Returning jihadists ‘threaten new wave of terror in Europe’

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Interpol chief Jürgen Stock tells of early warning system as terrorists from conflict zones are freed from jail

Europe is facing a new wave of terrorism as radicalised individuals return and jihadists are released from jail, the general secretary of Interpol has warned.

Jürgen Stock, Interpol’s chief, who is also a criminologist and law enforcement officer from Germany, said: “We could soon be facing a second wave of other Islamic State linked or radicalised individuals that you might call Isis 2.0.

“A lot of these are suspected terrorists or those who are linked to terrorist groups as supporters who are facing maybe two to five years in jail. Because they were not convicted of a concrete terrorist attack but only support for terrorist activities, their sentences are perhaps not so heavy.

“In many parts of the world, in Europe but also Asia, this generation of early supporters will be released in the next couple of years, and they may again be part of a terrorist group or those supporting terrorist activities.”

Europe, and particularly France, has had a series of serious Islamist-linked terror attacks since 2014, including the assaults that killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015.

He added: “We know that radicalisation takes place in prison and the very recent attack in Strasbourg, France, is another example.”

Stock, speaking to the Anglo-American Press Association in Paris, said Interpol had a database of about 45,000 suspected foreign jihadists but said that locating them was a challenge for police and security agencies.

“The so-called returnees are still a concern for many member countries. Many of those who left, for instance from Europe or Asia, have not yet returned. Some of them have been killed on the battlefield but some of them are missing.

“The security agencies are concerned about when they are coming back because most of them are battle hardened, they are trained and they are internationally connected. Remember, fighters from more than 100 countries went to the conflict zones. This was a huge opportunity to network on an international level, and of course these contacts still exist and we shouldn’t forget that.”

Stock said Interpol was developing an international database of biometric information to enable its 194 member countries to identify terror and criminal suspects. “It’s essential to make sure this information is in the right hands at the right time and place. You never know when a piece of information might become relevant.”

He said the database was particularly vital in tracing foreign Isis fighters taking an indirect route back from Syria or Iraq to Europe.

“With Isis defeated geographically, these individuals will either try to move to other areas of conflict in south-east Asia, or Africa, or remain in Europe to carry out attacks. Isis still poses a threat but more as an underground operation and organisation.

“As we have seen with major terrorist attacks in Europe, many will attempt to use fake documents and that’s the point where Interpol comes into play. We know in many of the cases terrorists or supporters are using multiple identities. These people are using fake identities, fake ID documents, and this poses a challenge to the law enforcement agencies.

“We have seen time and time again that it can take just one piece of information to connect the dots and identify previously unseen links. Information shared by Interpol about foreign fighters has already led to successful prosecutions in Europe.

“We’re building a global early-warning system against terrorist activity and terrorist movement. We are helping dismantle terrorist activity and the same applies for other areas like organised crime and cyber crime. By making sure this information is available at the frontlines of policing.”

Stock spoke about the disappearance of the former Interpol president Meng Hongwei, who vanished after flying to China in September. Interpol received his resignation 10 days later. The Chinese authorities said Meng was under investigation for corruption.

Kim Jong Yang, of South Korea, was named Interpol president at a meeting in Dubai last month. Stock said the president’s role in the organisation was honorary and that Meng had been first and foremost a Chinese official. “A Chinese officer was arrested by the Chinese authorities on Chinese soil. That is something outside Interpol’s mandate,” he said adding that the organisation’s regulations meant it had to keep out of the politics of individual member states.

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