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Terrorism in the EU: Terror attacks, deaths and arrests in 2020




While the number of terrorist attacks in the EU remained stable in 2020, extremists exploited the pandemic to spread propaganda.

According to the 2021 Europol report on the terrorism situation in the EU, there were 57 terrorist attempts in the EU in 2020 (that includes successful, failed and foiled attempts), compared to 55 in 2019. Of those, 10 were jihadist terrorist attacks in Austria, France and Germany.

Although they represent only a sixth of all attacks in the EU, jihadi terrorists were responsible for more than half of the deaths (12) and nearly all injuries (47). The total number of fatalities and injuries in the EU doubled from 10 deaths and 27 injuries in 2019 to 21 deaths and 54 injuries in 2020.

A total of 14 ethno-nationalist and separatist terrorist attacks took place in France and Spain, while 24 attacks were carried out by left-wing or anarchist terrorist organisations or individuals, all in Italy. In most cases, these attacks targeted private and public property such as financial institutions and government buildings.

In 2020, three EU countries - Germany, Belgium and France - experienced four terrorist attempts motivated by right-wing extremism. Only one of them, however, was completed.

Check out EU measures to fight terrorism.

Nearly twice as many completed jihadist attacks as foiled ones

Jihadist terrorism remains the greatest threat to the EU. In 2020 the number of completed jihadist terrorist attacks was more than double that of foiled plots.

Completed attack107310
Failed plot12140
Foiled plot1116144

Number of completed, failed and foiled jihadist terror attacks in the EU (2017-2020)
Source: Europol 2021

According to Europol, lone actors were behind all of the jihadist attacks, with four of the ten successful attacks carried out by EU citizens. Some of the lone actors displayed a combination of extreme ideologies and mental health issues, with social isolation and increased stress as a result of the pandemic suspected to have played a role in some cases.


Read more about jihadi terrorism in the EU since 2015.

A significant drop in terrorist arrests

A total of 449 arrests on suspicion of terrorist offences were reported to Europol in 2020. This number was significantly lower than in 2019 (1,004). It is unclear whether this drop is due to reduced terrorist activity or is a result of diminished operational capacities of law enforcement due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Check out key numbers about terrorism in the EU in 2019.

Increased use of simple weaponry

The lockdowns related to the pandemic and the closure of public spaces to mass gathering, such as shopping centres, churches and stadiums, seem to have led to a decrease in the use of explosives in terrorist attacks. In 2020, terrorists mainly resorted to stabbing, vehicle ramming and arson. Firearms were only used in the right-wing terrorist attack in Hanau,  Germany, in February and the jihadist attack in Vienna in November.

Online radicalization: An increasing threat

With the increased use of the internet during the pandemic, online communities played an important role in the dissemination of violent extremism. Following efforts by messaging apps, such as Telegram, to block terrorist groups, jihadist propaganda became more dispersed across multiple, often smaller online platforms, and right-wing extremists, particularly young people, increasingly used video games and gaming platforms to propagate their ideology.

Both jihadi and right-wing extremists tried to exploit Covid-19 for propaganda purposes, while left-wing and anarchist extremists incorporated criticism of government measures to combat the pandemic into their narratives.

Read more on what the EU does to prevent radicalization.

Need for co-ordinated efforts at EU level

“Meticulous assessment of the threat and coordinated efforts are of the utmost importance to identify vulnerabilities and curtail the terrorist and extremist violence both online and offline,” said Claudio Galzerano, the head of Europol’s counter-terrorism centre, when presenting the findings of Europol’s annual report to the members of Parliament's civil liberties committee on 22 June 2021.

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