Anvelt gave no update on how many IS members have returned to Europe. EU officials estimated in Dec 16 that around a third of the estimated 5,000 European jihadists who went to Syria and Iraq have returned home. But Anvelt said the Europeans have also benefitted from IS defeats in Syria and Iraq, as "battlefield evidence" and prisoner interrogations have helped "toward the preventing of terrorist attacks" in Europe. He said civilian and military cooperation to gather evidence in war zones that can stand up in European courts is the trend toward fighting "the hybrid war" of terrorism. Anvelt said IS has changed tactics in the last year or more by inspiring sympathisers through online propaganda to stage attacks with vehicles, such as in the French resort of Nice and the German capital Berlin, or knives, as in England. Anvelt said European security experts were increasingly working with or aiming to work with the authorities in Libya, Niger, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco to improve their security services as a mutual interest. "So far Libya, as the most unstable country in this area, is the biggest concern for Europe," he added. He said EU help in boosting the Libyan coastguard is one factor helping cut migration to Europe. Anvelt meanwhile said he was concerned about Russia's alliance with General Khalifa Haftar in eastern Libya because, even if Moscow does not support IS, it may promote instability, a "push factor" for Europe-bound migrants. "The Russian side over the last 10 years almost ... have not been very interested in cooperation," said the minister, whose former communist country is worried about Russia's new assertiveness.
France – French soldiers shot and killed a man on the 1 Oct 17 after an attack occurred at 1345 hrs local (1145 hrs GMT) after he stabbed to death two women at Marseille's main train station, the French interior ministry said, in what police sources called a "likely terrorist act". Three police sources said the suspect had shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) as he carried out his attack. Police cordoned off the area and told people to stay away. A witness told Reuters she saw a man take out a knife from his sleeve and then stab a young girl and then a second woman, shouting what could have been "Allahu Akbar". The victims were aged 17 and 20. One victim had her throat slit and the other was stabbed in the stomach. The knifeman had been detained in Lyon on the 29 Sep 17 on suspicion of shoplifting, but then released for lack of evidence. A police source quoted by Le Parisien newspaper said "he had the profile of a petty criminal, and in order to deport him it would be necessary to identify him, and that did not take place". So-called Islamic State (IS) said the attacker was one of its "soldiers".
Terror attacks in France
7-9 Jan 2015 - Two Islamist gunmen storm the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 17 people. Another Islamist militant kills a policewoman the next day and takes hostages at a Jewish supermarket in Paris. Four hostages are killed before police shoot the gunman dead. The other two gunmen are cornered and killed by police in a siege
13 Nov 2015 - IS jihadists armed with bombs and assault rifles attack Paris, targeting the national stadium, cafes and Bataclan concert hall. The co-ordinated assault leaves 130 people dead, and more than 350 wounded
13 Jun 2016 - A knife-wielding jihadist kills a police officer and his partner at their home in Magnanville, west of Paris. He declares allegiance to IS, and police later kill him
14 Jul 2016 - A huge lorry mows down a crowd of people on the Nice beachfront during Bastille Day celebrations, killing 86. IS claims the attack - by a Tunisian-born driver, later shot dead by police
26 Jul 2016 - Two attackers slits the throat of a priest at his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, in Normandy. They are shot dead by police
3 Feb 2017 - A machete-wielding Egyptian man shouting "Allahu akbar" attacks French soldiers at Paris's Louvre Museum - he is shot and wounded
20 Apr 2017 - A known terror suspect opens fire at police on the Champs Elysees in Paris, killing one and wounding two. He is shot dead - and the assault is claimed by IS
France/Anti Terrorism Bill – As France reels from another attack claimed by ISIL, the French parliament is due on the 3 Oct 17 to decide on a controversial anti-terror bill. The bill, if approved, will endorse exceptional powers, currently granted to the police as part of the state of emergency. On the 1 Oct 17a knifeman used multiple aliases before killing two women at the main train station in Marseille in an attack claimed by Da’esh. Investigators said the attacker had gone by eight different names during various brushes with the law, including for shoplifting and illegal weapons possession. Since the Paris attacks in 2015, France has repeatedly extended the nation-wide state of emergency, the longest state of emergency since the Algerian War of the 1960s. In Jul 17 French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to lift the order and transfer certain exception emergency policing powers into permanent law. This, according to human rights advocates, will not only harm the rights to liberty, security, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion across the country, but will also risk creating a "permanent emergency situation". "The anti-terrorism law, if imposed, will give the state only extraordinary powers of something that we don't even have a proper definition of. This law will dismantle France," Yasser Louati, a leading French human rights and civil rights activist said. Louati stressed that the state of emergency for the past two years has not changed "anything in the country" and has proven to be "ineffective and insufficient".
