EU, online firms to launch anti-extremism forum

Dimitris Avramopoulos

Dimitris Avramopoulos [European Commission]

The European Union announced on Monday (19 October) it will launch in December a forum bringing together Internet firms and law enforcement agencies to combat online extremism.

The move comes amid growing alarm in Europe over the use of social media as a powerful recruiting tool, especially by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

“We need to counter this abuse of the internet and its growing role in radicalisation with determination and a shared plan of action. That is exactly the reason why we are setting up the EU Internet Forum,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said.

“I will officially launch the Internet Forum on December 2 this year, with most of the large internet players around the table,” he told a meeting of home affairs ministers in Brussels.

Civil society groups would also be involved, he said.

He did not identify the firms but EU interior ministers met in Luxembourg in October last year with delegates from Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft to enlist them in the fight against online extremism.

“All the companies we spoke to are very engaged and willing to work with us. The spectre of online radicalisation affects them too,” Greece’s Avramopoulos said.

Avramopoulos, a former Greek foreign minister, said the forum will aim to counter the type of propaganda that “leads foreign terrorist fighters from Europe to travel abroad to train, fight and commit atrocities in combat zones.”

More than 5,000 fighters from Europe have gone to Syria and Iraq to sign up with extremist groups, EU counter-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove told the meeting.

Avramopoulos also announced the creation of an EU Internet Referral Unit within Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency. Its task will be primarily to facilitate the detection of terrorist material on the internet and ensure its swift removal, he said.

The European Union has pledged closer cooperation in the fight against terrorism following the killings at Charlie Hebdo in January.

Two priority tracks were identified following a meeting of EU Home Affairs Ministers held in Paris on 11 January:

  • Hampering the travel movements of terrorists, including so-called “foreign fighters” and European nationals crossing the EU’s external borders.
  • Countering terrorist propaganda, particularly on the Internet, in order to tackle the root causes of radicalisation among young people.

Interior ministers also pledged to “improve the effectiveness” of intelligence sharing related to the movement of foreign terrorist fighters. Cooperation within Europol, Eurojust and Interpol should also intensify, as well as the exchange of relevant information between European police forces, the ministers said.

>> Read our LinksDossier: From 9/11 to Charlie Hebdo: The EU’s response to terrorism

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