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After Berlin Attack, Fears Rise In Europe Over Strikes On Soft Targets

Carola Garcia-Calvo spends her days poring over Islamic State propaganda. It’s part of her job as a global terrorism analyst at Madrid’s Elcano Royal Institute, a think tank.

Recently, she has noticed a shift.

Most of the propaganda used to be published in an ISIS magazine called Dabiq, named for an ancient village in Syria, over which the group recently lost control. Now it’s using a new magazine called Rumiyah, which means Rome — and it’s increasingly encouraging devotees to think about attacking “soft” targets in Europe.

“Soft targets are, for example, normal people walking down the street, doing their daily activities, shopping, going to their jobs,” Garcia-Calvo explains.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for Monday’s truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin. German police are hunting for those responsible.

In early December, the European Police Office, or Europol, issued a report saying that as ISIS loses territory in Iraq and Syria, Europol expects foreign fighters to return to Europe from the Middle East. And not just to France or Belgium, where ISIS has attacked before — but continent-wide.

“No single European country is exempt from this threat,” Garcia-Calvo says.

She estimates that out of about 40,000 foreign fighters who have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS, some 5,000 of them are from Europe. Only about 200 of them are estimated to come from Spain, compared with thousands from France, Belgium and Britain.

Recent articles in Rumiyah have encouraged jihadists to attack civilians with commercial vehicles or with knives — weapons that are more difficult for law enforcement to detect than explosives. ISIS said one of its “soldiers” was behind a truck attack last summer on Bastille Day in Nice, France, that killed at least 84 people. It also claimed responsibility for a November stabbing attack at Ohio State University, which wounded 11.

“One of the things that differentiates the Islamic State from al-Qaida is that the Islamic State won a territory,” Garcia-Calvo says. “With the loss of some of that territory, they have to change their strategy. So now maybe we will see more attacks in Western Europe as ISIS tries to maintain its supporters.”

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