Europe should brace itself for a new wave of terrorist attacks when Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) supporters serving short sentences begin to emerge from jail in a few years, the head of Interpol has warned.
The next big terrorist threat in Europe could come from IS supporters currently in prison for minor terrorism-related crimes, according to Interpol Secretary-General Jurgen Stock. As they leave jail in the coming years, their radical beliefs are likely to trigger a relapse.
“In many parts of the world, in Europe but also Asia, this generation of early supporters will be released in the next couple of years, and they may again be part of a terrorist group or those supporting terrorist activities,” Stock said, estimating that the average jailed jihadist is serving a sentence of between two and five years.
“We could soon be facing a second wave of other Islamic State-linked or radicalized individuals that you might call ISIS 2.0,” he told the Anglo-American Press Association, as cited by the Guardian.
Possible members of IS sleeper cells aside, there is an ongoing threat of returning terrorists fleeing Iraq and Syria since the demise of Islamic State. Those disenchanted fighters with nothing to lose have become a major issue for local law enforcement.
“The security agencies are concerned about when they are coming back because most of them are battle hardened, they are trained, and they are internationally connected,” Stock said, noting that going to Syria and Iraq in the first place “was a huge opportunity to network on an international level.”
“These contacts still exist and we shouldn’t forget that,” he said.
It’s a guessing game as to where the retreating jihadists are going to flee when they’re squeezed out of Syria and Iraq. One of the probable destinations is southeast Asia or Africa, where there are still terrorist hotbeds. Another option for the jihadists is to keep a low profile and try to sneak back into Europe.
“With ISIS defeated geographically, these individuals will either try to move to other areas of conflict in southeast Asia, or Africa, or remain in Europe to carry out attacks,” Stock said.
Interpol has some 45,000 suspected foreign fighters in its database but it’s a Sisyphean task for local police to track them down, as many have perished on the battlefield, some are holed up in Syria or Iraq, and the whereabouts of many others is unknown.
Intelligence agencies in many countries, including in Europe, which has seen a spate of Islamist-linked terrorist attacks in recent years, have sounded the alarm over the threat posed by returnees.
Germany’s intelligence chief has warned that the children of jihadists coming from war zones can grow up to follow in the footsteps of their parents. Hans-Georg Maassen called for both widows and children of IS fighters to be treated as jihadists, arguing that they pose a considerable security risk after being brainwashed by IS propaganda.
The same concerns were echoed by the authorities in France, which has welcomed at least 300 jihadist militants back from Syria and Iraq. There have been calls for French citizens arrested on terrorist charges in Syria and Iraq to be tried there rather than brought back to France.
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