Europol has warned that the so-called ’Islamic State’ group could launch fresh attacks in Europe in the near future with police forces across the continent investigating more than 50 terrorism cases.
The European Union’s police agency said in a grim analysis of ’IS’ tactics that EU countries participating in the US-led coalition fighting the extremist group in Syria and Iraq are most at risk.
France and Belgium, which have suffered major attacks in the last two years, are among the nations in the US-led coalition.
Others include the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark. Germany’s military is also involved, but not in combat operations.
Europol director Rob Wainwright said in an interview that counterterrorism agencies are tackling the threat from IS in co-operation with his Hague-based agency.
Europol is assisting more than 50 terror investigations by national agencies across the continent, he said.
"That says something about the level of the threat, but also about the level of interconnectedness amongst the counterterrorist community here," he said.
In the report, Europol said car bombings and other tactics IS uses in Iraq and Syria could also be deployed in Europe.
It said attacks such as those in France and Belgium show that extremists acting in the name of IS can plan complex attacks.
"Estimates from some intelligence services indicate several dozen people directed by ’IS’ may be currently present in Europe with a capability to commit terrorist attacks," according to the report, which draws on counterterrorism intelligence from around Europe as well as media reports and previously publicised calls by IS leaders for attacks.
Despite the warnings, Mr Wainwright expressed optimism that the counterterrorism efforts will, over the long term, rein in the threat posed by ’IS’.
"We’re not there yet. I think we will get there. It might be replaced in the future, of course, by another iteration in the international terrorist scene," he said.
"So it doesn’t have to be the new normal, but we have to take the right measures, right now, to protect our citizens from the kind of atrocities that unfortunately we’ve suffered in the last two years."
Community leaders also have a role to play in diminishing the threat from IS recruiters and trainers who prey on marginalised youths - some of whom may have mental health problems or backgrounds in petty crime - and incite them to carry out attacks, Mr Wainwright said.
"We have to work in the community with faith leaders, with parents, with teachers to try and make sure that these young, impressionable minds are not turned so easily," he said.
The Europol report noted a shift in IS attacks from symbolic targets like police officers and military personnel to indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets, such as the attacks a year ago in Paris at a rock concert, the national stadium and bustling pavement cafes.
"Indiscriminate attacks have a very powerful effect on the public in general, which is one of the main goals of terrorism: to seriously intimidate a population," according to the report, which concludes the focus on soft targets means that attacking critical infrastructure like power grids and nuclear facilities is "currently not a priority".
Meanwhile, a police raid in Morocco in February may have thwarted a possible chemical or biological attack by an IS cell, raising the spectre that such weapons also could be used in Europe.
The report noted that automatic firearms, knives and vehicles are more easily available and that "the effectiveness, ease of use and access of these weapons will continue to be relevant".
The consensus among intelligence agencies in EU states is that "the cyber capabilities of terrorist groups are still relatively low", Europol’s report said.
But the document’s authors added that "the possibility of terrorist-affiliated cyber groups engaging in cyber warfare sponsored by nation states - those with capacities to engage in this type of attacks - should not be discounted".