Attacks confirm Threat Assessment findings
The West continues to face the threat of jihadist terrorism. Since the start of this year, dozens of people have been killed in attacks. Most attacks appear to be inspired by ISIS and be committed using easily available resources such as knives and vehicles. In addition there continues to be a threat of attacks directly coordinated by ISIS or al Qa’ida themselves. It is possible that ISIS still has dozens of operatives at its disposal in Europe. This all means that the threat level in the Netherlands remains high (level 4 on a scale of 1 to 5) and the chance of an attack is real. These are some of the key points made in the 45th edition of the Terrorist Threat Assessment for the Netherlands.
Due to its membership of the anti-ISIS coalition, jihadists consider the Netherlands a legitimate target. In addition, the Netherlands is regarded by jihadists as a place where anti-Islamic sentiments are given free rein. The Dutch jihadist movement consists of at least a few hundred individuals. In recent months the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) has observed that jihadists in the Netherlands have become more openly active on social media platforms. Dutch jihadists also take part in closed, secret online groups, where the dominant tone is considerably harsher.
Arrests and investigations show that there are jihadists in the Netherlands who are prepared to use violence. But it is also striking that Dutch jihadists rarely take steps to commit acts of violence themselves. The return of experienced, battle-hardened jihadists from Syria may change this dynamic however.
Fewer and fewer people are leaving the Netherlands to travel to Syria and Iraq. As of 31 May 2017, about 280 had done so. The number of individuals from the Netherlands who are currently in Syria and Iraq for jihadist purposes is still around 190. In addition, there are probably still a number of Dutch jihadists who are keen to join ISIS or another group in the Middle East. Around 50 people have returned from Syria or Iraq, while 45 have died.
The growing influence of Salafism in the Netherlands continues to be a cause for concern. Salafists are increasingly attempting to force an anti-democratic, intolerant and divisive message onto other Muslims. They are also attempting to gain a foothold in moderate mosques and mosque management boards, at times by means of intimidation.
The recent attack targeting worshippers at a London mosque proves that the ongoing polarisation in relation to Islam is not without consequences. For years now, mosques in the Netherlands have been the target of aggression. Developments abroad also affect community relations in the Netherlands. In recent months, the campaign relating to the constitutional referendum in Turkey has caused polarisation. As a result, the existing divisions in the Turkish diaspora in Europe have become further entrenched. In addition, continued protests in the province of al-Hoceima in northern Morocco could lead to unrest in the Dutch-Moroccan community.
The complex threat presents a major challenge for Dutch society. Authorities in Western countries are doing their utmost to deal with these challenges, with frequent success. As in previous reporting periods, arrests in various European countries have managed to thwart attacks. This shows that security agencies are actively working on the detection, investigation and prosecution of potential terrorists. However, preventing all attacks is unfortunately impossible.