29th Sep 2023

Europol: Extremists exploited pandemic to spread radicalism

  • All jihadist terrorist attacks were carried out by lone actors, although some were in contact with terrorist groups, such as the gunman in Vienna, who managed to transmit a video statement to IS (Photo: Ivan Radic)

A total of 57 completed, failed or foiled terrorist attacks took place in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain last year, according to a new report from the EU joint police agency, Europol.

As a result of these attacks, 21 people died and at least 54 people were injured. The fatalities appear to have been chosen randomly but on ideological grounds - barring the targeted killing of school teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded in France by an jihadist terrorist.

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The incidents lead to the arrest of 449 suspects in 17 different EU countries - a decrease of one-third compared with previous years.

Only two of the 57 attacks involved the use of firearms - the right-wing attack in Germany and the jihadist attack in Austria - while one planned bomb attack was foiled.

In 2020, terrorist organisations attempted to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic to spread their radical messages and propaganda across the EU, according to the report, released on Tuesday (22 June).

The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) portrayed the pandemic as a 'punishment from God', while right-wing extremists used the Covid-19 crisis to espouse their conspiracy theories featuring anti-Semitism, anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric.

Yet the effects of this crisis might also have potentially contributed to self-radicalisation, Europol also said.

Jihadist terrorism

Jihadist terrorism is still seen as "the greatest terrorist threat in the EU" - with the IS and the al-Qaeda network still active in Iraq and Syria.

These groups continue to reach out to sympathisers in Europe to incite them to perpetrate attacks in Western countries since "global affiliates serve to uphold the group's image of success," particularly those in Africa, which expanded in 2020, reads the report.

Last year, 10 jihadist attacks took place in Austria, France and Germany, killing 12 people and injuring more than 47 civilians.

The number of completed attacks exceeded that of foiled plots, and increased compared with 2019.

While this could be attributed to the effects of the pandemic, Claudio Galzerano, head of the European Counter Terrorism Centre, told MEPs on Tuesday that other factors might have also played a role, such as, for example, the controversy of the republication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.

All jihadist terrorist attacks were carried out by lone actors, although some were in contact with terrorist groups. That was the case of the gunman in Vienna, who managed to transmit a video statement to IS.

The perpetrators had a diverse background - with four of the cases carried out by EU citizens.

EU countries have raised concerns about jihadist radicalisation and recruitment in prisons, since at least five of the jihadist incidents in Europe involved released convicts or prisoners.

Meanwhile, at least 1,000 Europeans, of whom more than 600 are children, continued to be held in camps in northeast Syria.

In 2020, one terrorist incident motivated by right-wing extremism was committed in Germany and resulted in the death of nine people. Three other right-wing attacks failed or were foiled in Belgium, France and Germany.

A total of 34 individuals were arrested in eight member states on suspicion of involvement in right-wing terrorist activity.

The report set the alarm that many of the suspects linked to right-wing communities are increasingly younger - and some were minors at the time of the arrest.

The enhanced public awareness of climate change has also led right-wing extremists to promote eco-fascist views - related to overpopulation and immigration.

Meanwhile, all 2020 attacks and most plots attributed to left-wing and anarchist groups, occurred in Italy.

There were 52 arrests related to left-wing and anarchist terrorism in 2020 - more than half compared to 2019. Suspects were arrested in Italy (24), Greece (14), France (11), Portugal (one) and Spain (two).

Online platforms continued to be the main means of communication for both right and left extremists. As a result, Catherine De Bolle, chief of Europol, said that "targeting the propagation of hatred and violent ideologies spread online is an imperative".

Additionally, France and Spain reported 14 ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorist attacks - mostly arson and targeted infrastructure.

The UK also recorded 56 security-related incidents from Northern Ireland - including 39 shootings and 17 bombings.


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