EUROPOL: Europe is facing its most serious terrorist threat for over 10 years. The attacks on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 marked a shift towards a broader strategy of Jihadist terrorism, and the so-called IS in particular, to intimidate Western countries with successive terror attacks across Europe. The potential increase of returnees from conflict zones requires vigilance from all involved actors.
The launch of the European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC) in January 2016 was the EU’s answer to this new threat. Its establishment, including the Internet Referral Unit (IRU) as a new capability to tackle unprecedented levels of online terrorism propaganda, was a major milestone for the EU security architecture. For the first time in the EU there was consensus, in the counter terrorism policy context, that a cornerstone for cooperation at EU level was needed to support national counter terrorism efforts.
Information sharing on counter terrorism, across European countries as well as through and with Europol, had reached an all-time high by the end of 2016. For instance, Europol held more than 10 times as much information on ‘person entities’ in its database, compared with January 2015 when the attack on Charlie Hebdo took place.
The function of the ECTC as a hub to exchange information, conduct analysis and coordinate operational support is being exploited by EU Member States and relevant third parties, indicating a significant increase in trust and awareness across national counter terrorism authorities concerning Europol’s support services.
Europol supported 127 counter terrorism operations in 2016, including most recently the attack in Berlin. This is an almost 50 percent increase compared to 2015 with 86 investigations. Following the November 2015 attacks, Europol’s most extensive involvement has been through Task Force Fraternité, where high-value information has been shared with and through Europol (e.g. new targets, associates, phone data). The total amount of information available on the case at Europol level is: 19 TB of overall information, 2500 SIENA message exchanges, 1247 leads from the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP), 2274 other financial messaging leads, and 60 Passenger Name Record (PNR) requests.
A total of 80 operational analysis reports and intelligence packages have been delivered (not counting cross-match reports), as well as 32 social media report packages. This has generated new leads for investigation, and following national law enforcement measures, the identification of new targets.