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Lull in terror attacks may not last 'until the end of 2019': UN experts

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Five people were killed when a gunman opened fire at the Strasbourg Christmas Market on December 11, 2018.
Five people were killed when a gunman opened fire at the Strasbourg Christmas Market on December 11, 2018. -
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Reuters
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A relative lull in international terrorist attacks carried out by Islamist groups could end before the end of this year, United Nations experts have warned.

UN monitors said in a report submitted to the Security Council last month that although the geographical caliphate of the so-called Islamic State (IS) had been successfully dismantled, the group's leadership "aims to adapt, survive and consolidate" through sleeper cells "in preparation for an eventual resurgence".

"ISIL [another name for IS] will reinvest in the capacity to direct and facilitate complex international attacks when it has the secure space and time to do so," the report states.

"The current abatement of such attacks, therefore, may not last long, possibly not even until the end of 2019; meanwhile, more ISIL-inspired attacks will occur, possibly in unexpected locations," it adds.

Risk 'remains high'

The report, based on information provided by UN member states, flags that the risk of terror attacks in Europe "remains high" despite a "reduced incidence of successful attacks" over the past year.

The Old Continent was particularly stricken in 2015 and 2016 when terror attacks resulted in 150 and 135 fatalities respectively, according to figures from the European Parliament. In 2017, deaths had more than halved and some 20 people are believed to have lost their lives in terror attacks last year.

Chief among European UN member states' current concerns is the potential for nationals to initiate home-grown attacks.

The radicalisation of criminals within the prison systems is also a "critical concern" as "some of the first wave of returnees from the "caliphate" to be imprisoned are expected to be released in the coming year."

Finally, many Europeans who travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight for IS "remain unaccounted for" while deradicalisation programmes for those who were imprisoned "have not proven to be fully effective."

But the report underlines that the Sahel and West Africa have been the theatre of the "most striking international developments" over the past few months with fighters aligned with IS and al-Qaida collaborating to "undermine fragile national jurisdictions."

IS-inspired attacks like the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka — in which more than 350 people were killed — and the March attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand — in which 51 people died — also "offer a troubling narrative of escalating interfaith conflict," the monitors stressed.