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2nd Jul 2022

Far-right loners pose ever-bigger EU terror threat

  • People spent more than time than ever alone with their computers during the pandemic, the French EU memo noted (Photo: Santiago Zavala)
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Far-right extremists — often loners inspired by online content — are becoming an ever-bigger terrorist threat in Europe, according to EU intelligence and police services.

"Several European countries face a growing threat from violent right-wing extremists," the French EU presidency said in a recent internal memo to member states, seen by EUobserver.

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"The VRWE [violent right-wing extremist] scene in Europe is not uniform in its appearance or form. It is fragmented and leaderless and comprises many smaller groups, which differ in terms of their membership, structures, and ideologies," it said.

Most of these were "anti-minority ideologies", such as "anti-Islam, antisemitism, anti-LGBTQ, anti-left-wing", it noted. But they also included the "Alt-Right; Accelerationists; Neo-Nazis; [and] eco-fascism", France said.

"An important threat is stemming from followers of accelerationism, who aim at creating political tension and chaos," it said.

"Right-wing extremist conspiracy movements such as QAnon," a US group, have "found resonance in the EU", France warned.

The memo cited classified information from Intcen, the EU's intelligence-sharing branch in Brussels, as well as reports by Europol, its joint police body in The Hague.

France warned that the "online presence of right-wing violent extremist groups has been continuously rising, since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic" and that "the war in Ukraine will [also] influence the extremist narratives".

For the time being, most attackers were loners, often with mental health problems, who spent even more time in isolation due to pandemic restrictions.

They tended to use simple weapons, such as knives in their attacks, and mostly targeted police or soldiers.

But the Ukraine war will "likely" see "the returns of potentially radicalised and trained foreign volunteers and the flow of weapons [to Ukraine] will have consequences in the mid and long term", France said.

Lone-wolf jihadists still posed the "biggest" and most "enduring" threat in Europe, despite the new far-right trend, France noted.

"While Daesh propaganda remains significant and continues to react swiftly to world events, Al-Qaeda's propaganda also increased significantly in 2021," it said, referring to two jihadist groups.

Meanwhile, on the extreme-left side of the EU political spectrum, typical targets were "symbols of 'state repression and capitalism', such as buildings and 5G technology, and symbols of extreme-right ideology".

But the risk of violence from the "left-wing and anarchist violent extremist scene is deemed low", France said.

The risk of terrorists coming to the EU from Afghanistan was also judged "low".

The memo urged the EU to enforce new laws, which enter into force on 7 June, to "ensure the swift removal of terrorist content online".

Intelligence and police needed better "access [to] encrypted evidence" and "technologies which can help the identification of FTFs [foreign terrorist fighters]", France said.

On the jihadist threat, they also needed to pay attention to people leaving prison or coming back to Europe from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria with radical views.

Most returning EU nationals from Iraq and Syria in 2021 were women and children, however, France pointed out.

France urged member states' services to bear in mind that they were often suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and needed gender-specific care.

"The dire conditions in the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) detention camps and centres as well as the prisons in the area remain a serious security and humanitarian concern," the French memo said.

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