Likewise, British officials fear a resurgent jihadist threat and are considering revising Britain’s 650-year-old treason law to make it easier to prosecute militants returning from Syria and Iraq.
And it is not only the returnees from the Levant that preoccupy European security officials.
During the pandemic, jihadist assaults have calmed down – the consequence, officials believe, of company-wide lockdowns and other travel restrictions that have thwarted would-be attackers. The lack of crowds and the public events also deprived the activists of high profile targets. But in the meantime, there has been an increase in online activity by radical Islamists, according to security officials.
Neil Basu, London Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner for specialized operations, said Time newspaper this week that he fears that large numbers of vulnerable and marginalized young people have been trapped online during lockdowns and surfing increased amounts of propaganda that has been published online during the pandemic.
“I don’t know what effect it’s going to have on people who are vulnerable to this kind of message, who may want to act, who may have been sitting on this repressed feeling for 12 months or more,” he said. he declares.
New wave alert
The possibility of a new wave of so-called lone wolf recruits and assailants combined with the release of dozens of jailed jihadists is a toxic mix, according to counterterrorism officials. They say they will be forced to maintain surveillance of released jihadists let alone try to detect radicalization online.
The last eight attacks on French soil have been carried out by assailants hitherto unknown to French security services – including the stabbing by a Tunisian immigrant last month of a civilian police employee in Paris and the murder in October of the teacher Samuel Paty in Paris. Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb of the French capital.
Of the 500 jihadists currently incarcerated in France, most have been convicted of joining Islamic State or al-Qaida in Syria and Iraq, or of helping others to do so. Fifty-eight are expected to be released this year after serving an average sentence of five years. And more than 100 more are expected to be released by 2023.
New counterterrorism measures before the National Assembly would give France’s security services new powers to help them, they say, both keep tabs on those released after serving their sentences and monitor what is happening in them. line and attempt to unmask potential attackers. These measures would allow authorities to track communications from Islamist extremists when they use encrypted messages. Teacher Paty was killed by an 18-year-old Chechen who used Instagram messaging to maintain contact with French jihadists in Syria.
Security services could also use algorithms to enable them to spot people who visit extremist websites and have more access to satellite communications. Last month, Gerald Darmanin, French Minister of the Interior, admitted that the security services had not been able to detect messages between the militants involved in the last nine attacks.
“We continue to remain blind with simple monitoring of normal phone lines that no one uses anymore. We are now dealing with isolated individuals, increasingly young and unknown to the intelligence services, and often without any connection to established Islamist groups, ”he said.
As for jihadists released from prison, the measures awaiting legislative approval would extend the period of surveillance of released prisoners from one to two years. Courts will also have new powers to require released offenders to frequently register with probation officers and enroll in training programs for up to five years after release.
Britain’s ruling Conservative government also recently passed legislation ending the early release of anyone convicted of a serious terrorist offense. And he is considering new measures to make it easier to prosecute British jihadists returning from overseas – and if convicted, they will serve long prison terms, possibly life imprisonment. Ministers say they plan to revise treason laws to cover membership or support from non-state actors seeking to harm Britain – this would include terrorist groups and hackers.
New national security legislation may also place the burden of proof on returnees from countries designated as terrorist hotspots to justify their trip – or face prosecution for treason. Ministers complain that the evidence needed to convict people who have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join militant groups over the past decade makes it too difficult to initiate prosecutions. And they railed against the old treason law, which dates back to 1351 and was amended in 1946.
The last person to be convicted of treason in Britain was William Joyce, a Nazi propagandist known as Lord Haw-Haw. Around 400 British jihadists have returned to the UK since 2011, but only 10% have been prosecuted.
The overhaul of the treason law has strong backing from conservative lawmakers. “We need tough penalties for treason,” Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said last week.
Other European countries have also tightened counterterrorism measures recently, prompting Amnesty International in February to warn that a side effect is to inflame anti-Muslim sentiments. The rights group said an environment was being created “in which Muslims are more susceptible to hate speech and attacks.”
“In the endless ‘war on terror’, Muslims continue to suffer ethnic profiling and are disproportionately subjected to surveillance, restrictions on their movement, arrests and deportations,” said Eda Seyhan, author of the research guide published by Amnesty.