The European Police Office, or Europol, announced Monday its opening of a new counterterrorism office, one day after an Islamic State-released video advanced the group's threats against Europe.
Europol will use its European Counter Terrorism Centre (ECTC), based at the agency's headquarters in The Hague, as an informational and investigatory resource in conjunction with its other operations.
The ECTC was set up to maximize coordination and confidence between European law enforcement agencies and better provide for the management of terror-related intelligence. Europol officials hope that successful utilization of the ECTC will lead to more effective and timely anti-terror operations across the continent, providing a better chance of preventing terrorist attacks in Europe.
“The ECTC will improve the exchange of information between law enforcement agencies. This is the kind of cooperation Europe needs in the fight against organized crime and terrorism,” said Ard van der Steur, the Netherlands' Minister of Security and Justice, in the Europol statement.
The ECTC is to be headed by Manuel Navarrete Paniagua, an officer in the Spanish Guardia Civil who previously headed Europol’s counterterrorism unit. The office is staffed by more than 40 Europol members, including five seconded national experts.
“Our ambition is for the European Counter Terrorism Centre to become a central information hub in the fight against terrorism in the EU, providing analysis for ongoing investigations and contributing to a coordinated reaction in the event of major terrorist attacks,” Europol Director Rob Wainwright said in an agency statement. “It will lie at the heart of a stronger EU standing up to the threat of terrorism.”
“The establishment of the European Counter Terrorism Centre is a major strategic opportunity for the EU to make our collective efforts to fight terrorism more effective,” Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, added in the release.
The opening of the counterterrorism bureau comes days after the release of a Europol report on Islamic State (ISIS or IS) methods and practices, which affirmed that, “There is every reason to expect that IS, IS inspired terrorists or another religiously inspired terrorist group will undertake a terrorist attack somewhere in Europe again.”
The Europol report, dated one week ago, covers the changes in IS terrorist attack strategies based on a Europol review last year. In addition to warning that future IS strikes are likely, the informational relay suggests that they will potentially be perpetrated on “soft targets” – civilians – in a manner similar to the 2015 Paris or 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The report also concludes that improving the exchange of information between agencies should be a priority. It also states that, “There is no concrete evidence that terrorist travelers systematically use the flow of refugees to enter Europe unnoticed,” but that there is an “imminent” danger of refugee radicalization within Europe.
The opening of the ECTC and the publication of Europol's IS report come partially in response to the November attacks in Paris that left 130 dead. On Sunday, IS released a 17-minute video featuring archival footage of several of the perpetrators of the attack along with threats against Europe. The video also shows British Prime Minister David Cameron speaking, as well as the message that allies of nonbelievers “will be a target for our swords,” according to the Associated Press.
Prior to announcing the ECTC, Europol hosted a Global Counterterrorism Forum conference for the Foreign Terrorist Fighters working group earlier this month at which officials from around 45 delegations agreed to collaborate with intelligence sharing on potential extremists and fighters.
“We all agree that we need to share information better, smarter and faster,” Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said after that meeting, according to the AP.