29th Sep 2020

Jihadist and far-right killers most dangerous in EU

  • IS, which was responsible for the Brussels bombings in 2016, is still targeting Europeans (Photo: Eric Maurice)

Jihadist and far-right extremists were the most lethal, but Northern Irish nationalists also posed a threat, according to a new EU report on terrorism.

The killing of 17 EU civilians in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday last year showed that "the so-called Islamic State (IS) still looks to conduct large-scale attacks targeting EU citizens", Europol, the EU's joint police agency in The Hague, said on Tuesday (23 June).

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  • Popularity of far-right, including antisemitic, ideology also posed threat (Photo: nhojerp)

IS, which used to control parts of the Middle East, was also responsible for the Paris shootings in 2015 and the Brussels bombs in 2016, as well as a string of smaller attacks in France and Germany in recent years.

It had now become a "covert insurgent group operating in Iraq and Syria", but still had "a global network of affiliates", including Al-Qaeda, which was best known for the 9/11 attacks 19 years ago, but which also "displayed its intent and ambition to strike Western targets" today.

And in times before the pandemic was on everybody's minds, a "pro-IS group", in 2019, "launched a campaign via a cloud-based instant messaging service promoting the use of biological weapons" against Westerners.

The threat to Europe could get worse if the "hundreds of European citizens with links to IS" who were still fighting in Iraq and Syria were to trickle back home, Europol noted.

It was also getting worse due to the situation in European prisons, were jihadist inmates were radicalising other Muslims.

"In many EU member states, a number of radicalised individuals will soon be released, thereby increasing the security threat," Europol said.

Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Spain were especially seized of the problem, with up to 1,400 radicalised individuals reported in French jails.

But jihadist ideology and bomb-making and other murder manuals online meant lone individuals, who committed most of last year's attacks, were also "self-radicalising", Europol said.

Jihadists were, in any case, responsible for 10 out of the 13 deaths and most of the injuries caused by "terrorists" on EU territory last year, Europol noted.

Most of the attackers were young men aged 16 to 28, who had prior criminal records, and who were born in EU states.

Far-right terrorism

But far-right extremists also killed three people in Germany and posed an increasing danger in Belgium, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Norway, Slovenia, and the UK.

The growing popularity of white-supremacist and other forms of hate-speech "built on xenophobia, hatred for Jews and Muslims, and anti-immigration sentiments" also meant right-wing loners were self-radicalising, Europol warned.

And the wave of attacks, which started in Christchurch in New Zealand on 15 March last year, inspiring others in the US, Norway, and Germany, showed the danger of far-right "transnational online communities".

Loners aside, others were forming "paramilitary groups, pretexting the impotence of the state to protect the population against the perceived threat from Islam and immigration".

Meanwhile, "in left-wing and anarchist extremist circles, the readiness to use violence also seems to be growing", Europol said.

The number of arrests and attacks from left-wing extremists rose, especially in Greece, Italy, and Spain.

But most of these were linked to "violent demonstrations and confrontations with security forces".

The largest overall number of terrorist attacks came from "ethno-nationalist" groups, especially dissident republican ones in Northern Ireland throwing around Molotov cocktails.

These mostly targeted property and did not claim any victims, but the incidents did indicate that if the EU and UK mismanaged Brexit, then the threat of a return to violence in the region was a substantial one.

Turkish groups

The EU also played host to two Turkish groups and a Sri Lankan one planning attacks abroad, Europol said.

"The Kurdish separatist terrorist group Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê continued using EU territory for propaganda, recruitment, fundraising, and logistical support activities," it said.

"The Turkish Marxist-Leninist terrorist organisation Devrimci Halk Kurtuluş Partisi-Cephesi" was also using the EU as a "logistical base".

And "suspected members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were arrested in Germany on charges of serious criminal offences in Sri Lanka."

Looking at events in 2020, the counter-pandemic lockdowns in Europe were likely to have changed the picture, but not for the better, Europol added.

And as EU leaders haggled on how to divide coronavirus-rescue funds, if the bailouts failed, then the socio-economic impact of the pandemic had "the potential to further fuel the radicalisation of some individuals, regardless of their ideological persuasion," Europol said.

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