Terrorists attempted to take advantage of the pandemic
The New EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2021 outlines the features, facts, figures and trends concerning terrorist attacks and arrests in the European Union in 2020.
As part of the latest publication, Europol warns that terrorists use any opportunity to erode democratic structures, spread fear and polarise society. In 2020, terrorist organisations attempted to take advantage of the global pandemic to spread hate propaganda and exacerbate mistrust in public institutions.
There has been a notable increase in intolerance of political opponents, while the number of individuals conducting verbal or physical violence is also increasing. Mental health remains an issue in relation to terrorism and violent extremism. The situation created by the pandemic might be an additional stress factor, potentially encouraging vulnerable individuals to turn to violence.
Europol has also said that extremists and terrorists have found new opportunities in the increased time spent online during the pandemic. With a large amount of disinformation actively disseminated online, extremists and terrorists have exploited social dissatisfaction to reach out and propagate their ideologies.
The report highlights how there were 57 completed, failed and foiled terrorist attacks in the European Union (reported by Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain), with 449 individuals were arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related offences in 17 EU Member States, a decrease of one-third compared with previous years. Additionally, 21 people died because of terrorist attacks in the European Union over the same period.
Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director of Europol, said: “The online domain plays a crucial role in enabling the spread of terrorist and extremist propaganda. In a world, which has become considerably more digital, targeting the propagation of hatred and violent ideologies spread online is an imperative. By sharing information in real time and using the latest technological advances within a strong data protection framework, we can further enhance the way we fight terrorism together. Ultimately, law enforcement’s main goal is to target violent extremism and radicalisation to save lives and minimise the violent attacks against our society and our democratic system.”