The European Union is facing a “huge risk” of terrorist attacks over the holiday period, the bloc’s home affairs chief warned on Tuesday.
“With the war between Israel and Hamas and the polarisation it causes in our society, with the upcoming holiday season, there is a huge risk of terrorist attacks in the European Union,” Ylva Johansson said ahead of a meeting of EU home affairs ministers in Brussels.
“We will now make available an additional €30 million for the protection of […] places of worship,” she also pledged.
The warning came days after a radical Islamist known to authorities fatally stabbed a German-Filipino tourist and injured two other people with a hammer near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, heightening EU vigilance and concerns over impending attacks.
The suspect, identified as Armand Rajabpour-Miyandoab, had sworn allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in a social media video.
Home affairs ministers from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden met over breakfast earlier on Tuesday to discuss the terrorist threat, German minister Nancy Faeser said.
“The war in Gaza and Hamas’ terror is exacerbating this situation. The risk of further emotionalization and radicalization of violent Islamist perpetrators is high,” Faeser told reporters in Brussels.
“Our security authorities are working very closely together,” she added. “Right now we have to keep a particularly close eye on the Islamist threats and work together with neighbouring countries against Islamist propaganda.”
In 2016 and 2018, Berlin and Strasbourg’s Christmas markets became the scenes of deadly terrorist attacks.
German authorities arrested a 15-year-old boy and his alleged accomplice last Thursday on suspicion of planning a militant Islamist state-style attack on a Christmas market. Police forces in several EU countries are upping security around such market sites this year.
The protracted conflict in the Middle East is also deepening fears that violence could permeate into Europe.
Places of worship, including synagogues and mosques, have also been on high alert since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in early October, amid fears of reprisals among both Jewish and Muslim communities. EU countries including France have heightened police presence around such sites.
A French teacher was stabbed to death in the northeast town of Arras by a former student with a record of Islamic radicalisation on October 13th, just six days after the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out on October 7th, when Hamas militants embarked on a deadly rampage in southern Israel, leaving some 1,200 civilians dead.
Days later, an assailant claiming to be inspired by the Islamic State fatally shot two Swedish nationals in Brussels. The perpetrator, a Tunisian national, had unsuccessfully sought asylum in Belgium but the Belgian authorities had not been able to follow up on his deportation order.
Johansson, a Swede, said in response to the attack that the bloc had to step up efforts to ensure irregular migrants that pose a “security risk” are swiftly returned to countries of transit or origin.
Islamist terrorism remains the biggest terror threat in Western Europe and “lone actors are expected to continue to perpetrate most of the terrorist attacks in the EU”, Europol’s spokesperson, Jan Op Gen Oorth, told Euronews in September
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