"This law has instead, incited fear among people, especially the Muslim community," he said.
"Muslims are actually the ones who are the victims of terrorism in the country. They are equally being killed in terrorist attacks and then later, specifically targeted by the laws," adding that the state has adopted an "ideological position" on fighting "terrorism". "All [the emergency laws] measures target Muslims in the country, mosques, and the businesses owned by Muslim, it's a secret to no one."
What is the new anti-terror law?
The exceptional measures under the new anti-terrorism law will allow the police to conduct house raid and searches without a warrant or judicial oversight, including at night. It also gives extra powers to officials to place people under house arrest without the normal judicial process. The bill also allows for restrictions on gatherings and closures of places of worship.
"The necessary control exerted by the judges to prevent abuses of individual rights are considerably weakened, leaving more discretionary powers to the police and administration," Pierre Bocquillon, a lecturer of politics at Britain's University of East Anglia said explaining the anti-terrorism law. "By weakening the judiciary and empowering the executive, this represents a threat to the rule of law." Bocquillon explained that such measures can be adopted on civilians based on "mere suspicions" and stressed that "it will fuel discriminations and are a threat for individual rights". "Although in principle the law doesn't target particularly ethnic minorities and Muslims, in practice in the current context of suspicion and rampant Islamophobia, these groups tend to be the primary targets," he said. "There is also the risk that these measures will be used for other purposes, not just terrorism, but also as against protesters and social movements." At the moment, thousands of Sentinelle special force are deployed to patrol the streets across the country to guard vulnerable sites such as stations, tourist attractions and places of worship. Operation Sentinelle is the army's first wide-scale peacetime military operation on mainland France. It was launched after the killings at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in Jan 15. But the army's presence were increased to 10,000 troops across the nation, with about 6,500 of them in the Paris area. This new law leans towards creating a society based on suspicion, explains Rim-Sarah Alouane, a researcher in Public Law at the University Toulouse Capitole. "We are witnessing the emergence of a policy definition of public threats that is putting at stake the basic principles of French criminal law. For example, this bill will impose measures on a person not to punish him for a crime he has committed, but to prevent those that he may possibly commit," she said. "This could affect anyone: most likely minorities, but also political/social activists whose views might be deemed suspicious by public authorities."
Is the state of emergency functioning?
Sunday's attack being the tenth major attack since the state of emergency, Yasser Louati asks: why do attacks still happen in state of emergency which has been imposed for more than two years? "Can we ask the state, why are we still facing such attacks in the country? if a two-year state of emergency cannot stop such attacks, how will the permanent anti-terrorism bill stop it?" he said. However, Gerard Collomb, the new interior minister, told reporters in July that seven terror plots were foiled since the start of 2017. Collomb also said that France will confiscate weapons from about 100 people who are on a watchlist for potential "Islamist militants". In 2016, at least 17 attacks were thwarted in France and the former French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said it was "absolutely necessary" to extend the state of emergency.
MAJOR ATTACKS SINCE 2015, WHEN EMERGENCY LAW WAS IMPOSED:
January 7, 2016: A man wielding a meat cleaver and carrying an ISIL emblem was shot dead as he tried to attack a police station in Paris.
June 13, 2016: Larossi Abballa, 25, killed a police officer and his partner, Jessica Schneider at their home in Magnanville, west of Paris. Abballa was killed by a police SWAT team, but he had already claimed the murders on social media in the name of the ISIL group.
July 14, 2016: A truck ploughed through a crowd on Nice's Promenade des Anglais after a Bastille Day fireworks display, killing 84 people and injuring over 330. The driver, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31, is shot dead by security forces. ISIL claimed responsibility.
July 26, 2016: Attackers slit the throat of a priest in a hostage-taking at his church in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.
February 3, 2017: A man armed with a machete in each hand attacked four soldiers on patrol at Paris's Louvre Museum, shouting "Allah Akbar". The attacker, a 29-year-old Egyptian, was seriously injured.
March 18, 2017: A 39-year-old man was killed at Paris's Orly airport after attacking a soldier. The attacker shouted: "I am ready to die for Allah," according to the Paris prosecutor, Francois Molins.
April 19, 2017: Police arrested two Frenchmen in their twenties in Marseille on suspicion of planning an attack, with bomb-making materials and guns found in searches.
April 21, 2017: A known terror suspect shoots dead a French policeman and wounds two others on the Champs Elysees, before being killed in return fire, in an assault claimed by the ISIL.
September 15, 2017: A man wielding a knife attacked a soldier in a Paris metro station.
