Seven Individuals Arrested Over Terror Plots Linked to the Middle East

Dec 18, 2023 | Islamist Terrorism, Threat Analysis

Author: Oliver Hair ASyI, 
Threat Analyst 

Read Time: 3 minutes 

On 14 December 2023, German authorities arrested four individuals linked to an alleged plot to attack Jewish sites across Europe.[1] Media reporting suggests that the individuals were long-standing members of the proscribed terrorist group, Hamas, and had close links to the leadership of the group’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades. Prosecutors stated that the individuals arrested were seeking to locate a cache of weapons previously buried in Europe “in view of potential terrorist attacks against Jewish institutions in Europe”.[2] Investigations into the suspects were launched prior to the 07 October 2023 attack against Israel conducted by Hamas, and are still ongoing.[3]

On the same day, Danish authorities arrested three individuals accused of preparing a major terrorist attack. The arrests were allegedly not linked to the arrests in Germany.[4] Police Chief Inspector Flemming Drejer said an investigation had uncovered a transnational network of plotters, with links to criminal gangs. Danish intelligence Chief Anja Dalgaard-Nielsen claimed that the terror threat was linked to the conflict in the Middle East and recent incidents of Quran burning in Denmark and Sweden.[5] Investigations remain ongoing as Danish authorities search for an additional four suspects.[6]

On 16 December 2023, the German interior ministry named a British pro-Palestinian activist as the leader of Hamas networks across Europe and the “person in charge of Germany for Hamas”.[7] The individual allegedly grew up in the UK and has lived in Berlin for a number of years. Israeli security services also allege that the individual represents a “Hamas affiliate” tasked with plotting “radical and violent activity against Israel in Europe”.[8] However, there is no suggestion that this individual is linked to the arrests referred to above. 

Event Assessment

  • It is almost certain that there is a heightened terrorism threat in Western Europe and the UK at this time. On 05 December 2023, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said there was a “huge risk of terrorist attacks in the European Union” over the festive period amidst the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.[9] On 17 October, Director General of MI5 Ken McCallum similarly warned that events in the Middle East could radicalise people towards violence in the UK.[10]
    • Since the outbreak of the conflict in the Middle East, terrorist actors have continued to demonstrate the intent and capability to conduct attacks across Western Europe in 2023, including:
      • 10 December – Cyprus – Media reporting suggests that a joint Israel and Cypriot investigation foiled what reports have described as an “Iranian-ordered attack” against Israeli and Jewish individuals on the island of Cyprus.[11]
      • 29 November – North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany – Two individuals were arrested on suspicion of planning an Islamist terrorist attack on a Christmas market or a synagogue. Although from different cities, the two individuals had reportedly communicated over the Telegram messaging app about using home-made incendiary devices or a van to conduct the attack.[12]
      • 04 November – Paris, France – An Islamist terrorist conducted a marauding Bladed and Blunt Force weapons attack in central Paris, using a knife and a hammer. Prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said the alleged suspect had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State prior to the attack. There was one fatality and two others were injured.[13]
      • 17 October – Brussels, Belgium – An Islamist terrorist conducted a marauding Firearms attack in proximity to a qualifying match for the 2024 European Football Championship between Belgium and Sweden in Brussels. Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack. There were two fatalities.[14]
      • 13 October – Arras, France – An Islamist terrorist conducted a Bladed Weapons attack against a teacher at a school in Arras, France. The individual had reportedly pledged allegiance to Islamic State prior to the attack. There was one fatality.[15]
    • Whilst Hamas has previously concentrated the majority of its activity against Israel, it is likely that there would be a heightened threat from Hamas networks across Western Europe and the UK at this time. German intelligence agencies believe there are currently approximately 450 members of Hamas in Germany alone.[16]
      • There is a realistic possibility that the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict could inspire and embolden terrorist networks across Western Europe and the UK to increase their operational capability. Although the majority of terrorist attacks in the UK in recent years have been conducted by self-initiated terrorists and lone actors, it is almost certain that terrorist networks maintain the intent to coordinate and/or direct attacks in the UK.
      • It is highly likely that any terrorist attack conducted in Western Europe or the UK at this time would be conducted by a lone individual or small cell using a low-sophistication methodology. E.g., Bladed or Blunt Force Weapons, Vehicle as a Weapon, Fire as a Weapon.
      • There is a realistic possibility that terrorist actors in the UK could have the capability to conduct an attack using a high-sophistication methodology. E.g., Improvised Explosive Device, Firearms. However, the complicated nature of plotting a high-sophistication attack makes it likely that there will be greater opportunity for police and security services to disrupt such plots.
        • It is highly likely that there would be a heightened threat to Jewish individuals and businesses in the UK at this time. Since the 07 October 2023 attacks on Israel, the Community Security Trust has recorded at least 2093 antisemitic incidents across the UK up to and including 13 December 2023, and an increase in anti-Jewish hate acts of 534% compared to the same period last year.[17]

        Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 18 December 2023.

          PHIA Scale

          The “Probability Yardstick” (below) is a standardised instrument used to provide professional intelligence assessments. Judgements made using the yardstick are relative and reflect the analyst’s confidence in their findings and assessments.

            • Almost Certain: An event is assessed to have a greater than 90% chance of occurring.
            • Highly Likely: An event is assessed to have a 76% to 90% chance of occurring.
            • Likely: An event is assessed to have a 55% to 75% chance of occurring.
            • Realistic Possibility: An event is assessed to have a 40% to 54% chance of occurring.
            • Unlikely: An event is assessed to have a 25% to 39% chance of occurring.
            • Highly Unlikely: An event is assessed to have an 10% to 24% chance of occurring.
            • Remote Chance: An event is assessed to have a less than 10% chance of occurring.

            Time Spans

              • Short Term: 0 – 6 Months.
              • In the next 12 months.
              • Medium Term: 12 months – 5 Years.
              • Long Term: 5+ Years.

          Author: Oliver Hair ASyI,
          Threat Analyst

          Read Time: 3 minutes

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