(GPA) According to a report from the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC), European countries who are taking part in the US-led coalition against ISIS are more likely to suffer terrorist attacks at home– and the trend is expected to rise.
France ranked especially high on the list; Belgium, Germany, and the UK are also particularly susceptible to attacks. Ultimately however, the report also states that any country participating in the US-led coalition can expect a wave of “IS inspired attacks” from both organized groups and lone wolves. Attacks on European soil are not only expected to increase, but the ECTC expects attackers to shift away from symbolic targets and focus towards more soft targets with more civilian casualties. They expect the attacks carried out by organized groups to become more complex and could involve more car bomb style attacks similar to those in Iraq.
There are several reasons for this, most of which seem fairly obvious. For one thing, as refugees flee war they are greeted in certain European countries with increasingly hostile attitudes. This isolation can push an individual further towards self-radicalization– especially when combined with mental health factors. The report also notes that these lone wolf attacks are particularly difficult to predict as many self-radicalized individuals are not devout Muslims: “they may not read the Quran and may not be regular visitors of a mosque. There have been examples of 16 and 17-year olds who tried to act like Islamists rather than being Islamists, and had no sound knowledge of Islam. To have only a fragmented and very subjective knowledge of Islam may make them more dangerous. Mental or identity problems, lack of education, unemployment and an inferiority complex can make them vulnerable to radicalisation and recruitment, offering a sense of social belonging and emotional fulfilment.” Concluding that the isolation makes individuals more “prone to violence” while religion simply provides a “window of opportunity.”
ISIS is keen to this and the ECTC expects the terror group to use this to their advantage. “A real and imminent danger is the possibility of elements of the (Sunni Muslim) Syrian refugee diaspora becoming vulnerable to radicalization once in Europe and being specifically targeted by Islamic extremist recruiters.” Indeed, the West’s growing fear and disdain for Muslim refugees has been pushing them right back into the arms of groups like ISIS. From ISIS’ perspective, more attacks in western countries means more retaliation from the NATO-coalition, which causes more refugees to flee war– where these refugees are greeted with hostile attitudes. See the pattern?
European attacks are also expected to rise as patches of ISIS-control are liberated throughout Iraq and Syria. It’s been estimated that the highest point, at least 2,000 ISIS fighting in Syria were foreign fighters from across the Middle East, Central Asia, Chechnya, North America, and Europe. That number has reportedly dropped to about 50. If these figures are accurate, that means the fighters are either dead or have moved on. For the most dedicated fighters, this could mean moving into other countries like Libya. But for the rest, this means they’ll be returning home– which could very well include many European countries.
As Europe ups counter-terrorism efforts and surveillance, they make more terror-related arrests before attacks are carried out. This has exposed important link between terrorist groups like al-Qaeda or ISIS and organized crime such as migrant smuggling and black market arms trade: “the individuals identified in both fields were reported as being involved in various crime areas, including migrant smuggling, drug and firearms trafficking, financial crime and organised property crime. Almost all of them were first reported for offences related to serious and/or organised crime and only later for terrorism-related offences, suggesting that individuals involved in criminal activities and socialized in a criminal environment are amenable to radicalization processes.”
Optimistically, this report could entice European countries to slowly back-out of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition and slow down European intervention in the Middle East. Which eventually could push the United States to tone things down a bit. In fact Denmark recently pulled their F-16 fighter jets out of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. But as anyone reading this knows, this is (unfortunately) an extremely optimistic and unrealistic wish.
The global anti-ISIS coalition includes 66 countries (led by the United States) and is currently carrying out strikes in several Muslim countries–including (but not limited to) Iraq, Syria, and Libya. The United States claims the coalition has only caused 173 casualties, Amnesty International estimates at least 300 in Syria alone. The group Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Minority Rights Group International estimates at least 4,000 Iraqi and Syrian civilians have been killed by the US-coalition just in 2014 and 2015.