The expected rise in returned foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq is likely to strengthen domestic jihadist movements and magnify the threat posed to the EU, says Europol.
The EU police agency said there has been a sharp rise in arrests relating to jihadi terrorism across the union, from 169 in 2012 to 687 in 2015, rising further in 2016, to 718.
In its EU Terrorism Report 2017, Europol said just one person was arrested in Ireland in relation to jihadi terrorism in 2016 and that no attacks — attempted or completed — were carried out here.
While the threat level in Ireland remains at moderate — meaning a jihadi attack is possible, but not likely — senior gardaí have told the Irish Examiner that they, along with all European police and security agencies, were concerned at the return of foreign fighters.
An estimated 30 Irish citizens are known to have travelled to jihadi warzones, some five of whom are known to have been killed. The fate of the others is not known.
Referring to the risks posed by foreign fighters coming back to Europe, the report said: “The number of returnees is expected to rise, if IS, as seems likely, is defeated militarily or collapses.
“An increasing number of returnees will likely strengthen domestic jihadist movements and consequently magnify the threat they pose to the EU.”
The report said there were “increased efforts” to incite Islamic State (IS) sympathisers in the West to perpetrate attacks at home with practical guidance for lone-actor assaults in IS publications, including the use of knives, vehicles and arson.
It also said there were increased efforts by IS to directly recruit vulnerable people via social media.
The report said there were 76 failed, foiled, and completed attacks by dissident republicans in Northern Ireland, with four bombings, one of which resulted in the death of prison officer Adrian Ismay.
A total of 123 people were arrested in 2016, while, in the Republic, 16 such arrests were carried out.
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