Even if the Islamic State jihadist group suffers military defeat this year, Islamist terrorism remains a major threat for Italy and other European countries, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni warned on Monday.
“The threat posed by Islamist terrorism remains one of our central concerns and is at the heart of the government’s programme of work and its security cooperation with neighbouring countries,” Gentiloni said during the presentation to the cabinet of an annual report by the government’s Department of Information Security (DIS).
The report predicted more ‘lone wolf’ terror attacks and possible chemical, bacteriological and nuclear ones. It also warned that the growing number of children being recruited as fighters and indoctrinated by IS were “a long-term threat”.
“While 2017 may be the year of IS’s military defeat, the jihadist threat represented by the group, by Al Qaeda and other splinter groups will not end,” Gentiloni said.
“We must not lower our guard,” he added.
IS has been progressively routed from areas of Iraq and Syria, its finances depleted and it propaganda weakened, the report noted.
The group has been increasingly on the back foot since Russian air raids began in Syria in 2015 and the 68-member military coalition to which Italy belongs stepped up air strikes against IS and killed prominent leaders such as IS spokesman Abu Mohammad al Adnani (in August 2016), the DIS report said.
The report flagged up the Balkan region which it said continued to be a “hub” for the recruitment of foreign fighters and a safe-haven for jihadists returning to Europe from Middle East war zones.
“Numerous” individuals of Balkan origins had joined thousands of foreign fighters including from Italy who travelled to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq, the report claimed.
The jihadists were aided by powerful network of radical Muslims with ties to communities in Europe and elsewhere, the report said.
Besides providing logistical support to jihadists, the network also played a key role in proselytising and in recruiting foreign fighters, the report noted.