Terrorists attempted to take advantage of the pandemic, says Europol’s new EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2021

Source: Europol

Terrorists use any opportunity to erode democratic structures, spread fear and polarise society. In 2020, terrorist organisations attempted to take advantage of the global pandemic to spread hate propaganda and exacerbate mistrust in public institutions. The New EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2021, published today, outlines the features, facts, figures and trends concerning terrorist attacks and arrests in the European Union in 2020.

2020 main figures 

  • 57 completed, failed and foiled terrorist attacks in the European Union (reported by Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Spain); 
  • 21 people died because of terrorist attacks in the European Union;
  • 449 individuals were arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related offences in 17 EU Member States, a decrease of one-third compared with previous years.

 The COVID-19 ramifications

Terrorists exploit polarisation in society to pollute the social climate with violent ideologies. In recent years, polarisation of the political discourse has increased in the European Union. The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated this development. There has been a notable increase in intolerance of political opponents, while the number of individuals conducting verbal or physical violence is also increasing. Mental health remains an issue in relation to terrorism and violent extremism. The situation created by the pandemic might be an additional stress factor, potentially encouraging vulnerable individuals to turn to violence. Extremists and terrorists have found new opportunities in the increased time spent online during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a large amount of disinformation actively disseminated online, extremists and terrorists have exploited social dissatisfaction to reach out and propagate their ideologies.

Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, said: “The latest report from Europol on the EU terrorism situation illustrates that in the year of the COVID pandemic, the risk of online radicalisation has increased. This is particularly true for right-wing terrorism. I discussed this trend in Lisbon today (22 June) with US Secretary for Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas at the EU-US JHA. We are committed to tackling this growing threat.”

Catherine De Bolle, Executive Director of Europol, said: “The online domain plays a crucial role in enabling the spread of terrorist and extremist propaganda. In a world, which has become considerably more digital, targeting the propagation of hatred and violent ideologies spread online is an imperative. By sharing information in real time and using the latest technological advances within a strong data protection framework, we can further enhance the way we fight terrorism together. Ultimately, law enforcement’s main goal is to target violent extremism and radicalisation to save lives and minimise the violent attacks against our society and our democratic system.”

Claudio Galzerano, Head of Europol’s Counter Terrorism Centre, said: “The new TE-SAT 2021 demonstrates the ramifications of a terrorist threat, which still remains high in the EU. EU Member States suffered 10 jihadist attacks, all perpetrated by lone actors. Some of the lone actors do have connections to like-minded individuals or terrorist groups, that being jihadists or right-wing extremists. Some of them were possibly radicalised online, with terrorists exploiting different events, controversies and vulnerable individuals. Meticulous assessment of the threat and coordinated efforts are of utmost importance to identify vulnerabilities and curtail the terrorist and extremist violence both online and offline.”

Jihadist terrorism: lone actors behind all deadly attacks

Jihadist terrorism remains the greatest threat to the European Union and is still influenced by developments abroad. The so-called Islamic State (IS), still active in Iraq and Syria, reaches out to supporters in Europe to incite them to perpetrate attacks. Global affiliates serve to uphold the group’s image of success – particularly those in Africa, which expanded in 2020. While hundreds of individuals are still held in detention camps in Syria, very few have returned to Europe during the past year.

In 2020, the number of completed attacks increased compared with 2019. Ten attacks killed 12 people and injured more than 47. A significant threat for several years, lone actors were behind all of the completed attacks. Some of the jihadist terrorists acting alone were in contact with terrorist groups. One example was the Vienna (Austria) attacker, who managed to transmit a video statement to IS. 

Some of the lone actors have displayed a combination of extreme ideologies and mental health issues. Social isolation with fewer contacts who could pick up signs of crisis and increased stress as a result of the pandemic may have played a role in some cases. Other motivating factors may have included the controversy around the republication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, and anti-Islam actions by some right-wing actors in different countries. 

Right-wing terrorism: increased prominence of the online communities

Very heterogeneous with regard to forms of organisation, core ideological elements and political objectives, right-wing extremists unite against diversity and the democratic constitutional order. Right-wing extremists incorporate newly emerging narratives into their ideology to infiltrate communities that might not share the entire set of core right-wing extremist views. As an example, Identitarian movements have succeeded in reaching out to younger, more educated populations. Some are connected to protests against government measures aimed at containing the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Increased social awareness concerning climate and ecological issues has also impacted right-wing propaganda. 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.

