Is Europe in danger of becoming a Jihadist playground?

EPA/MAURIZIO DEGL' INNOCENTI

A soldier on guard at Signoria and Uffizi Museum square in Florence, Italy, 25 March 2016.

Is Europe in danger of becoming a Jihadist playground?


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Islamic State’s attacks on Europe – in Paris and Brussels – reveal a change in tactics of the world’s most infamous Jihadist organisation. In the wake of the latest double attack in the heart of Brussels, security experts have expressed mounting fear that another attack is possible and in the near future.

However, due to the rivalry that exists between Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, the risk could be even greater. Should we anticipate that the war between the two groups, which is currently being fought in other places of the world, could one day be fought on European soil?

The recent attacks of Islamic State on Europe suggest that this organisation has flexibility in choosing its targets and the methods that it can use. The attacks in Paris and Brussels were organised by European jihadists who can move freely within the European Union. The targets chosen in both attacks were places that cannot be easily secured. The operations were undertaken with low-cost actions.

Of course, the fact that Islamic State attacked targets in Europe does not mean the organisation has changed its primary goal: A Salafi uprising in Sunni-dominated states or in states with considerable Sunni populations.

This means that the attacks in Europe – those already carried out and the ones that are probably being planned for the near future – are in response to the European participation in military operations in Syria and Iraq.  The attacks may also be aimed at destabilising Europe.

On the other hand, Al-Qaeda and its partners in the Middle East and Africa, have, as their primary goal, attacks against Western targets in Europe and the United States. Most of Al-Qaeda’s operations to date have been highly sophisticated and required high-cost preparation and implementation.

This probably means that we should fear both the “easy” low-cost attacks like the ones in Paris and Brussels, but also more sophisticated attacks.

Al-Qaeda and Islamic State are in deadly competition. Although Islamic State gives the impression that it is already the winner, this is far from reality.

Al-Qaeda remains strong and dominant in Afghanistan (through its ally, the Taliban) in Yemen, in Eastern and Western Africa. In Syria, it is fighting with persistence against Islamic State with its ally Al-Nusra Front, which is trying to create a false image of a possible ally of the Syrian Opposition against Islamic State. Meanwhile, Islamic State is most dominant in Libya, deadliest in Egypt and Tunisia, and has formed strong ties with Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The fight between the two groups has claimed numerous victims, especially in Western Africa, where Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) targeted Europeans in terrorist attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast.

A main goal for both groups is the abduction of leaders and fighters. While Islamic State tries to provoke such abductions in the lines of Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda is trying to stop them.

Meanwhile, the audiences that both target, although different in some areas of the world, share the same hate for Western values. They are also made up of largely young people who are frustrated with the realities in their countries and ready to applaud the deadly attacks against people in Europe and the United States.

In the wake of the attacks on Europe, Islamic State will try to capitalise on these. It is no exaggeration to say that Al-Qaeda will also probably try to give its own response.

Of course, on European soil, Islamic State is at an advantage because it has an unknown number of fighters and supporters, most of them with European citizenship. This means low-cost and unpredictable actions could be more possible in the near future.

As for Al-Qaeda, it will probably be more difficult to orchestrate an attack since it needs more time to prepare as regards the planning and removal of its fighters.

What is certain is that Europe has entered into a new phase – one that will be marked by increased security intelligence and felt in our everyday life.

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