Europe has experienced a series of terror attacks since 2015. Who are the terrorists? Why and how do they act? Jihadist terrorism is not new in the EU, but there has been a new wave of islamist attacks since 2015. What do jihadist terrorists want? Who are they? How do they attack?
What is jihadist terrorism?
The goal of jihadist groups is to create an Islamic state governed only by Islamic law - Sharia. They reject democracy and elected parliaments because in their opinion God is the sole lawgiver.
Europol defines Jihadism as “a violent ideology exploiting traditional Islamic concepts. Jihadists legitimise the use of violence with a reference to the classical Islamic doctrine on jihad, a term which literally means ‘striving’ or ‘exertion’, but in Islamic law is treated as religiously sanctioned warfare".
The al-Qaeda network and the so-called Islamic state are major representatives of jihadist groups. Jihadism is a sub-set of Salafism, a revivalist Sunni movement.
Who are the jihadi terrorists?
According to Europol, jihadist attacks in 2018 were carried out primarily by terrorists who grew up and were radicalized in their home country, not by so-called foreign fighters (individuals that travelled abroad to join a terrorist group).
In 2019, nearly 60% of jihadi attackers had the citizenship of the country in which the attack or plot took place.
Radicalization of home-grown terrorists has speeded up as lone wolves are radicalized by online propaganda, while their attacks are inspired rather than ordered by terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda or IS.
Europol explains that these terrorists may not necessarily be very religious: they may not read the Quran or regularly attend mosque and they often have a rudimentary and fragmented knowledge of Islam.
In 2016, a significant number of the individuals reported to Europol for terrorism were low-level criminals, suggesting people with a criminal history or socialized in a criminal environment may be more susceptible to radicalization and recruitment.
Europol draws the conclusion that “religion may thus not be the initial or primary driver of the radicalisation process, but merely offer a ‘window of opportunity’ to overcome personal issues. They may perceive that a decision to commit an attack in their own country may transform them from ‘zero’ to ‘hero’.”
The 2020 Europol report shows that most jihadi terrorists were young adults. Almost 70% of them were aged 20 to 28 years old and 85% were male.
How do jihadi terrorists attack?
Since 2015, jihadist attacks have been committed by lone actors and groups. Lone wolves use mainly knives, vans and guns. Their attacks are simpler and rather unstructured. Groups use automatic rifles and explosives in complex and well-coordinated attacks.
In 2019, almost all completed or failed attacks were by lone actors, while most foiled plots involved multiple suspects.
There has been a tendency for jihadist terrorists to favour attacks against people, rather than buildings or institutional targets, in order to trigger an emotional response from the public.
Terrorists do not discriminate between Muslim and non-Muslim and attacks have aimed for the maximum of casualties, such as in London, Paris, Nice, Stockholm, Manchester, Barcelona and Cambrils.
The EU’s fight against terrorism
Action has been taken at the national and European level to increase the level and effectiveness of cooperation between member states.
EU measures to prevent new attacks are wide-ranging and thorough. They span from cutting the financing of terrorism, tackling organized crime, and strengthening border controls to addressing radicalization and improving police and judicial co-operation on tracing suspects and pursuing perpetrators.
For example, MEPs adopted new rules to make the use of guns and the creation of home-made bombs more difficult for terrorists.
Europol, the EU’s police agency, has been given additional powers. It can set up specialized units more easily, such as the European Counter Terrorism Centre created in January 2016. It can also exchange information with private companies in some cases and ask social media to remove pages runs by IS.
In July 2017, the European Parliament created a special committee on terrorism to evaluate how to better fight terrorism at EU level. MEPs produced a report with concrete measures they want the European Commission to include in new legislation.
Find more explanations on EU counter terrorism measures.
Fighting terrorist content online: President von der Leyen to deliver video message at Christchurch Call summit on Friday
This Friday (14 May), President von der Leyen will deliver a video message at the Christchurch Call summit. Hosted by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, and the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, the meeting will gather Heads of State or Government and tech sector leaders with the objective of stepping up cooperation on addressing terrorist and violent extremist content online. The Christchurch Call is a commitment by governments and tech companies to eliminate such content online, following the livestreamed terrorist attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019. The Commission is a founding supporter of the Christchurch Call. Discussions at this year's summit will focus on crisis response, with a view to ensuring timely, consistent and well-coordinated action when responding to crisis situations involving the spread of terrorist and violent extremist content online. Participants will also discuss transparency reporting, necessary to measure the extent of the threat posed by terrorist content online and monitor compliance of measures taken with fundamental rights.
They will then reflect on the need to better understand algorithms that promote content online, to evaluate the risks they could pose in terms of radicalization. In line with the commitments taken under the Christchurch Call, the Commission has acted to fight terrorist and violent extremist content online. The Commission launched the EU Internet Forum to facilitate co-operation with tech companies on addressing terrorist content online. In 2019, EU Internet Forum participants committed to an EU Crisis Protocol, allowing governments and online platforms to respond rapidly and in a coordinated manner to the dissemination of terrorist content online in the event of a terrorist attack.
The Commission is also working at the global level with tech companies under the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism. Beyond this voluntary approach, the EU has also agreed binding legislation. New EU rules adopted last month will oblige online platforms to remove terrorist content referred by member states' authorities within one hour while providing for strong safeguards to ensure the full respect of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and information.
Biden to join eastern European NATO states summit, focus seen on Ukraine
US President Joe Biden (pictured) joined a virtual summit of eastern European NATO states held in the Romanian capital Bucharest on Monday (10 May), Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said, with a focus on security in the Black Sea region and Ukraine.
The summit of the Bucharest Nine, a group of European countries on the eastern edge of NATO, will be jointly hosted by Iohannis and Poland's President Andrzej Duda and aims at coordinating the security positions of countries in the region.
"Glad to welcome Joe Biden to the Bucharest9 Summit which I host in Bucharest today," Iohannis said on his Twitter account.
"Together with President Andrzej Duda we'll also welcome ... Jens Stoltenberg in preparation of NATO Summit, focusing on Transatlantic ties, NATO 2030, defence and deterrence on the eastern flank."
Biden, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the presidents of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia will video-conference into the gathering.
"In ... the statement that the nine will publish after the meeting there will be the issue of security in the Black Sea region and the related security issues in Ukraine," the head of Poland's National Security Bureau, Pawel Soloch, told reporters.
Earlier this month, Washington said it could increase security help for Kyiv after Russia moved troops near its border with Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops are in conflict with Moscow-backed separatists.
Commission makes €11 million available to strengthen cybersecurity capabilities and co-operation
The European Commission will make €11 million of funding available for 22 new projects seeking to strengthen the European Union's capacity to deter and mitigate cyber-threats and incidents, by employing the latest technologies. The projects, which have been selected following a recent call for proposals under the Connecting Europe Facility programme, will support various cybersecurity organisations in 18 Member States. The beneficiaries of the funding include Computer Security Incident Response teams, operators of essential services in the health, energy, transport and other sectors, as well as bodies dealing with the cybersecurity certification and testing, as defined in the EU Cybersecurity Act. They will start working after the summer on tools and skills necessary to comply with the requirements set by the NIS Directive and the Cybersecurity Act, while at the same time they will engage in activities aimed to enhance cooperation at the EU level. So far the EU has funded almost €47.5m to reinforce EU cybersecurity between 2014 and 2020, through the Connecting Europe Facility programme. Furthermore, more than €1 billion under the Digital Europe Programme will be directed towards the areas of focus of the new EU Cybersecurity Strategy. More information is available here. More information about Europe's actions to strengthen cybersecurity capacities is available here and EU-funded cybersecurity projects can be found here.
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