On 29 November 2021, more than 130 experts joined the hybrid event organized by UNICRI and the Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission. The meeting focused on the new challenges and frontiers in preventing and countering terrorism in Europe. The event also provided the opportunity to showcase the main findings and recommendations of the soon-to-be published UNICRI’s report on “Assessing the potential interplay between movements of people and the evolution of the threat stemming from ISIL and Al-Qaida inspired terrorism in Europe”.
The global threat posed by terrorism has continued to evolve since 9/11. The terrorist threat of the last 20 years has been characterized by, among other things, the gradual transformation of Al-Qaida into a covert network; the rise and fall of Da’esh; a new wave of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs); the misuse of social media to incite, radicalize and recruit; the spread of so-called “lone wolf” attacks; and the ability of terrorists to conduct “successful” attacks with unsophisticated methods. The rise of multifaceted forms of violent extremism linked to far-right and left-wing terrorism has further exacerbated this already precarious security context. The COVID-19 pandemic, the gradual lifting of restrictions and the current situation in Afghanistan represent additional challenges for Europe and the international community as we seek to combat terrorism in Europe.
Following concerns raised by some European countries, UNICRI launched in April 2021 a research initiative aimed at exploring the potential interplay between movements of people and the threat stemming from violent extremist groups in Europe, including the risk posed by returning and/or relocating FTFs. Although not new, the issue has gained new momentum particularly in the aftermath of the spate of attacks occurred throughout 2020. In fact, these events have raised the attention of security services and law enforcement vis-à-vis individuals taking advantage of people’s vulnerabilities (refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people) and the consequent migration crisis to cross external borders, regularly and irregularly. This situation, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic poses a serious threat to the security of European Member States.
UNICRI and the EU, in particular the Directorate- General for Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission, and the Office of the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, share a long-standing partnership and commitment to peace and security. The hybrid EU-UNICRI joint event looked at the evolution of the terrorist threat in Europe over the last 20 years; new trends in counter-terrorism; implications of global conflicts, including the crisis in Afghanistan, on the European security context; and initiatives undertaken by UNICRI and other entities to successfully address priority issues.
Ms. Antonia De Meo, Director of UNICRI, reflected on the role that the Institute plays in analysing emerging trends and raising awareness on new challenges related to international peace and security. She highlighted that “UNICRI has conducted extensive research to unpack current terrorist threats. UNICRI’s research initiatives are not an end in themselves but rather a pathway to identifying important gaps that Member States must fill to overcome priority security challenges. They guide, inform, and lay the foundation for tailored programming related to criminal justice, security, and counter-terrorism.”
Deputy Director-General for Migration and Home Affairs and European Commission Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Olivier Onidi stressed the evolving nature of the terrorist threat and some of the initiatives put in place under the umbrella of the Counter-Terrorism Agenda for the EU adopted in December 2020, setting the way forward in the fight against terrorism in the years to come. The agenda aims to better anticipate threats, to step up our prevention efforts, to protect people, public spaces and infrastructures, and to respond when terrorist attacks occur.
To complement the analysis of the evolution of the terrorist threat in Europe and to follow-up on some of the findings of its soon-to-be published report, UNICRI will shortly launch two new research initiatives which will look at, respectively: (i) the risks stemming from violent extremism linked to far-right and left-wing terrorism in Europe; and (ii) the implications of the situation in Afghanistan on neighboring countries.