Europol’s latest annual EU Terrorism Situation and Trend report (TE-SAT) reveals that terrorist attacks decreased, but the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions to in-person meetings may have led to the increased consumption of extremist content.
According to the report, the total number of arrests on suspicion of terrorist offenses in EU Member States decreased in 2020 to 449. In 2019, there were 1,004 arrests, of which 281 were made in the U.K. alone. Europol said the decrease is most likely linked to the pandemic but is still unclear if this was due to a decrease in terrorist activity or the operational changes of public authorities throughout the pandemic.
Three EU Member States, Austria, France and Germany, suffered 10 jihadist attacks in 2020, the report said. From these attacks, a total of 12 people died, injuring more than 47.
Europol found that jihadist terrorism remained the greatest terrorist threat in the EU. In 2020, at least five jihadist attacks in Europe (Austria, Germany and the U.K.) involved perpetrators who were either released convicts or prisoners at the time they committed the attack.
There were also four right-wing motivated terrorist incidents in Germany, Belgium and France, the report stated, adding that increased public awareness of climate and ecological issues encouraged right-wing extremists to promote eco-fascist views. “According to eco-fascism, these cries can be attributed to overpopulation, immigration and the democratic systems’ failure to address them,” the report said.
According to the report, Dissident Republican (DR) groups remain a severe threat to Northern Ireland. Threats mostly stem from the new Irish Republican Army (NIRA) and the Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA). Initially, the restrictions during COVID-19 pandemic suppressed group activities but have started to return to previous levels of activity.
Attacks were also made by left-wing and anarchist groups, with one attack being foiled in France and the rest taking place in Italy, the report said. Often these attacks damaged private and public property, like financial institutions and government buildings.
“In addition to longstanding issues, such as anti-fascism, anti-racism and perceived state repression, left-wing and anarchist extremists in 2020 addresses new topics, including scepticism about technological and scientific developments, COVID-19 containment measures and environmental issues,” the report said.
Along with the continued use of online platforms, such as social media and messenger applications, video games and video game communication applications were increasingly used in 2020 to share right-wing terrorist and extremist propaganda, in particular among young people.
“Among jihadists, for example, increased online networking activity was noted,” the report said. “Increased time spent online has probably increased the consumption of jihadist online content and the online networking of radicalized individuals.”
The report also mentions that terrorist groups also tried to fit the COVID-19 pandemic into their longstanding narratives for propaganda purposes. One example being Al-Qaeda, interpreting the pandemic spread in Muslim-majority countries, “as a sign that people had abandoned true Islam.”
The added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic could push lone actors to turn to violence sooner than they would under different circumstances, Europol said.
“In general, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic and social crises have contributed to polarization in society, causing attitudes to harden and increasing acceptance of intimidation, including calls to commit violent acts,” the report said. “Expressions of social dissatisfaction increased, both online and offline, with social media playing a facilitating and mobilizing role, as well as the proliferation of disinformation and conspiracy theories.”