One of Europe’s top counter-terrorism officials said today that it’s impossible to guarantee 100 percent security and that other attacks could follow last week’s incidents in Paris.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Gilles de Kerchove, Counter-Terrorism Coordinator for the European Union, told ABC News of the possibility of future attacks. “But the message I want to send is a bit different from the U.S. because in a way after 9/11… the expectation of the American citizen is they want 100 percent security. I think [Europe] is a bit more resolute and accepts that there is nothing like 100 percent security. You have to accept some risk in society.”
Kerchove’s remarks came a week after 17 people were killed in dual terrorist attacks in Paris and a day after Belgian police killed two people in widespread counter-terrorism operations there.
Europe has long feared that citizens either inspired by groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, or who have fought alongside them, would carry out attacks. But Kerchove denied the Paris attacks represented the beginning of a new era.
"I think we know [attacks] may happen. Some plots have been foiled, some networks have been dismantled in France and the UK, in Germany, and therefore people are pretty effective, but you don’t win 100 percent,” he said. “So, to say that it’s a game change, no. I think it’s just reinforced, we need to go deeper and quicker..."
One strategy Kerchove pushed European governments to consider is not sending all those returning to Europe from battlefields in Syria or Iraq to prison where they could meet other, hardened jihadists.
“We know too much how prisons are major incubators of [extremism],” he said.
In the case of the Paris attacks, the gunmen in each assault had spent time in prison together and with other radical figures, an investigation after the attack found.
Rather, Kerchove said disengagement or rehab-like programs could be the answer.
“We will tackle the problem in a significant way, but it is a challenge,” he said.
Kerchove also said he feared that beyond the normal motivations for terrorist attacks, a new one may be spurring the major terror groups of today: competition. In recent months a terror group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) captured headlines the world over for their barbaric actions in the Middle East, overshadowing their once-parent organization al Qaeda. Attacks such as the one in Paris, Kerchove said, could be an attempt by al Qaeda to show it’s “still relevant.”
ABC News' Lee Ferran contributed to this report.