The threat posed by violent extremism is higher in Europe than anywhere else in the world, apart from actual war zones and hotspots, US European Command head General Curtis Scaparrotti said, commenting on Wednesday’s terrorist attack in London.
“The number of threat streams that we have of this type within Europe – it’s probably higher in Europe than any other part of the globe, with the exception of the places we’re actually physically fighting [terrorists], like Syria […] Afghanistan and Iraq,” the senior US military leader in Europe, who is also NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
He said that Europe is faced with a “difficult challenge” posed by extremists.
“Europe is challenged by both the flow of terrorists returning from Syria and other places. They’re challenged by an internal threat of those inspired by ISIS [Islamic State or IS] or directed by ISIS and this is another, an example of the attacks that we’ve seen in Europe in the past year. It’s a difficult challenge.”
On Wednesday five people, including the assailant, were killed in the attack in central London, after a car plowed into pedestrians near the British Parliament. Police identified the attacker as 52-year-old British citizen and Muslim convert Khalid Masood, born Adrian Russell Ajao. Eight more people were detained in connection with the case in raids at six different UK locations.
IS claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the terrorist group’s ‘news agency’ Amaq.
Scaparrotti expressed his condolences to those injured or killed in the tragedy, noting that the United States is ready to further support its NATO ally, the UK.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to these victims and their families impacted by this senseless attack. We strongly condemn this attack, and will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our NATO ally, and our partners, to defeat terrorism,” he stated.
Asked by committee Chairman John McCain whether there is any “connection” between the increased European terrorism threat and the inflow of refugees from the globe’s hotspots, Scaparotti said he is particularly concerned by the criminal groups that smuggle asylum seekers into Europe illegally.
He stated that apart from people whose identities it is difficult to establish given the circumstances of their arrival into Europe, these groups “are more than willing to move equipment, personnel, weapons” to carry out terrorist plots.
Before reports of the London attack broke on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hosted a meeting of 68 nations of the global anti-IS coalition, aimed at finding ways to defeat the jihadists and reduce the spread of terrorism on a global scale.
While stressing the importance of IS’ defeat, Tillerson warned against a possible spillover of the terrorist threat to other areas once the group is defeated in the Middle East.
“As we stabilize areas encompassing ISIS’ phony physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, we also must prevent their seeds of hatred from taking root elsewhere,” he said, as cited by Military.com.