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Terrorism still poses a real and present danger to the European Union, according to the EU policing agency Europol’s Executive Director, Catherine De Bolle. She was speaking as the agency brought out its Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2022 (TE-SAT). Covered are jihadist, right-wing, left wing and anarchist, and ‘ethno-nationalist and separatist’ terrorism.
She said: “While our joint work to disrupt and prevent attacks seems to be having a positive effect, lone actors associated with jihadist and right-wing violent extremism are still a concern for EU member states and Europol. In a time of geopolitical shifts, the EU needs to continue more than ever its counter-terrorist measures. Europol will continue to work closely with its partners to meet the challenges ahead.”
As for the covid pandemic, she said that the societal impact will stay with us for some time, and spoke of how coronavirus shaped extremist narratives. “This has made some individuals more vulnerable to radicalisation and recruitment into terrorism and extremism. Social isolation and more time spent online have exacerbated the risks posed by violent extremist propaganda and terrorist content, particularly among younger people and minors.
The report pointed to violent anti-vaccine and anti-government extremism, which is not affiliated with traditional violent extremism and terrorism, that emerged in some EU states and non-EU countries. Online threats and physical violence was against politicians, government representatives, police, health authorities involved in the management of the crisis, or personnel from test and vaccination centres.
Some 15 completed, foiled and failed terrorist attacks were recorded in the EU in 2021. The four completed attacks were categorised as three jihadist and one left wing. Lone actors remain the primary perpetrators of terrorist and violent extremist attacks. However, attack plots involving several actors were also disrupted in 2021. The report stressed the ‘online community building’; in terms of propaganda, instructional material and opportunities for procurement of weapons and explosives precursors. For example, a woman arrested in France in April 2021 was a member of a chat group on Telegram where instructions on how to make explosives and suicide bomb vests were shared. A man arrested in Hungary in June 2021 had declared his allegiance to IS on social media and was communicating (in English) in password-protected invite-only groups online. He had procured material towards making pipe bombs and had stated an intention to attack last summer’s Euros football tournament whether with bombs or ‘vehicle as a weapon’ ramming.
Many of the terror-related arrests in 2021 were carried out following investigations on jihadist terrorism in France, Spain and Austria (respectively 96, 39 and 23 individuals). Of the total of 388 arrests of those suspected of terrorism, the most in a country was 140 in France; 14 were in the Republic of Ireland. The report did not cover the UK.
Echoing police findings in the UK, minors have been involved in terrorist-related actions according to Europol. A 16-year old Syrian national was arrested in September 2021 on charges of planning and preparing an attack against a synagogue in Germany.
You can download the 96-page report at the Europol website.