October 1, 2017: Two people, including one woman, are dead following a knife attack at the main train station in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, according to the French interior ministry.
France – French counter-terrorism investigators questioned five people on the 3 Oct 17 after police over the weekend found what appeared to be a ready-to-detonate bomb at an apartment building in one of Paris’s poshest neighbourhoods. Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said one of those arrested was on an intelligence services list of “radicalized” persons - a list that includes the names of potential Islamist militants. “We are still in a state of war,” Collomb, speaking after a 1 Oct 17 attack in which a knifeman killed two women in Marseille, told France Inter radio. Judicial sources said the explosive device included two gas canisters inside the building in the affluent 16th district of western Paris and two outside, some of them doused with petrol and wired to connect to a mobile phone. It was unclear why the device was planted at the location where it was found as there was no obvious target living there, the judicial sources said.
France/Jordon – A Jordanian official says a motorcycle exploded in front of the Jordanian Embassy's military office in Paris and that it is unclear whether anyone was hurt. Paris police officials said they are investigating what happened. Abdallah Alolaimat, a consular official at the Jordanian Embassy in Paris, told The Associated Press that the explosion hit on the morning of the 4 Oct 17 Wednesday morning in front of the Jordanian military attaché’s office on the chic Avenue Foch in western Paris. He said it is unclear whether anyone was injured or whether the explosion was accidental. Jordan's Petra news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the explosion caused minor damage to vehicles parked in front of the building. It said the Jordanian ambassador in Paris was reassured about the safety of the workers in the military mission.
France/United States/Islamic State: Defeating the virtual caliphate (06 Oct 17) – The Islamic State group may soon be defeated in Iraq and Syria but "virtual caliphate" could be harder to conquer, experts and officials have warned. The jihadist propaganda machine will continue to exist in hidden corners of the dark web, inciting sympathisers to action, they say. "Defeating ISIL on the physical battlefield is not enough," General Joseph Votel, the top commander for US military forces in the Middle East, warned in a paper earlier this year. "Following a decisive defeat in Iraq and Syria, ISIL will likely retreat to a virtual safe haven - a virtual caliphate - from which it will continue to coordinate and inspire external attacks as well as build a support base until the group has the capability to reclaim physical territory, "said Votel. He described this online network as "a distorted version of the historic Islamic caliphate: it is a stratified community of Muslims who are led by a caliph (currently Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), aspire to participate in a state ruled by sharia, and are located in the global territory of cyberspace. " The Islamic State group's loss of almost all its territory in Iraq and in Syria has damaged its online communication efforts, following a boom in propaganda operations in 2014-2015. But it does not end well. The IS "news agency" and propaganda machine Amaq continues to claim responsibility for attacks and incite further violence. Most recently, he claimed that Stephen Paddock, the gunman who massacred 58 people in Las Vegas on Sunday, was an "IS soldier" - an assertion met with widespread skepticism. One theory is that IS is seeking to keep up publicity efforts to maintain relevance with its sympathisers and continue to recruit support, even as it faces military defeat on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Researcher Charlie Winter, who wrote a report on IS`s web presence for British think tank Quilliam, says the group will work to persuade followers that the idea of a caliphate is more important than its physical presence. "Censoring the internet is not going to work," he told AFP. "Policy makers are focusing their attention on the wrong part of the internet, and that`s problematic given that it`s going to be a phenomenon to be dealt with in the next few years. " Terrorists are now hiding in the deep web using encryption. "There will always be a safe place for them on the internet regardless of what politicians like to say." Under pressure from public authorities, internet providers and major online players are beginning to put in place measures and procedures to disrupt IS`s exploitation of the web. "But despite the increased vigilance of authorities and social networks, the Islamic State has demonstrated significant resilience due to its flexibility and ability to adapt to the suppression of online jihadist content," according to French researchers Laurence Binder and Raphael Gluck. "It manages to still disseminate sufficiently to reach a pool of sympathisers and recruits."
