According to intelligence services, the threat of terrorist attacks in Europe is “long-term.” Radical Islamism has not disappeared in recent years, but most attacks have not become known to the wide public due to the low number of victims. Rather than extensive attacks, the current problem is the terrorist acts of individuals that are difficult to predict.
The murder of the teacher in Paris, the massacre in the church in Nice, and the terrorist attack in the center of Vienna on Monday are just a few examples of attacks in recent weeks. Besides them, there were several other incidents, which have since been forgotten, such as the machete attack in Dresden or violence and murders in the French suburbs.
With the number of terrorist attacks increasing, the question often arises: Is a new wave of violence motivated by radical Islam coming to Europe?
Intelligence services agree that, in principle, this is not the case, as Islamic terrorism has never actually disappeared from Europe. According to them, the perception that there have been less attacks in the last two to three years has merely been due to the public not being aware of the real numbers and ongoing threat. Although there have been less large-scale and organized attacks, as in 2015 and 2016, they have been replaced by several smaller terrorist attacks, which, due to the low number of victims, have often not become known to the wider public. On top of that, security forces have also managed to prevent many attacks.
The intelligence services point out that the mood among radical Muslims has recently reached a boiling point. Terrorist organizations are increasingly calling on their supporters to organize attacks and die a martyr’s death. Encouragements to attack also take place in mosques and on online platforms. According to experts, the propaganda of radical Islam is still spreading fast, regardless of the defeat of the Islamic State in the Middle East. Furthermore, various instructions on how to make explosives are circulating freely on the internet, along with motivational texts so that jihadists are not afraid to use the weapons against “unbelievers.”
According to German counterintelligence, the chance of a terrorist attack in Europe is “long-term high.” In Germany alone, authorities expect there are 30,000 followers of radical Islam. Also, at least 300 jihadists returned to the country from Syria and Iraq after the defeat of the Islamic State.
One of the current issues is that European authorities often register more potential terrorists than their intelligence services are able to track. Another problem is that attacks have become less and less predictable in recent years. Whereas until a few years ago, terrorists were connected to terrorist organizations in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, now they are more likely to be independent individuals who radicalize on their own discreetly, in mosques, or over the internet. Also, many are not even on the list of dangerous people, and to carry out an attack, all they have to do is go to the nearest shop and purchase a kitchen knife.
But Monday’s attack in Vienna also showed a failure on the part of the Austrian government. The attacker, a 20-year-old Albanian from North Macedonia with Austrian citizenship, was already sentenced to prison last year while trying to cross into Syria and fight for the Islamic State. He was released prematurely as a juvenile, underwent a deradicalization program, and was to remain under strict supervision. Nevertheless, he murdered four people in the center of Vienna and wounded 23 others, at least seven of them seriously.
It is also unclear how he obtained the two firearms, also seen with him in a photo he had posted on a social network before the attack. Traces led to Slovakia, which claims it warned the Austrian authorities about a suspicious trip this past summer.
Intelligence services also predict that radical Islamists have been recently encouraged to increase their activity by the cartoons of the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly as well as by the assurance of President Emmanuel Macron that France will not restrict art, satire, and freedom of speech. After all, it is Macron, together with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is now calling on other European states to take firm action against Islamic terrorism and to reconsider “false tolerance.”