Terrorist threat level raised to 'substantial'

The previous Terrorist Threat Assessment for the Netherlands (DTN) described a heightened terrorist threat due to the fact that jihadist organisations were preparing to carry out terrorist attacks in Europe. Over the past few months the terrorist threat has increased to such an extent that the threat level has been raised to 4 (‘substantial’). This means that there is a realistic possibility that an attack will take place in the Netherlands.

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Image: ©ANP
An officer of the Special Intervations Service (DSI) during a safety excercise at Utrecht Central Railway Station. The probability of an attack in the Netherlands has increased.

Attacks and arrets underscore jihadist threat

The jihadist-inspired terrorist threat to the Netherlands is on the rise. Organisations like ISIS and al Qa’ida are using the war in Gaza to urge sympathisers to carry out attacks in the West. These organisations are also calling for attacks in retaliation for acts of desecration to the Koran in various European countries. Given this context, individuals or small groups within the jihadist movement may feel inspired to commit acts of violence.

These events have had a mobilising effect not only on Dutch jihadists, but also on radical Islamists outside the jihadist movement. Lone attackers are often more difficult to recognise than groups. The war in Gaza has also had a polarising effect on parts of society. It is conceivable that the resulting tensions will lead to violence against Jewish or Muslim institutions.

In various European countries, including the Netherlands, suspects were arrested in 2023 on suspicion of intending to carry out an attack with jihadist motives. They were led or inspired by jihadist groups. These arrests show that jihadists are seeking to carry out attacks and making preparations to that end, but they also show that the European intelligence and security services are able to identify terrorism and thwart attacks. Although the threat posed by transnational networks linked to foreign jihadist organisations has declined over the short term thanks to these arrests, there is nevertheless a heightened terrorist threat. In addition, online propaganda campaigns run by ISIS and its Afghan branch Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) could inspire people to commit violence, as could online contact with these organisations. Attacks and arrests in France, Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom since early October illustrate the risks posed by radicalised individuals who are inspired by current events and terrorist organisations.

ISIS (Syria, Iraq) and ISKP (Afghanistan) are under military pressure in their respective regions, but they nevertheless intend to carry out attacks in the West. Moreover, the centre of gravity of jihadist violence is shifting from the Middle East to parts of Africa, such as the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. For now, the violence is primarily regional in its orientation. If local jihadist groups in these regions succeed in occupying territory and creating a safe haven for themselves, it is possible that more internationally oriented groups from that part of the world will encourage, prepare or oversee attacks in the West.

Radicalisation of young jihadists and right-wing extremists mainly occurring online

In recent years the online world has played a relatively big role with respect to the dissemination of propaganda, the formation of networks and the establishment of new contacts, especially within jihadist and right-wing extremist circles. Online radicalisation is nothing new, though it is evolving. The online dimension is occupying an increasingly prominent place in people’s daily lives, and extremists are capitalising on this by seeking out like-minded people from around the world and then communicating with them via secret and encrypted chats. It is conceivable that, once radicalised, a minor or young adult within the right-wing extremist online milieu will decide to engage in violence. In this connection it is worth noting that by no means all these young people will be radicalised to engage in violence on the basis of an ideology like Nazism, but some of them are in search of an ideology that is consistent with their existing fantasies of violence. There are a number of examples of young jihadists who become radicalised outside of known real-world networks, under the influence of online propaganda and agitators, or via intermittent contact with fellow jihadists in the Netherlands and abroad. Arrests show that they could start planning attacks, possibly in collaboration with like-minded individuals throughout Europe. That said, at this stage the numbers of people involved are relatively small.

Concerns about a small segment of the anti-institutional movement and ‘sovereign citizens’

Finally, there are concerns about small segments of both the anti-institutional movement and the ‘sovereign citizens’ community. Anti-institutional extremists continue to spread the ‘malevolent elite’ narrative, which centres on the notion that the population is in a state of war with an internationally operating elite. The effect of this is mainly to undermine the democratic legal order, although violence is also conceivable. In addition, ‘sovereign citizens’ reject the legitimacy of the government in general and unilaterally declare themselves independent of the state of the Netherlands. Most sovereign citizens pursue a life of personal autonomy or self-sufficiency, without posing any violent threat. However, a small minority are pondering the question of when violence is justified, or are even making preparations for a violent confrontation with the government.