Suspects, linked to online communities with different degrees of organisation, are increasingly younger – with some of them being minors at the time of arrest. Right-wing propaganda is mainly disseminated online and gaming platforms have been increasingly used for spreading extremist and terrorist narratives. The perpetrators of 2019 attacks such as the one in Christchurch (New Zealand) were linked to transnational virtual communities. Members of such communities were also arrested in 2020.

The attacker who killed nine people in February 2020 in Hanau (Germany) was motivated by xenophobic and racist ideology. He had his own website, which he used to propagate his dehumanising views. By contrast, he does not seem to have been connected to transnational online communities.

Left-wing terrorism: new topics integrated into the narrative

The numbers of left-wing and anarchist terrorist attacks remained stable in 2020, while the threat to public order is still significant in many countries. Italy reported 24 of the 25 left-wing and anarchist terrorist attacks in the European Union, while the remaining one was reported by France. The attacks targeted private and public property such as financial institutions and government buildings and included one attempted letter bomb attack. 

In addition to topics such as anti-fascism, anti-racism and perceived state repression, left-wing narratives have integrated new ones, including scepticism about technological and scientific developments, COVID-19 containment measures and environmental issues. The support for an independent Kurdish state remained an important topic for left-wing and anarchist extremists.

Higher use of simple weaponry and “easy-to-make” explosive devices

The lockdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of public spaces for mass gatherings probably had an effect on the use of explosives in terrorist attacks. In 2020, terrorists primarily used simple means of attack such as stabbing, vehicle ramming and arson. Two attacks involved the use of firearms – the right-wing attack in Hanau and the jihadist attack in Vienna – while one planned bomb attack was foiled.

Homemade explosives are mainly used by terrorists, with an increased proliferation of low-explosive mixtures such as gunpowder and a decreased use of the unstable triacetone triperoxide (TATP). The dissemination of bomb-making instructions and new ideas on bomb manufacturing decreased in 2020. This may explain the decreased use of more sophisticated improvised explosive devices. 

Terrorists and extremists saw an opportunity in weaponising the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Jihadist propaganda and right-wing extremists both suggested different ways to use the virus against different targets. However, no attempts to use the virus as a bioweapon have been reported in the European Union.

Terrorist propaganda online: an increasing threat 

With the increased use of the internet during the pandemic, virtual communities have become increasingly prominent in the dissemination of extremist and terrorist propaganda. Since the Telegram takedown in late 2019, jihadists have been struggling to find new dissemination channels. As a result, jihadist propaganda has become dispersed across a variety of platforms. However, IS supporters tried to ensure the jihadist messaging reached target audiences. Terrorists exploited different events to amplify their propaganda. Al-Qaeda exploited the issue of discrimination in Western societies to present itself as an alternative protecting the rights of the oppressed, while different jihadist groups used the controversy concerning the republication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad to gain new supporters and inspire attacks. 

Online communities are having an increased role in the propagation of right-wing extremism. In recent years, such communities have coalesced around white supremacist or neo-Nazi views and shared language. The interactions in these groups further radicalise members with the idea that survival of their racially defined in-group depends on the destruction of the current system.

USS Mustin departs Japan, celebrates 15 years forward deployed

Source: United States Navy Pacific Fleet

YOKOSUKA, Japan – USS Mustin (DDG 89) departed Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan, June 22, following 15 years of service forward-deployed to U.S. 7th Fleet.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer is en route to San Diego, where she will undergo routine maintenance.

Mustin operated in the Indo-Pacific while assigned to Task Force 71/Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, the Navy’s largest forward deployed DESRON and the U.S. 7th Fleet’s principal surface force.

Mustin arrived in Yokosuka, Japan in July of 2006 and has participated in multiple humanitarian efforts in the Indo-Pacific region while assigned as Forward Deployed Naval Force (FDNF). In 2008, as part of the USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group, Mustin provided aid to Myanmar in response to Cyclone Nargis. The ship earned the Humanitarian Service Medal for response to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami as well as Typhoon Haiyan. Also in 2011, at the request of the government of Thailand, Mustin provided aerial surveillance support following flooding.

