Who’s a “potential terrorist or violent extremist threat”? Plans to exchange information about “future” criminals


EU member states have finalised a set of “non-binding” criteria for assessing when someone may be labelled a potential terrorist or violent extremism threat. The intention is to feed European databases such as the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the Europol Information System (EIS), as well as Europol analysis projects such as “Hydra” and “Traveller”, according to a note circulated by the Belgian Council Presidency last month.

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Feeding databases

The goal of the new criteria “is to promote entering such individuals into the European databases and information systems,” says the note (pdf).

Analysis project (AP) Hydra, one of two Europol files mentioned in the note, targets activities involving Muslims, aiming:

“…to support the prevention and combating of terrorism-related crimes against life, limb, personal freedom or property, and related criminal offences, perpetrated by individuals, groups, networks or organisations who evoke Islam to justify their actions”.

AP Travellers, meanwhile:

“…coordinates investigations into, and data analysis on, foreign terrorist fighters, and supports law enforcement efforts to counter foreign fighters when they return to Europe or the US from i.e. Syria or Iraq. In response to the concerted efforts of EU Member States, with Europol’s help, the amount of data on foreign terrorist fighters within AP Travellers has increased substantially since early 2015.”

The note stresses that the sharing of information on people considered potential terrorists or violent extremists “cannot be used for investigations” without prior or subsequent mutual legal assistance requests.

The title of the document containts the German word Gefährder, meaning "person posing a potential threat to public safety." The initiative to agree a set of common guidelines originated with the German authorities.

“Objective and verifiable”

The note, circulated to national delegations in the Council’s Terrorism Working Party on 11 April, sets out a “basic indicative criterion” for the assessment, along with “indicative auxiliary criterion.”

Underpinning these is a “minimum materiality threshold” – “the existence of (objective and verifiable) information suggesting that a criminal offence, or future criminal offence, has a certain degree of seriousness,” because it is either a serious offence, or a lesser offence carried out in a “repeated or ongoing” manner.

The basic indicative criterion agreed by EU member states is the existence of “objective and verifiable information” to underpin the belief that someone “will in the future commit, facilitate, support or engage in terrorist or violent extremist offences,” though this can only apply to people accused or convicted of such offences, or those for whom there is an arrest warrant issued. The note does not specify that the warrant need be for terrorist offences.

The concept of a “potential terrorist or violent extremist threat,” regardless of the limits placed upon it, may facilitate the monitoring, surveillance and restriction of political activities and activists.

At present, several member state governments are engaged in efforts to impede or prevent, sometimes violently, anti-war protests, Palestine solidarity actions and occupations, environmental activism and movements for racial justice, using increasingly alarmist arguments and branding protesters as “extremist” or “terrorist”.

The EU’s own Fundamental Rights Agency’s 2022 has previously warned that the EU’s 2017 terrorism law risks undermining rights and freedoms:

Member States should ensure that the criminalisation of preparatory offences such as public provocation to terrorism, travelling for the purpose of terrorism and receiving training for terrorism does not impact on the legitimate exercise of individual rights or result in a chilling effect on such rights, including in particular the freedom of expression and information, the freedom of the arts and sciences, and the freedom of movement.”

Auxiliary criteria

The note also includes a list of “indicative auxiliary criteria” in relation to offences specified in the EU’s 2017 Directive on combating terrorism.

The first set of criteria concern Article 3 of the Directive, which sets out a series of offences – attacks against people, kidnapping, destruction of government or other public facilities, and the seizure of aircraft, amongst other things – that are considered terrorism if their aim is:

“(a) seriously intimidating a population;

(b) unduly compelling a government or an international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act;

(c) seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation.”

Offences related to terrorist groups under Article 4 of the Directive are also covered, including directing or participating in such a group, supplying information or material resources and funding it “in any way.”

The auxiliary criteria encompass people “who have threatened to commit, attempted to commit, or committed offences relating to terrorist activities listed in Articles 5 to 11 of the Directive on combating terrorism,” which include public provocation of a terrorist offence, recruitment, providing or receiving training, and travelling, organising or facilitating travel for terrorist purposes, amongst other things.

There are two final categories: people who have “disseminated to the public or shared any terrorist content”; and one linked to EU border management screening practices: “Persons subject to a refusal of entry into a Member State following Article 24 of Regulation (EU) 2018/1861 on grounds involving terrorist-related activities.”

At the end of 2022 there were more than 561,000 Article 24 alerts stored in the Schengen Information System, though these can be inserted for reasons other than national security, such as violations of immigration law.

The Schengen entry ban handed down to British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sittah, which was recently overturned following a legal challenge, may have been an Article 24 alert.

Yasha Maccanico, Statewatch Researcher, comments:

“A drive to take action against people in advance of them committing criminal offences is troubling and the umpteenth effort to assert social control over ideas and behaviour. Customary justifications – terrorism and extremism are security threats and the Schengen area allows freedom of movement – and norms from antiterrorist legislation, whose vague definitions and far-reaching scope have been critiqued since they were introduced after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the USA, are unquestioningly reproduced.”


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