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Over 500 planned terrorist attacks in EU in 2008

  • Memorial after the Madrid bombings: Spain remains a prominent target (Photo: Wikipedia)

The European Union's law enforcement agency, Europol, counted a total of 515 terrorist attacks carried out or planned in the union in 2008.

"The threat to EU member states of Islamist as well as ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism remains high," Mariano Simancas, deputy director of Europol, said on Thursday (16 April).

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"Law enforcement agencies must stay alert in order to prevent and to keep trying to dismantle terrorist groups and structures," he added.

Of the 515 attacks carried out or only planned, 397 were by separatist movements, of which 97 percent were in Spain and France.

In 2008, four people, including a law enforcement officer, died in the EU as a result of terrorist attacks that were carried out by the Basque separatist group ETA in Spain said the Hague-based Europol.

France also had to contend with Corsican separatist terrorism, while in Greece, the use of violence by the Epanastatikos Agonas or Revolutionary Struggle has escalated.

Irish nationalism also remains a concern as evinced by the killings in Northern Ireland this year of two British soldiers and a policeman by different IRA splinter groups.

Islamist threat

Despite the dominance of nationalist and separatist groups in the EU, Mr Simancas said Islamist terrorism – considered to be the greatest threat at the global level – was also a major concern in Europe with Islamist terror cells remaining active within the EU.

One attack by this type of group was perpetrated in 2008 with only the terrorist being injured at a restaurant in Britain when the bomb exploded too early.

But many other attempts were foiled, said Mr Simancas, citing examples in Germany and Italy and 187 arrests in France, Britain and Spain.

"Most are men organised in small autonomous, independent cells that can move easily, which is very worrying," he said. "We're talking about home-made terrorism."

"Only seven European countries notified that they were targeted in 2008 [by Islamist groups], but we're all feeling the threat," he added.

Despite the apparently high number of attacks or planned attacks in the EU last year, the figure of 515 represents a decrease of 23 per cent on the number counted for 2007.

Funding from criminal activities

Europol said illegal sources of funding for terrorism cover a wide range of criminal activities including fraud, counterfeiting, burglary and extortion.

While the majority of the people arrested on suspicion of financing Islamist terrorism were involved in fraud, separatist and left-wing terrorists favour the use of extortion to finance their activities.

Men tend to be the main perpetrators of violence and attack-related activities, but women also play an important role as associates in supporting terrorist groups, said Europol.

Their involvement tends to be in the dissemination of propaganda, facilitation, support and fundraising.

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