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Europol headquarters in The Hague
Jihadist and far-right propaganda suggested weaponizing COVID-19, but no real attempts were reported in the EUImage: Imago Images/AFLO/Y. Nakao

Europol: Violent extremists exploit pandemic

Alex Berry
June 22, 2021

A new report on terrorist activity in the EU has highlighted the threat of online propaganda during the pandemic. The research shows Islamist and far-right extremists have posed the greatest threat.


The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the spread of violent ideologies, according to a new report published by the EU's law enforcement agency Europol on Tuesday.

The report highlighted the prominence of online propaganda in building communities and encouraging lone-wolf attacks among right-wing extremists but said that Islamist extremists remained the main threat for European countries in 2020.

Data from six countries revealed that there were 57 successful, failed or foiled incidents classified as terrorist attacks last year.

"The latest report from Europol on the EU terrorism situation illustrates that in the year of the COVID pandemic, the risk of online radicalization has increased. This is particularly true for right-wing terrorism," EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said in response to the publication.

"We are committed to tackling this growing threat," she added.

Social isolation may have played a role

Europol concluded that the threat of Islamist attacks had increased in 2020 over the previous year. Islamist extremists were able to carry out some 10 attacks injuring 47 people and killing 12 — just over half the total number of people killed in incidents classified as terrorist attacks in the EU last year.

While many of the attackers acted alone, the report pointed out the role that the so-called "Islamic State" has played in inciting supporters in Europe.

However, the report also underlined how some of the lone perpetrators had "displayed a combination of extreme ideologies and mental health issues." It added that stress and social isolation caused by the various lockdowns "may have played a role."

Rising right-wing extremist threat

Europol's data, mirroring reports released by German authorities in recent months, also pointed to the rise of right-wing extremist ideologies and violence — with online radicalization seen as a particular risk as many people were stuck at home during lockdowns.

The report concluded that far-right extremists have been attempting to infiltrate other communities to spread their narratives. One key example given was that of movements organized against government lockdown measures.

The far-right have also attempted to take advantage of social concerns over climate and ecological issues, the report said: "Blaming the climate crisis on increased immigration and overpopulation, for example, eco-fascism aims to act as a bridge towards ideologies based on accelerationism, anti-Semitism and nationalism." 

The number of attacks carried out by anarchists and other left-wing actors remained stable in 2020. They targeted public and private property and the vast majority of the 25 reported cases occurred in Italy.

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