Europol has warned of terrorist cells stockpiling weapons as the threat of terrorist attacks in the European Union (EU) remains the top national security concern among Member States.
Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, claims to have foiled 211 terrorist plots in the last 12 months alone. Nevertheless, according to one of their most senior security officials the possibility of attacks on a scale similar to those witnessed in Paris last November and in Brussels in March concerns national authorities within EU member states.
The Head of the European Counter Terrorism Centre at Europol, Manuel Navarrete Paniagua, was yesterday addressing Members of the European Parliament who sit on the civil liberties committee, reports EUobserver. He was briefing them on the 2016 EU Terrorism Situation & Trend Report due to be published shortly.
In doing so, Mr. Paniagua revealed that conclusions derived from the report show “jihadist terrorism” remains the top threat to security in the EU, and that terrorist cells inside the politico-trading bloc are likely stockpiling explosives for the future. He said:
“We have some information reported by the member states that terrorists groups are trying to establish large clandestine stockpiles of explosives in the European Union to be used eventually in large scale home attacks.”
He also noted unconfirmed reports of jihadist training camps in the Western Balkans and some EU states.
Mr. Paniagua said the recent attacks in the EU point to better coordination between terrorists than previously thought, and that although the combined use of explosives and firearms remains a novelty for now, it is a rapidly evolving threat.
Studies show many Islamist terrorists share petty criminal backgrounds and a significant proportion of foreign fighters have been diagnosed with mental illness, but Mr. Paniagua said EU authorities are yet to identify a single profile for a domestic terrorist or foreign fighter.
More than 4,000 foreign fighters have been identified in the EU and entered into a Europol database, and in the last year 1,057 people were arrested for terrorism-related offences.
Although Mr. Paniagua said there is no evidence of “systematic” exploitation by terrorists of migration flows from Turkey and elsewhere, he added: “But they do, they use it, we have some cases, some of the people that perpetrated the Paris attacks were eventually disguised in this immigration flow.”
Europol recently announced the deployment of around 200 counter-terrorist and other investigators alongside Frontex officials at migrant arrival ‘hotspots’ in Italy and Greece, about 50 of which would be stationed “at key points on the external border of the EU” to help track and identify suspected criminals and terrorists.