Europe hasn’t won the war on terror

A recent lull in the number and severity of jihadist attacks in Europe might lead one to conclude the worst is over. But it’s far too early to declare victory in the fight against terror.

The shock of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris jolted Europe into a new reality. Paris was hit again later that year, in attacks that killed more than 130. High-profile assaults in Brussels, Berlin and Barcelona soon followed, while a series of smaller-scale incidents in London and France killed dozens and created an atmosphere of fear that kept threat levels high.

But more recently — with no major attack causing more than 10 deaths since the summer of 2017 — terror has slipped from the headlines and the minds of most ordinary European citizens. Indeed, jihadist attacks in Europe are down just over 60 percent since their peak last year, suggesting Europe has fought back against the onslaught of attacks inspired by Islamic State.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. It’s a common mistake to measure the terrorist threat by the number of attacks carried out. To understand the scale and nature of the threat we must not only study successful attacks — but also look at the plots foiled by counterterrorism efforts.

So far in 2018, Europe has seen at least 12 well-documented jihadist terrorist plots. Six of them resulted in attacks. There were also 11 vague plots that are still too poorly documented to analyze. This is an overall decrease of about 50 percent in the total number of plots compared to last year. But this drop doesn’t mean the threat is low.

While toughened European counterterrorism efforts may have weakened the capabilities of these radicalized networks, we are not yet in the clear.

Indeed, the decrease follows a dramatic peak in 2017, with the highest number of plots since jihadists began attacking in Europe some 25 years ago. Compared to any given year before 2015, the number of plots in Europe is still high — in spite of massive spending by European governments to reduce terrorist activity.

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