National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism: threat level lowered to 3, attack in the Netherlands ‘conceivable’
The National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism has lowered the threat level in the Netherlands to 3 out of 5, meaning that the terrorist threat remains considerable. In the previous Threat Assessment, the threat level was 4. The threat to the Netherlands has undergone a significant change since late 2017. Although jihadist attacks are still occasionally carried out in the West, the situation is incomparable to the period 2015–2017, which saw dozens of attacks taking place throughout Europe annually. The threat level is being lowered because this change appears to be permanent. This is the main takeaway from the 51st Terrorist Threat Assessment published by the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism.
A threat level of 3 means that an attack in the Netherlands remains conceivable. There is still a jihadist movement in the Netherlands, which counts among its number several persons that are considered a terrorist threat. This was apparent from the arrest on 25 November of two men from Zoetermeer, who were under suspicion of preparing a terrorist attack. Nevertheless, this jihadist movement appears to be under increased pressure from repressive government measures. It is equally conceivable that the Netherlands remains a target of a terrorist attack prepared abroad by ISIS or Al-Qaeda. It is therefore important that the security services continue to stay alert to terrorist threats.
Context for the threat level
In March 2013, the threat level was raised from 2 to 3 out of 4. This occurred against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war, which led to the rise of ISIS and a rapid increase in the number of jihadist foreign combatants from all over Europe. What followed was a period characterised by a great number of attacks in and against the West, including major attacks in Paris (November 2015) and Brussels (March 2016). In order to add nuance to the threat level system, an additional level was added in July 2016. The level has remained at 4 out of 5 ever since, with the exception of 18 March 2019, when the tram attack in Utrecht prompted an increase to level 5 for a number of hours in that province alone. The change in the threat assessment is the reason for lowering the threat level to 3 (considerable).
Although the main threat to the Netherlands continues to be posed by jihadist elements, a terrorist attack carried out by one or more right-wing extremists is also within the realm of possibilities. Whereas groups of right-wing extremists are characterised by a low level of organisation, it is possible for a ‘lone wolf’ to become radicalised and commit an act of violence inspired by right-wing extremism. Copycat behaviour is a risk: the attack in Christchurch (March 2019) inspired others to carry out similar attacks, like in El Paso.
Extremism and polarisation
A new development is that some groups of left-wing extremist activists, which had previously focused on other themes, are now seeking to adopt the strategy of climate activists. This has led to acts of civil disobedience committed by people who profess to be non-violent, yet are willing to break the law. The Threat Assessment also identifies a number of developments in society that have prompted it to become more polarised. As an example, the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism expects the discussion surrounding the appearance of ‘Black Pete’ to continue to inflame passions in the coming years. Feelings with regard to the ‘burqa ban’ also ran high, particularly online. Thirdly, there have been a number of large-scale demonstrations marked by anti-government sentiments.