The European Union is facing an “elevated threat” from Islamic extremists with a trebling in jihadist arrests in the last two years, according to the EU police agency.
Europol warned that lone actor attacks remain a “favourite tactic” of Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
It pointed out that both terror groups have repeatedly called on Muslims, “often radicalised within a short space of time”, to perpetrate attacks in the countries they live in.
In its 2015 Terrorism Report, written before the Nice attack, it said IS and al-Qaeda “clearly have access” to people in the EU prepared to carry out suicide attacks, with examples reported in Finland, the Netherlands, and the UK.
It said methods include the use of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices. While Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel did not use his truck as an explosive device in Nice, he used it as a mass killing weapon. The report found:
The report said there were 211 failed, foiled or completed terrorist attacks in the EU in 2015. The motivation was not specified in 107, while 65 were separatist attacks and 17 jihadist.
The UK reported the highest number of terrorist attacks (103), followed by France (72) and Spain (25).
There were 151 fatalities, 150 caused by jihadists — 148 of these in the January and November attacks in France.
“Murders and injuries in 2015 resulted from both unsophisticated lone actor terrorist attacks and well-coordinated, complex attacks by groups of militants,” said the report.
“The carefully planned attacks demonstrated the elevated threat to the EU from a fanatic minority, operationally based in the Middle East, combined with a network of people born and raised in the EU, often radicalised within a short space of time, who have proven to be willing and able to act as facilitators and active accomplices in terrorism.”
The report said the January and November attacks in Paris “represented a clear shift in the intent and capability” of jihadists.
It said police and security services face a “highly challenging task” in keeping track of “ever increasing numbers of people sympathetic to IS ideology”.
The report said the UK and other EU states pointed to the effectiveness of terrorist media “at inspiring and radicalising vulnerable individuals”.
It said: “IS continues to use their media activities to encourage aspiring terrorists to conduct lone-actor attacks.”
The report said there was a “real and imminent danger” of the potential for elements of the Sunni Muslim Syrian refugee diaspora to “become vulnerable to radicalisation once in Europe, and to be specifically targeted by Islamist extremist recruiters”.
Of the 1,077 terror arrests in 2015, 687 were suspected jihadists, while 168 were separatists.
The greatest number of jihadist arrests were in France (377), Spain (75), and Belgium (60), with no breakdown data from the UK. In relation to separatist arrests, there were 41 in Ireland, third behind Spain (75), and France (44), with no figures for the UK.
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