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27th Nov 2022

Europol: Arab spring poses terrorist threat to EU

  • The burka ban in France was used by Islamist groups last year to justify attacks (Photo: Shemer)

Arab revolutions and the economic crisis could increase the risk of terrorist attacks in the EU by Islamist, far-left and far-right groups, according to a report by the union's joint police body, Europol.

The annual survey, the EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, out on Tuesday (19 April) covering events in 2010, noted that the vast majority of terrorist incidents in the EU last year came from separatist groups such as Eta in Spain or the Turkish group, the PKK/Kongra-Gel.

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Foiled or successful separatist attacks accounted for 160 out of the total 249 cases in 2010, compared to 45 far-left incidents and just three Islamist cases.

The highest number of arrests on terrorism charges came in France (219), followed by Spain (118), Ireland (62), the UK (45) and the Netherlands (39). Germany, the largest EU country, recorded just 25 and Italy 29. Small countries Belgium (20) and Greece (18) saw high levels of arrests. Romania (16) was the only post-Communist EU member with a notable figure.

In terms of overall trends, numbers went down year-on-year in France, Italy, Spain and the UK. But they went up in Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.

The biggest change comes in the nature of the groups involved, however.

EU countries saw a 50 percent jump in the number of arrests linked to Islamist terrorism and a 12 percent jump in cases linked to far-left and anarchist groups. In Greece, the far-left figure jumped 30 percent.

Remarking on the ideology of Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Europol said incitements to violence concentrated on: the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark; banning the veil in France; the Swiss anti-minaret vote; the war in Afghanistan; and Spain's 'occupation' of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco.

On the Arab spring, it noted that AQIM and AQAP "have been reduced to observers, incapable of influencing events" and suffered "a notable setback … in terms of support and recruitment" because peaceful protests have proved more effective in deposing dictators than years of terrorist attacks.

It added, however: "should Arab expectations [of political reform] not be met, the consequence may be a surge in support for those terrorist organisations." It also said: "Such mass actions may ... create a democratic space for organisations with similar [anti-Western] objectives" and "such organisations may be able to take advantage of the temporary reduction of state control."

On the issue of EU-bound Arab migrants, the report warned that: "Individuals with terrorist aims could easily enter Europe amongst the large numbers of immigrants."

It also warned that far-right groups might try to exploit xenophobia in European society, saying: "If the unrest in the Arab world … leads to a major influx of immigrants into Europe, right-wing extremism and terrorism might gain a new lease of life by articulating more widespread public apprehension about immigration."

Europol said far-left and anarchist groups in Europe have traditionally used a Marxist-Leninst discourse of anti-capitalism, anti-militarism and anti-authoritarianism.

But in 2010 growing unemployment "has radicalised some youths, even those with relatively high levels of education" and "left-wing and anarchist extremists [have] also focused on the global economic recession … [and] austerity measures."

It voiced concern about EU citizens traveling abroad to theatres of conflict such as Afghanistan, learning terrorist skills and importing them back home. It said the number of EU nationals involved in jihadist conflicts abroad is "in the low hundreds."

Remarking on the study, Europol director Rob Wainwright said in his foreword that: "Member States have agreed to regard terrorist acts as those which aim to intimidate populations, compel states to comply with the perpetrators demands and/or destabilise the fundamental political, constitutional, economical or social structures of a country or an international organization."

The statist definition excludes attacks by states against unrecognised entities, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, which have killed far more civilians than any 'terrorist' incidents in Europe.

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