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Is IS Guerrilla Activity Coming to Europe?

Belgian soldiers patrol in the Grand Place of Brussels following Tuesday's bombings in Brussels , Belgium, March 24, 2016.

Belgian soldiers patrol in the Grand Place of Brussels following Tuesday's bombings in Brussels , Belgium, March 24, 2016.

Security agencies trying to break up Islamic State (IS) terror cells in Europe fear that IS supporters will use guerrilla tactics to attack major targets.

Concerns were raised when images and floor plans of the Belgian prime minister’s office were found on a laptop computer. The computer was found during a search related to the suspects in the Brussels bombings.

There is also the evidence that two of the Brussels bombers had video recordings of a scientist at Belgium’s Tihange nuclear center.

These developments suggest some terror cells are ready to give up attacks on what have been called “soft targets,” such as train stations or eateries. Islamic State supporters instead might be preparing to attack bigger, more symbolic places.

“They’re very invested in the pageantry of it all, so I wouldn’t be surprised,” said one U.S. official who knows about the intelligence on IS. "There is no question that they see Europe as a battlefield.”

European officials are worried. And their ability to find and stop possible terror plots differs from one country to the next.

“We still have a very high level of concern for new terror attacks,” a Western diplomat told VOA. “The level of engagement and commitment to discover potential attacks is very high.” The official agreed to speak after VOA promised not to release his name.

Another concern is Islamic State’s growing use of the Internet to share intelligence between its leadership at home and their terrorist groups around the world.

IS has specialized in putting all its combat lessons learned online, said Malcom Nance, a former intelligence and anti-terrorism officer. He now heads the Terror Asymmetrics Project.

Nance said that armor-plated vehicles used in Ramadi are now showing up in Somalia and in Benghazi, Libya. “And all of their intelligence sharing is happening at a very rudimentary (or simple) level, and it’s very hard ... (to capture).”

At first, intelligence was centered on IS militants using the November 2015 Paris attacks as a model. In other words, they were hitting many “soft targets” at once, and killing or wounding many civilians. But the Brussels attacks suggest the group is growing bolder – unafraid of its enemies.

U.S. officials now believe IS is “deeply rooted” in Europe, making the situation more dangerous. There could be hundreds of jihadists who have returned home from Syria and Iraq, working to make thousands more into guerrillas who can still attack after suffering losses.

Experts on terrorism like Malcolm Nance say the video of the Belgian nuclear scientist, and the laptop plans of the prime minister’s office, mean it is only a matter of time before IS fighters hit high value targets.

“You absolutely should just assume that they are all ready to attack,” Nance warned.

In the event of an attack on a nuclear center, Nance said, the goal would be to cause a meltdown inside. It would turn the reactor into a “dirty bomb,” and release radioactive material.

But Belgian officials have said there is little to show such attacks are about to take place.

However, in France, officials say a terror cell did appear to be on the edge of taking action. On Wednesday, government lawyers announced terror charges against 34-year-old Frenchman Reda Kriket. They said the supply of explosives and arms found in his home was a sign that he planned an act of “extreme violence” very soon.

I’m Anne Ball.

VOA’s Jeff Seldin reported on this story. Anne Ball adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

tactics - n. methods

symbolic – adj. expressing or showing an idea or quality without using words

pageantry – n. use of special clothing, traditions and ceremonies are part of a special event

potential - adj. possible

combat - adj. related to fighting

jihadists – n. one engaged in armed opposition to Western influence and culture