Spain/Catalonia/Muslim Brotherhood (08 Oct 17) – The Muslim Brotherhood is slowly building up its presence in Catalonia, Spain, part of a long-term strategy to plant roots in an Islamic community with Salafi traditions. Police said they have paid attention to an increase in activities by Islamic groups in the area following an influx of money from mostly foreign sources. The added scrutiny comes in the wake of terrorist attacks in Barcelona and the seaside resort of Cambrils in August that left 16 people dead, with eight attackers also being killed. A high-ranking police official in Catalonia’s anti-terrorism unit said: “The Muslim community (in Catalonia was) long under the influence of Salafists but lately the Muslim Brothers have started getting the upper hand.” The official, who insisted on anonymity, said: “We have noted that many international associations and organisations were sending funds to entities belonging to the Brotherhood network. One of these is the Islamic Relief Organisation, which has recently increased its fund-raising activities.” He also said other parties were providing financial support to the Muslim Brothers in Barcelona but refused to name the parties. The heightened concern about Muslim Brotherhood came as residents of Catalonia on the 1 Oct 17 overwhelmingly voted “yes” on the question of independence from Spain. Spanish National Police, in support of federal government claims the referendum violated the constitution, tried to stop the vote but 2.2 million people — 42% of those eligible — turned out. A diplomatic source in Madrid said: “The International Muslim Brotherhood is quietly transferring many of its assets, especially those in France, to Catalonia following the enormous pressure placed by the French government on the Brotherhood leadership and the Qatari government to reduce its financial support of the Brotherhood’s activities in the marginalised quarters of Paris.” The French government warned the Qatari Embassy in Paris against investing in the poor of the Muslim community for ideological purposes, the source added. To persuade Catalan youth to join their organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood relies on an ideological approach that sometimes is met with controversy in Spanish society. For example, many senior Brotherhood TV figures have called for “recapturing Andalusia from the Spanish invaders.” “When the Muslim Brothers speak of liberating Andalusia, we have to pause for a while because this is very bothersome discourse,” said Lourdes Vidal, chief officer for the Arab and Mediterranean world at the European Institute of the Mediterranean. “It is a message intended for people with insufficient background knowledge because, for sane people, it is just plain heresy and madness. “Our problem with the Muslim Brothers is not their use of violence since they don’t do that in Europe… Their real danger lies in their constant effort to create an ideological and religious environment which would endorse such extremist ideas.” There are about 500,000 Muslims in Catalonia but many in the community are suspicious of them and the Muslim Brotherhood seems intent on capitalising on the situation. In Catalonia, the Muslim community has been denied a permit to build a mosque. Sometimes, local governing bodies under pressure have given permits for prayer venues in cramped and inconvenient locales. These places are often in marginalised industrial zones in the periphery of Barcelona. In these Muslim ghettos, it can be easy for extremists to thrive. The senior police official said: “The main base for the Muslim Brothers in Catalonia is the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clot, Barcelona. We know that the centre director, Salem Ben Amara, and the mosque imam are members of the Muslim Brotherhood. “From this centre, the Muslim Brothers are trying to extend their control to other centres and mosques thanks to generous funds from the Islamic Relief Organisation and from Muslim Appeal… We are very aware of the true nature of the Brotherhood and of their obscurantist views.” Requests for interviews with Ben Amara and with Sheikh Mahmud, the name the mosque imam goes by, were declined. The Islamic Cultural Centre in Barcelona mounted a public relations campaign to invite researchers, experts and social activists to hear the views of Sheikh Mahmud and other Brotherhood figures and disseminate them. Unlike Salafists, the Muslim Brothers often focus on attracting female activists since Salafis often clash with them. Ibrahim, a 45-year-old construction worker, said: “The centre hosts many lectures and conferences, some of which are given by famous Islamic scholars,” referring to Egyptian Omar Abdelkafi and Saudi Saleh al-Maghamsi. The Muslim Brothers have been trying to gain legitimacy in Catalonia by organising forums and discussion circles between Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious figures under the guise of “inter-faith dialogue.” Police sources cited the case of youth groups raising money from Islamic associations and using the funds to help poor Muslim families pay their children’s school expenses. Our source said: “We know that they belong to the Brotherhood but there is nothing we can do about it.” Vidal pointed out that the Muslim Brothers usually use the venue of providing social services for their own narrow political gains. She said she was shocked by the Brotherhood’s insistence on setting up Islamic schools by taking advantage of a loophole in the Spanish educational system allowing children from poor families to abandon school at an early age. Most of the 2.5 million Muslim families in Spain are classified as poor. Many Muslim children, teens and young adults work in construction or as mechanics or delivery boys. The Muslim Brothers want to have Islamic schools in Spain but Lourdes and other activists said they feared these schools would encourage and lead to the isolation of Muslims in the country and push them towards extremism. Among the backers of Salafist groups in Catalonia is the Kuwait-based Society for the Revival of Islamic Heritage. It finances the construction of schools and mosques and sets up charities. Another backer is the Muslim World League based in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which finances Salafist groups in Barcelona and pays for the expenses of extremist speakers such as Maghamsi. Government reports revealed that years of lenient policies towards the actions of such institutions have turned Catalonia into a transit point for jihadists in and out of Europe.
Ahmed Abou Douh is an Egyptian writer.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.