EU police warn of more Islamic State attempts at large-scale attacks

Islamic State and other extremist groups are capable of carrying out more large-scale attacks in Europe and are likely to attempt to do so, the European Union's police agency Europol said Monday.

Rob Wainwright, Europol director, said Islamic State had developed a "new combat-style capacity to carry out a campaign of large-scale terrorist attacks on a global stage — with a particular focus in Europe."

Wainwright was speaking at a meeting of European interior ministers in Amsterdam when he announced the findings of a new Europol report on how the militant group operates. The report coincided with the launch of Europol's new counter-terrorism center in The Hague.

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"So-called Islamic State has a willingness and a capacity to carry out further attacks in Europe, and of course all national authorities are working to prevent that from happening," Wainwright said.

The eight-page report says further attacks could take place soon.

"Europe is currently facing the most significant terrorist threat in over 10 years. The Paris attacks on 13 November 2015 indicate a shift towards a clear international dimension of Islamic State to carry out special forces-style attacks in the international environment," it reads.

"The threat of further terrorist attacks in Europe remains high. Therefore there is a great need within the European Union to strengthen our response to terror, to suspected terrorist networks and foreign fighters, and have an improved strategic understanding of threats."

The report adds that Islamic State was directing attacks at "soft targets," those considered unprotected or vulnerable, and was trained for "special forces-style attacks."

"There is every reason to expect that IS, IS-inspired terrorists or another religiously inspired terrorist group will undertake a terrorist attack somewhere in Europe again, but particularly in France, intended to cause mass casualties amongst the civilian population," the report says. "This is in addition to the threat of lone actor attacks, which has not diminished."

The report downplays widespread fears in Europe that extremists were making their way across European borders among the wave of refugees and migrants fleeing war or poverty in Syria and elsewhere.

"There is no concrete evidence that terrorist travelers systematically use the flow of refugees to enter Europe unnoticed. A real and imminent danger, however, is the possibility of elements of the (Sunni Muslim) Syrian refugee diaspora becoming vulnerable to radicalization once in Europe and being specifically targeted by Islamic extremist recruiters."

Wainwright's warning came as French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve warned that the country's intelligence services had prevented 11 planned terrorist attacks since the attack last January on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Cazeneuve told France 5 television that one of the foiled attacks targeted a concert hall. In November, militants carried out a series of shootings and suicide bombings in Paris that left 130 dead, including 89 at the Bataclan music club. Europol's report describes the violence as "complex, well-coordinated attacks … on carefully chosen targets."

"The attacks were designed to kill and injure as many civilians as possible," it says.

The Europol report came a day after Islamic State released a video purportedly showing nine of the Nov. 13 assailants apparently training in an unidentified desert location.

In the video, Islamic State also threatened an attack on Britain. Prime Minister David Cameron's picture was shown alongside the words "whoever stands in the ranks of kuffar [unbelievers] will be a target for our swords."

The men in the film, speaking in Arabic and French, addressed their message to "all the countries taking part in the coalition" that has been carrying out airstrikes against the group in Syria and Iraq since September 2014.

Willsher is a special correspondent.

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A version of this article appeared in print on January 26, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "EU warns of risk of new attacks - Europol report says Islamic State is likely to attempt more large-scale assaults aimed at `soft targets.'" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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