Gardaí take part in EU-wide virtual terrorism exercise

Europol tests law enforcement efforts to respond to a simulated extremist online crisis
Gardaí take part in EU-wide virtual terrorism exercise

Ireland took part in the virtual EU-wide police exercise held at the Europol headquarters in the Hague. Picture: file image

Ireland took part in a virtual EU-wide police exercise simulating online cross-border aspects of a terrorist attack.

The operation was the first one since the launch of the Christchurch Call to Action in May 2019 – which was set up two months after the right-wing massacre in New Zealand, which claimed the lives of 51 people at two mosques.

The EU police agency, Europol, held the exercise last Monday, to test law enforcement efforts across EU states to respond to a simulated extremist online crisis.

It was held at the Europol headquarters in the Hague and was attended by representatives of the member states, including Ireland.

It was led by the agency's internet unit and followed on from an initial exercise in September 2019.

In its EU Terrorism Situation & Trend Report 2020, launched last June, Europol said Ireland was among a number of European countries caught up in a worldwide “wave” of right-wing extremism.

In a statement this week, Europol said: “On November 23, 2020, the EU Internet Referral Unit (EU IRU) hosted their second tabletop exercise in a virtual event held under the umbrella of the European Commission-led EU Internet Forum.

“The aim of the exercise was to test an EU-led voluntary mechanism to enable a coordinated response to a cross-border massive abuse of the internet in the context of terrorism or violent extremism.” 

 It said the IRU’s initial tabletop exercise, held on September 11, 2019, was the first of its kind since the launch of the Christchurch Call to Action.

Closer cooperation

It said this led towards closer cooperation between parties involved in advancing the fight against terrorism online.

The statement said: “Recent acts of terrorism in France and Austria in October-November 2020, have further demonstrated the importance of disrupting the dissemination of terrorist and violent extremist propaganda during, and in the aftermath of, terrorist attacks.” 

 It said the tabletop exercise formed part of a larger consultation process, through which the EU IRU and member states are improving their operational response to the dissemination of propaganda linked to acts of terrorism.

“The exercise reconfirmed the need for real-time coordination and engagement between EU MS and Online Service Providers in order to support investigations while also containing potentially viral content in light of major terrorist incidents,” the statement said.

It said the exercise was attended by EU Member States (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain,), third countries (Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom) and the European Commission.

The EU IRU will expand its 2021 tabletop exercise to include a wider range of participants, including online service providers.

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