Terrorism in Europe: US and Europol reports unveil an ever-expanding galaxy.

In the light of the recent terrorist attacks in Boston, London and Paris, radical violence remains a high strategic priority in the defence agenda of countries all across the world. The US Departement of State (USDS) recently issued its 2012 Report on Terrorism, highlighting new trends in terrorism attacks and countering measures for each continent. Though data show a clear geographic concentration of the phenomenon, notably in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, the European chapter still is, alas, particularly dense. Main findings on terrorism in the continent mirror the 2012 Europol Annual Report. In line with the USDS report, indeed, Europol’s Director Rob Wainwright denounced a rise in arrests and proto-terrorist attacks in front of the LIBE commission on 7th May 2013.

 Whilst acknowledging the ever stronger cooperation between US and European authorities, the reports underline how Europe remains a main target for terrorist groups of all kinds. Indeed, the patchwork of national backgrounds is mirrored by the variety of terrorist threats both inside and outside EU’s borders. Not only radical islamic, but also ethno-nationalist, extreme-right and anarchist forms of terrorism continue to ravage the European continent. As expressions of extremist violence evolve, greater cooperation between EU Member States and third countries is demanded in order to best tackle the terrorist hazard.

Radical islamic violence remains a top concern throughout Europe, but its incidence in defence agendas varies across countries. According to Europol, the fundamentalist threat has grown by one third across Europe, but in France it has even doubled. High levels of alertness are therefore kept in France, following the killings committed by Mohammed Merah in Toulouse and Montauban in March. Belgium also experienced a series of fundamentalist related crimes (one of them carried against a policeman in a metro station) and several arrestations ensued; major concerns are addressed to fundamentalist group Sharia4Belgium.

Some of the riskiest areas in this respect are Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bulgaria, where large muslim communities live: last year, most notably, Bulgaria experienced a terrorist attack in Burgas’ airport against an Israeli group. Connections with Lebanese Hizballah have been denounced by Bulgarian public officers. Moreover, Hizballah was also involved in troubles in Cyprus and in Belgium for money laundering activities. Still, as the USDS report underlines, the Lebanese group is not currently listed among other terrorist organisations inside the EU.

One of the main changes in this type of terrorist outbreaks is the emergence of the so-called “lone-wolf attacks”, that is individuals carrying out single small-scale crimes, from bombings to stabbings, without being directly mandated by greater terrorist organisations. Often, these are young people experiencing a process of religious radicalization, strenghtened through Internet networks and sometimes accomplished by the attendance of training camps abroad. According to Europol data, the average age of religious radical individuals continues to lower and is today around 25 years. Isolated attacks of the like are often linked either to international affairs, such as the Syrian civil war, or to local events, an altercation between the police and muslim citizens being sufficient to trigger the violence. This new trend in terrorist attacks is potentially much more dangerous, as they are barely predictable and therefore less avoidable.

The pulverization of terrorist attacks does not only concern radical islamism, but also far right extremism. The carnage in Utoya is still vivid in memory. This kind of radicalism is mostly experienced in northern Europe and in Germany, where neo-nazi groups arouse concern. Special initiatives are taken in this respect.

Anarchist outbreaks mostly spread in southern countries, where the economic crisis has hit the most. Greece, Italy and Spain all reported such attacks during last year, even though no relevant rise has been detected according to Europol. Some of the main targets of the bombings are party offices, private bank ATMs, tax agencies and other public organisms. Generally, these are small-scale attacks, using rudimental incendiary devices, mainly aimed at launching political messages through tension-raising rather than killing people.

Ethno-nationalist terrorism typically concerns areas where regional demands for autonomy or even independence are stronger. Ireland continues to report turmoils and sporadic attacks in its northern provinces carried by dissident republicans; the Irish police managed to find and neutralize several explosive devices across different counties. France and Spain both succesfully cooperated in order to fight the ETA’s organization in the Basque regions: as a result, no terrorist attacks were reported in 2012 in charge of this group. ETA also renewed in 2012 its public announcements for a definitive cease of violence, as already stated in 2011. Nevertheless, as observed by the Europol Report, ETA has not stopped recruiting new affiliates nor collecting information about new objectives.

 Turkey’s fundamental threat remains the kurdish question: more than 200 attacks carried by the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) mainly targeted security forces throughout Turkey. Cyprus also represents a very complex case, as the unofficial division of the island since 1983 hinders the effective application of measures countering terrorism over the whole State. Indeed, lack of structural controls let for smuggling activities to flourish along the buffer zone.

Besides the diversification of internal threats, attention is also paid to attacks against Europeans abroad. Soldiers, volunteers, doctors and members of all kinds of organisations are the bull of fundamentalist attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia. The international terrorist network demands a highly coordinated response not only on the fight against terrorism but also on prevention. As the actors of these crimes are often young people, great attention is paid nowadays to deradicalization programms applied throughout Europe. Related measures often concern education and integration programms (fixed at the ministerial level in France and in the UK, delegated to federated entities in Germany), initiatives to foster the interreligious dialogue (Bosnia and Herzegovina), reintegration of radical individuals (Spain) and training programms for law enforcement officers (Italy).

 At the international level, cooperation between Europe and the US remains strong, with several bilateral agreements being signed and ratified by a number of EU countries. Nevertheless, minor complications arose as for long term detention and data protection issues(1). Also, most European countries are members of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and of the Financial Action Task Force in order to prevent terrorist groups’ bankrolling. Countering mesures in this respect mainly target money laundering activities. Still, according to Europol, great attention must be paid to other ways of self-financing, such as hostage-taking of EU citizens abroad and blackmailing of EU muslim communities, often disguised as voluntary donations.

 Though no serious global threats are detected nowadays for the EU, Director Wainwright praises for constant monitoring mostly towards Internet websites, financing channels, the smuggling of firearms and chemical precursors to explosives. In any case, terrorisms remain a high priority for the European defence agenda: it’s no coincidence that the recent JAI Council (06 – 07.06.2013) dealt with foreign fighters in Syria as a serious concern for Europe.

 Gianluca CESARO 


(1) concerns were expressed during the last LIBE commission’s meeting on 29th May 2013, notably in the matter of the so-called FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), requiring foreign credit institutions to divulgate private data of account holders to the United States.


Pour en savoir plus:

 ·            Country Reports on Terrorism (European Chapter) – 2013 – (EN) – http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2012/209981.htm

 ·            Europol Annual Report – 2013 (to be published online)

 ·            Enregistrement de l’intervention de M. Wainwright devant la commission LIBE – 07.05.2013 – (EN) – http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/fr/committees/video?event=20130507-0900-COMMITTEE-LIBE


Adeline Silva Pereira

Après avoir effectué la deuxième année du master Sécurité Globale analyste politique trilingue à l'Université de Bordeaux, j'effectue un stage au sein d'EU Logos afin de pouvoir mettre en pratique mes compétences d'analyste concernant l'actualité européenne sur la défense, la sécurité et plus largement la coopération judiciaire et policière.

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