The risk of Islamic terrorism in Europe “remains high” despite a dramatic drop in fatalities from terrorist attacks last year, the top American commander in the region warned on Tuesday while European leaders grapple with the wave of battle-hardened jihadis returning home to the continent as the so-called Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) territorial caliphate collapses.
While testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the U.S. European Command (EUCOM) head and NATO’s supreme allied commander, declared:
In addition to the threat from Russia the risk of terrorism in Europe remains high despite a decline in fatalities from terrorist attacks in 2018. Violent extremists present a clear and present threat to Europe’s people and their infrastructure.
The latest Global Terrorism Index (GTI) compiled by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) revealed that terrorism-linked deaths in Europe dropped by 75 percent from 827 in 2016 to 204 in 2017, adding, “Preliminary data for 2018 suggests this trend will continue, as less than ten deaths from terrorism have been recorded in Western Europe from January to October 2018.”
GTI cited the near complete demise of ISIS as one of the top reasons for a decline in terrorist attacks and deaths worldwide in 2018. Currently, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — are fighting to push ISIS out of its last sliver of territory.
Under U.S. President Donald Trump, the American-led coalition and its local allies have degraded the so-called caliphate to a hamlet of tents, atop a network of tunnels in a Syrian village near the country’s border with Iraq.
U.S. officials, however, have repeatedly warned that the group remains a threat, particularly in the form of terrorists returning to their home countries after fighting for ISIS in the Middle East.
For months, authorities in Europe have expressed concern about the return of Europeans who traveled to the Middle East to engage in jihad on behalf of ISIS and other terrorist groups.
American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are reportedly seeking to repatriate hundreds of suspected ISIS fighters from Europe captured in battle and their family members.
U.S. President Donald Trump has urged the European Union to take back its fighters.
Several countries in Europe are now confronted with the dilemma of whether to repatriate citizens who joined the group and prosecute them at home or prohibit them from entry over security concerns.
Currently, U.S.-backed SDF forces — led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — are fighting to push ISIS out of its last sliver of territory.
Citing a July 2018 study by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR), BBC reported last month that 7,252 people from Eastern Europe and 5,904 from Western Europe traveled to Iraq and Syria to join terrorist groups, mainly ISIS.
BBC learned from the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS that of the total 41,490 people from 80 countries who joined the Islamic terrorist group, “the vast majority…are dead or in custody.”
The coalition, however, reportedly declined to speculate on the specific number of foreign fighters fatalities.
According to ICSR, 1,765 jihadis had returned to Western Europe and 784 to Eastern Europe as of June 2018.
IN 2017, the Soufan Group (TSG) found that Russia is one of the top three source countries for ISIS foreign fighters, after Muslim-majority Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
The EUCOM commander deemed Russia aggression as the “primary threat to a stable Euro-Atlantic security environment.”
He added, “The threats facing U.S. interest in the EUCOM area of responsibility, which includes Israel, are real and growing. They are complex, trans-regional, all-domain and multifunctional. This remains one of the most dynamic periods in recent history, in my view.”