January 14, 2016
TSG IntelBrief: The Scope of the Terror Threat in Europe
As the scope of the terrorism threat in Europe has widened over the past year, the numbers of counterterrorism raids across the continent spiked. The threat, which materialized most notably in two separate attacks in Paris, increased primarily due to the destabilizing effects of the ongoing conflict in Syria and the broader proliferation of extremist ideology across social media. While the approach to countering this increased threat is of course multifaceted—as well as specific to each locale—there is one common tactic that is one of security agencies’ most effective tools: the consistent application of counterterrorism raids.
No European country conducted more counterterrorism raids in the last year than France, which is understandable given the two attacks that struck Paris. France is facing a serious extremist threat—partly due to long-simmering internal issues and partly imported from neighboring countries, and ultimately, from the ongoing war in Syria. French security and intelligence agencies have conducted approximately 2,700 raids in the months following the November 2015 attacks in Paris; approximately 360 people have been arrested, detained, or put under house arrest.
In the weekend following the November 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 and injured more than 300, French authorities conducted more than 150 raids. Not only were counterintelligence officials concerned about further attacks, but anxious to keep tabs on the ‘known wolves’ who were already familiar to authorities. Likewise, in neighboring Belgium, authorities have conducted approximately 50 raids since November 2015, and uncovered terror networks, cells, and individuals—only some of which were related to the attacks in Paris.
While some raids resulted in arrests—and some in the deaths of confirmed terrorists—the value of raids as a counterterrorism practice exceeds the numbers of arrests and convictions. Particularly when dealing with an amorphous and expanding threat, it is the disruptive power of raids that is perhaps more valuable. Terror cells, and especially those in a network, react in a variety of telling ways when officials initiate a series of raids, even if they are not among the targets. When terror cells are forced to react, to travel, or to communicate, the odds of detection increase dramatically.
Raids keep terrorists off-balance and more concerned about avoiding detection than planning an operation. The sheer number of raids across Europe shows that local and national law enforcement usually have a pretty good idea of who terror suspects are; counterterrorism shortcomings in recent attacks were more due to faulty intelligence sharing and the failure to act rather than a complete lack of awareness of the bad actors. Consistent pressure applied through targeted and periodical raids helps officials deal with the threats they know and—just as importantly—perhaps disrupt unknown threats.
2016 will see an increase in counterterrorism raids across Europe. While the scope of Europe’s terrorism threat was brought to light in 2015, the factors driving the increase have yet to be negated. Some counterterrorism problems are actually worse now; terrorists have displayed the ability to travel undetected and undisrupted between Syria and Europe—signaling a true continent-wide security crisis. The massive numbers of refugees fleeing north from conflict zones into Europe will continue into 2016, bringing with them the unquantifiable but undeniable risk of terrorists entering the EU amid the chaos. Monitoring suspected cells or individuals will continue to give way to proactive disruption in the form of increased counterterrorism raids.
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