The bombings in Brussels that followed the events in Paris last November, have highlighted Europe’s vulnerability and the purpose the Islamic State has within its boundaries.
In contrast with these events, ISIS has been pushed out of Palmyra in Syria by the Syrian army, canceling the gains that the group made 10 months ago. Seeing all the these in perspective, we can observe hints about the shape of ISIS’s evolution, but more important, it makes Europe doubt it’s effectiveness in responding to this kind of events, and makes people wonder about the fundamental nature of the European project.
The recent attacks show that the ISIS network in Europe has started to be more focused and efficient. It’s operatives try to use a substance that is easily made from freely available items such as nail polish remover – triacetone triperoxide. But the process is difficult to master because of its unstable nature and you need a degree of professional training in order to do it.
The Brussels and Paris attacks have shown that ISIS has begun to attain that skill level. Also, a leading French jihadist, Boubaker al-Hakim, advised followers to “hit everyone and anything” and to “stop looking for specific targets”. This means that the group is shifting from aiming at targets with symbolic or strategic value to a form of terrorism that is more distilled, with only one purpose: creating as much pain and chaos as possible with the largest number of victims.
And so the European Union is facing one of it’s greatest dilemmas that must be addressed: a poor security infrastructure of some European states and EU’s intelligence networks that are confined by national boundaries and ineffective information sharing, have to go against a threat that faces no such constraints, thanks to the Schengen system.
The conflict in West Asia, driving a million refugees and economic migrants to Europe each year, has put a lot of stress on European economies since 2008. Also, many people are uncertain about the cultural and economic impact of the surge in immigration.
The ISIS group knows this perfectly and is capitalizing upon it in both strategic and tactical terms. The fact that ISIS lost about 30% of the territory it held at it’s peak in 2014, led to a shift in focus from territory control to spreading its influence in Europe and elsewhere in a meeting of top leaders shortly before the Paris attacks, as reported by The Guardian. Also, the flow of immigrants into Europe serves to heighten political and economic tensions on the continent and makes it much easier for the group to recruit consequently radicalized Muslims with European passports and to form sleeper cells. These are all a plus from ISIS’s perspective.
Europe faces difficult days ahead, not only in facing security threats, but also in examining and defining it’s identity. Military actions against ISIS in West Asia may degrade its resources and capabilities, but EU needs to address the tensions and fissures that have appeared, if the European societies are to maintain their essence without going to any extremes.