Terrorism has blighted the European Union over the last years. Following media reports in early 2020, highlighting that ‘Islamic State’ (IS) terrorist organisations were exploiting the COVID-19 / Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 health crisis for their own gains, Member of the European Parliament, Lars Patrick Berg, posed a parliamentary question to the Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy asking if the Commission had considered the possibility of “a terrorist attack by IS [..]during the COVID-19 / Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 health crisis?”
MEP Berg also requested “how many fighters attributable to IS are currently in the EU Member States?” and “what measures are being taken to ensure that IS fighters do not enter the Member States of the European Union?”
The question from MEP Berg was raised in April and not answered by the European Commission until 9 November. During that time on 25th September, journalists were attacked in Paris by a Pakistani extremist outside the former Charlie Hebdo offices; on 16 October Samuel Paty, a French middle-school teacher, was beheaded by a Chechen Islamic terrorist; on 29 October 2020, three people were killed in a stabbing attack outside a church in Nice by a Tunisian extremist; and on 2 November in Vienna, Austria, a lone gunman opened fire killing 4 citizens and injuring 23 others, the attacker was killed by police; he was identified as an ISIL sympathizer.
The Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Borrell responded on behalf of the European Commission stating that the “threat assessments indicate that extremists are looking for ways to continue spreading terror during current times” and that “concerns about a possible spike in numbers of terrorist attacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic have not materialised so far, though heightened vigilance should remain”.
In his answer, Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Borrell referred to the answer given to MEP Fragkos’s parliamentary question from November 2019, stating that “work continues at EU level to tackle all dimensions of the threat of returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTF)”. He further said “as regards securing the Union’s external borders, the Commission has put in place a reinforced mandate and increased resources for the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex)” and that “since April 2017, an amendment of the Schengen Borders Code requires that border guards perform systematic checks on all persons crossing the EU external borders against relevant databases. Furthermore, Frontex has established common risk indicators to help border guards detect FTF”.
The Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy also reported that “important capacity-building projects (e.g. CT MENA, Project Sharaka, EUROMED Police) continue to be implemented with external partner countries, with the aim of supporting local authorities in enhancing the institutional and technical capacity of their law enforcement agencies, in averting, investigating and prosecuting terrorism offences, thus preventing ISIS fighters from entering the EU.”
Photo Credit : https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/coronavirus-covid-19