The director of Europol, the EU-wide police agency, has admitted that Europe faces its “most serious” terrorist threat in many years.
Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, Rob Wainwright said: “Let’s be clear — we are dealing here with a well resourced, determined international organisation which is now active on the streets of Europe.”
His comments at a meeting in the European Parliament come in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks that left 129 dead and on the eve of an emergency meeting of EU justice ministers on Friday.
Wainright, who heads an organisation that tackles combating serious international organized crime, told the Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee that Paris represented a “very serious escalation” of the terrorist threat facing Europe.
“For the first time,” he told MEPs, “Europe has experienced a Mumbai-style terrorist attack with indiscriminate shootings and bombings over a wide area.”
This was a reference to when 10 Pakistani members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic militant organisation, carried out a series of 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai in 2008.
“The reality of what happened in Mumbai has now arrived in Europe,” Wainwright said.
Warning that the authorities faced a “more sophisticated and threatening” enemy than ever before, he said the attacks in Paris were both a departure from the “lone wolf” attacks of recent years and “a clear statement of intent from [the Islamic State group] that it intends to export its brutal form of terrorism.”
“Further attacks are likely, and I regard this as the most serious terrorist threat facing Europe for ten years,” he said.
Since the attacks in Paris, he said Europol, based in The Hague, Netherlands, had passed information to the French authorities on the 28,000 suspects, some with terrorist links, on its database and had sent officers to Paris to assist with the investigation into the shootings.
Europol also has the names of 2,000 people who are known to have left Europe to fight for the Islamic State group in Syria. The actual figure could be as high as 5,000, he said.
While there were connections, he said, between terror suspects and other types of crime, such as the trade in stolen passports, with the boundaries between the two often being blurred, it was “too early” to link this to the events in Paris.
“Paris represents a serious escalation in the threat and reinforces the need for police around Europe to cooperate and maximise information sharing,” he said.
Wainwright said Europol will “upgrade its capabilities” to tackle the problem by opening a new EU-wide counterterrorism center on Jan. 1, 2016, that will be tasked with countering the financing of terrorist organisations, like the Islamic State group, and monitoring the activities of foreign fighters.
Addressing the same meeting, Mathias Ruete, director of home affairs at the European Commission, admitted that “not enough” had been done in the past to combat the terrorist threat.
Reminding the packed committee that Paris was just the latest in a series of similar attacks in recent months, the EU official said: “We have made some progress in combating this, but if you look at the shocking events in Paris last week, what has been done is not enough. Clearly some of the measures that have been taken may not have been as adequate as they should have been.
“In terms of countering the terrorist threat, we need to put our money where our mouth is.”
He told deputies that new entry/exit “smart border” measures were due to come into force in March and that new EU border guards would be on the ground by the end of this year.
Christian Braun, representing the EU’s Luxembourg presidency, said that a range of emergency security measures, including enhancing exchange of information and beefing up border controls, would be under discussion at the justice ministers’ meeting on Friday.
“Clearly we have got to speed up our response in light of what happened in Paris,” he said.