Europol sounded the alarm this week over the prospect that terrorists may seek entry into the European Union, concealing themselves among the waves of migrants fleeing war-torn Libya and other troubled parts of North Africa.
The European law enforcement agency also warned that if the expectations of the Arab Spring are not fully realised, radicalisation and an accompanying surge in support for terrorist organisations in North Africa could grow.
In a report presented to the European Parliament on Tuesday, Europol’s security and terrorism experts warned that the current unstable situation in North Africa is of concern, primarily since it offers new opportunities for terrorist groups to smuggle members and materials to Europe.
According to The Europol Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2011, “The current and future flow of immigrants originating from North Africa could have an influence on the EU’s security situation. Individuals with terrorist aims could easily enter Europe among the large numbers of immigrants.”
Europol’s choice of the words “originating in North Africa” are indicative in that that it is making a distinction between the hundreds of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans fleeing Libya and the actual North Africans fleeing toward Europe.
It appears this second group is of primary concern to Europol, which elsewhere in its report pays particular attention to the al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorist group.
Conversely, Europol notes that the turmoil that has been sweeping across North Africa since January “is likely to impact al-Qaeda’s core and affiliated associations” such as the AQIM in both the short and long term.
The current situation, the report predicts, could lead to a setback for al-Qaeda, but it could also “result in more powerful terrorist organisations impacting the EU, and an increase in the radicalisation of individuals both in North Africa and the EU”.
In the short term, Europol forecasts, the absence of terrorist organisations among the mass demonstrations across North Africa and the Middle East has left al-Qaeda and its affiliates such as the AQIM “struggling for a response”.
“To a large degree,” the report notes, “organisations such as AQIM have been reduced to observers, incapable of influencing events in any significant fashion. Moreover, the failure of terrorist organisations in North Africa to remove dictatorial regimes through decades of bombings and assassinations contrasts significantly with the rapid success of peaceful mass protests.
“Such clear contradiction to what al-Qaeda has insisted is the only means of defeating entrenched regimes is likely to result in a notable setback for terrorist organisations in terms of support and recruitment.”
But the report also warns that should Arab expectations from the revolts not be met, the consequence may be a surge in support for those terrorist organisations and an increase in radicalisation.
On European soil, the report also raises the spectre of a resurgence of the extreme right wing threat, which Europol has seen to be on the decline.
“Although the overall threat from right-wing extremism appears to be on the wane and the numbers of right-wing extremist criminal offences are relatively low, the professionalism in their propaganda and organisation shows that right-wing extremist groups have the will to enlarge and spread their ideology and still pose a threat in EU member states,” Europol finds.
“If the unrest in the Arab world, especially in North Africa, leads to a major influx of immigrants into Europe, right-wing extremism and terrorism might gain a new lease of life by articulating more widespread public apprehension about immigration from Muslim countries into Europe.”
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