AMSTERDAM, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) — The terrorist group Islamic State is planning large scale Paris-style terror attacks, focusing primarily on Europe, the head of European Union’s police agency Europol warned on Monday.
“The so-called Islamic State has developed a new combat style capability to carry out a campaign of large scale attacks on a global stage with a particular focus on targets in Europe,” Europol’s director Rob Wainwright told reporters in Amsterdam on Monday when launching a new Europe-wide counter-terror initiative, the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC).
Wainwright’s warning was based on the key findings of an expert report released Monday by Europol on the November 13 Paris shootings.
The report stated that European states, and France in particular, may face another terrorist attack intended to cause mass casualties amongst the civilian population. The report warned that the threat from IS was the worst the continent has faced in more than 10 years.
Contrary to growing attempts to link terrorist threats to the influx of refugees into Europe, the report stated that “there is no concrete evidence that terrorist travellers systematically use the flow of refugees to enter Europe unnoticed”. Wainwright ensured that Europol will use all expertise “in encountering illegal immigration”.
The expert report warned that “IS terrorist cells currently operating in the EU are largely domestic and locally based” and implicitly suggested that European member states should do more to integrate immigrants as it assessed that “a real and imminent danger is the possibility of elements of the (Sunni Muslim) Syrian refugee diaspora becoming vulnerable to radicalisation once in Europe and being specifically targeted by Islamic extremist recruiters”.
The ECTC will be an enhanced central information hub by which the member states can increase information sharing and operational coordination, focusing mainly on the 5000 European foreign fighters, according to Wainwright as they impose “most of the terrorist threat perpetrated in Europe today”. Europol has detailed files on 3700 foreign fighters engaged in conflict zones.
According to the British counter terrorist expert many of the European foreign fighters “have returned back and pose a direct security threat”.
“Our ambition is for the European Counter Terrorism Centre to become a central information hub in the fight against terrorism in the EU, providing analysis for ongoing investigations and contributing to a coordinated reaction in the event of major terrorist attacks,” said Wainwright.
In a similar tone Ard van der Steur, Minister of Security and Justice of the Netherlands, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU, said the ECTC “will improve the exchange of information between law enforcement agencies. This is the kind of cooperation Europe needs in the fight against organized crime and terrorism”.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, called the initiative “a major strategic opportunity for the EU to make our collective efforts to fight terrorism more effective”. The Greek Commissioner, whose country is at the front line of the immigration crisis, called on EU member States “to cooperate and not to work in isolation”.
By serving as a centre of expertise, the ECTC at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague will focus on tackling foreign fighters, sharing intelligence and expertise on terrorism financing, online terrorist propaganda and extremism, illegal arms trafficking and international cooperation to increase effectiveness and prevention.
“It establishes for the first time in Europe a dedicated operation centre,” Wainwright said. “We will be working to improve intelligence sharing and to maximize our capability to track terrorist financing.”
ECTC will also monitor the way in which Islamic State and other extremist groups “are abusing the Internet and social media, in particular for their propaganda and recruitment purposes”.
Although the creation of the centre was announced nine months ago, it was the Paris attacks conducted by terrorists mainly based in Belgium that highlighted the importance of information sharing among intelligence authorities and law enforcement agencies among EU member states giving new impetus for implementing the decision taken within the framework of Europe’s new security agenda.
In the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris extremists took advantage of gaps in European intelligence as they plotted and executed the rampage that killed 130 people.
According to Europol’s director the centre will aim “at improving the level and effectiveness of information exchange between the national authorities in the EU”.
Europol experts are already helping the French and Belgian authorities to investigate the Paris attacks. According to the agency’s director 60 officers have been deployed providing with thousands of leads relating to the financial and other activities of the suspects and their movements in Europe.