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Counter-terrorism operations against right wing extremism in Western Europe increase 191% in 24 months

07 December 2018 Chris Hawkins

Right-wing extremists in Europe have become more outwardly active in recent years, likely emboldened by the mainstream electoral success of far-right parties, as well as increased perceived grievances associated with the migrant crisis and recent Islamist militant attacks in Europe.

While the predominant terrorism threat in Western Europe still comes from militant Islamist actors, far-right extremists pose a potentially increasingly significant threat to a smaller target set - namely religious and ethnic minorities, individuals and groups with opposing political views and people identifying as LGBT+.

From a counter-terrorism perspective, the increase in far-right extremism has likely put further pressure on limited counter-terrorism policing and judicial resources already attempting to contain and prosecute the militant Islamist threat. Counter-terrorism operations related to right-wing extremist activity or hate crimes have increased significantly. In 2015 and 2016, 22 operations were recorded in total in western Europe. Between 2017 and 2018, this increased to 64.

In response to increased right-wing extremist activity, as well as the election of far-right governments or representatives in certain European countries, retaliatory counter violence can also be expected from left-wing extremists. This is particularly likely in countries with existing established left-wing extremist activity such as Germany, Italy, and Greece. These are likely to predominantly take the form of arson or low level IED attacks targeting assets associated with right-wing extremist groups or individuals as well as violent counter-protests against any marches conducted by these groups.

Proportion of UK right wing extremist terror arrests triple in last two years

JTIC data shows that between 2016 and 2017, counter-terrorism operations as part of investigations into far-right extremist activity or hate crimes in the UK increased by 88% with 17 operations recorded in both 2017 and 2018 to date.

UK Home Office statistics released in September showed that the number of suspected right-wing extremists had increased from 4% of those held on terrorism charges to 13% between June 2016 and 2018. The statistics also revealed that arrests of Caucasian terrorism suspects had outnumbered those of an Asian background for the first time since June 2005.

In addition, the then head of the Metropolitan police's counter-terrorism branch Mark Rowley stated in February that four right-wing extremist plots had been thwarted by police in 2017 and that a third of referrals to the government's counter-radicalisation strategy Prevent were engaged in right-wing extremist terrorism.

National Action trials

The increase of right-wing extremist activity in the UK since 2016 was reflected in the designation of National Action as a terrorist group by the UK government in 2016. Despite the designation, the group has continued to operate in various guises and aliases - such as Scottish Dawn and NS131 which were also subsequently designated by the UK government. In the last 12 months, for example, JTIC has recorded the arrest of 15 suspected National Action members and six trials involving in the group.

Attacks - tactics and targets

Although National Action has not been implicated in directing or conducting any successful attacks, lone right-wing extremists have. In the last 12 months, JTIC has recorded 13 attacks conducted by right-wing extremists or with a racial or religious discriminatory motive, although this represented a decrease from 32 between 2016 and 2017, where spikes were recorded following a series of militant Islamist attacks in the UK.

The targeting of mosques and Muslims was indicative of the target preferences of right-wing extremists in the UK. Other religious and ethnic minorities and LGBT+ people are also at risk of attack from these actors. In the latter case, a plot to attack an LGBT+ night in June 2017 was foiled and the suspect involved was sentenced to an indefinite hospital order on 30 May for plotting the attack.

German far right attacks rise by 60% in last 12 months

In Germany, JTIC recorded eight attacks with a suspected right-wing extremist motive in the last 12 months - up from five between 2016 and 2017. Notably, this including the stabbing of the mayor of the town of Altena in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia on 27 November.

At least six counter-terrorism operations targeting right-wing extremists in Germany were also recorded during this period. Notably, this included the dismantling of a group identifying themselves as "Revolution Chemnitz" on 1 October who allegedly plotted to conduct attacks on foreign nationals and those with opposing political views to coincide with Germany's Unity Day on 3 October. Violent clashes erupted in Chemnitz between far-right extremists, counter-protesters, and police on 26-27 August, following the arrest of a Syrian and an Iraqi man in alleged connection with the killing of a German man on 25 August that prompted anti-migrant demonstrations.

The attack involved a greater deal of planning and coordination compared to the majority of right-wing extremist plots. The plot was similar in nature to the actions of "Gruppe Freital" who conducted a series of attacks against asylum seeker accommodation in 2015, and eight members of this group were convicted in March for founding a terrorist group and attempted murder.

Italian right wing attacks jump three-fold

Over the preceding 12 months, JTIC has recorded 13 attacks targeting migrants and religious minorities in the country, a significant uptick from three in the 12 months prior. Notably, on 3 February, a far-right extremist opened fire on migrants in Macerata, wounding six people. Attacks have largely targeted African migrants in the country, including three attacks involving shooting individuals with a pellet gun in June.

There is a risk that with a far-right government in office, individuals will become more emboldened to conduct attacks spurred on by rhetoric from politicians and right-wing news outlets. Additionally, there is also a growing threat of retaliatory violence against far-right actors.

JTIC has recorded four attacks targeting far-right activists and assets, including an IED attack targeting an office of the far-right CasaPound party in Trento on 7 March.

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