Skip to main content
UCP Knowledge NetworkApplied knowledge for action
Three policemen in the streets of Paris


Terrorism is an increasingly complex risk to Europe. Countering malicious threats requires good understanding of the international situation and domestic tensions, grievances and vulnerabilities and a comprehensive response based on cooperation across sectoral and territorial boundaries and a whole-of-society approach.

Key information

Terrorism is an increasingly complex risk to Europe. Threats originate from foreign and domestic individuals and groups. Terrorist recruitment targets young and vulnerable persons with extremist propaganda.

Key risk drivers

Terrorism is often driven by major conflicts in different regions of the world. Over the last decade has resulted in an increased risk of terrorism in Europe and worldwide. The radicalisation of European nationals into terrorist organisations is a threat.   

Radicalised individuals with combat experience and international terrorist connections induce the risk of new terror attacks in Europe and serve as role models, propagandists, recruiters, or fundraisers for terrorist organisations to engage in planning attacks against Europe or incite others to do so. Recent terrorist attacks committed in Europe are by lone individuals who have not been to conflict zones, who are likely inspired by terrorist propaganda.

Using social media and cyberspace, terrorist organisations and malicious individuals can carry out hostile and illicit operations at a distance with potentially total anonymity. New technologies mean that malevolent individuals and organisations have new possibilities to exploit various aspects of society worldwide and in the EU. This is especially true considering the digital transformation of the EU’s economy and society and the increasing reliance on information systems.

The internet and social media are used as powerful tools for spreading disinformation, terrorist propaganda and extremist content. Terrorists can potentially influence and control using disinformation in such topics as election debates, migration, and vaccination. They use online troll farms and both real and fake accounts on social media to spread disinformation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, groups shared misleading information about the virus, especially on vaccines to create confusion and undermine an effective public health response.

Terrorism also has wider repercussions: it creates feeling of insecurity, fuels distrust among different groups in society and towards the government, feeds prejudices and extremist views, and erodes the sense of a community. This can lead to radicalisation and violent extremism.

Impacts and vulnerabilities in Europe

Terrorism is a serious threat to Europe. Terror attacks pose a direct danger to the public, infrastructure, and sites of cultural heritage.

Hybrid terrorist threats

Security in Europe is also shaped by geopolitical rivalry and the ever-increasing opportunities provided by digital technologies. EU Member States face hybrid threats that blur distinctions between usual polarities in life such as internal and external security, civilian and military, physical and virtual.

‘Hybrid threats’ refers to a mix of conventional and unconventional methods and subversive activity that coordinated by groups to enact terrorism. Considering the changing geopolitical and social situations, hybrid threats are becoming more troubling. Technological advancements which create new and unpredictable risks and frontiers in which vulnerabilities can also be exploited.

Rapidly advancing machine learning technology such as deep fakes are likely to be used in future for organised crime and potentially by terrorists. There is the risk of deep fakes being used to spread seemingly credible information from what appears to be genuine images, recordings, and audio, but which is in fact fabricated disinformation indistinguishable to humans from authentic ones.

Artificial intelligence is itself both a risk and a tool against risks for cybersecurity: it can help detect malicious activities, and it can also help craft and disguise more sophisticated attacks.

Addressing the risk: Policy framework

To counter the continual targeting of and attacks on public spaces by terrorists, the Commission has adopted a new Counter-Terrorism Agenda. A 2017 action plan to support the protection of public spaces against terrorists. These areas are often exploited by terrorists as co-called ‘soft targets’ owing to their vulnerabilities as open and public spaces.

In 2017, the EU adopted a directive on combatting terrorism with the aim to strengthened the EU’s legal framework to prevent terrorist attacks and address issues surrounding foreign terrorist fighters. The EU has introduced stronger anti-money laundering rules to fight against financing of terrorism. The European Council adopted strategic priorities to further strengthen the EU framework in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.

The EU actively controls firearm acquisition. The European Council adopted new rules on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons, in 2017, and the new rules to limit the availability of explosive precursors to the public, in 2019.

As a result of the risks of terrorists using new technology frontiers to exploit vulnerabilities, the EU has modernised judicial cooperation through digitalisation. This helps the EU address the loopholes that terrorists can exploit in cybersecurity. The use of digital tools in criminal procedures related to terrorist offences across the EU is crucial considering the evolving security threat landscape and the fast pace of technological development.