International conference on “Transnational terrorist threats from emerging and re-emerging violent extremist movements”

Strasbourg, 3 November 2022


Ambassador Frasch, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to the Council of Europe and to this important conference co-organised by our Committee on Counter-Terrorism (CDCT) and the German Federal Foreign Office.

I would like to thank the German Government for their support with organising this event and you all for joining us in discussing the best ways to address the raising terrorist threat from violent extremism movements.

Over the next two days, these discussions will take place around several thematic sessions addressing the trends and typologies of both violent far right and far left activities and attacks, use of criminal and non-criminal law measures to address this raising threat, including through cross-border cooperation and international and regional initiatives.

The key issues that we look to explore with you during these two days are: a) what are the drivers behind this surge of violent extremism conducive to terrorism; b) when should we understand violent extremism as terrorism; and c) what needs to be done to mitigate this threat both on a national and international level.

The catalyst for our discussions today and tomorrow is the recent study carried out by the CDCT on Emerging Terrorist Threats in Europe. This important text was approved by the CDCT in May this year and examined by the Committee of Ministers in October. While this may be no surprise to many of you, one of its key findings is that the terrorist threat from violent extremism, namely the violent farright, is increasing significantly in a number of European countries.

This is sadly evidenced by a number of deadly attacks that took place in the last couple of years on the continent, including those in Halle, Baerum and Hanau.

The many ideologies behind these attacks appear to be constantly adapting themselves to new political, social, and economic realities, mobilising crisis narratives and offering violent solutions.

Through this effort we have also learned that such movements are increasingly abusing new technologies to spread ideologies and recruit new members, targeting even children at a very young age through gaming platforms, for example. In addition to being active at home, they are also heavily engaging with likeminded individuals across the globe, expanding the parameters of the threat sometimes to the unknown.   

Worryingly, we have seen that the predominant manner in which violent extremists carry out acts of terrorism is not by engaging in direct action themselves, but by inspiring and support individual, “lone actors” to carry out acts of violence. These lone actors have also taken advantage of modern technology platforms to procure weapons and to attack vulnerable soft targets such as religious spaces.

This pattern of lone actor attacks poses significant challenges for the timely detection and interception: the window for law enforcement to intervene can be very narrow as often these individuals are not meaningfully linked to known groups or networks who share their ideologies or views.

While farright terrorism has grown significantly, it is not the only threat out there. Many of us are aware of the threat that came from far-left terror cells operating in the latter half of the 20th century. The terrorism landscape looks remarkably different today than it did even five or ten years ago.

These and other findings outlined in the Council of Europe Report on Emerging Terrorist threats in Europe force us to reflect on whether the existing counterterrorism tools and instruments can adequately address these threats. We must have a clear-eyed view on these current and potentially re-emerging threats if we are to defeat them.

This is of course never a straightforward conversation. Rather, it is one that requires thorough and honest reflection on what is it that we are reacting to, how we wish to react to it, and where we need to invest more to strengthen the existing capacities. 

While our human rights framework is clear that it is not a crime to hold many shocking or objectionable views, we are equally under a duty to protect our citizens and societies from the harms of violent extremist activity. At the Council of Europe, we have long worked on many issues which help foster a safer, inclusive society that is resilient to extremists. This includes our ongoing efforts to work against hate speech and hate crime, prevent radicalization to terrorism, especially the targeting of children and youth, and to develop policies and actions which address prejudice and violence against ethnic and religious minorities, among others.

As a starting point of our reflection, it would be important for us to get acquainted, in greater detail, with the drivers, the scope and the different facets of the terrorist threat posed by violent extremism movements.

This initial reflection will allow us to move on to what the Council of Europe does best: developing common, effective frameworks for responding to shared phenomena.

Taking into consideration that we are all striving to respond to a phenomenon that respects no borders, one of the issues that we should consider at the outset is: when can we say, collectively, that violent extremism has crossed the threshold into terrorism and thus warrants the full response from the state?

While violent extremism drives and precedes many acts of terrorism and there is certainly significant overlap, there are also important divergencies which we will hear more about throughout this event. While many violent extremists and terrorists share the same goal of trying to reshape societies and subvert the very foundations of our democracies through fear, violence and propaganda, the nature, composition and public perception of these actors can vary widely across borders.

This is by no means a discussion that is easy, but it is necessary before we proceed to consider policy and practical responses that work at national and international levels.

With that said, we are very grateful to have in the room with us experts who have studied these issues in greater detail and can enlighten us on aspects that are perhaps less known or can dispel some of our misconceptions about the problems that we are facing and the best ways of approaching it.

I am also pleased to see that we will hear from practitioners working in different jurisdictions who can help steer our discussions and provide us all with valuable perspective and important pointers to where we agree and disagree - in our understanding of the threats.

This Conference thus aims to ensure that the Council of Europe and our partners can support states as they endeavour to develop, adapt and implement suitable counterterrorism policies and actions while also safeguarding our vital human rights and rule of law principles.

To conclude, this Conference represents an important milestone in Council of Europe action to address the rising threat of terrorism driven by violent extremist movements. It looks to inform our understanding of this threat and keep open important dialogue on the possible ways such threats can be addressed.

Given the wealth of knowledge gathered among us, I am fairly certain that this goal will be achieved.

I invite you all to be open and candid as we all stand to gain very much from your presence among us today. I wish you fruitful discussions over the next two days and look forward to future Council of Europe engagement on this topic.

Thank you for your attention.