Radical Islamist terrorism remains a major threat in Europe

ISIL and al-Qaeda are still seeking to mount attacks in Europe. Lone operators with no ties to any specific organisation pose a significant threat.

 Illustration - blue and brown walls in a corner of a house.

The ISIL/ISIS/Daesh and al-Qaeda terror organisations and their associated individual operatives and cells constitute the principal terrorist threat to Europe from organised radical Islamists.

A considerable threat also comes from lone operators adopting ideologies from a wide range of online and other sources. These individuals are not necessarily committed to the campaign of any particular organisation.

Despite a decline in attacks mounted by ISIL in Europe, the threat has not disappeared

ISIL and its associated operators are still seeking to commit major acts of terrorism in Europe. The most typical ISIL-related attacks in Europe in recent years have been acts of violence carried out by a lone individual. These attacks are inspired by the organisation’s propaganda or exhortations. The ISIL high command also managed to mount or direct some carefully planned, large-scale attacks in Europe in the mid-2010s.

The capacity of ISIL to carry out or order terrorist operations in Europe has waned with the loss of its caliphate and for other reasons. The volume of propaganda generated by the organisation has also significantly decreased in recent years, which has partly led to a fall in attacks mounted by lone operators. ISIL nevertheless retains networks that it can call upon in external operations, disseminating propaganda, recruiting and fundraising.

Particularly in its traditional areas of support in Iraq and Syria, ISIL has returned to underground terrorist operations since losing the territories that it formerly controlled. ISIL propaganda has also sought to maintain the profile of a global terrorist organisation, stressing the continued ability to operate outside of Syria and Iraq. The operations of the organisation in the conflict zones of the Middle East, Asia and Africa are well-established, and it mounts attacks against both security authorities and civilian targets.

Al-Qaeda now better placed to operate in Afghanistan

Despite the death of its long-time leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in July 2022, al-Qaeda has managed to maintain its status as a significant ideological leader within the radical Islamist operating environment. The organisation’s sustained close relations with the Taliban regime have helped it to operate in Afghanistan in recent years.

Al-Qaeda has numerous regional subdivisions, including associated operators in the Arabian Peninsula with the desire and ability to mount attacks in Western countries as well.
Opportunities for radical Islamist terrorist groups to operate in Afghanistan have generally improved since 2021. The importance of sub-Saharan Africa as an operating zone for al-Qaeda and ISIL is also growing rapidly.

The greatest terrorist threat in Finland comes from lone operators

A Supo threat assessment suggests that the threat of radical Islamist terrorism has grown. This threat depends on such factors as home-grown radicalisation, radical Islamist networks, the foreign fighter phenomenon, and lone operators who are inspired by propaganda and by other attacks that have occurred. Encrypted instant messaging applications and chat groups are the main vehicles for disseminating and consuming propaganda.

Radical Islamist operators with links to Finland have significant connections to conflict areas, and are internationally networked. Some of them also have experience in combat or supporting roles for radical Islamist terrorist organisations in the conflict zone.