Radical Islamist terrorism remains a major threat in Europe

The threat posed by the terrorist organisation Isil has not expired, despite the loss of its territorial holdings in Syria and Iraq.

The Isil/Isis and Al-Qaeda terrorist organisations and their associated operatives still constitute the principal terrorist threat to Europe from radical Islamists, with Syria and Iraq remaining core areas of radical Islamist terrorism.

One significant link between Europe and terrorist organisations comprises foreign fighters, who have often spent extended periods in the Syrian-Iraqi conflict zone. Individuals who have fled from conflict zones or been sent from there to Europe also form such links.

Isil attacks have waned, but the threat has not ended

Isil has suffered significant defeats in the Syrian-Iraqi conflict zones, but its threat has not disappeared and the situation in the region remains highly unstable. Isil and its associated operators are still seeking to commit major acts of terrorism in Europe also.

The most typical Isil-related attack is carried out by an individual or a group. These attacks are inspired by the organisation’s propaganda or exhortations. The central command of Isil has also been able to carry out carefully planned, large-scale attacks in Europe.

The ability of Isil to inspire its supporters has declined to some extent following the loss of its so-called Caliphate territory and a reduction in propaganda. This has been evident in the form of fewer attacks by lone operators. Isil nevertheless retains networks that it can call upon in external operations, disseminating propaganda, recruiting and fundraising.

Since losing control of territories in Syria and Iraq, Isil has returned to operating as an underground terrorist group, especially in its traditional support areas. Its operations are well-established, and it strikes actively against both security forces and civilian targets. Isil propaganda has also sought to highlight the organisation’s global presence and operational capacity outside of Syria and Iraq.

Al-Qaeda has numerous regional subdivisions, including associated operators in the Arabian Peninsula with the desire and ability to carry out attacks in Western countries as well.

Some groups in the Idlib province of north-western Syria that are linked to Al-Qaeda have so far confined most of their operations to Syria, But their underlying anti-Western and global jihadist ideology also combines with the ambition of mounting attacks outside of the conflict zone.

People who have left for the conflict zone also increase the threat of terrorism in Finland

A Supo threat assessment suggests that the threat of radical Islamist terrorism has grown. The foreign fighter phenomenon, home-grown radicalisation and individual operators inspired by propaganda and by other attacks all tend to increase the threat.

Radical Islamist operators with links to Finland also have significant connections to conflict zones and international terrorist networks. Many of them have experience in combat or supporting roles for radical-Islamist terrorist organisations in the conflict zone.

More than 80 identified adults have left Finland for the Syrian-Iraqi conflict zone. The true number of departures is probably larger, as the authorities may not know about all of them.

Most travel to the conflict zone occurred in 2012-2016, with the number of departures decreasing as travel became more difficult and the situation of Isil deteriorated. Some of those who left returned to Finland at the beginning of the crisis.

More than 20 such departees have returned to Finland. About 30 are thought to have perished, but conditions in the area allow no confirmation of this. An estimated 30 children were also taken to Syria, some of whom have already reached adulthood. Children with links to Finland have also been born in the conflict zone. Some of the children have returned to Finland.

Returnees with links to Isil increase the threat of terrorism in Finland. Some may seek to promote the spread of their radical ideology and to strengthen radical networks, despite posing no direct threat of a terrorist attack in person.

Potential security threats are always assessed individually. Efforts are also being made to bring returnees under the oversight of public authorities. A criminal investigation is initiated if any returnee is suspected of having committed offences in the conflict zone. Terrorist offences are investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation.