A major terror attack on European soil is practically inevitable as Western powers ramp up their assault on Jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria, the Guardian reported Friday, citing an unnamed senior EU official.
The official said Europe was scrambling to deal with the threat of hundreds and possibly thousands of Islamist fighters returning to the European Union from combat in Iraq and Syria with plans to carry out large-scale attacks in the union.
“It is pre-programmed,” the official told the newspaper. “We have clear signals that this is what the foreign fighters are doing. This is the main threat we are facing.”
He added that EU leaders were “very aware and very frightened of this” and currently did not have an effective strategy in place to deal with the threat. “They all fear this could be totally out of control. It may already be too late.”
The EU’s anti-terrorism chief also warned Friday that Europe’s support for the aerial campaign against the Islamic State group would likely lead to attempts at retaliation by Muslim extremists.
“I think we have to acknowledge that it will,” Gilles de Kerchove told the BBC.
“That was clear with the French because three days ago (Islamic State) issued a statement saying there would be retaliation against the coalition. A French man was kidnapped in Algeria and he has been beheaded. So…sadly enough, they did what they announced.”
In addition to the threat posed by Islamic State itself, De Kerchove said the group’s burgeoning popularity among Muslim radicals could encourage other terror groups such as al-Qaeda to carry out attacks in order to prove their worth.
“The rise of (Islamic State) may prompt al-Qaeda to do something to show that it is still relevant,” he said.
De Kerchove said that over 3,000 European citizens have joined the ranks of the Islamic State group in the Middle East. The number, he said, included those who had gone to the region and returned, as well as those who had been killed in fighting.
Signs of rising terror threats against the US and its allies have been gathering in recent days.
Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday that his country’s intelligence operation had uncovered a plot by American and French Islamists fighting for IS to attack the subway systems in the United States and Paris. He said several people had been arrested in connection with the plan, but that the case was still developing. US and French officials have yet to confirm any such plot.
Earlier this week, Australian police shot dead a terror suspect after he stabbed two officers during a meeting outside a Melbourne police station. Some experts suspected the attack was inspired by the Islamic State group’s recent call to supporters to wage terrorism in their home countries.
France said Thursday it would increase security in public places due to the heightened possibility of attacks, while in London police arrested nine people over alleged connections to terrorism. The US has urged US citizens in Turkey to be vigilant against possible terrorist attacks. In the Netherlands, soldiers have been told not to wear uniforms on public transport after a Dutch jihadist in Syria called for attacks against them.
AP and AFP contributed to this report.