Europol said on Friday that ISIS is likely to carry out new operations in the European Union in the near future, adding that terrorist groups are evolving their tactics to attack soft targets in the EU.
“Estimates from some intelligence services indicate several dozen people directed by ISIS may be currently present in Europe with a capability to commit terrorist attacks,” the EU police agency said in a report, which draws on counterterrorism intelligence from around Europe and also cites media reports and previously publicized calls by jihdist leaders for attacks.
But ISIS also is adept at inspiring marginalized youths, some of whom may have mental health problems, and inciting them to carry out attacks.
The report, which was issued in The Hague, warned that tactics the group uses in Iraq and Syria — such as the use of car bombs — could also be deployed in Europe.
“Given the fact that the modi operandi used in Middle Eastern countries tend to be copied by terrorists operating in Europe… it is conceivable that jihadist groups will use this means at some stage,” the continent’s policing agency said.
It said past attacks such as those in France and Belgium over the last two years show that extremists acting in the name of ISIS can effectively plan complex attacks.
Both France and Belgium are among European nations that have joined the U.S.-led coalition against the organization. Others include Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark. Germany’s military also is involved, but not in combat operations.
Europol notes a shift in attacks from symbolic targets like police officers and military personnel to indiscriminate attacks on soft targets, such as the Paris attacks in 2015.
“Indiscriminate attacks have a very powerful effect on the public in general, which is one of the main goals of terrorism: to seriously intimidate a population,” the 14-page report said, adding that the focus on so-called soft targets means that attacking critical infrastructure like power grids and nuclear facilities is “currently not a priority.”
Europol also said the consensus among intelligence agencies in EU member states is that “the cyber capabilities of terrorist groups are still relatively low,” but added that “the possibility of terrorist-affiliated cyber groups engaging in cyber warfare sponsored by Nation States – those with capacities to engage in this type of attacks – should not be discounted.”
Meanwhile, a police raid in Morocco in February may have thwarted a possible attack by an ISIS cell using chemical or biological weapons, raising the specter that such weapons also could be used in Europe, though the report said automatic firearms, knives and vehicles are more easily available and that “the effectiveness, ease of use and access of these weapons will continue to be relevant.”
Europe’s security forces arrested 667 suspects for suspected jihadist activities in 2015, it added.