Islamic extremists targeted Europe every two weeks after fall of Daesh

The report added that the UK, France (French police pictured) and Germany remained the most targeted countries, as they were during the peak of Daesh’s power. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 27 September 2020

Islamic extremists targeted Europe every two weeks after fall of Daesh

  • Study, carried out by the Counter Extremism Group (CEG) in the UK, cited 33 confirmed plots of religiously motivated terrorism in European countries

LONDON: Extremists have attempted or carried out an attack in European countries every two weeks since the defeat of Daesh, a new report claims.

The study, carried out by the Counter Extremism Group (CEG) in the UK, cited 33 confirmed plots of religiously motivated terrorism in European countries in the months after Daesh forces were driven out of their last stronghold of Baghuz in Syria in March 2019.

The report warned that, despite Daesh’s collapse in the Middle East, the threat posed by Islamic extremists remained dangerously high, and that “tens of thousands of radicals scattered across Europe have not disappeared” because of its defeat, the Telegraph reported.

CEG’s analysis came from information dating back to January 2014 held by authorities in the UK and various European countries regarding known terror plots.

In comparison, extremists attempted or carried out a plot every week before the fall of Daesh.

Using June of this year as a cut-off point, CEG said there had been an average of 2.2 plots per month since March last year, with 11 of the attacks leading to “either deaths or injuries” — with six attacks in France, four in Britain, and one attack in Italy leading to 12 people being killed and 39 being injured.

The report added that the UK, France and Germany remained the most targeted countries, as they were during the peak of Daesh’s power, but that all plots targeting Germany in the period were thwarted.

The study added “lone actor” attacks had become more common — with eight out of nine of the attacks in Britain in the 15 month period carried out by individuals — and that the style of attack had tended to have “greater chance of success.”

While restrictions and lockdowns imposed across Europe due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic had led to a lack of mass gatherings, or “soft targets,” CEG said there were still seven confirmed plots between March and June this year, with two in the UK including an attack in which three people were killed in Reading in June.

The report said an “aspect of command and control from overseas” had dropped markedly since the collapse of Daesh.

“Most cases studied in this report did not demonstrate any evidence of external assistance or guidance from a foreign terrorist organization,” CEG said, but added: “It is inspiration rather than direction that ISIS (Daesh) is largely able to offer its supporters in 2020.”

More than 40,000 people have been placed on the MI5 Islamic terror watchlist in the UK, according to the Telegraph, which includes suspected foreign individuals that could travel to the UK, with 25,000 UK-based suspects on the list and 3,000 individuals under investigation at any point.

The CEG’s director, Robin Simcox, said: “Removing the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq was an effective blow against ISIS and a welcome victory in the battle against Islamist terrorism.

“However, Europe has since faced numerous plots that have no operational links to foreign terrorist groups but should be considered part of a broader, global jihad. COVID-19 has not changed this underlying dynamic, as the rate of alleged plots and attacks in Europe has remained steady even during the pandemic. The overall Islamist threat endures,” he added.

US official warns Taliban attacks could derail Afghan peace

Updated 3 min 50 sec ago

US official warns Taliban attacks could derail Afghan peace

  • Khalilzad urges militant group to honor ‘historic opportunity’ and end decades of war

KABUL: The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation warned on Monday that increasing attacks by the Taliban could undermine the historic peace deal signed between Washington and the militant group in February.

Zalmay Khalilzad also said the strikes could derail the ongoing intra-Afghan talks in Doha, Qatar, that look to end the protracted conflict in the country.

“Continued high levels of violence can threaten the peace process and the agreement, and the core understanding that there is no military solution. Violence today remains distressingly high in spite of the recent reaffirmation of the need for a substantial reduction,” he said in tweets on Monday.

Since last week, the Taliban have unleashed a series of attacks in parts of Afghanistan, particularly in the southern Helmand province, where more than 35,000 people have been displaced over recent days, Afghan officials told Arab News.

In response, US forces in the country launched several airstrikes on Taliban positions, which the insurgent group described as a breach of the February accord on Sunday.

Responding to the Taliban’s accusations, Khalilzad said they were “unfounded charges of violations and inflammatory rhetoric,” and “do not advance peace.”

Washington also accused the Taliban of breaking the historic agreement, which, among other things, looks to finalize a complete withdrawal of US-led troops from the country.

Khalilzad said the airstrikes were conducted to support Afghan troops as part of Washington’s commitment to defend them, if necessary.

He added that the Taliban attacks in Helmand, including some in the provincial capital that targeted Afghan security forces, led to a recent meeting in Doha where both sides agreed to “decrease attacks and strikes.” And while levels of violence in Helmand have fallen, it “remains high” across the country, the Afghan-born diplomat added.

Some Afghan observers said the motive behind Taliban attacks was to gain an “upper hand” in negotiations.

However, Khalilzad warned of the risks involved in using this strategy.

“The belief that says violence must escalate to win concessions at the negotiations table is risky. Such an approach can undermine the peace process and repeats past miscalculation by Afghan leaders,” he said, urging all sides to honor the “historic opportunity for peace, which must not be missed.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Monday that the group had “no comment” on Khalilzad’s statements and that US forces had “violated the Doha agreement in various forms by carrying out excessive airstrikes.”

Mujahid added that he had “no information” on the state of attacks in Helmand province.

However, Omar Zwak, a spokesman for Helmand’s governor, told Arab News that “fighting subsided in various parts of Helmand” over the past two days.

Meanwhile, an anonymous senior official in President Ashraf Ghani’s government praised Khalilzad for “beginning to get realistic” and “breaking silence over repeated Taliban attacks.”

Another figure, Kabul-based lawmaker Fawzia Zaki, said: “The government and Afghan people, in general, insisted on enforcement of a cease-fire or a drastic reduction of violence before the beginning of the intra-Afghan dialogue.”

For it to be effective, Khalilzad and Washington “need to exert growing pressure to make them listen to the righteous demands of ours,” Zaki added.

However, experts have warned of the “growing impatience” of both sides.

Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst, told Arab News: “Khalilzad’s comments clearly show that Washington is becoming impatient with Taliban attacks and the lack of progress in the talks.”

He said that US President Donald Trump is “hoping to see a breakthrough soon,” so that he can “portray it as a success of his administration for his re-election campaign.

“But that is not happening. Maybe Washington has realized that won’t happen, so they are beginning to come out and warn the Taliban against the consequences of their attacks,” Haqpal added.