European Islamists’ Not-So-Happy Holidays Terrorism Plots

COMMENTARY Terrorism

European Islamists’ Not-So-Happy Holidays Terrorism Plots

Jan 8th, 2020 2 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Robin Simcox

Margaret Thatcher Fellow

Robin Simcox specializes in terrorism and national security analysis as the Margaret Thatcher Fellow.
A French police officer stands next to a French "Police Nationale" car with soldiers of the anti-terror Vigipirate plan on December 3, 2019 in northern France. DENIS CHARLET / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

We are just one week into 2020, and already Europe has suffered its first Islamist terrorist attack of the year. 

Thankfully, most of these alleged plots were disrupted.

The events in Europe of the past month do show that the drumbeat of Islamist activity across the Continent does persist.

We are just one week into 2020, and already Europe has suffered its first Islamist terrorist attack of the year. 

On Friday, a 22-year-old French citizen named in the press as “Nathan C.” began stabbing joggers in a park in Paris. 

One man died while trying to protect his wife, who was also seriously injured. Another innocent victim was wounded. The attacker fled, but was eventually fatally shot by French police. 

At first, the media ascribed the attack to mental health issues. Yet France’s anti-terrorism prosecution office has now stated that “[w]hile the troubling psychiatric problems of the individual have indeed been confirmed, the investigations … have allowed us to establish a definite radicalization of the suspect, as well as evidence of planning and preparation carried out before the act.”

The attack came in the wake of a series of seeming near misses in Europe over the Christmas season. 

On Dec. 11, Danish authorities announced that they had detained about 20 people across the country who were “driven by a militant, Islamist motive.” Six of the suspects remain in custody, with at least five of them suspected of having tried to acquire firearms or explosives. 

The alleged target was unclear, with a Copenhagen court hearing that the acquisition of firearms was intended “to be used in connection with one or several terror attacks in Denmark or abroad.”

Five days later, on Dec. 16, reports emerged that Austrian police rolled up what they believed to be a terrorist plot by three Chechens, possibly targeting a Christmas market in Vienna. 

The choice of target would certainly be no shock. A plot targeting a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, was foiled in 2000. 

Another failed in November 2016, when a 12-year-old boy planted a nail bomb that failed to detonate at a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Days later, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, guided a Tunisian terrorist, Anis Amri, to take a truck and attack a Christmas market in Berlin. Amri killed 12 and injured 48. 

Then, in December 2018, Cherif Chekatt killed three and injured 13 at another Christmas market in Strasbourg. 

What makes the Vienna case a little more unusual is that the suspected ringleader of the plot was already in prison. A “frustrated traveler,” he had tried and failed to get to Syria in October 2015 and again in the spring of 2017. Despite his incarceration, he remained in contact with his alleged accomplices in the plot via cellphone.

Finally, on Dec. 30, British police arrested five men—two in London, two in Peterborough, and one in Manchester—suspecting their involvement in perpetrating an Islamism-inspired plot. 

Details remain sketchy, but police did confirm the arrests were not connected to the terrorist attack that occurred in the area of the London Bridge in November, nor connected to festivities planned for New Year’s Eve.

Thankfully, most of these alleged plots were disrupted. Furthermore, while there is inevitably a degree of ideological inspiration, ISIS does not seem to have directly planned any of these attacks or alleged plots. 

That’s good news, and an ongoing consequence of the anti-ISIS coalition’s attempts to break ISIS’ caliphate and kill or capture its senior leaders. 

However, the events in Europe of the past month do show that the drumbeat of Islamist activity across the Continent—while not at the level of cacophony of the period of late 2015 to the fall of 2017—does persist.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal