Threat 'acute' as Islamist attacks double in 2017: Europol

People look at tributes left in Parliament Square following a recent attack in Westminster, London, Britain, on March 24, 2017.
People look at tributes left in Parliament Square following a recent attack in Westminster, London, Britain, on March 24, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

THE HAGUE (AFP) - Islamist attacks on European targets more than doubled last year, Europe's police agency said on Wednesday (June 20), warning the risk of more unsophisticated attacks by the so-called 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 simply drove vehicles into pedestrians and stabbed bystanders with knives, killing 13 people in total and wounding some 98 others.

Terrorists who carried out such attacks in the EU in 2017, were mainly home-grown, "meaning that they were radicalised in their country of residence without having travelled to join a terrorist group abroad".

Amid a series of offensives, ISIS fighters who swept across large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014 declaring a so-called "caliphate", have mostly now lost control in those areas.

"As IS gets weaker, it has been urging its followers to carry out lone actor type attacks in their home countries, rather than guiding them to travel to the so-called caliphate," Europol said, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.

But it warned: "The threat of jihadist attacks in the EU remains acute, as demonstrated by the attacks which took place in 2017."

France, Germany, Spain and Belgium on Wednesday launched an initiative seeking to set up a European register to share vital counter-terrorism information, the judicial cooperation agency Eurojust said.

"The current terrorist threat is essentially a domestic threat from home-grown fighters, that is to say people of European origin," Belgium's federal prosecutor Frederic van Leeuw told a press conference.

The new register would allow information about current investigations to be passed between EU states to help build up a complete picture.

"The quality of European judicial cooperation in the fight against terrorism is an absolute requirement," France's top anti-terror prosecutor Francois Molins said.

"We have to do even more than we are already doing, and I am delighted at the creation of a European register. By working in a more intelligent manner, we will be stronger," he added.