Terrorism in 2016 proved to be a challenging threat for several key European countries, while leaving most of the continent untouched, but anxious, about the potential of attacks. France and Turkey were the hardest hit, but attacks in Belgium and Germany and a multitude of threats to other countries has increased the concerns most people have about terrorism in Europe. Inclusion of previously uncommon attack tactics, such as knife attacks, vehicle attacks, and lone-actors combined with more common tactics like bombings has also raised apprehension in the population. But what is 2017 likely to hold for Europe in terms of the terror threat?
Europe will likely continue to face major security challenges in 2017, and authorities across the region are poised to remain vigilant against attacks by radical extremists, either inspired or directed by the Islamic State (IS) and other terror organizations. While the overall threat to the public across much of Europe is generally low, periodic acts of violence cannot be ruled out, especially in large cities in Western Europe.
Lone-actor attackers still pose the greatest threat. However, major victories by Western coalition forces against IS militants in Iraq and Syria may increase IS’ push toward more numerous, and possibly more sophisticated, attacks against targets abroad. European governments have already dedicated additional resources to counter this threat. For example, the French have refined their security alert system to allow for a nuanced and agile response to threats. On Nov. 30, 2016, French officials introduced Vigipirate Plus as a replacement to the old alert system known as Vigipirate, developed in the late 1970s. Vigipirate Plus, which has three alert levels instead of the two in Vigipirate, has a new maximum alert level, Urgence Attentat (translation: Attack Emergency). Officials would activate Urgence Attentat just after an incident has occurred or when authorities have high confidence that an attack is likely. Urgence Attentat, which authorities say would not last longer than a month, allows security forces to close roads and public transportation, secure schools and other public institutions, and increase the presence of security personnel to areas specifically affected. While this change will help France, further cross-border cooperation among European countries is required to improve intelligence-gathering and policing across the continent.
The mass influx of migrants, mostly from the Middle East and North Africa, that began in 2015 has resulted in a perception that the migrants are a threat. This perception will likely contribute to nervousness among European security services and the public. Challenges associated with absorbing hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers and other migrants will be most pronounced in Germany, Greece, and Italy, with the latter expected to continue receiving high numbers of arrivals via the Central Mediterranean route in the coming year.
Moving farther east, terrorism will continue to pose a largely unpredictable threat to foreign companies and travelers throughout Turkey, including major cities like Ankara and Istanbul, and there is no indication that the nature or level of this threat will change over 2017. Sporadic terrorist attacks – mainly by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the more radical Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), and IS – will remain the primary security concern in Turkey in the new year. Although the vast majority of such attacks are directed against Turkish security forces and government facilities rather than corporate interests or travelers specifically.
The government in Ankara will almost certainly keep the current, nationwide state of emergency in place by repeatedly extending the measure as each new expiration date approaches. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will likewise almost certainly continue to pursue the purge his administration launched against perceived enemies, following the military’s abortive coup attempt of July 15-16, 2016. The president’s ongoing efforts to silence dissent will continue to be met with occasional demonstrations by opposition organizations. Although the state of emergency and the government’s purge will have a minimal direct impact on foreign entities and travelers in Turkey, isolated business disruptions may still occur in instances where key Turkish security infrastructure is essential to operations.