Social media platforms, openly available messaging applications, online forums and video gaming platforms, appear to have gained popularity in terrorist and violent extremist circles, significantly undermining law enforcement monitoring. That’s according to the European Union policing agency Europol’s EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2023 (TE-SAT).
The report covers jihadist, right-wing, and left-wing and anarchist, and nationalist and separatist, terrorism. It includes the December 2022 arrests of suspects in Germany of a plot to overthrow the state; and that the Continent saw ‘a clear uptick in environmental activism’, and that the ‘line between environmental activism and environmental extremism is often a blurred one’.
Under ‘cross-cutting themes’, the document looks at weaponry, use of technology (including ‘gaming-adjacent platforms for recruitment purposes and propaganda dissemination’), financing, links between terrorism and organised crime, and ‘convergence’ (‘terrorists and violent extremists across the ideological spectrum have increasingly been sharing common elements, including similar narratives on topics considered to have a great impact for propaganda purposes, the selection of similar targets for attacks and the borrowing of tactical methods’). The report gave the example of 5G network masts, left and right-wing extremists alike calling for attacks on 5G infrastructure, acting upon theories describing 5G technology as bad for people’s health and secretly designed to control citizens.
Some 28 completed, failed and foiled terrorist attacks were reported by Member States in 2022, more than the 18 of the year before, but fewer that the 56 of the year 2020. Most of those 28 were categorised as left-wing and anarchist terrorism (18), of which 13 were completed; in Italy (8), Greece (3), Belgium (1) and Spain (1).
Some 380 individuals were arrested by EU Member States’ law enforcement authorities in 2022 for terrorism-related offences. Most were after investigations into jihadist terrorism, in France (93), Spain (46), Germany (30) and Belgium (22). Among supporters of jihadism, in 2022 several Member States reported that jihadist suspects were collecting and disseminating propaganda material originating from both IS and al-Qaeda; suggesting that affiliation to particular groups matters less.
While the report separates the ideologies and backgrounds of terrorists and violent extremists, it suggests that they have common interests and practices; and release of radicalised individuals from prisons remains a concern, ‘as they can continue actions of proselytism outside prisons’. Although the UK left Europol as it exited the EU, the report does include dissident Irish republicans, who ‘aim to reunite Ireland with Northern Ireland and create a 32-county republic in Ireland’. Europol notes that such ‘groups continue to have associations with left-wing extremists and have travelled to take part in socialist-Marxist events across the EU, including Spain and Greece’.
Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle in a foreword to the document pointed to the spread of propaganda online and its potential for radicalisation. She said: “Social isolation and the lack of a solid support system remain key vulnerabilities which terrorists take advantage of to propagate their messages and to recruit new followers. This is particularly worrying with the increasing number of young people, including minors, exposed to online terrorist propaganda.”
You can download the 93-page report from the Europol website.