GENEVA — Europe’s cities are ill-prepared for terrorist threats while the strength of Islamic extremists is growing, according to assessments from the attacks last week in London.
The European Union’s interior ministers will meet in Brussels tomorrow to coordinate security and intelligence. The agenda consists of plans to exchange electronic information and establish permanent contacts among the interior ministers of the 25 member nations.
The current system has been described as “embryonic and inadequate.”
“Today we are paying for misjudging the nature of the conflict,” a French security official said. “This is not merely a challenge to police and law-and-order forces but a strategic challenge from an invisible enemy.”
The interior ministers of France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain reported that “the Islamic movement in Europe has never been as strong and as determined as now.”
Major European cities were described as unable to react quickly to terrorist attacks, incapable of facing chemical or biological attacks and having inadequate protection of such targets as port installations, pipelines and communication facilities.
Francois Gere of the French Institution for Strategic Analysis said Europe should be prepared for “a long-term struggle against a very dangerous, very determined enemy who, despite heavy blows during the past four years, has an enormous capacity of survival.”
The Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland said the attacks were “perpetrated by small groups without direct ties with al Qaeda but linked into a complicated constellation of radical movements.”
Magnus Ranstorp, a member of the center, said the fact that the various small groupings are capable of attacking independently of one another is a “veritable nightmare.”
Seized documents and analyses of Web site texts, officials said, indicate a high degree of sophistication among Islamist groups, including their knowledge of the oil markets and of international finance.
Dominique Thomas, a French consultant on Islamist terrorism, divides the networks operating in Europe into two tendencies: dissidents targeting mainly the Arab regimes they oppose and “internationalists” pursuing broader objectives such as destabilizing the order in Western countries.
The “nationalists” are exiles from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria and until recently used Europe’s lax security to organize and collect financing, Mr. Thomas said.
Much more threatening are the “internationalists” who have proliferated in recent months and follow what Mr. Thomas described as al Qaeda’s “ideological and operational model for a global struggle.”
“On the basis of intercepted documents, the professionalism of the conspirators is growing,” he said. “If we took the pulse of the Islamic movement, we would see that it beats steadily. Al Qaeda is no longer one organization but a community of networks, which is much more dangerous.”