From 2014 to early 2019, during the US and its allies' campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Europe experienced frequent terrorist attacks. However, as ISIS lost its territories in Syria and Iraq and the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the threat of religious extremism in Europe and the US declined, while the threat from far-right groups increased.
The ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, particularly the deaths of thousands of Palestinians, marks a turning point. In October, France witnessed terrorist attacks and assaults targeting Jewish individuals, with 14 airports receiving bomb threats. Last weekend, an attacker in Paris, near the Eiffel Tower, stabbed passersby, killing a German tourist and injuring two others. Before the attack, the assailant released a video pledging allegiance to ISIS.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned after the first attack following the Israel-Palestine conflict that terrorism related to religion is resurging in Europe, stating that "all European countries are vulnerable."
With the holiday season approaching, EU officials have warned of an increased threat of terrorist attacks during Christmas. France has already raised its terror threat warning to the highest level. Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has also warned of increased risks of radicalized individuals launching attacks in Germany due to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Monitoring by various counter-terrorism agencies has revealed that since the start of the current Israel-Palestine conflict, both Al-Qaeda and ISIS have issued propaganda messages, urging supporters to intensify attacks on Jews and Western countries.
Heightened Vigilance Across Europe
The European Commission's website reported on December 5 that Ylva Johansson, the Commissioner for Home Affairs, warned of "significant security risks" during Christmas in EU countries due to the Israel-Palestine conflict and the polarization it has caused among the public. Johansson did not disclose specific intelligence information but mentioned that the recent attack in Paris exemplified the risks, which had been seen before. The European Commission announced an additional allocation of 30 million euros to assist member states in strengthening security, especially around religious sites.
Before Johansson's speech, the German government had expressed similar concerns. Following the death of a German tourist in the Paris attack, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser noted the severity and urgency of the threat of religious extremism to the EU.
Faeser warned that as the Israel-Palestine conflict continues, the danger of potential attackers becoming emotional and radicalized is increasing. Recently, German police discovered and removed 170 channels and contents of religious extremism on the social media platform Telegram.
Last week, German police arrested two suspects under 18, accused of planning a bombing attack on a Christmas market in Leverkusen, northwest Germany. One of the suspects, only 15 years old, expressed sympathy for ISIS. Last Saturday, a Christmas market near Stuttgart in southern Germany was temporarily closed due to a threat of attack.
Thomas Haldenwang, head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, revealed last month that jihadist organizations have recently intensified calls for attacks. ISIS and other terrorist groups are trying to attract new supporters by exploiting the Israel-Palestine conflict, expanding the range of potential attackers.
Haldenwang warned that the threat of terrorist attacks against Jews, Israeli citizens, and public institutions in Germany has significantly increased, and the office is working hard to uncover and prevent related plans.
France has raised its terror threat level to "emergency attack level," the highest. A week after the start of the current Israel-Palestine conflict, an attacker in Arras, northern France, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, stabbed a high school teacher to death.
Three days after the attack in France, an assailant in Brussels, Belgium, shot and killed two Swedish football fans, with ISIS claiming responsibility for the attack. Brussels, home to major EU administrative bodies and NATO headquarters, also raised its terror threat level to the highest.
UK police statistics show that from October 7, the start of the current Israel-Palestine conflict, to October 15, calls to the country's anti-terrorism hotline doubled compared to the same period last year. In November, the UK government convened an emergency ministerial meeting on the terror threat. The UK's terror threat warning remains at "substantial," not yet raised to the highest "severe" level.
Terrorist Organizations Exploiting the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Although the EU designates Hamas as a terrorist organization, the International Counter-Terrorism Center's tracking shows that Hamas did not participate in the previous attacks on France and other countries. As the battle between Hamas and Israel continues, other terrorist organizations will try to exploit the Muslim world's sympathy for Palestine and dissatisfaction with Israel and the West to attract more supporters.
Monitoring by the International Counter-Terrorism Center reveals that a week after the start of the current Israel-Palestine conflict, ISIS published an article titled "Practical Steps to Fight the Jews" on its media, calling for global supporters to intensify attacks on Israel, Jews, and Israeli allies.
ISIS itself does not support Hamas. In ISIS's view, Hamas and most of the Palestinian armed groups are apostates. During the current Israel-Palestine conflict, ISIS has not expressed any support for Hamas. ISIS's strategy is to use the conflict to attract more radicalized supporters to expand its influence.
The West Point Military Academy's Counterterrorism Center warns that in recent years, ISIS's overseas operation planning and execution structure have been adjusted, but the organization has not been able to successfully launch attacks in the West. The current Israel-Palestine conflict provides an opportunity for ISIS's overseas operations.
A UN expert report in August showed that ISIS still has 5,000 to 7,000 members in Syria and Iraq, mostly combatants. In Afghanistan, the group has 4,000 to 6,000 combatants and family members, posing the most severe terrorist threat in Afghanistan.
Africa remains an important stronghold for ISIS. The report noted that the ISIS branch in the Sahel region of Africa is showing increasing autonomy and playing a key role in escalating violence in the region.
Monitoring by the West Point Military Academy's Counterterrorism Center also shows that, unlike ISIS, Al-Qaeda has supported Hamas's fight against Israel from the beginning of the current conflict. Al-Qaeda branches in Yemen and Pakistan have called on supporters to launch attacks in Western countries, targeting American, British, and French citizens, to support Hamas.
The Counterterrorism Center specifically warns that in the context of the escalating Israel-Palestine conflict, the most concerning security threat is not a specific terrorist organization's planned attack, but individuals radicalized by the conflict who have not previously pledged allegiance to any organization.
These potential attackers usually do not have an extremist background or participate in any extremist organization, making it difficult for intelligence agencies to track and detect their actions in advance.
The West Point Military Academy's Counterterrorism Center believes that three factors mainly influence the level of terror threat to Western countries: how long the current Israel-Palestine conflict lasts, the intensity of Israel's actions in Gaza, and the level of Western support for Israel.
The longer the Israel-Palestine conflict lasts, the greater the terror threat to the West. If the brutality of the conflict escalates, especially if street fighting breaks out in Gaza, the terror threat to various countries will be even greater.