Threat level in the Netherlands: real chance of an attack

Threat level in the Netherlands: real chance of an attack

The chance of an attack in the Netherlands is still real. The threat level in the Netherlands remains at 4 on a scale of 1 to 5. This is the key conclusion of the 44th edition of Terrorist Threat Assessment for the Netherlands (DTN), published by the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV). At present there are no specific indications that terrorists are actually preparing attacks in the Netherlands.

The main threat is still posed by jihadism, in the form of a variety of actors (ranging from terrorist organisations to lone actors terrorists), who are potentially able to carry out both small- and large-scale attacks. Jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq can also pose a risk to national security.

In recent months Europe was again hit by attacks. The jihadist threat was confirmed by the attack on a Christmas market in Berlin on 19 December. On 22 March, a man, thought to have been inspired by ISIS, carried out an attack outside the Houses of Parliament in London. What has happened in surrounding countries can also happen in the Netherlands.


A significant part of the threat can be traced to ISIS’s external attack unit. This unit has various individuals at its disposal in Europe who can carry out attacks. Radicalised individuals or small cells may also be directed or instructed to carry out attacks by other jihadists abroad. Propaganda may encourage individuals in Europe to commit violent acts.

ISIS’s ability to innovate is a cause for concern. Members of the group are already using drones with explosives for battlefield offensives in Syria and Iraq. The group’s media channels glorify this method, and this could serve to inspire jihadists in the West.

Al Qa’ida puts a greater emphasis than ISIS on large-scale and complex attacks in the West. Since the Charlie Hebdo attack, the organisation has not successfully carried out any major attacks in or against the West. This should not imply, however, that the group has become any less relevant. Despite efforts by the West, al Qa’ida still has an international terrorist network, as well as the manpower and resources to carry out large-scale attacks.

Jihadist travellers

In the past few months there have been few confirmed cases of Dutch jihadists reaching the war zones in Syria and Iraq. The main reason for this is that ISIS has lost some of its appeal due to a number of recent military defeats. The number of Dutch nationals with jihadist intentions in Syria and Iraq is approximately 190. Around 50 others have returned. If ISIS continues to lose ground at this rate in Syria and Iraq, the number of jihadist travellers returning to Europe may increase, but there are no indications that this will happen at short notice. An assessment is made for every returnee, to determine if he or she poses a threat to national security.

Children of ISIS

Children who have travelled to the conflict zones can also form a threat on their return to the Netherlands. They will have been indoctrinated and may be prepared to use violence. This may pose a risk not only to the child’s development but also to Dutch society. Along with the DTN, a more detailed analysis of the phenomenon, ‘The children of ISIS’, has been published by the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and the NCTV. In the first place children should be seen as victims of ISIS. This is why decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, so as to determine what type of care, security measures and interventions are appropriate for each young returnee. A customised approach is always adopted. National experts on radicalisation, youth care, psychological trauma and complex traumas can provide advice in this area.

Right-wing and left-wing extremism

Recently, for the first time in the Netherlands, individuals with a right-wing extremist background were convicted of terrorist offences, specifically throwing a fire bomb at a mosque in Enschede in February 2016. Although there are no indications at present, it remains conceivable that there will be further attacks by right-wing extremists. Left-wing extremists continue to focus on fighting the far right and its supporters, perceived racism in the Netherlands, and perceived repression and violence by the authorities. In recent months a growing group of ethnic minority anti-racism demonstrators have started associating with traditional left-wing extremist protest groups.


In March the diplomatic conflict between Turkey and the Netherlands over a visit by two Turkish government ministers for campaign activities led to serious public disturbances in Rotterdam. Many Dutch people of Turkish origin were perplexed and angry about the government’s actions. The fact that Turkish government ministers have characterised ‘no’ voters in the upcoming referendum as terrorists could sow division within this country’s Turkish community. Although the Netherlands is working to de-escalate the situation, in the longer term these incidents may lead certain groups of Turkish-Dutch people to adopt anti-Dutch sentiments. Conversely, anti-Turkish sentiments may also increase.