The results of the latest study of European terror may startle you.
In 2016, a total of 142 failed, foiled and completed attacks were reported by eight EU Member States. More than half (76) of them were reported by the United Kingdom. France reported 23 attacks, Italy 17, Spain 10, Greece 6, Germany 5, Belgium 4 and the Netherlands 1 attack. In total, 142 victims died in terrorist attacks, and 379 were injured in the EU.
Despite the best efforts of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, things aren’t getting better. It is our internal arguments over how to resolve terror that is getting worse.
I was reading the letters of Abraham Lincoln when I became struck by the similarity between his clearsighted vision during the American Civil War, which in many respects resembled domestic terror, and our own muddled view of how to deal with the global phenomenon.
Like the Civil War, terror can unite and divide. Confidence and courage are lacking because we are more interested in waging a modern civil war between those who believe belligerent religion is the cause of everything gone wrong to those who deny religion is a factor. Innocents are slaughtered while we hold forth over salon conversations.
Lincoln was losing the Civil War until he discovered an overlooked military genius named U.S. Grant. The general came up with a strategy to circumvent the South’s defenses (for more, read my interview with General David Petraeus on Grant’s brilliance). The secret to Lincoln’s success, he kept on hammering at his generals until the right one emerged. He never gave a speech starting with, “war is terrible, but this is just how life is.”
Clear sighted thinking based on facts on the ground is needed, just as it was in Lincoln’s day. His approach was to find someone who could examine the facts, nothing off the table, nothing taken for granted, leave all bias and short sightedness at the door, and finally, take action.
Our era has cured diseases that persisted for centuries, ended global wars, and lifted entire economies of nations. We can deal with the terror phenomenon if we deal with it properly and responsibly. Lincoln faced similar challenges, but in his case he took pains to understand the human terrain as well as the battlefield. These talents allowed him to craft a vision that was at odds at times with his reluctant generals, but his dogged insistence on action led to triumph.
Here is Lincoln writing to his his commanding general, George McLellan, when the latter was fumbling and looking around for ‘safer spaces’:
This is a question which the country will not allow me to evade. I think it is the precise time for you to strike a blow. By delay the enemy will gain faster, by fortifications and reinforcements, than you can by reinforcements alone. (Otherwise you are) shifting, and not surmounting, a difficulty.
You remember my speaking to you of what I called your over-cautiousness? Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?
This proposition is a simple truth…We should not so operate as to merely drive him away. As we must beat him somewhere, or fail finally, we can do it, if at all, easier near to us, than far away.
Some startling facts based on the the latest study of European terror:
Although there was a large number of terrorist attacks not connected with jihadism, the latter accounts for the most serious forms of terrorist activity as nearly all reported fatalities and most of the casualties were the result of jihadist terrorist attacks.
Explosives were used in 40% of the attacks and women and young adults, and even children, are playing increasingly operational roles in committing terrorist activities independently in the EU.
Most arrests were related to jihadist terrorism, for which the number rose for the third consecutive year.
Also, the European Counter Terrorism Centre at Europol supported 127 counter terrorism investigations in 2016, which shows a clear indication of the growing range of jihadist activity.
Dr Michael Farrugia, Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Malta — Maltese Presidency of the EU: “The recent attacks in London, Manchester and Paris represented a clear shift in the intent and capability of perpetrating these acts of terror designed to draw the attention of the free world. The effects of such acts will remain in the collective memory of all who have freedom at heart. The memory of the innocent victims and the suffering of their families and loved ones will continue to fuel our commitment in working effectively towards the strengthening of the combined efforts and cooperation amongst all Member States.”
Some of the other findings reported in the TE-SAT 2017:
- Arrests: 1002 persons were arrested for terrorist offences in 2016. Most arrests were related to jihadist terrorism, for which the number rose for the third consecutive year: 395 in 2014, 687 in 2015 and 718 in 2016.
- Victims: Of the 142 victims that died in terrorist attacks, 135 people were killed in jihadist terrorist attacks.
- Age of terrorists: Almost one-third of the total number of arrestees (291 of 1002) were 25 years old or younger.
- Explosives: Explosives were used in 40% of the attacks. Even though terrorists use a wide range of readily available weapons, explosive devices continue to be used in terrorist attacks, due to their high impact and symbolic power.
- Technical trend: Regarding the potential use of alternative and more sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the current trend in using weaponised unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as a drone, in the Syria/Iraq conflict zone might also inspire other jihadist supporters and increase the use of this kind of tactic.
- Terrorism financing: 40% of terrorist plots in Europe are believed to be at least partly financed through crime, especially drug dealing, theft, robberies, the sale of counterfeit goods, loan fraud, and burglaries.
- Women and children: Women have increasingly assumed more operational roles in jihadist terrorism activities, as have minors and young adults. One in four (26%) of the arrestees in 2016 were women, a significant increase compared to 2015 (18%). In addition, the United Kingdom reported an increase in the number of women, families and minors engaging in the conflict in Syria/Iraq, and the Netherlands reported that more 40 children (age 0–12 years) have travelled to Syria and Iraq.
- Ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism: 99 foiled, failed and completed attacks carried out were labelled as ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism. Dissident Republican groups in Northern Ireland were involved in 76 attacks.
- Left-wing and anarchist terrorism: The numbers of attacks of left-wing and anarchist terrorists increased in 2016 compared to 2015. 27 attacks were carried out and EU Member State authorities arrested 31 people. Italy, Greece and Spain were the only EU Member States to experience left-wing and anarchist terrorist attacks.
- Online propaganda: The quantity of Islamic State propaganda decreased in 2016 due to lower production rates and the containment of dissemination. After a peak in mid-2015, the number of new videos produced by the Islamic State slowly decreased. In the second half of 2016, the frequency of new releases dropped even further. As the volume of Islamic State propaganda diminished, al-Qaeda and its affiliates attempted to take advantage of the situation and increased their efforts to reach new audiences.
- Social networks: Jihadist groups have demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of how social networks operate and have launched well-organised, concerted social media campaigns to recruit followers and to promote or glorify acts of terrorism and violent extremism. The success in restricting terrorist activity online shows the impact of collaborative efforts between law enforcement, such as Europol’s Internet Referral Unit (IRU) and the private sector.