The ongoing threat to Western nations from ISIS was made clear Thursday, as German law enforcement arrested 3 Syrians suspected of plotting a terror attack. The arrests emphasize that the absence of large-scale attacks do not mean that the threat from Islamic terrorism has abated, but merely that these cells have yet to surface or that law enforcement has been effective in discovering them prior to operational launch. CNN reported that the suspects:

“were apprehended separately Thursday in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Brandenburg and Baden-Wurttemberg… The homes of the men — identified only as Hamza C., 27; Mahood B., 25; and Abd Arahman A. K., 31 — are being searched for evidence…Prosecutors allege that Saleh A. and Hamza C. joined ISIS in Syria in the spring of 2014, where the terror group’s senior leadership commissioned them to attack Dusseldorf. The plot was to strike Heinrich-Heine-Allee, a street in the city’s Altstadt district, using suicide explosive vests and guns to kill as many people as possible.”
River Rhine Waterfront Alstadt District Dusseldorf, Germany | calflier001 | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0


Additional reporting by The Independent revealed that

“Saleh and Hamza journeyed back into Germany via Turkey and Greece last year with approval from Isis leaders and convinced Mahood to join the plot in January. Prosecutors said Abd Arahman contacted the cell in that month, after being sent separately to Germany in October 2014. He is known to have manufactured explosive belts and grenades for Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria in 2013, when the terrorist group was a faction of Isis’ predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

The terror cell was discovered by interrogation of Saleh, the suspect held in French custody since February. He is expected to be extradited to Germany in connection with this terror plot. Of note is the importance of human intelligence in this case to law enforcement, without which the plot may have gone undetected.

National Review Online’s Tom Rogan had a salient analysis of the implications of these arrests for security in Europe. He notes that the fact that the plot began in the spring of 2014, indicates that ISIS has been planning attacks such as this for a long time and with long times to operation launches. Although the Brussels and Paris attacks meant that European authorities were aggressively policing any terror connections, these terror cells did not rush into action out of fear of discovery, showing confidence that they would not be uncovered. Rogan says that this confidence is not entirely unwarranted, as the sophistication of the suspects’ infiltration into Germany shows. All three suspects traveled through different routes and at different times, making it difficult for German intelligence to link the three to a single plot.

Another observation from Rogan worth considering is regarding the timing of the arrests. French authorities have had Saleh in custody since February, and presumably have had some of this intelligence for some time. Rogan raises the possibility that Western law enforcement in some cases may be waiting to make arrests in the hopes that known terror suspects will lead them to additional terror cells. While this may be in the best interests of intelligence gathering, it is also certainly a dangerous business to sit on a live terror cell. However, the success of the authorities in this case should underline to the public the indispensable nature of human intelligence in the war on terror. Given that the suspects in this case came from the Syrian refugee crisis, these arrests should also emphasize the potential scope of the problem the security apparatus faces in vetting the large numbers of recent migrants to Europe. Hopefully, they will continue to stay ahead of any other evolving terror cells, but broader security policy changes at home or abroad may be warranted. Whether those changes are made before another large-scale attack remains to be seen.

Read Rogan’s whole piece here.

Photo Credit: River Rhine Waterfront Alstadt District Dusseldorf Germany | calflier001 | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0