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New technologies give new tools “to those who want to do harm”, warns EU counterterrorism chief

Ilkka Salmi is the most senior man in the EU in the fight against terrorism. He recently took on the role of coordinating member states’ response to the security threats the bloc faces today. His appointment comes at a time when right-wing extremism is on the rise and online propaganda is a growing concern. Some of the issues we discussed with him at the European Council in Brussels.

PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: First of all, we have just started a new year. In 2022, how would you define terrorism?

ILKKA SALMI, COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: I would say that we still have to keep in mind that terrorism does exist. If you consider, for example, radical Islamist views or jihadism, the ideology is still there, even though the caliphate was defeated in Syria. And we have to prepare for it.

PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: You are taking on this role at a time when terrorism somehow seems to be gone and is a bit low on the agenda. Has the threat just disappeared from the political agenda?

ILKKA SALMI, COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: Unfortunately, the terrorist threat is constantly there. It should be said that it is partially … it is perhaps raised. You can’t really say he’s completely gone. Of course, issues like – especially from a European perspective – the pandemic could have had an impact. I mean, people don’t move around as freely as they used to. One thing that I would probably also like to point out, and that is, of course, a good thing, is resilience.

We have seen very unfortunate small-scale terrorist attacks in Europe where lives have been lost. Nonetheless, companies have indeed managed to recover.

PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: What do you think is the current situation when it comes to terrorist threats in Europe and urgent issues?

ILKKA SALMI, COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: I would say basically two… actually three things. The first, jihadism or the radical Islamist threat is still there. Second, we have indeed seen right-wing extremism, especially violent white right-wing extremism, become more prominent in Europe. And then, the third issue is, of course, the development of technology. And new technology is also playing a role in the dissemination of hate speech or terrorist content online.

PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: In the past, several European nationals joined organizations linked to terrorism. In your opinion, is Europe still attractive for these organizations to recruit people? And what could be the root causes of such recruitments?

ILKKA SALMI, COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: Well, what we saw, say in 2012, 2013, 2014 especially, or 2015 related to the crisis in Syria and the formation of Daesh or ISIS at the time, the situation really tempted some Europeans to leave. and join the ranks of these terrorist organizations. Theoretically speaking, it still exists in a way. We have seen the developments in Afghanistan. It is certainly an issue that we will follow.

PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: In the last quarter, migration once again became an important topic on the agenda. Do you think that there is a link, as some argue, between migration and terrorism or that this is not the case at all?

ILKKA SALMI, COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: Drawing a line – you know – sort of a direct line between migration and terrorism is far from the case. At the same time, and having said that, we have to keep in mind that if there is a large movement of people in the world, terrorist organizations might try to use that to their advantage and try to infiltrate individuals there. .

PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: We are in Brussels, a city which has been affected by terrorism in the past. What do you think are the priorities for making Europe a safer place?

ILKKA SALMI, COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: We need to ensure that the balance between issues such as privacy on the one hand and security on the other is covered, so we ensure that our legislation allows our law enforcement agencies to work effectively. , but at the same time ensure that new technology is available for these agencies.

PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: Move on to another subject. On the pandemic, which is also an urgent issue, a recent Europol report referring to 2020 said terrorism-related organizations are taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to exacerbate hate and hate speech, and the online propaganda in this direction. What is being done to combat this and resolve this problem, which has the potential to grow in the future?

ILKKA SALMI, COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: It is in fact very timely to tackle these challenges. The legislation on terrorist content online will come into force. This is EU legislation, the bottom line is that service providers and social media platforms are forced to remove terrorist content, which they see online … I mean, based on reports, by the Member States, the authorities, and this also goes through Europol. So in less than an hour, this type of information or message should be deleted. And I think it’s a very, very good development in the last few years that we’ve managed to pass this type of legislation, which will come into force now next summer.

PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: These days, we are also seeing a lot of anti-vaccination talk online, in the context of the pandemic. Do you consider that this has the potential to be used by right-wing extremists to somehow degenerate and thereby gain more followers?

ILKKA SALMI, COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: I don’t see that we could ever qualify this as terrorism yet. Having said that, of course, there are concerns that, you know, marginal parts of those who are very opposed will radicalize again and maybe seek alliances with different groups, violent right-wing extremism, for example. But for the moment, we must still keep in mind that the freedom of speech and expression is still there and the right to demonstrate.

PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: As technology evolves, it appears that terrorism evolves. How to approach all of this?

ILKKA SALMI, COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: First of all, of course, we have to put a lot of effort into prevention work, trying to make sure that people don’t become radicalized, that they don’t have these opinions, especially when you talk about Europe and, of course, the world as well. Second, we need to ensure that law enforcement and security authorities have (a) sufficient resources and (b) a legal framework within which they can operate.

PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: Is the Internet the weapon of choice for the future and how would you approach the fight against cyberterrorism in this regard?

ILKKA SALMI, COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: I absolutely believe that this is indeed the way to go. This will not, of course, replace what will happen in the real world. Because this is where, unfortunately, all terrorist incidents would have a psychological impact. But at the same time, the new technology, keeping in mind that it is extremely useful for you and me at the same time, also gives new tools to those who want to do harm. And that’s exactly why we need to make sure we keep up with technological developments.

PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: In your opinion, is there some sort of one-size-fits-all approach, a pan-European approach that can be applied?

ILKKA SALMI, COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: If we discuss the threat, it certainly varies between different EU member states or different countries in Europe. So in that sense, we probably can’t speak of some sort of monolithic approach to this issue.

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