Ilkka Salmi is the most important man in the EU when it comes to fighting terrorism. He recently assumed the role of coordinating the response of member states to the security threats facing the bloc today. His appointment comes at a time when right-wing extremism is on the rise and online propaganda is a growing concern. Just some of the issues that we discussed with him, at the European Council, in Brussels.
PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: First of all, we have just started a new year. In 2022, how would you define terrorism?
ILKKA SALMI, EU COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: I would say that we still have to take into account that terrorism exists. If we consider, for example, say, radical Islamist views or jihadism, the ideology is still there, even if the caliphate has been defeated in Syria. And we have to be prepared for that.
PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: You take on this role at a time when terrorism seems, somehow, to have disappeared and is a little low on the agenda. Has the threat escaped the political agenda?
ILKKA SALMI, EU COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: Unfortunately, the threat of terrorism is constantly there. We would have to say that it is partially … it is perhaps elevated. We can’t really say that it has completely disappeared. Of course, issues like, especially from a European point of view, the pandemic could have had an impact. I mean, people don’t move as freely as they used to. One thing I’d probably like to highlight as well, and that is of course a good thing, is resilience.
We have seen, in Europe, very unfortunate small-scale terrorist attacks, where lives have been lost. However, societies have managed to recover.
PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: What, in your opinion, is the current situation when we talk about terrorist threats in Europe and urgent problems?
ILKKA SALMI, EU COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: I’d say basically two … actually three things. The first, jihadism or the radical Islamist threat is still there. Second, we have seen right-wing extremism, especially violent white right-wing extremism, become more prominent in Europe. And then the third topic is, of course, the development of technology. And new technology also plays a role in spreading hate speech or terrorist content online.
PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: In the past, several European citizens have joined organizations linked to terrorism. In your opinion, is Europe still attractive for these organizations to hire people? And what could be the root causes of such hires?
ILKKA SALMI, EU COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: Well, what we saw, say in 2012, 2013, 2014, especially, or 2015 related to the crisis in Syria and the formation of Daesh or ISIS in those days, the situation really tempted some Europeans to leave and join the ranks. of those terrorist organizations. Theoretically speaking, it still exists in some way. We have seen the events in Afghanistan. It is certainly a question that we will follow.
PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: In the last quarter, migration was once again high on the agenda. Do you think there is a link, as some people argue, between migration and terrorism or is there not at all?
ILKKA SALMI, EU COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: Drawing a line, you know, kind of a direct line between migration and terrorism is far from the case. At the same time, and that said, it must be borne in mind that if there is a large movement of people around the world, terrorist organizations could try to use that to their advantage and try to infiltrate individuals into it.
PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: We are in Brussels, a city that has been touched by terrorism in the past. In your opinion, what are the priorities to make Europe a safer place?
ILKKA SALMI, EU COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: We have to make sure that the balance is struck between issues like privacy on the one hand and security on the other, which is why we make sure that our legislation allows our law enforcement agencies to work efficiently. , but at the same time make sure that new technology is available to these agencies.
PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: Moving on to another topic. On the pandemic, which is also a pressing issue, a recent Europol report on 2020 stated that organizations linked to terrorism are taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to exacerbate hate speech and propaganda. online at that address. What is being done to combat this and address this problem, which has the potential to get bigger in the future?
ILKKA SALMI, EU COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: In fact, it is very timely to address these challenges. The so-called Terrorist Content Online legislation will come into force. This is European legislation, and basically the bottom line is that service providers and social media platforms are obliged to remove terrorist content that they see online … I mean, based on reports, from member states , the authorities, and also goes through Europol. So basically within an hour, that kind of information or messages should be deleted. And I think this is a very, very good development in the last few years that we have managed to pass this type of legislation, which will go into effect now next summer.
PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: These days we also see a lot of anti-vaccination speech online, in the context of the pandemic. Do you think this has the potential to be used by right-wing extremists to degenerate and thus gain more followers?
ILKKA SALMI, EU COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: I don’t see us ever labeling it terrorism just yet. Having said that, of course, there has been some concern that, you know, fringe parts of those who are very much against it will become radicalized again through that and maybe seek alliances with different groups, violent right-wing extremism for example. . But for the moment, we still have to keep in mind that freedom of speech and expression is still there and the right to demonstrate.
PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: As technology evolves, it seems that terrorism evolves. How do we approach all of this?
ILKKA SALMI, EU COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: First of all, of course, we have to put a lot of effort into preventive work, trying to make sure that people don’t get radicalized, that they don’t have these views, especially when talking about Europe and of course globally as well. Second, we must ensure that law enforcement agencies, security authorities, have (a) sufficient resources and (b) a legal framework in which they can operate.
PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: Is online the weapon of choice for the future and how would you approach, in that sense, the fight against cyberterrorism?
ILKKA SALMI, EU COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: I absolutely believe that that is indeed the way to go. It will not, of course, replace what will happen in the real world. Because that’s where, unfortunately, all terrorist incidents would have a psychological impact. But at the same time, the new technology, taking into account that it is extremely useful for you and me, at the same time, it also provides new tools to those who want to do harm. And that’s exactly why we have to make sure we keep up with technological developments.
PEDRO SACADURA, EURONEWS: In your opinion, is there a kind of one-size-fits-all approach, a pan-European approach that can be applied?
ILKKA SALMI, EU COORDINATOR OF THE FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM: If we talk about the threat, it certainly varies between different EU member states or between different countries in Europe. So in that sense, we probably can’t talk about a kind of monolithic approach to this question.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism