Europol cracks down on 1029 of pieces online terrorism-related content, but doesn’t track down or prosecute creators
— Europol (@Europol) September 15, 2017
On 15 September, European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation, Europol, sent out a press release about its sixth joint operation. Europol, which is the law enforcement agency of the European Union handling criminal intelligence and combating serious international organised crime is also at the forefront of Europe’s fight against Jihadist terrorism. On 13 and 14 September, this sixth joint operation with Member States and Third Parties, focused on detecting and flagging terrorist content on the internet.
During the two-day operation at Europol’s headquarters in Den Haag, the Europol Internet Referral Unit (EU IRU) teamed up with counter-terrorism and online propaganda experts from Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Hungary. It coordinated a hit against online terrorist propaganda focused mainly on the online production of terrorist materials by IS and Al-Qaeda affiliated media outlets. Among the items referred were propaganda videos and other kinds of publications glorifying or supporting terrorism and extremism. The team identified 1029 pieces of content promoting terrorism on the internet. The terrorist content was referred to the online service providers with a request to review it and remove it from their platforms if assessed as violating their own terms and conditions. Although finding these kinds of violence-inducing material is the first step, one wonders why Europol hasn’t teamed up with prosecuting offices, at least in the EU Member States involved.
Europol’s findings are, without a doubt, serious enough to warrant further action, not just by service providers. Jihadist organisations and their supporters continue to use a variety of platforms for disseminating propaganda. Disruptive action undertaken by “certain service providers” has forced jihadist sympathisers to ‘smaller’ platforms. Europol also found that:
“As a result of systematic disruptive actions in social media, some jihadist sympathisers have
reverted to the use of forums for communication and propaganda purposes. The use of Darknet
libraries sharing links pointing to terrorist content in the open web is also on the rise.“
While a relative decrease of ‘official’ IS propaganda over the past few months is good news, Europol says it has also allowed more room for pro-IS user generated content:
“This indicates that the so-called Islamic State organisation continues to have a solid basis of dedicated supporters in the virtual environment of the Internet.“
During the ‘action days’, Europol promoted a coordinated approach to fighting terrorist propaganda online – which involved training of all law enforcement partners involved. Similar joint actions, involving Member States and Third Parties, will continue to be organised on a regular basis. This is something that is to be welcomed – but do invite a prosecutor or two next time.
Because, as Europol itself says:
“The overall terrorist threat to the security of the EU has increased over recent years and remains on a sharp upward trajectory. The main concern of Member States is jihadist terrorism and the closely related phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters who travel to and from conflict zones.“
Effectively fighting propaganda for these jihadist terrorist attacks should take center stage.