On and Off the Radar: Tactical and Strategic Responses to Screening Known Potential Terrorist Attackers

Thomas Quiggin


Islamist inspired terrorists have carried out attacks in Europe even when they had been “on the radar” of officials. But they dropped “off the radar” and then struck. This phenomenon was noted by Dr. Bob de Graaff in a January 2017 article in the Groene Amsterdammer. More attacks followed by individuals who had dropped “off the radar.” De Graaff’s article questioned whether authorities were doing something wrong and whether they miss opportunities during moments of contact. The Dutch National Police (Taskforce Vreemdelingen en Migratiecriminaliteit) responded and organized a two-day event on this subject. Based on the presentations and discussions at the conference, the author of this paper suggests that tactical front-line officials can exploit opportunities to improve assessments that disrupt attacks. In the future, however, the attack levels in Europe will likely increase if no strategic level response is forthcoming. Reciprocal radicalization will also increase. Terrorism is a tactic. Therefore counter-terrorism activities are - by definition - at the tactical level. To be effective at the tactical level, authorities need an understanding of the principal problem at the strategic and operational levels. By analogy, it is as if NATO had been trying to defend Europe while refusing to admit that the Soviet Union existed. The European nations need to understand their invasive strategic level Islamist ideology problem. Without change, the prudent policy now would be to condition the public to accept the deaths and injuries caused by future terrorist attacks.

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Perspectives on Terrorism is  a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

ISSN  2334-3745 (Online)

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