Threat level in the Netherlands: real chance of an attack

There is still a real chance that an attack could occur in the Netherlands. On a scale of 5, the threat level continues to remain at Level 4, according to the terrorism threat level in the Netherlands (Dreigingsbeeld Terrorisme Nederland, DTN) published by the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV). Currently, there is no concrete evidence that terrorists are actually preparing for an attack in the Netherlands. The most substantial threat is still from the jihadist movement. This concerns various actors, from terrorist organisations to lone operators, who could carry out small-scale or large-scale attacks. Returnees from Syria and Iraq also form a potential risk to national security.

Europe has experienced attacks in the recent past as well. The jihadist threat was confirmed by the 19 December attack on the Christmas market in Berlin. On 22 March, an attack in London near the Houses of Parliament was carried out by a man probably inspired by ISIS. Events occurring in the countries around us could very well happen in the Netherlands too.


An important part of the threat is determined by the ISIS external attack unit. This unit has various individuals at its disposal in Europe who can carry out attacks. Other jihadists can also instruct lone operators and small cells from abroad and have them carry out attacks. Propaganda can inspire individuals to carry out violent acts as well.

The innovative capacity of ISIS is a cause for concern. In Syria and Iraq, members of this group have already instigated offensive actions on the battlefield using drones. ISIS media channels are glorifying this method, which could inspire jihadists in the western world.
Al Qa’ida places greater emphasis on planning large-scale and complex attacks in the western world than ISIS does. Since the Charlie Hebdo attack, the organisation has not carried out any major successful attack in or against the western world. However, this does not mean that the group has become less relevant. Despite western efforts, al Qa’ida still manages an international terrorist network. It has the manpower and the means to conduct large-scale attacks.


Syria and Iraq volunteers

In the recent past, there have hardly been any confirmed reports of Dutch jihadists who have managed to reach the areas where fighting is taking place in Syria and Iraq. The primary reason for this is that the appeal of ISIS has deteriorated due to their recent military losses. The number of Dutch citizens with jihadist intentions in Syria and Iraq is around 190. The number of returnees is currently about 50. Should ISIS continue to lose terrain in Syria and Iraq, the number of returnees to Europe could increase, although there is no indication of this occurring in the short term. Each returnee is assessed with regard to the threat to national security they appear to pose.


Returnees who are minors could also be a threat to the Netherlands. They are subject to indoctrination and possibly could be prepared to use violence. This could form a risk to the development of the child or adolescent, as well as to Dutch society. In addition to the terrorism threat level, the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) and the NCTV have published an analysis entitled ‘Minderjarigen bij ISIS’ (Minors with ISIS), which delves deeper into this phenomenon. Children are primarily considered to be victims of ISIS. As a consequence, when a minor returns to the Netherlands, each one is assessed with regard to what suitable care, security measures and interventions are suitable. This is always done on a case by case basis. National experts in the fields of radicalisation, youth care, psychological trauma and complex traumas can provide advice.

Left-wing and right-wing extremism

Recently, for the first time ever, a number of individuals with a right-wing extremist background were convicted of terrorism. They were sentenced for firebombing a mosque in Enschede in February 2016. Although there is no evidence as yet, it remains possible that further attacks by right-wing extremists will take place.

Left-wing extremists continue to focus on fighting right-wing extremism and its adherents, the alleged racism in the Netherlands and the alleged repression and violence of authorities. In the recent past, there has also been a growing group of anti-racist demonstrators from ethnic minority backgrounds who have often been working together with classic extreme left-wing activist groups.


The diplomatic conflict between Turkey and the Netherlands, caused by the visit of two Turkish ministers to carry out campaign activities, led to serious disorder in Rotterdam. Many Turkish Dutch were troubled or angered by the Dutch measures. The fact that anyone voting 'No' in the referendum is called a terrorist by Turkish government members could inspire groups of Turkish Dutch to engage in conflict. Although the Dutch approach intends to de-escalate, the events could lead to anti-Dutch convictions among groups of Turkish Dutch arising in the longer term. However, they could also lead to a rise in anti-Turkish sentiment.