Extremists use Covid pandemic to polarise societies: Europol
Violent extremists are abusing the coronavirus pandemic to polarise societies, spread hate propaganda and exacerbate mistrust in public institutions, Europol warned in a report on Tuesday.
Since Covid gripped the world in early 2020, there has been “a notable increase in intolerance of political opponents, while the number of individuals conducting verbal or physical violence is also increasing,” Europe’s policing agency said.
The rise of right-wing extremism is of special concern, the Hague-based Europol said, pointing to at least one failed right-wing extremist attack in Belgium linked to opposition to the government’s Covid-19 measures.
Elsewhere a Czech national was arrested for threatening to ram a vehicle into a crowd if the government did not reopen restaurants and bars, the 109-page Terrorism Situation and Trend Report said.
The report showed that “in the year of the Covid pandemic, the risk of online radicalisation has increased. This is particularly true for right-wing terrorism,” said Ylva Johansson, Europe’s Home Affairs Commissioner.
The worst attack happened in Hanau near Frankfurt in Germany in February last year when a gunman with suspected far-right beliefs shot dead nine people at a shisha bar and a cafe.
Europol added there were 57 completed, foiled and failed terror attacks on the continent, killing 21 people in total.
However, the number of terror suspect arrests has fallen to 449 in Europe and 189 in Britain.
This was significantly lower than in 2019, when 1,004 arrests were made.
But the pandemic also brought down the level of danger, Europol said.
Due to lockdowns in many countries, “opportunities to perpetrate terrorist attacks with a large number of victims declined, as many soft targets like events, museums, churches and stadiums were closed or only accessible to small numbers of people,” Europol said.
In total, there were 10 completed jihadist attacks in the European Union last year, three in Britain and two suspected attacks in Switzerland, mainly carried out by so-called “lone wolves” incited by the Al-Qaeda and Islamic State terror groups.
Twelve people were killed and more than 47 others injured in these attacks, Europol said.
EU states “assessed that jihadist terrorism remained the greatest terrorist threat” in the bloc, Europol said.
But especially with right-wing groups Europol said it was “concerning to note the increasingly young age of suspects – many of whom were minors at the time of arrest.”