While taking precautions against COVID-19 at the onset of the global pandemic, Mustin successfully participated in a number of training exercises and operations including Integrated Ship and Air Team Training (ISATT), Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT), Freedom of Navigation Operations, and carrier strike force operations with USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and the USS Nimitz (CVN 68).

Earlier this year, Mustin held a change of command ceremony where Cmdr. Robert J. Briggs relieved Cmdr. Todd Penrod.

“As captain, I was always most proud of and am forever indebted to each member of the crew, as it was your collective actions that kept this warship operating at sea,” Penrod said during the recent change of command ceremony. “You masterfully tackled numerous challenges, and succeeded regardless of the odds, consistent with Mustin’s motto, ‘Always Be Bold!’”

Mustin’s service in 7th Fleet contributed to providing security and stability throughout the region and strengthening regional integration working alongside allies and partners including Australia, India, Japan, and Thailand.

Commissioned July, 26, 2003, Mustin is the first United States ship to bear the name in honor of Capt. Henry C. Mustin, who earned 13 battle stars for his service in WWII. Mustin is often referred to as “the Father of Naval Aviation.” His son, Vice Adm. Lloyd M. Mustin, served on the USS Atlanta (CL-51) during the Battle of Guadalcanal in WWII. Lloyd Mustin’s sons, Vice Adm. “Hank” C. Mustin and Lt. Cmdr. Thomas M. Mustin, were both decorated Vietnam War veterans. VADM Hank Mustin’s grandson, Lieutenant Commander Lloyd “Link” Mustin, is currently serving in the U.S. Navy.

Mustin is scheduled to join U.S. 3rd Fleet, which leads naval forces in the Indo-Pacific and provides the realistic, relevant training necessary for an effective global Navy. U.S. 3rd Fleet works consistently with U.S. 7th Fleet to complement one another and provide commanders capable, ready assets across the spectrum of military operations in the Pacific.

Japan’s Reports on Conditions at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 28 May 2021

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA

On 28 May 2021, Japan provided the IAEA with a copy of a report on the discharge record and the seawater monitoring results at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station during April, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent to all international Missions in Japan.

The report contains information on discharges from the subdrain and groundwater drain systems, as well as on groundwater bypassing conducted during the month of April. In both cases, in advance of the action, TEPCO analyzes the quality of the groundwater to be discharged and announces the results. These results confirm that the radiation level of sampled water are substantially below the operational targets set by TEPCO.

Turkish Businessman Arrested in Austria on Charges that He Allegedly Laundered Over $133 Million in Fraud Proceeds

A Turkish businessman was arrested in Austria on June 19, at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice. This arrest followed a superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City, Utah, on April 28, which was unsealed today. The superseding indictment charged Sezgin Baran Korkmaz with one count of conspiring to commit money laundering, 10 counts of wire fraud, and one count of obstruction of an official proceeding.

Second arrest following public order incident in Whitehall

Source: United Kingdom London Metropolitan Police

Detectives investigating an incident which occurred in the vicinity of Whitehall on 14 June have made a second arrest.

A 62-year-old man was arrested today (21 June) on suspicion of an offence contrary to Section 4A of the Public Order Act. He remains in custody at a south London police station.

Previously, a 57-year-old man was arrested and charged with an offence under Section 4A of the Public Order Act.

This follows an incident where a journalist was pursued by people in the vicinity of Richmond Terrace and Whitehall on 14 June.

Enquiries into the circumstances continue. Anyone with information should call 101 or tweet @MetCC. Information can also be provided to Crimestoppers, anonymously, by calling 0800 555 111.

Pendleton County mail carrier sentenced for attempted election fraud

Thomas Cooper, a mail carrier in Pendleton County, was sentenced today to five years of probation, with the first six months home confinement, for attempted election fraud, Acting U.S. Attorney Randolph J. Bernard announced. Cooper, age 48, of Dry Fork, West Virginia, pled guilty in July 2020 to one count of “Attempt to Defraud the Residents of West Virginia of a Fair Election” and one count of “Injury to the Mail.”