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Terrorism in Europe: Key Findings

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

We summarize the last Europol Terrorism Report (Te-Sat) , detailing the current trends in the EU.

By Jake Grinyer Research Assistant at Talking About Terrorism and Patricia Pazos, PhD, Director at Talking About Terrorism.

London City
  1. There is an increase in right-wing terrorist attacks to overall decreases in terrorist activity regionally.

  2. The current situation due to COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns might escalate some of the trends identified in the report, such as increases in online radicalization.

  3. Various EU Member States have strengthened national terrorism legislation to explicitly criminalize extended behaviors relating to terrorism, such as training and traveling for the purpose of terrorism.

  4. Technology played a key part in capacity to carry out attacks during 2019, the modus operandi is evolving.

  5. On a country level, the United Kingdom (UK) overwhelmingly had the highest recorded attacks and arrests relative to any other European country. France, whilst recording similar arrest rates to the UK with a total of 224, only witnessed 7 terrorist attacks throughout 2019, compared to the UK’s recorded 64 attacks.

  6. Despite decreasing, the UK witnessed the highest levels of right-wing and ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorism, whilst cases of left-wing and archaist terrorism increased predominately in Italy, with protests and confrontation with security forces being prevalent.

  7. Right-wing terrorism has seen an increasing trend in the use of technology to coordinate rallies and attacks, an example being the livestreamed Christchurch attacks.

  8. Terrorism offences in the EU ranged from participation, financing, recruitment and glorification of terrorism, which involved the use of social media.

  9. 2019 saw increases in hate speech and fake news, which is argued to influence people who are mentally unstable to commit offences characterized as terrorism.

  10. In some EU Member States, attacks were characterized as murders and not ‘terrorism’ under national law, of which only applies to group-based violence.

  11. In 2019, 1004 arrests were made for terrorist offences and 14 attacks were committed in Europe. 10 people died from such attacks, whilst 27 were injured – decreasing from previous years.

  12. Although decreasing from 2018, Jihadist attacks remained the deadliest form of terrorism in the EU in 2019.

  13. Despite arrests decreasing to its lowest levels since 2014, Jihadist terrorism, formed the majority of convictions for terrorist offences, mostly in France, with an 87% conviction rate.

  14. All Jihadist terrorist attacks in 2019 were carried out by lone actors, often inspired by a loose network of home-grown Muslim extremists, which are multi-ethnic and multi-national, without connections to groups such as al-Qaeda.

  15. Radicalization and recruitment to Jihadist ideology in this loose network takes place both online and through family ties, which reduces the possibility of betrayal.

  16. Long-term measures by EU Member States to prevent the growth of extremist circles involved the expulsion of influential individuals.

  17. Several radicalized individuals are soon to be released from prisons across the EU in 2020, representing a serious threat to security.

  18. Around 70% of Jihadist terrorists are aged between 20-28 years old.

  19. With regards to prison sentences, Jihadist terrorism maintained an average of 5 years, relative to leftwing terrorism maintaining the highest average prison sentence of 19 years.

  20. Jihadist terrorism continues to possess a strong online presence, with supporter-generated content (SGC) making up for the decrease in IS propaganda, due to the loss of IS territory in Syria and the EU’s coordinated targeting of its online ecosystem.

  21. An increasing trend of lone terrorism can be associated with technological advancement, as more people are able to manufacture explosives and acquire information from online material.

  22. The greatest threat of terrorism originates from lone actors, emphasised by the concept of ‘leaderless resistance’. Groups with strong ‘martyr’ ideologies such as IS and al-Qaeda advocate this approach.

  23. Lone terrorism is increasing in far-right terrorism, whereby as jihadist attacks increase in Europe, so does the emergence of far-right anti-Islam groups.

  24. Right-wing groups are extremely heterogeneous ideologically and structurally. The ‘leaderless resistance’ ideology is prevalent, with concerts forming a strong role in connecting groups regionally.

  25. The use of the internet increased terrorists’ capacity to carry out attacks by offering anonymity and global reach, especially with closed communication platforms such as WhatsApp. Both left-wing and right-wing groups possess high levels of security awareness in regards to online activities.

  26. Far-right groups have shown to move with technological advancements and adopt the online ecosystem to engage in internet troll-culture to manipulate political opponents. English remains the lingua franca for online communication.

  27. Far-right attacks carried out are part of a coordinated effort globally, with members taking inspiration from another and engaging in online communication. The ‘race war’ and ‘Great Replacement’ are prominent ideologies with members adhering to the belief of ‘white race superiority’.

  28. As immigration increases, far-right extremists are able to unite under a shared ideology, be this cultural and ethnic nationalism, or white supremacy.

  29. Far-right groups claim funding from supporters, which increases the group’s capacity to carry out attacks. Within other groups, simple modus operandi means that attacks can be carried out with little financial assistance, with most funding arriving from legitimate sources or petty crimes.

  30. Despite IS losing its last enclave in Beghuz and the change in leadership, attacks outside the EU targeting European citizens continued to increase, as evident with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka. In addition, IS claims to have expanded its active provinces in West Africa, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, and the Philippines.

  31. Al-Qaeda has mainly focused on intervening in local conflicts supporting Sunni Muslim populations to gain acceptance and win support, and has criticized IS attacks as excessive and killing innocent Muslims. Al-Qaeda operatives apologize for attacks that have killed Muslim bystanders.

  32. The number of EU foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) travelling to conflict zones continues to decrease, with military defeats in Syria and Iraq reducing the motivation to travel, and low numbers of FTFs returning to EU also remains low due to travel restrictions. Large amounts of EU nationals remain present in Iraq and Syria.

  33. A gap in legalization for returning women and minors represents a long-term challenge to EU security, with some EU Members states prosecuting but not in others.

  34. Terrorist groups continue to use Europe as a source for funding, with citizens in countries such as Denmark and Italy being the main recipients.


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