Threat Watch 2014: Terrorism risks in western Europe

Last updated 17 Nov 13 @ 12:00 |
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The IHS Country Risk team highlights the European states most likely to face security threats in 2014



Terrorist activity in Greece is likely to emanate largely from numerous left-wing and anarchist groups, such as the Conspiracy of Fire Nuclei (CFN), who are likely to continue staging attacks with varying capability, from IEDs and arson attacks to targeted assassinations. These groups are also likely to continue recruitment from among violent protesters, and will periodically produce new “generations” of militants.

The decline in risk of large-scale bombings is likely to come to an end in the next year, as CFN are acquiring the skill to produce larger IEDs (but not to car-bomb levels as yet). Arrests and findings in August and September 2012 already suggested a new generation of the CFN had been preparing a renewed campaign learning from past mistakes. While we do not know what exact targets such a campaign had, it is quite likely that the attack on Microsoft offices in June 2012 was part of a series of attacks of a new cell of militants. The terrorism risk is concentrated almost exclusively in Athens, and to a lesser extent Thessaloniki, however.



German unions are likely to resort mostly to one-day strikes during negotiations over employment contracts, salary rises and in order to protest against job cuts. Industrial action is likely as Germany is faring much better economically than other European nations and unions are feeling they should get a bigger share of company profits, especially since they agreed to keep wage increases low in recent years in order not to undermine competitiveness. This risk of strikes, however, will be mitigated if, as is likely, centre-right CDU and centre-left SPD agree a grand coalition pursuing centrist policies, including introduction of a minimum wage.

Generally, unions have seen a decline in effectiveness as they have been in a weak bargaining position because companies are threatening to outsource labour abroad if German workers cause difficulties. Production relocation is most likely in the household-appliances and entertainment-electronics sectors and in the furniture, car and motorcycle industries, while pharmaceutical and foodstuff companies are unlikely to move production. The fact that unemployment is at historically low levels, however, makes it easier for unions to exercise pressure, and negotiate aggressively, including by threatening and sometimes using strikes.



Intent to stage attacks targeting civilians and to cause financial loss to the UK persists among jihadist militants. Plots intercepted since the 7 July 2005 London bombings have indicated a consistent intention to cause casualties. The ability of the Pakistan-based core al-Qaeda leadership to recruit and train UK militants in Pakistan has declined since 2009, however, while the capability of UK security services has improved, reducing the risk of high-capability spectacular attacks.

While the risk from jihadist militants persists, the frequency of intercepted plots has declined since 2007. Nowadays, the main threat is likely to be from self-starter, single individuals who are less capable of inflicting mass casualties. An example is student Roshonara Choudhry who stabbed her MP in May 2010 over his support for the Iraq war, and two young British men of Nigerian origin who ran over and stabbed a soldier in Woolwich, south London, in May 2013; they had been radicalised with Jihadist advocacy groups in the UK and claimed to act in retaliation for atrocities committed by British soldiers in Afghanistan.

In Northern Ireland, dissident republican groups the Real IRA, Continuity IRA and Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH) are engaged in a campaign of shootings and explosive-device attacks against members of the police and army. A series of IED attacks in 2010 and 2011 showed an increased capability to construct devices of up to car-bomb size. This is likely to reflect expertise obtained by recruitment of former members of the Provisional IRA (PIRA). The groups are hindered by police capability to disrupt networks. Rare – and small – attacks on the mainland, intended mainly to gain publicity and cause economic disruption rather than mass casualties, are likely to be within their present capability. A sustained campaign of large-scale attacks outside Northern Ireland is unlikely at the moment, however.



On 21 October, Italy’s three largest trade union organisations – the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL), Italian Confederation of Trade Unions (CISL) and Italian Labour Union (UIL) – announced a series of co-ordinated four-hour work stoppages until mid-November in protest over the government’s 2014 budget package. Italy’s trade unions are mobilising on a local and regional level, such that the frequency and scale of the announced strikes has in actuality been slightly milder than expected. Trade union leaders stated their intention to escalate industrial action in the next two-month outlook, however, unless the government grants budgetary concessions by reducing labour taxes. Trade unions will reassess the programme of rolling strikes after 15 November. At that stage there is a heightened risk a general strike will be called ahead of a parliamentary vote on the budget in December. Potential infiltration of trade union demonstrations by Black Block anarchist groups raises the likelihood of low-level street violence targeting banks, and commercial and multinational companies. Anti-austerity rallies in Rome on 19 October saw fighting between anarchist groups and police outside finance ministry buildings and small-scale vandalism against banks.



The North Caucasus insurgency is likely to persist at least over the next five years. The insurgency is driven by a combination of Islamist ideology, high levels of unemployment and a lack of opportunities for economic advancement. Insurgent activity spans all of the North Caucasus republics, but terrorism risks are highest in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. The insurgents’ primary targets are state security personnel, local authorities and pro-government religious figures, critical infrastructure including above-ground pipelines and telecoms installations, and large and economically symbolic state-funded projects. IED and firearm attacks and counter-attacks occur on a daily basis; according to regional website Caucasian Knot, 77 security personnel and 220 militants were killed in the region in January-September 2013, and 211 security personnel and 379 militants in 2012.

In the six-month outlook, there is a specific high risk of IED attacks against softer targets as the insurgency seeks to disrupt the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, scheduled for 7-23 February 2014. In an online video released in July 2013, insurgent leader Dokku Umarov lifted a 17-month-old moratorium on attacks deliberately targeting civilians, and called on militants to actively disrupt the Games. Sochi is located within the geographical area the insurgency considers Russia to be occupying, and the Games are symbolically important for the Russian authorities. The end of the moratorium makes it likely that the insurgents will attempt mass-casualty attacks similar to the January 2011 suicide IED attack on the arrivals hall of Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, which killed 37 and wounded 173. The most likely tactic is suicide or vehicle-borne IED attacks. The intent and capability to stage such attacks outside the North Caucasus was confirmed by the 21 October 2013 suicide IED attack on a bus in the southern city of Volgograd, which killed six and wounded 28.