The Manchester massacre underscores complaints from counterterrorism analysts that Europe has fallen into denial about the threat of Islamic terrorism.
For instance, London Mayor Sadiq Khan is on record as saying terrorism is “part and parcel” of urban life.
Furthermore, London police said in March that they could not assign a motive to a vehicle attack in which a Muslim British citizen followed the Islamic State tactical playbook by driving an SUV over pedestrians on crowded Westminster Bridge.
After the Brussels airport/subway bomb attacks in March 2016, U.S. officials said the Belgian capital was behind the times in basic intelligence-sharing.
Manchester Arena, with the largest capacity of any venue in Great Britain, exercised little security in the areas where people gathered before entering the concert Monday night. The foyer is where 22 concertgoers were killed and 119 others were injured by a suicide bomber. Fans said there was virtually no physical inspection of bags and knapsacks at the gates.
All the while, Europe has become home to thousands of migrants from Islamic State-infested Syria and other Muslim-majority countries. Social media messaging indicates that the terrorist group has nurtured its leaders right under the noses of European intelligence agencies.
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“The state of denial permeating the political class still hobbles the ability of security professionals to address the radicalism of home-grown recruits,” said Michael Rubin, a foreign policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. “Returning Islamic State fighters are just going to throw fuel on the fire, if not today then down the road, because European leaders are too gutless to throw them in prison and toss away the key. Europe is a petri dish primed for radicalism to take root.”
The European Union did not create its own counterterrorism center at The Hague until January 2016, after years of Islamic terrorist attacks. It has a staff of 49. By contrast, the U.S. set up the National Counterterrorism Center in 2005. It has 750 staffers.
Steven Stalinsky, who directs the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), estimates that thousands of Islamic State supporters are in Europe. He bases the estimate on the large number of social media conversations.
“I think that European counterterrorism efforts could be improved, as there have been many attacks throughout the continent the past two years,” Mr. Stalinsky said. “On the other hand, those involved in counterterrorism efforts have been successful in stopping many attacks and are most likely very stretched in monitoring the thousands of jihadis who are operating there freely, which should be expected to get worse in the future.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May, who raised the nation’s terrorism threat level to critical on Tuesday, went out of her way after the March 22 Westminster Bridge attack to avoid talking about a motive.
Robert Spencer, a scholar who operates Jihad Watch, said her lack of explanation is symptomatic of Europe’s denial.
SEE ALSO: Theresa May raises U.K. terror threat level
“Theresa May said after the Manchester jihad massacre that Britain would confront the ideology that leads to such attacks,” Mr. Spencer said. “But she doesn’t even know what it is and wouldn’t admit it if she did, since it is rooted in Islam. This denial prevails all over Europe. They keep bringing in massive numbers of Muslims and pretending that they aren’t thereby importing jihad and chaos and bloodshed for themselves and their children. But they are.”
Larry Johnson, a consultant and former State Department counterterrorism official, was in London last year to teach a course on how to conduct surveillance.
A basic deterrent is police presence. Mr. Johnson said he was struck by how few uniformed police he saw on the streets. The British government, he said, is relying on informants within Muslim neighborhoods and surveillance by MI5 internal security to head off attacks.
Press reports said Salman Abedi, whom authorities identified Tuesday as the Manchester suicide bomber, was known to the government as a potential radical.
“They don’t keep much police presence on the streets, so if you’re out walking on the streets there’s no such thing as really neighborhood policing anymore,” Mr. Johnson said. “I think I saw a grand total of three uniformed cops during that time period.
“In their desire to be so open and accepting, they’ve really created a problem where they’ve got a massive foreign culture in London. The Islamic culture and values are not English values. They try to pretend that they are the same, but they’re not,” he said.
Of the major European targets of the Islamic State — Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France — it is France that has taken the Islamic threat the most seriously.
France remains in a state of emergency that was imposed in 2015 after Islamic State terrorists in Paris struck cafes, a soccer stadium and the Bataclan Theater, where 89 people were killed. The state of emergency has been extended three times. It gives the president power to suspend constitutional rights in counterterrorism cases.
France has put restrictions on ancient Muslim dress and massive public prayers. It carries out the most intrusive intelligence collection of any European state, analysts say.
Internal security has blunted a number attacks since Bataclan. In February, French police arrested four Islamic State followers and seized partially assembled improvised explosive devices, the Interior Ministry announced.
The EU counterterrorism center’s latest report said it has had success in weeding out possible terrorist infiltrators by photographing refugees and comparing them to images of Islamic State fighters in the Middle East. The report said the Islamic State has dozens of active terrorists in Europe.
“The EU is currently witnessing an upward trend in the scale, frequency and impact of terrorist attacks in the jurisdictions of member states,” the report stated. “France in particular has recently been hit hard by a series of terrorist attacks, perpetrated both by groups of terrorists and lone actors. IS is actively propagating terrorist acts on EU soil by any means available, increasingly inspiring radicalized individuals to act. IS has proven to be very effective in both moving people to commit terrorist acts and to set these actions in motion themselves.”