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Hotspot report

ISIS in Europe – An Interview with Middle East expert Ulrich Tilgner

France, 24/11/2015 byCéline Neuenschwander

Middle East expert Ulrich Tilgner speaks frankly about ISIS and Europe’s strategy in the fight against terrorism: Having more surveillance and security staff is pointless. A coalition of Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis would weaken ISIS the most. We can expect further attacks in Europe's cities.

So far, the war between Western countries and ISIS has only played out in the Middle East and North Africa. With the terrorist attack in Paris, ISIS has now struck on European soil. Can we conclude that ISIS is using a war tactic?

Yes, this is a new war tactic. Over the past 17 months, France alone was involved in around 7,000 air raids against ISIS. Until now, ISIS had not responded to the attacks from the West with military force, but rather ensconced itself and reacted defensively. Now there has been an offensive turnaround in which ISIS is taking the fight back to European soil. More specifically, this means that more terrorist attacks will occur in the countries attacking ISIS. At the same time, ISIS is currently under increased pressure in Syria and Iraq and wants to distract attention with terrorist attacks in Europe.


Should we expect more such attacks now?

I assume that more attacks of this type will follow. It is, of course, difficult to predict where and when they will be conducted. I strongly assume that there will be an increase in such attacks in Europe.


Which cities are particularly vulnerable to ending up as ISIS targets?

There certainly must be some kind of lists within ISIS. Generally, this form of warfare being launched by ISIS gets its lifeblood from the shock effect. Therefore, the next strike is always unforeseen and the next attack can never be predicted. Cities in countries that launch air attacks are certainly more vulnerable than others.


How do terrorists sneak into Europe?

There is a wide variety of ways. They can take advantage of the stream of refugees, but it would be foolish to believe that they would not come in other ways as well. We cannot forget that! ISIS maintains numerous contacts in Europe. Connections to sleeper jihadist cells in Europe are set up in order to establish contact and to gain access to information. Such cells also include disbanded Al Qaeda networks. This is how ISIS is building a network in Europe, consisting of people who are knowledgeable, know the system and assist with the entry procedures. Also Europeans returning from the jihad can play an active part and act as a contact with ISIS terrorists. It is now important to track down these networks in Europe.


Just now you mentioned the returning jihadist fighters. Are these the instigators of terror attacks in European cities?

Returning jihadist fighters certainly pose a threat. ISIS is specifically contacting the existing networks that are in place here. The individuals who plan such acts in Syria can carry them out very easily here by utilizing these connections. One cannot exactly say who is involved to what degree and whether the initiative comes from jihadists within Europe or people in Syria.


In many places, the reaction to the attack has been to increase security and surveillance. Does that help at all?

After each such attack, there is a call for increased security. This creates an unending vicious cycle. But even before the attack in Paris, there had been an increase in security and stricter surveillance in France. As we have now seen, this alone does nothing at all. What is much more important than having more security and surveillance is to eradicate the roots of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria. Under the present circumstances, the Sunnis are still being pushed into the arms of ISIS.


How can ISIS be stopped and the threat of terror reduced?

By changing the political situation in Syria and Iraq. ISIS is a result of the conflict in Iraq and the situation in Syria has accelerated ISIS’ development. There must be détente in the conflict between the Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis and there needs to be less mistrust between the three groups. A coalition of Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis would weaken ISIS the most. Ever since the United States invaded Iraq, the Sunnis have been left absolutely powerless and are being suppressed. As a result, this segment of the population is flocking to join ISIS. Flying further air attacks in Syria in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris is meaningless and does nothing to allay the situation. Quite the contrary; the more air attacks are launched on Syria, the more terrorist attacks will be carried out in Europe.


What do you advise civilians to do in order to best protect themselves?

I don’t think that anything at all can be done. ISIS terror can strike everywhere; there is no protection from it. Of course you could just stay at home, but that is not a solution. We can most probably prevent this type of terrorism if we know the basic causes and are aware of the consequences. There are no individual Solutions.

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