There are around 800 Islamist extremists across Europe who have returned from Iraq and Syria and are ready to strike at any moment, Spanish counter-terror sources have warned.
Speaking after Moroccan gunman Ayoub El Khazzani was overpowered on a train from Amsterdam to Paris, the officers said that hundreds of other people similar to Khazzani are also ready to launch attacks.
Speaking to radio station Cadena Ser, the sources said that they did not believe Khazzani’s explanation that he was just trying to carry out a robbery, claiming there is evidence he had recently returned from Syria where he had been taught how to use firearms.
They added that around 800 others across Europe had recently returned from the warzone and were “awaiting instructions” to carry out a terror attack.
“These people are not well trained, but they are poised and prepared to do anything. Once they have been indoctrinated, they receive the minimum arms training,” one of the sources said.
The problem extends to Britain, where around 350 people have returned from fighting in Syria and Iraq, with British security sources claiming that some are preparing attacks.
Last week, Spain’s security minister Francisco Martínez emphasised “the speed at which these young men join the cause of Islamic State.”
“In a very short space of time, a matter of weeks, they become fanatics who either travel to warzones or stay at home to act as lone wolves,” he added.
Earlier this year Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, head of counter-terrorism at Scotland Yard, said “significant numbers” of Islamist extremists were staying in Britain to plot attacks. The UK’s terror threat level remains severe, meaning an attack is “highly likely”.
Spanish police had tracked Khazzani while he lived in Madrid and Algeciras, and he is believed to have travelled to Syria in May this year. Belgian authorities have ruled out the idea he was acting as a “lone wolf” and are investigating his links to other extremists.
Meanwhile, French Police say he was using a newly activated phone on the day of the attack, thus covering any links to others. An official told Le Parisien: “This telephone had no numbers, no contacts. Using a mobile that is exclusively reserved for the day of the attack displays quite a professional character.”