Terrorism soared in Europe last year

Islamist attacks doubled, says Europol; risk of less sophisticated strikes by ISIS still acute

THE HAGUE • Islamist attacks on European targets more than doubled last year, Europe's police agency said yesterday, warning that the risk of more unsophisticated attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group "remains acute".

Last year, a total of 33 terror attacks were reported on the continent and Britain, 10 of which were successful - killing 62 people - while the rest were foiled or failed, Europol said in an annual report issued in The Hague.

That figure compared with 13 reported attacks in 2016, of which 10 were successful, leading to 135 deaths.

However, the "increase in the number of jihadist terrorist attacks in 2017 ran parallel to a decrease in sophistication in their preparation and execution", Europol's 2018 Terrorism Situation and Trend Report said. This included the attack on London's Westminster Bridge on March 22 last year and a similar attack on London Bridge two months later when attackers drove vehicles into pedestrians and stabbed bystanders with knives.

Extremists who carried out such attacks in the European Union last year were mainly home-grown. In many cases, "it becomes a form of personal retaliation against the country that they failed to integrate with", Europol's counter-terrorism chief Manuel Navarrete told journalists ahead of the report's launch.

Europeans who went off to fight on behalf of ISIS have not returned in large numbers since losing strongholds in Syria and Iraq, Mr Navarrete said.

Nevertheless, tracking battle-hardened fighters is still the main concern of Western counter-terrorism officials, he said.

"As IS gets weaker, it has been urging its followers to carry out lone actor-type attacks in their home countries," Europol said, using another acronym for ISIS.

Many fighters have been detained. Some travelled to Malaysia, the Philippines and Libya. Others are thought to be laying low or in countries such as Turkey, said Mr Navarrete.

Tougher border controls, surveillance and prosecution in Europe have also dissuaded some from returning, with EU nations making more than 700 arrests linked to terrorist activity last year, he said.

Europol's report comes as German police yesterday announced the arrest of a Tunisian man caught in possession of deadly ricin poison and bomb-making material to be used in a suspected terror attack.

A report by specialist global risk consultancy group Control Risks yesterday said the threat posed by ISIS-inspired terrorism is growing and spreading.

The report found that the number of attacks rose from 2,676 in 2013 to 5,276 as of end-April this year. The Middle East and North Africa were the most-affected regions, while the Asia-Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa registered record numbers of incidents.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2018, with the headline 'Terrorism soared in Europe last year'. Print Edition | Subscribe