Europol: Syria ‘returnees’ likely to strengthen jihadist movements in Europe

Some people have been travelling to Syria from Europe to join Islamic State fighters. Credit: PA

News that fewer people are travelling from Europe to join jihadist groups in Syria might sound like a positive development – but it means that ‘returnees’ from Syria, as well as ‘stay-at-home jihadists’, are likely to energise domestic extremism, according to Europol research just released.

“The number of returnees is expected to rise, if IS, as seems likely, is defeated militarily or collapses” say researchers at the European law enforcement agency.

“An increasing number of returnees will likely strengthen domestic jihadist movements and consequently magnify the threat they pose to the EU.”

That threat is evolving. Islamic State’s European ambitions, as the group enters its 2.0 stage, are expected to be driven by extremists who travelled to Syria when the group was on the rise, but were forced out by its decline.

But it’s not just Syria that worries Europol. Researchers have also found an increase in the number of attacks motivated by far-right ideology.

They say that the murder of Jo Cox MP twelve months ago demonstrates that future targets might include “public figures, political parties, civic action groups and media that take a critical view of right-wing extremist agitation”.

Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by right-wing extremist Thomas Mair in 2016. Credit: Jo Cox Foundation/PA

And with the far right on the rise, “refugees and ethnic minorities in the EU are facing increased violence”.

An average of ten attacks a day were carried out against refugees in Germany in 2016, researchers found. And terrorist activity linked to left-wing and anarchist groups has also increased.

Some of the old problems faced by Britain’s counter-terrorism agencies haven’t gone away.

The UK was Europe’s number one target for terrorists in 2016. 76 of the 142 failed or completed plots reported in major European countries last year were in the UK – more than half. But that large figure is blamed on the enduring threat from terrorism in Northern Ireland.

These new figures present a worrying picture. 142 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Europol member states last year.

But some perspective: dangerous drivers remain a far greater threat to our lives than terrorists.