Foreign ISIL Fighters Again Pose a Threat to Europe in 2018
Policy experts warn that the terror threat to Europe will only increase this year as numbers of foreign fighters return home with high tech weapons and knowledge from the battlefield. Last year, Europe experienced a number of terrorist attacks, including five in London, one in Barcelona, Paris, Stockholm and Berlin from March to June 2017.
According to a new report from Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC), terrorism risks in Europe are likely to increase in 2018 as foreign fighters depart the former ‘Caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria, bringing their training and expertise back to the continent.
The report found that although low-capability terror methods will remain prominent (i.e. vehicle-impact attacks, knives, small-arms attacks, improvised explosive devices), it is likely that new and more destructive methods will emerge in the next two years in Europe, including the use of car bombs and the adoption of new technology, such as drones.
In Rome, United States Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, raised the issue of foreign fighters and urged NATO allies to help with the growing number of fighters in the Middle East.
Kathryn Wheelbarger, the principal Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for International Security Affairs, stated that the goal is to keep fighters off the battlefield and unable to travel to other cities and that “[the U.S.] is working with the coalition on foreign fighter detainees, and generally expect the detainees to return to their country of origin for disposition.”
JTIC has predicted that from 2019 to 2023, a substantial number of terrorism convicts who have been active supports of Islamist militant groups, but in most cases have not acted nor created an attack in-country, will be released from prison. However, this paired with the vast number of anticipated returning foreign fighters will most likely increase the rising trend of militant Islamist activity.
There has also been concern that with the release of the detainees to their home country, the enforcement of the EU counter-terrorism laws would vary from country to country based on their experience with terrorism. For example, countries like the Nordics, who have had lower terrorism exposure, then to have more lenient sentencing.
Currently, Britain has the largest group of returning jihadists who travelled through Turkey to join ISIS. Approximately, 400 of 850 UK citizens are believed to have returned. The British Intelligence Service, MI6, have arrest five fighters, including two notoriously known as “The Beatles.”
Former Director of Global Counterterrorism at MI6 commented, “All returnees, whatever their reason for going home, will continue to pose some degree of risk.”