Islamic State might be down and weakened, but they remain a force to be reckoned with.
ISLAMIC State may be on its last legs in Iraq but the terror group remain a huge threat elsewhere with recruits determined to attack the west.
That is the grim warning released in a Europol report, which reveals IS will adopt new tactics to attack Western targets as it loses more ground across the Middle East.
In Changes in Modus Operandi of IS revisited, and published by Europol’s European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC), Europe’s police force reveal the threat of terrorism remains strong.
Among the key findings released on Friday, Europol warn “there may be an increased rate in the return of foreign fighters and their families from the region to the EU or to other conflict areas”.
In an analysis of IS tactics, it also reveals car bombs and other tactics IS uses in Iraq and Syria could also be deployed in Europe.
It said past attacks such as those carried out in France and Belgium over the past two years show that extremists acting in the name of IS can effectively plan complex attacks.
While France and Belgium remain most at risk of attack, Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark have also been identified as potential targets.
Europol director Rob Wainwright said his agency is assisting more than 50 terror investigations by national agencies across the continent.
Islamic State continue to use propaganda as a major reporting tool.Source:Supplied
“That says something about the level of the threat, but also about the level of interconnectedness among the counterterrorist community here,” Mr Wainwright said.
Alarmingly the report highlights a shift in IS attacks from symbolic targets such as police officers and military personnel to indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets, such as the attacks which took place a year ago in Paris.
The number of jihadist attacks jumped from just four in 2014, to 17 in 2015 while the number of arrests for jihadist terrorist activities increased from 395 in 2014 to 667 in 2015.
The report also notes that automatic firearms, knives and vehicles are more easily available than chemical weapons and that “the effectiveness, ease of use and access of these weapons will continue to be relevant”.
According to the report, estimates from some intelligence services indicate several dozen people directed by IS may be currently present in Europe with a capability to commit terrorist attacks.
It reveals those who manage to enter the EU remain the biggest security threat but given the high numbers involved it remains “a significant and long-term security challenge”.
Any attacks that were carried out were more likely to be done using the same “modus operandi” such as those used in earlier attacks due to their ease of production and availability.
Islamic State remains under attack in several areas across the Middle East, including in Afghanistan. Picture: Noorullah ShirzadaSource:AFP
As training possibilities diminish and the number of foreign fighters travelling to the Middle East decrease, IS will move from a training to a coaching role targeting self-taught operatives.
Of more concern is the return of those foreign fighters who return with wives and children who would have been indoctrinated.
While noting IS initially attacked tourists in Muslim counties, it has now moved on to inspiring attacks elsewhere after dead IS spokesman Abu Muhammed Al-Adnani called for supporters to kill “nonbelievers” in Western countries.
In the September 22, 2014 speech called Indeed, Your Lord Is Ever Watchful, he said: “ If you can kill a non-believing American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other nonbeliever from the nonbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be.”
Europol also reveal how the “majority of attacks claimed by IS appear to be masterminded and perpetrated by individuals inspired by IS, rather than those who work with the organisation directly”.
Displaced Iraqis flee Mosul due to the ongoing fighting between Iraqi forces and jihadists of the Islamic State. Picture: Safin HamedSource:AFP
It wouldn’t be the first time warnings have been raised about the return of foreign fighters.
In September, the Lowy Institute for International Policy detailed the long-term security threat that foreign fighters pose.
In Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq: The Day After, authors Lydia Khalil and Rodger Shanahan warn there would be an increasing flow of foreign fighters leaving Syria and Iraq following the collapse of the IS caliphate, which would “exacerbate the terrorist threat faced by the international community”.
“The prospective collapse of Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’ is likely to increase the number of foreign fighters leaving its territory. More generally, the foreign fighter fallout from the years of conflict in Syria and Iraq will echo that of previous conflicts such as Afghanistan and Bosnia.
“The fighters who survive and escape will be just as ideologically motivated as those that emerged from Afghanistan and Bosnia, but will be more operationally experienced, have more lethal skills and be better networked than their predecessors.”
Speaking to news.com.au following the release of that report, Dr Shanahan said the greatest threat to Australia from returning foreign fighters was the skills disbanded fighters would be able to unleash.
About 110 Australians are thought to be overseas fighting with or supporting groups such as IS, AAP reveal.
Shiite fighters from the Popular Mobilisation Units drive a heavily armed military vehicle near the village of Ayn Nasir, south of Mosul, yesterday during an ongoing operation against Islamic State. Picture: Ahmad Al-RubayeSource:AFP