Anti-Islam hatred poses serious terror threat to Europe
THE HAGUE - Anders Behring Breivik may have acted alone on his killing spree in Norway but European police forces are preparing to keep close watch on other potentially dangerous right-wing extremists.
Fearful of a rise in extremism, the European law enforcement agency Europol has been scrambling to update its database of hard right-wing activities on the continent and individual governments have voiced their concerns.
However some commentators say that the onus should not just fall on the security services but also on politicians and the media, some of whom stand accused of stirring up right-wing sentiment.
"We are preparing an accurate and updated description of right-wing extremism in Europe, with a focus on Northern Europe," said Europol spokesman Soren Pedersen said.
The agency said it had some 50 experts in intelligence gathering, investigators, explosives and terror experts working on the case and had asked experts in member countries to contribute in building a profile of right-wing extremism, but it declined to give operational details.
But even while extremist activity was on the decline in countries such as Germany, seen as a traditional hotbed, its home-grown far-right scene had a dangerous fringe, potentially capable of mounting attacks such as those in Norway, according to German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich.
"I am particularly worried about the so-called 'national anarchists' who take leftist anarchists as their example," he told the Rheinische Post daily.
Dutch analyst Edwin Bakker, professor in counter-terrorism at Leiden University in the Netherlands, added that he feared Breivik's self-confessed bombing and shooting spree could spark more right-wing attacks.
"I am concerned that a number of right-wing youths may follow Breivik's example," he said.
Fighting the rise in right-wing extremism was not only up to police and law enforcement, Bakker argued.
"It's also up to politicians and the media, especially some European politicians who strongly played the anti-Islam card," he said.
"They have to clearly denounce this type of incident and be careful about creating an imaginary enemy in the 'advance of Islam'," he said.
"There also needs to be a very thorough investigation into how the process of radicalisation works."
Europol warned back in April that right-wing extremism was likely to rise as immigrants flee into Europe as a result of anti-regime revolts in the Arab world, particularly from northern Africa.
"Right-wing extremism and terrorism might gain a new lease of life by articulating more widespread public apprehension about immigration from Muslim countries into Europe," Europol said in an anti-terror briefing document.
The profile of the jack-booted skinhead, unfurling neo-Nazi flags and throwing Hitler salutes have changed substantially in the last years to a more sophisticated, tech-savvy network of operators, it added.
"Networks have become loser... and technology and the Internet in particular deliver the capacity for terrorism groups to build loose networks, even from a virtual community and at high speed," it said, adding "right-wing extremist groups are becoming more professional in its manifestations."
In Brussels, European Union Ministers said Wednesday it would invite Norway to join them in seeking action against radicalisation and xenophobia at a meeting in September.
The EU talks will centre on how to counter threats stemming from extremist ideology, both in radical Islamist circles and populist xenophobic movement.
Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier said that Behring Breivik was clearly influenced by the ideologies of Denmark's extreme-right Dansk Folkeparti (DPP) political party.
"For several years there has been a strong tradition in Denmark of fearing Islam," he said.
The DPP, he said, had "committed atrocities" by using legislation against this minority, and they had pursued a political line that corresponded to the one advanced by Behring Breivik.
In a 1,500-word tract he published on the Internet, Behring Breivik said he was fighting to protect Europe against an Islamic invasion.
"This racism," von Trier said, "has spread to other Nordic countries and it was installed in Behring Breivik's conscience and maybe it gave him the justification that he needed.
"I can't help but think that as a nation we bear some responsibility in the Norwegian tragedy," he said.
"We have sent the signal that it's okay to spread hatred against Muslims. Especially because Dansk Folkeparti has become a government coalition party," he added.
"When you lean on the party and say 'Okay, you have some opinions that we'll have to take as part of the deal.' That's how they legitimize them."
He called on DPP chief Pia Kjaersgaard "to admit her part of the responsibility for what happened in Norway."
EU terror experts said Thursday that Norway's "near impossible to prevent" bloodbath underlines the need to sharpen counter-terror surveillance against "lone wolves" and all the forms of extremism.
"As the Oslo attacks have shown once again, terrorism has nothing to do with any particular religion or belief," said European Union anti-terrorism officials at an extraordinary meeting called to discuss the carnage in Norway.
Poland, which holds the rotating EU presidency, called the talks to start "drawing the lessons of this tragedy" by looking at existing tools against terrorism, and mulling new ones.
The threat of "lone-wolf terrorists" -- who have no known links to groups and draw their ideas through the Internet -- "seems to require increasing attention", the experts said in statement.
More work was needed to dig deeper into the Internet while strengthening information sharing and speeding up emergency response through the European police office Europol, officials said.
But European states too needed to place more focus on understanding the psychological trigger to terrorism. "Lots of people have extreme ideas but few translate them into action," said Tim Jones, advisor to EU counter-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove..
To date, work on radicalisation has largely focused on Islamist radicals but in its latest annual report on terrorism in the EU, Europol attributed only 3 out of 249 terrorist attacks in 2010 to Muslim extremists. None were attributed to the far right.
But the far-right's increasing activity in online social networking "is adding a new dimension to the threat rightwing extremism may present in the future," Europol said.