Arrests in Alleged-Hamas Plots on Jewish Targets Has European Security Officials Worried

While details are scarce in two sets of arrests "the situation in Gaza has raised fears of terrorist incidents in Europe" a counterterrorism official told VICE News.
Two people are led from a helicopter to a car by police officers at a helipad. On 14.12.2023, the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office had four suspected members of the Islamist Hamas arrested in Berlin and Rotterdam in the Netherland.
Two people are led from a helicopter to a car by police officers at a helipad. On 14.12.2023, the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office had four suspected members of the Islamist Hamas arrested in Berlin and Rotterdam in the Netherland. (Photo by Uli Deck/picture alliance via Getty Images)

European security officials are warning that the current crisis in Gaza poses the most dangerous terrorism threat to the EU’s security in almost a decade after two sets of arrests of possible Hamas members allegedly planning attacks on Jewish targets.

“The situation in Gaza has raised fears of terrorist incidents in Europe by extremists on either side of the conflict,” said a counterterrorism official from a NATO member under the condition of anonymity to discuss public security.


“We have not seen a series of potential threats as… in the current crisis for nearly a decade,” said the official. “Jewish institutions, mosques, Europe’s many Christmas markets…. There’s plausible targets everywhere. And these arrests have only increased these concerns.”

On Dec. 14, German officials announced the arrest in Berlin of three suspects, a fourth suspect was detained in the Netherlands, that prosecutors said are long-time Hamas military-wing members, who had been under police surveillance since early 2023. The men are accused of searching for a hidden weapons cache left by other Hamas operatives to potentially use in attacks. 

“Abdelhamid Al A., Mohamed B., Ibrahim El-R. and Nazih R. have been long standing members of Hamas and have participated in Hamas operations abroad. They are closely linked to the military branch’s leadership,” German prosecutors said in a statement.

“Abdelhamid Al A. started searching for an underground weapons cache in Europe no later than spring 2023, which the organisation had created in the past in a conspiratorial manner,” prosecutors said. “He received his orders from Hamas leaders in Lebanon.” 

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Additional details were not provided by prosecutors due to strict German privacy laws. 

A second series of arrests on the same day in Denmark targeted four members of what prosecutors described as an organised crime group that appeared to be planning an attack of its own, that authorities described as in the advanced stages. 

 In a television interview, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen described the incident as “about as serious as it can be,” although thus far authorities have not found a direct link to the arrests in Germany.

The two sets of arrests come after two months of war between Israel and Hamas in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 Israelis and provoked an Israeli military operation that has killed roughly 20,000 Gazans and left much of the tiny coastal strip destroyed and facing a massive humanitarian crisis. 

That Hamas could potentially undertake operations in Europe greatly concerns law enforcement and intelligence services, who have long treated Hamas operations there as benign fundraising operations, compared to its Lebanese allies in Hezbollah, which has long conducted military operations internationally.


“It comes as little surprise these suspects were said to be under the command of [Hamas] officials in Lebanon rather than Gaza,” said a regional counterterrorism official. “There’s a clear division of labour between these two key command nodes for Hamas. Gaza’s military wing manages local operations and the Lebanon-based leadership handles the external operations. But these are traditionally fundraising and logistics in nature, so directing these operations from Lebanon makes sense because of the access to Hezbollah’s much larger, more robust international networks.”

Europe served as a key battleground between Israel and Arab militants for decades, including a series of Mossad-directed assassinations against militants, as well as Hezbollah and Palestinian militants targeting embassies, airports, commercial flights as well as other civilian targets across the world.

But by the early 1990s, violent operations were halted by pro-Palestinian groups, said a one-time commander for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist militant group that was particularly active in the 1970s and 80s. 

“In the early 1990s, the Lebanese civil war had ended and different factions began to halt most international operations, at least in Europe,” said Hajj Hamza, a former PFLP commander who remains wanted by Western law enforcement on terrorism related charges from the 1980s. “Europe became a place to focus on public relations and fundraising for [militants] and the [Israelis] came under pressure to stop assassinations by European authorities. The battles moved to South America, Asia, Africa but Europe became forbidden for lethal operations.”


But Hamza said these calculations have likely changed in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks and Israel’s response, which he said will drive violence.

“The resistance axis will increase pressure on the [Israelis] if they continue the [operation] in Gaza,” he said, referring to the Iran-led alliance that includes Hamas and Hezbollah. “The death and destruction [in Gaza] is radicalising a new generation and there’s less reason to not conduct attacks [in Europe.]”

The NATO security official agrees, citing the lessons learned from a campaign by ISIS from 2014 to 2017 that targeted stadiums, nightclubs, Jewish institutions and schools, airports and trains that killed hundreds and saw soldiers deployed to the streets of France and Belgium. 

“With Hezbollah’s assistance, Hamas could well conduct attacks in Europe and the more the group’s leadership feels isolated, the chances of a change in calculation that leads to attacks absolutely increase,” said the official. “And that doesn’t include what was seen with the ISIS situation: Individuals radicalised by the situation who act without any outside direction. And this could apply to extremists on both sides as the anger is that immense.”