Terrorists could launch more sophisticated attacks on unexpected European targets after using Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns to improve planning for operations, Europe's policing agency has warned.
Europol said more people were likely to come under the influence of radicalisers because of a surge in the increase in propaganda spread online, with more people stuck at home exposed to it because of restrictions to tackle the virus.
Europol, which analyses trends and distributes intelligence to police departments within the European Union, warned that a likely continent-wide recession will lead to a rise in anti-government attitudes and widespread conspiracy theories.
“Followers of all ideological scenes have spent more time online during the pandemic, not only boosting and improving propaganda but also discussing and researching new targets and possible ways to commit attacks,” it said.
“This could also materialise in future plots that could be more sophisticated or directed at unanticipated targets.”
The report How Covid-19-related crime infected Europe during 2020 concludes that the pandemic had little impact on terrorism over the last year.
It said there were no indications that the attacks in France and Vienna were influenced by the pandemic, but warned that the long-term effects of Covid-19 would increase the threat of terrorism.
The rise in extremism would lead to a higher risk of ‘culture war’ clashes between rival groups such as the far-right and Islamist extremists, the report warned.
Europol said that the pandemic had been exploited most by organised crime gangs, which had adapted their operations to supply fake vaccines, protection equipment and carry out cyber frauds.