An army of highly trained Islamic State terrorists is poised to unleash attacks across Europe — 400 to 600 killers who are expected to disperse and act independently, taking advantage of porous borders and havens in large Muslim communities that European authorities have been unwilling to police, officials say.
“Special units have been set up. The training is longer,” a European security official told The Associated Press. “And the objective appears to no longer be killing as many people as possible, but rather, to have as many terror operations as possible, so the enemy is forced to spend more money and more in manpower.”
The terrorists reportedly are being trained in Syria and Iraq and possibly the former Soviet bloc, to be deployed to Europe.
“These operatives are being dispatched to basically work on their own. To find their own targets, to work autonomously under what we call leaderless resistance,” Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical strategies at Stratfor, a private intelligence firm, said.
“That’s disturbing, because that’s going to interfere with the ability of intelligence agencies to pick up communications back and forth. It’s not like they’re all phoning back to Raqqa to get instructions — and that makes them even more dangerous,” Stewart said.
French Sen. Nathalie Goulet, head of a panel tracking jihadi networks, said estimates range from 400 to 600 fighters who have been specifically trained to carry out coordinated attacks similar to those in Paris that killed 130 last year and injured 368, and Tuesday’s Brussels bombings that left 31 people dead and 270 wounded.
A European security official told the AP the terror squads are being trained in battleground strategies, explosives, surveillance techniques and countersurveillance — “next-level” methods Stewart said will help them avoid capture and kill scores of innocents.
“They’re doing pre-operational surveillance, attack planning and clandestine communications,” Stewart said. “That kind of advanced tradecraft gives them capabilities that are beyond what we’ve seen.”
Like the Brussels and Paris bombers, the oncoming wave of Islamic terrorists is expected to take advantage of Muslim-majority neighborhoods in nearly every major European city — such as Molenbeek in Brussels, where the Paris and Belgian attacks were staged.
Experts say European security forces will have to drop their sensitive hands-off approach toward those areas, develop more contacts and step up electronic surveillance, raids and preventative deportations.
“They know that as you and I are speaking, there are people who are making bombs and planning attacks in these neighborhoods throughout Europe, but to stop it they’d have to use procedures that they feel don’t represent the EU,” said Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution.
U.S. Rep. Bill Keating (D-Bourne) said security failures in Europe are a threat to the U.S. — both those overseas and at home, if ISIS terrorists manage to cross the Atlantic.
“They have to move quicker in Europe. It not only affects them, it affects us,” Keating said. “Some countries are sharing information and working with us to a much greater extent than other countries are. … We’ve offered resources to these countries, including sophisticated software, our expertise. These issues that come up are concerns we already had.”
U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-South Boston) said Belgian intelligence officials have been to blame for what he described as a “lack of information-sharing” and a “less-aggressive approach to counter-terrorism.”
President Obama, under pressure to act, insisted yesterday that fighting the Islamic State is his “No. 1 priority,” but he said he isn’t changing his low-profile air-strike-and-adviser strategy, despite Republican calls for tougher action.
“When I hear someone say we should carpet-bomb Iraq and Syria, not only is that inhumane, not only is that contrary to our values, but that would likely be an extra mechanism for ISIL to recruit more people,” Obama said. “That’s not a smart strategy.
Herald wire services contributed to this report.
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