04 November 2020

Is the Islamic State changing its strategy in Europe? Is Romania going to be affected?

Sorin Butiri

In the 2012 and 2017 period, the EU member states were both the witnesses and the victims of a violent attacks wave. Only in the last three years of the aforementioned period 347 Europeans died and other 400 got hurt. Afterwards, the number of the attacks has decreased and the authorities have stopped many possible attacks and arrested many people. Considering the way it was executed, the Vienna attack reminds us of this painful period for Europe. The attacker was a “soldier of the Caliphate”, said the terrorist organization “Islamic State from Iraq and Levant”, on their communication website, Amaq. Is the Vienna attack a turning point for the European terrorism?

Image source: Profimedia

If we take a look at the statistics…

According to Europol’s annual report on terrorism, the number of deaths in Europe caused by all types of terrorism has decreased in 2019 with around 70% comparing to 2012. According to the same source, in 2019, there were planned 21 terrorist attacks, comparing to 24, planned in 2018, or 33, in 2017. Out of the 21 planned attacks, 14 were stopped by the authorities and other three were executed.

Nice and Vienna – two totally different attacks

Between 2012 and 2017, the terrorist attacks were executed with bombs – on stadiums, in airports, with automated guns – in the crowded areas of the big European cities or with vehicles – which were driven into big crowds. Then, the attacks have only used small guns or knives, targeting random people.  As for the recent three attacks – those from Paris suburbs, against a teacher, or the Nice and Vienna ones, executed only a few days from the first one – these are extremely different. The main differences are:

- in the Nice attack, the attacker was a Tunisian who entered Europe along with the illegal migrants who are periodically transiting the Mediterranean Sea. At least for one of the attackers, he was an Austrian citizen and Albanese North-Macedonian. The first one has recently arrived in Europe, meanwhile the second was born and raised in Austria;

- the Nice attacker acted quite simply, with a knife, a method used in Europe frequently after 2017. As for the Vienna terrorist attack, the terrorists have acted with AK-47 guns, but they also had with them other types of guns and lots of munition;

-if for the Nice terrorist attack we can talk about the so-called “lonely wolfs”, in Vienna it was the well-planned attack of a group, coordinated so that to produce many human loses;

- the attacker identified in Vienna – a 20 years old young men – was being monitored by the authorities, previously convicted to 22 months in prison for terrorism-related activities. Then, after only 8 months, he was freed on trial, based on the provisions of the Juvenile Criminal Law. The authorities thought, at that time, that the young man “was not capable of violent acts”. Great Britain did the same mistake with the London attacker (Sudesh Amman) who, before the attack, pleaded guilty for organizing a terrorist cell, so was convicted to three years and four months in prison but he was liberated after only serving for a third of the punishment and, a few days after getting out of the jail, he executed a terrorist attack on his own;

- another difference is the target. If the Nice attacker chose his target among the churchgoers who were in the church at that time, the Vienna attackers acted randomly.  Furthermore, the moment of the Vienna attack was chosen so that to offer the possibility to kill many people. The attack took place only a few hours before imposing the partial lockdown and prohibiting the night circulation in Austria.

The Vienna attack – is ISIL changing its strategy on the European territory?

As I was previously stating, the Vienna attack looks like the bloody attacks committed on the European territory between 2012 and 2017.

With a new leader, Abu Irahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, the terrorist organization ISIL moved its center of gravity in Africa and Asia, but the will to “attack” the European state is still there.

ISIL organized several actions in Philippines, killing 11 soldiers of the Philippine army in April this year. Also, it continued to be extremely active in Afghanistan and they might be responsible for killing 19 students in the attack that took place at the Kabul University (November 2nd).

Also, ISIL is very active in Western Africa, Central Africa, Egypt and Yemen. According to the UN chief department for terrorism combat, ISIL continues to reorganize and recruit fighters from Syria, Iraq or through its franchise from Western Africa (ISWAP). The illegal migrants transiting the Mediterranean Sea daily are an opportunity for ISIL. “Clean” young people, just recruited to serve the organization by executing terrorist attacks on the European soil can get infiltrated among the migrants. Although there is no proof so far, related to the Vienna attack, there are two factors that might have been the foundation of the attack: the radicalization online and in prisons.

This theory is also supported by the images posted before the attack by the attacked in Vienna. Kujtim Fejzulai has posted images on social media: a selfie with an AK-47, a machete and lots of munition, but also his promise to Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, the current leader of ISIL.

The measures adopted within the EU antiterrorism strategy, among them being also the combat of radicalization both online and in prisons, are mostly effete by Europe’s divided climate, which is characterized by hatred, illegal actions and radicalization. These results are defining the Eastern people’s nationalist derivative (Hungary and Poland), the Westerns’ ultra-humanistic liberalism, the social disequilibrium, the slow economic development, the refugees’ crisis, the continuation of terrorist attacks, the citizens’ lack of confidence in the state institutions and in political parties, as well as the increasing influence of the right wing, the populist parties and nationalist ideologies. To all of these, we add also the new coronavirus crisis, which raised many “borders” between the European countries.

The evergreen antiterrorism warning  

The terrorist attacks recently executed in Europe, in France (Paris, Nice) and Austria (Vienna) are confirming the evergreen terrorist threat against Europe, even if the continent is facing a deep health crisis, which is continuously increasing.

“The fact that the number of ISIL attacks has decreased in the EU does not mean that the threat is gone. Firstly, it means that we have managed to identify and stop many terrorist attacks”, was stating Gilles de Kerchove, the EU coordinator on terrorism combat, in an interview, at the beginning of the year.

There are several proofs of continuous attempts of ISIL to attract possible attackers or cell organizers in Europe. Spain and Portugal have arrested many people suspected for planning terrorist and recruitment actions.

But the winter holidays are at the corner. The authorities in several European countries have imposed total or partial lockdown to decrease the number of coronavirus infections and offer their citizens the possibility to enjoy the winter holidays. But it is this exact “freedom” to go out for shopping that represents an opportunity for ISIL. Terrorists always want to get the maximum attention from the mass-media.

Therefore, we can also think on the possibility for other ISIL “lonely wolfs” or even “dormant cells” to take advantage on people’s vigilance after the lockdown is completed, on the crowded shops and markets to conduct terrorist attacks.

In Romania, according to the Romanian Intelligence Service the terrorist alert is still Cautious-Blue. According to the same source, the Romanian Intelligence Service is permanently cooperating with the National System for Preventing and Countering Terrorism and foreign institutions to prevent an terrorist threat on our territory.

Translated by Andreea Soare