Justin Huggler, Telegraph, February 19, 2016
Up to 5,000 jihadists could be at large in Europe after training with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), the EU’s police chief has warned.
Europol estimates the number of EU citizens who have slipped back after training in the Middle East as between 3,000 and 5,000, Rob Wainwright, the British head of Europol, the EU’s police agency, said.
“Europe is currently facing the highest terror threat in more than ten years.” Mr Wainwright said.
“We can expect Isil or other religious terror groups to stage an attack somewhere in Europe with the aim of achieving mass casualties among the civilian population,” he told Germany’s Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper.
Before becoming head of Europol in 2009, Mr Wainwright served in senior roles at the UK’s National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) and Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).
The growing number “presents EU member states with completely new challenges”, he told the newspaper.
However, he played down fears terrorists are using the migrant crisis to enter Europe posing as asylum seekers.
“There is no concrete evidence terrorists are systematically using of the flow of refugees to infiltrate Europe,” he said.
His comments come after new information emerged about two suspects being held in Austria in connection with the Paris attacks.
Prosecutors in Salzburg for the first time confirmed reports the two men, an 28-year-old Algerian and a 34-year-old Pakistani who have not been named, entered Europe posing as refugees.
The two suspects, who were arrested at a refugee shelter on December 10, have admitted they arrived in Greece with some of the Paris attackers, prosecutors said in a statement.
But they denied reports the suspects had admitted they were supposed to take part in the Paris attacks.
It has also emerged that a further two suspects are being held by the Austrian authorities in connection with the Paris attacks.
A 25-year-old Moroccan and a 40-year-old Algerian arrested around a week later, on December 18, were held because they were in close contact with the first two suspects, prosecutors said.
“It can be assumed that all four are members of Isil,” the prosecutors’ statement said.
The two men held in the original arrest have confessed that they arrived in Greece in October in a boat packed with 30 to 40 asylum seekers, including two of the Paris attackers.
While the attackers travelled on towards France, the two arrested men were held up after officials noticed they were travelling with false passports.
They were held for further investigation by the Greek authorities for 25 days, but later allowed to continue their journey.
It is not clear why the Greek authorities let them go, but it has led to speculation they were supposed to take part in the Paris attacks but arrived too late.