The terrorist threat to Europe

Over the past year, the terrorist threat from militant Islamists against Europe has increased. IS has tried to carry out several attacks, and trigger incidents such as offences against Islam have led to an aggravated threat environment. This has been further exacerbated by the war between Israel and Hamas. Trigger incidents can lead to an increase in the terrorist threat against Norway as well.

For far-right extremists, there have been no such trigger incidents. The war between Israel and Hamas has less impact on the threat from far-right extremists.

The threat from militant Islamist terrorism against Europe is increasing

Some militant Islamist networks in Europe have ties to IS affiliates that have a persistent intention of attacking European targets. In the past year, IS has made several attempts to attack European targets, both inside and outside Europe. However, attacks in Europe are not a main priority for either IS’ or al-Qaeda’s leadership.

Meanwhile, IS in particular is encouraging terrorist attacks in the West. Attempts to commit terrorist acts will likely come from IS and al-Qaeda sympathisers based in Europe. These attacks generally have less damage potential, but since few people are involved and the means they use are quite basic, they can be harder to detect and avert than attacks directed by the organisations themselves.

FILE- An aerial view shows a camp of internally displaced people in Djibo, Burkina Faso, May 26, 2022. Burkina Faso's government says more than 2 million people have become internally displaced, fueling a dire humanitarian crisis across the conflict-ridden country. The number of displaced people has mushroomed by more than 2,000% since 2019, when violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group began surging and spreading across the West African nation. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick, File)

IS and al-Qaeda on the rise in Africa

Both IS and al-Qaeda are capable of adapting to political turmoil and counter-terrorist campaigns and still represent the greatest terrorist threat around the world.
Both organisations prioritise the empowering of local affiliates. They have significant growth potential in areas marked by conflict, poor living conditions and weak government control. The two groups have been particularly successful in Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia. The advances in Africa help these organisations maintain their global foothold. In their core areas, they are also a considerable threat against Western interests.
Al-Qaeda and IS share the strategic goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate, and over time, their methods have become more alike. It is likely that some of the affiliates will seek pragmatic partnerships, or at least ceasefires, in areas where they have a common set of interests.
Image: A refugee camp in Djibo, Burkina Faso, 2022. Violent incidents brought on by al-Qaeda and IS’s growth in the country have resulted in more than two million internally displaced people since 2019. (Sam Mednick / AP / NTB)

Trigger incidents could increase the terrorist threat to Norway

Quran desecrations have given Sweden a prominent place in the enemy perception of militant Islamist terrorist organisations. Both IS and al-Qaeda have called for attacks against Swedish targets, and in the past year, IS has planned such attacks. Norway is not singled out as a priority target in the organisations’ propaganda, but this could change if trigger incidents, e.g., offences against Islam carried out in Norway, receive international attention.

The war between Israel and Hamas has significant radicalisation potential and raises the terrorist threat in Europe. Both IS and al-Qaeda have called for attacks against Israeli and US targets and will seek to attack such targets in their own core areas. The war could also make them change their priorities and direct more resources to planning attacks against the West, and IS could try to use existing networks in Europe to carry out attacks.

The war could incite individuals to carry out acts of violence on their own. In such cases, the distinction between hate crime and terrorism may be blurry. With this war, there has also been a sharp increase in anti-Semitic propaganda from far-right extremists, and the focus on Jewish targets may increase further.

The war in Ukraine has no clear ideological dimension, neither for far-right extremists nor militant Islamists. The groups operating in the war are not involved in ideological indoctrination to any great extent, and carrying out terrorist attacks outside Ukraine is not a strategy for any of them. The few far-right extremist foreign fighters who have travelled to Ukraine from Norway could nevertheless represent a threat when they return.

Absence of established far-right terrorist organisations

Most people involved in far-right online communities are not a terrorist threat, but because of the anonymity these communities provide, it can be hard to distinguish between statements inciting violence and real intent to attack. Hence, terrorists can be difficult to detect. In the event of far-right extremist attacks in Europe, they will probably be carried out by solo actors using simple means. With the absence of established far-right extremist terrorist organisations, far-right extremists’ ability to plan and orchestrate more sophisticated attacks is limited.

Economic decline, high costs of living and increasing polarisation in Western societies could provide a breeding ground for far-right extremist organisations and increase the threat in the longer term.


Middle Eastern reconciliation processes on hold
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