EUROPOL 2021 terrorism report highlights potential of new digital, autonomous terrorism threats

In its latest European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2022, EUROPOL has highlighted the new threats likely to be faced by Europe’s security and police forces as a result of new autonomous and digital technologies becoming available to terrorists.

“New types of weapons may be used in complementarity with more traditional instruments observed so far in terrorist and violent extremist attacks,” said the report. “The popularity of 3D printed weapons may grow amongst adherents of various ideologies….Increased use autonomous vehicles may increase security vulnerabilities, for instance as they can target locations for attacks based on remote commands. Despite its potentiality in counter-terrorism, augmented reality may also be exploited by terrorists and violent extremists to facilitate remote training activities. Technological and scientific advancements are often opposed in particular by leftwing and anarchist extremist circles. Further developments, including the introduction of 5G technology, the use of gene-technology for food production or the research and developments in artificial intelligence, are likely to be even more recurrently included and opposed in these groups’ propaganda.”

The report cited just a single incident in 2021 when a terrorist influenced by Islamic State groups had been planning a possible drone attack.

“In August 2021, the Court of First Instance of Brussels in Belgium (French-speaking court) convicted a Belgian national to four years of imprisonment and a fine for participation in the activities of a terrorist group, for self-training and for attempting to receive training. The court heard that the defendant endorsed IS ideology and was in contact with numerous IS supporters and terrorist convicts. He also spread IS propaganda material on social media and provided support, including financial, to the terrorist organisation. According to the investigations, the defendant was preparing a bomb attack against a Belgian prison where a relative was detained. He made online searches on the production of a bomb, remote control systems and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drones). In this case, the instructions on the fabrication of a bomb were provided by IS members, leaving no doubt as to the terrorist motivation of the defendant when consulting the material.”

But EUROPOL is worried about the growing capabilities of IS affiliated organisations such as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“ADF’s increased lethality and evolving propaganda appears to have coincided with an influx of foreign recruits, mostly from neighbouring countries. For instance, the perpetrators in some of the ADF videos reportedly speak Swahili with Kenyan accents. Furthermore, in September 2021, the DRC army arrested a Jordanian reportedly in charge of the ADF’s UAV program. The use of foreign recruits in propaganda is likely to attract more fighters from surrounding countries, boosting the ADF’s military capability and morale.”

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