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As businesses and traders begin to fill Christmas market stalls across the globe, governments are already issuing public warnings of heightened terrorist risk and erecting visible counter-terrorism structures.

This assessment was issued to clients of Dragonfly’s TerrorismTracker Service on 26 November 2021.

Though currently not being dealt with as a terrorist attack, the vehicle ramming of a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin, highlights both the vulnerability and risk that many festive-related public events will face over the coming weeks.

This year’s public festivities will, in many cases, be the first to be attended by masses since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and follow few events during 2020 due to stringent national restrictions. The mass return of public festivities provides multiple opportunities for terrorist groups and/or ideologically motivated individuals to carry out attacks leading to mass casualties.

Dragonfly’s TerrorismTracker database shows that the festive period has been an attractive target for terrorist actors. Since 2015, at least three attacks have taken place in Europe against or in close proximity to events associated with Christmas. During this same period, we have recorded at least five plots across the West which were allegedly focused on Christmas-related targets. Of the three attacks that took place in Europe, two were in Germany and the other in France. The incidents included a vehicle ramming and a combined firearms and knife attack, and all specifically targeted Christmas markets.

Looking at the UK in particular, police forces, counter-terrorism practitioners and the security industry have already enacted mitigation efforts and awareness campaigns for this year’s festive period. The commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, Dame Cressida Dick, has called for public vigilance ‘in the run-up to Christmas’.

The Edinburgh Evening News has reported that ‘all members of staff’ at this year’s Edinburgh Christmas market will receive ‘Run, Hide, Tell’ training, UK counter-terrorism advice for members of the public caught up in a terrorist attack. In York, temporary hostile vehicle mitigation has been installed to protect the upcoming Christmas fair. And in Harrogate, this year’s Christmas market will take place in a new location, in part due to perceived weaknesses of the previous location in regards to counter-terrorism security.

Image: Visitors, most wearing protective face masks, stroll through the annual Christmas market at Alter Markt during the fourth wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic on November 23, 2021 in Cologne, Germany. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)