On 5 September, Gilles de Kerchove, the EU's Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, took stock of developments since the terrorist attacks on the USA and presented his report "10years - 10lessons: What our experience since 9/11 can teach us for the future". In his opinion, another 9/11 is probably no longer possible.
The situation has evolved a great deal since 2001. The Al Qaeda-project has failed, the central organisation is weakened due to financial difficulties and the death or imprisonment of Osama Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders. This was shown in particular by the Arab Spring upheavals, when people took to the streets calling for autocratic regimes to step down and demanding democracy, freedom and respect for human rights. No reference was made to Islamist ideology.
The threat has become much more diverse, complex and sophisticated through the "franchising" of groups affiliated to Al Qaeda which give cause for growing concern, as they are much more dangerous than the Al Qaeda core. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is technically the most sophisticated and has been able to plot several serious attacks, others are Al Shabaab in Somalia and Al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb, which is active mainly in the Sahel but spreading into Nigeria and potentially the rest of Africa.
Another threat comes from Europeans or foreigners living low-profile in Europe and going abroad for training and fighting, or home-grown terrorists plotting attacks in their own or neighbouring countries. Anders Breivik's attack in Oslo this Summer reminds us that terrorism is not exclusively linked to Islam; it is a risk connected with all extremist movements.
Despite this alarming situation, Gilles de Kerchove confirms that "we are safer today than we were before", because the response of member states, of Europe and the rest of the world has been significantly improved. Europol, the European Police Office, has for instance supported Norwegian police in investigating whether Breivik had received help to commit his crimes.
"Overall, internally, we are much better equipped than we were 10 years ago. That does not mean that we will be able to avoid all plots, but we try to be more efficient in preventing, investigating and prosecuting terrorism and in minimising the consequences of terrorist attacks. We might be confronted with more opportunistic, small-scale attacks rather than a sophisticated one", declared the EU's 'Mr. Anti-terrorism'.
Thanks to the collection, sharing and analysis of data, the EU and the world has become more resilient to attacks. Security is reinforced at borders, authorities cooperate with carriers and providers. Screening of passengers - and personal data protection - is well regulated, whereas screening of cargo should be more developed. Cyber-security is another challenge, Gilles de Kerchove advocates drawing up a code of conduct on how to behave in cyber-space.
He insisted that our response to threats or attacks must be judicial. Perpetrators must be taken to court to demonstrate that they are common criminals and to deprive them of the glamorous status of heroes and freedom fighters.
It is even more important now than before to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and work more on human rights, on the rule of law, on improving governance and democracy and providing people, especially in the developing world, with social and economic possibilities.
In Europe, efforts must be devoted to combating radicalisation and the recruitment of terrorists. On 9 September, Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs, launched the Radicalisation Awareness Network. It is an EU-wide umbrella network of practitioners and local actors involved in countering violent radicalisation.
Briefing by Gilles de Kerchove
10 Years - 10 Lessons
European Commission boosts efforts to counter violent extremism