Terrorist attack “conceivable” as threat level holds

24 Oktoberplein shooting in Utrecht
The scene of a shooting on the 24 Oktoberplein in Utrecht. 18 March 2019photo: Politie

With reporting by Byron Mühlberg

While the coronavirus crisis makes a large-scale terrorist attack in the Netherlands less likely, the possibility of an attack is still "conceivable", the national coordinator for counterterrorism and security NCTV said on Thursday. The terrorism threat level in the Netherlands therefore remains at 3 out of 5.

According to the NCTV, the biggest terrorist threat to the Netherlands still comes from the jihadist movement. Part of the Dutch jihadist movement is still active and wants to commit an attack, sometimes with concrete plans. There are two categories of jihadists that are of particular concern, the NCTV said. The first is jailed jihadists who can negatively influence each other in prison, the other is returned jihadists who gained combat experience in terrorist groups. 

But measures taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus are also hindering jihadists' freedom of movement. And a ban on gatherings also means that it is harder for terrorists to target large groups. According to the NCTV, Islamic extremists also consider the coronavirus as a divine intervention, with both ISIS and al-Qaeda calling the pandemic a judgement on the West. 

According to the NCTV, right-wing extremist groups in the Netherlands are largely marginal and non-violent. But there is a conceivable threat of a lone Dutch right-wing extremist committing an attack in the Netherlands. The attack on mosques in Christchurch last year inspired several perpetrators world wide, and the same could happen in the Netherlands, the NCTV said.

The NCTV is also keeping a close eye on other extremist incidents in the Netherlands. The coordinator specifically mentioned the series of fires on telecom masts in the country since early April. "Opponents are targeting the government, which they believe is harming public health, the environment, or privacy with the rollout of 5G," the NCTV said.

The climate discussion is also causing divisions in the Dutch extreme left-wing landscape, the NCTV said. But this movement in the Netherlands is "limited in size and activity" and "actions are mainly limited to word rather than deed," the NCTV said. 

Chinese espionage and right-wing terror a looming threat

This comes one week on from the release of a report by the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) in which it confirmed that right-wing terror and economic espionage by the Chinese government are among the most major threats to national security in the Netherlands.

"The biggest threat in the area of economic espionage is China, which specifically highlights cyber activities," the AIVD states. "Research shows that several Dutch top sectors have been or have been targets of digital espionage. The Chinese interest focuses on high-quality Dutch technology in various sectors."

The nature of the threat posed by China is expected to change over time. In the long-term, according to the report, China will likely come to attain global technological dominance that risks leading to "dependence on Chinese technology for the rest of the world."

"China's substantial investments in new emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 5G communication, will lead to China becoming the market leader," the AIVD asserts.

"In time, this potential dependence will make the Dutch business sector even more vulnerable to (digital) espionage and possibly also to sabotage."

Aside from Chinese espionage, another major threat to national security in the Netherlands is the worldwide rise of right-wing extremism. 

Citing violent attacks that occurred last year in the US, Europe and New Zealand, the AIVD explains that the rise in right-wing extremism has mainly been restricted to the online sphere in the Netherlands. However, the report warned that online extremism can be the first step toward more serious extremist activity, with the right-wing terrorist who killed 49 people in Christchurch in New Zealand in March of last year having cultivated his extremist views online.

"Extreme content can incite people to radicalization or even violence," the report says. "The Dutch are also members of such international online groups."

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