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Periphery attackers pose different kind of terror threat for Europe

Anthony Glees
LONDON: Terror experts have highlighted the mounting threat posed by low-profile Islamic extremists following a series of attacks across Europe.
Policy makers are increasingly focused on identifying the danger from periphery plotters in an effort to detect hitherto off-the-radar radicals at risk of being drawn deeper into the terrorist activity.
“As Daesh is being slowly taken apart, it will be vital to ensure that those who may previously have kept away from the fray will not now be drawn into it,” said Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Center for Security and Intelligence Studies (BUCSIS) at The University of Buckingham.
With the disintegration of Daesh’s self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq, commentators have warned of an evolving threat across Europe as individuals, who might previously have tried to travel to Syria, look to carry out attacks at home.
“The threat picture has moved in such a way that people considered to be peripheral before are becoming center of the plot,” said Rafaello Pantucci, the director for International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies.
“If you look at the plotting we’ve seen across Europe, there have been far fewer large-scale actors planning complicated operations and much more of these low-level attacks.”
Policy makers, he said, are adapting their response to match the shifting threat from “these random isolated individuals launching this sort of lower-level attack across the continent.”
“Everybody is facing a similar problem,” he continued, pointing to discussions in Germany around changing the laws on how authorities listen in on people, France’s plans to centralize and share intelligence and a spate of deportations in Italy as authorities expel more individuals suspected of having having terrorist ties.
In the UK, new sentencing guidelines have been drawn up to impose tougher punishment on terrorist plotters, targeting those with lower levels of involvement in response to the growing trend toward less sophisticated methods of attack.
Speaking to Arab News in the wake of a recent attack at London’s Parsons Green station, where a home-made bucket bomb was detonated on a District Line tube injuring 30 people, Dr. Abdullah Khaled Al-Saud, a Visiting Fellow at ICSR, King’s College London said: “It has become increasingly difficult for security forces to defend against every possible terrorist attack, especially given the fact that the pattern and nature of terrorist attacks have changed in recent years.”
“Groups have been encouraging their followers to avoid complex and highly coordinated operations, and focus instead on attacks that are very simple to carry out, the ones that would only require a kitchen knife or a rented car or truck.”
In a draft version of the guidelines, the Sentencing Council for England and Wales emphasised the danger of the current climate, “Where a terrorist act could be planned in a very short time using readily available items as weapons” and where “acts of terrorism can be committed by many rather than a few highly-organized individuals.”
Describing the move as a “proportionate response,” Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, an organization supporting community integration in the UK, pointed to the “sheer number of plots that are taking place and people ending up supporting the cause.”
“The Daesh ideology has created quite a fanbase and the problem is going to be with us for at least a couple of years.”
“It is important to review the legislation regularly in response to rapidly changing political scenarios,” he said.
Pantucci described the difficulty of responding to a much more diffuse pattern and methodology of terrorism. “Legislation hasn’t kept up with the reality of the threat,” he said, adding that it’s increasingly hard to tell where this is coming from.
“Periphery players keep turning out to be the ones trying to launch an attack so it’s becoming very difficult to calibrate.”