ISIS planning for 'large-scale' attacks on Europe: Europol

A masked man points a weapon as he speaks in this still image from a handout video obtained on Jan 4, 2016.
A masked man points a weapon as he speaks in this still image from a handout video obtained on Jan 4, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

AMSTERDAM (AFP) - The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has honed the ability to launch global attacks and is set to focus more on Europe following the Paris massacre, the chief of the EU police agency Europol said on Monday (Jan 25).

Rob Wainwright told a news conference that “the so-called Islamic State had developed a new combat style capability to carry out a campaign of large-scale terrorist attacks on a global stage – with a particular focus in Europe.”

“So-called Islamic State has a willingness and a capability to carry out further attacks in Europe, and of course all national authorities are working to prevent that from happening,” he added.

Wainwright was unveiling the findings of a new Europol report on changes in how the extremist group operates, coinciding with the launch of the agency’s new counterterrorism centre in The Hague.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the Nov 13 Paris attacks in which 130 people were killed, releasing a video on Sunday purporting to show nine of the extremsts in which they threaten “coalition countries” including Britain.

A US-led coalition has been fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq since September 2014.

“ISIS is preparing more terrorist attacks, including more ‘Mumbai-style’ attacks, to be executed in member states of the EU, and in France in particular,” the Europol report said.

“The attacks will be primarily directed at soft targets, because of the impact it generates. Both the November Paris attacks and the October 2015 bombing of a Russian airliner suggest a shift in ISIS strategy towards going global.” 

ISIS had developed an “external action command” which was trained for “special forces-style attacks” internationally, the report said.

But the report played down fears that extremists were smuggling themselves into Europe as part of the huge wave of refugees and migrants that the continent is dealing with, many of whom are fleeing the war in Syria.

“There is no concrete evidence that terrorist travellers systematically use the flow of refugees to enter Europe unnoticed,” it said.

It warned however that many new arrivals were vulnerable to radicalisation or recruitment, with evidence that extremist recruiters were specifically targeting refugee centres.

One of the main tasks of the new Europol counter-terrorism centre was to collect details on the estimated 5,000 Europeans who have gone to fight with ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Wainwright said.

“We already have details on 3,700 fighters actively engaged in the conflict zone but that’s not the full picture and it’s something we will be addressing through priority work of the new centre,” it said. 

Meanwhile British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office on Monday dismissed the latest video released by ISIS.

“We’re in the process of examining this latest propaganda video which is another move from an appalling terrorist group that’s clearly in decline and in retreat,” Cameron’s spokeswoman told reporters.

The footage shows a picture of Cameron accompanied by the words in English: “Whoever stands in the ranks of kufr (unbelievers) will be a target for our swords.”