less likely. Transport networks and large public gatherings (particularly following the April bombings that targeted the marathon in Boston (US)) are likely to remain attractive targets.
The frequency of attacks will remain static or decrease slightly. Successful attacks will involve, for the most part, cruder methods and fewer operatives, and cause fewer casualties than in al-Qaida’s heyday. Small cells or lone wolves using basic or low-grade arms are generally less visible to intelligence agencies than attackers intending to destroy high-profile targets in mass-casualty attacks involving heavy explosives, and figures such as Merah and Norwegian right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik will continue to inspire impressionable extremists. The fallout from the Syrian conflict, and European fighters’ participation within it, will cause some turbulence in Western Europe, but will not materially alter the complexion of the terrorist threat.
This is an extract from the latest edition of Control Risks’ Terrorism Monthly report. This month’s edition also details the most significant incidents from the past month and includes a profile on the Shining Path leftist guerrilla group in Peru. To access the full report and our full-range of political, security and operational risk analysis, sign up for a trial of our Country Risk Forecast subscription service.