Terrorism

Terrorism

Terrorism represents a major threat to the safety of Europe’s citizens. Recent years have brought a rise in the frequency and scale of terrorist incidents within the European Union. The growing complexity for judicial authorities dealing with terrorism is reflected in a steady number of new terrorist cases coordinated through Eurojust’s National Members and Liaison Prosecutors, including following the terrorist attacks on the Thalys train, in Paris and Saint-Denis, Brussels and Zaventem, Nice, Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Berlin, Stockholm, Barcelona and Cambrils, Turku, and Strasbourg. Increasingly, terrorist groups are highly organised and operate across borders, which presents mounting challenges to national authorities in the Member States and elsewhere. The unpredictable nature of ‘lone-actor’ terrorism presents national authorities with an additional challenge.

Eurojust assists national authorities by coordinating investigations and prosecutions and facilitating judicial cooperation in a growing number of cross-border terrorism cases. Eurojust also set up a European Judicial Counter-Terrorism Register to collect information on judicial counter-terrorism proceedings from all EU Member States and identify possible links. Through judicial cooperation and with the help of Eurojust, national authorities can also ensure that victims of terrorist acts are supported and protected and their rights are guaranteed. Further, the Agency works on a cross-border level to raise awareness and develop strategies to tackle specific issues, such as foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) returning to Europe.

Eurojust’s role

Given the often transnational nature of terrorism, effective judicial cooperation between States is essential to prevent terrorist acts, to bring the perpetrators, instigators and financiers of terrorism to justice, and to tackle the root causes of this phenomenon. Eurojust assists national authorities by coordinating investigations and prosecutions and facilitating judicial cooperation in a growing number of cross-border terrorism cases. The Agency helps law enforcement and judicial professionals to undertake investigations and build solid prosecution cases; for example by assisting the setting-up, financing and smooth running of joint investigation teams (JITs), and by organising coordination meetings and coordination centres, and joint action days. With the support of a specially appointed Seconded National Expert (SNE) on terrorism, Eurojust also facilitates operational cooperation between Eurojust and Europol’s European Counter Terrorism Centre.

Eurojust works closely with EU Member States as well as the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) agencies’ network to step up the judicial response to terrorism. These efforts include intensifying the exchange of relevant data, defining a response to foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) returning to Europe, and providing support to victims of terrorist attacks. Further, Eurojust shares the experiences it gains in supporting national authorities in counter-terrorism investigations and prosecutions, as well as the findings of its analyses, with practitioners, policymakers and lawmakers at the EU and national level. Sharing experiences and findings raises awareness about the challenges facing judicial authorities and contributes to the wider effort to develop a coherent approach towards the criminalisation of terrorism-related crimes and to avoid prosecution gaps throughout the European Union.

Counter-Terrorism Register

To strengthen cross-border cooperation against terrorism, in September 2019, Eurojust launched the European Judicial Counter-Terrorism Register (CTR), in partnership with the EU Member States. The CTR is a unique operational tool at EU level that provides proactive support to national judicial authorities. It collects information on judicial proceedings against suspects of terrorist offences transmitted to Eurojust on the basis of Council Decision 2005/671/JHA. This information helps prosecutors to coordinate more actively and to identify the suspects or networks that are being investigated in specific cases with potential cross-border implications, in full respect of the applicable data protection rules. Ultimately, the CTR will make it easier for prosecutors to bring suspects of terrorist offences to justice. The CTR is managed by Eurojust in The Hague on a 24/7 basis.

Foreign terrorist fighters

Defining an efficient criminal justice response to foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and returnees from conflict zones has been a major focus of EU Member States over the past few years. Depending on national legislation and their alleged acts, suspected FTFs and returnees may be prosecuted for:

  • participation in, or support to, the activities of a terrorist group;
  • preparation for terrorist acts;
  • travelling for the purpose of terrorism;
  • recruitment for terrorism;
  • providing and receiving training for terrorism;
  • terrorism financing;
  • (unlawful) participation in an armed conflict abroad;
  • material support to terrorism;
  • money laundering;
  • war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide; or
  • other offences (for example murder, kidnapping, abduction, manslaughter, etc.).

Evidence-gathering and investigation in the conflict zone are, however, extremely complicated tasks.

Eurojust coordinates many specific investigations and prosecutions of FTFs or returnees. The Agency provides unique legal and operational assistance to investigations and prosecutions of FTFs and returnees by facilitating the cooperation between national authorities, helping identify links between judicial proceedings, advising on various legal issues and helping improve synergies and coordination among national authorities. To ensure enhanced coordination and swift response to terrorist threats, including from FTFs and returnees, Eurojust also promotes the efficient use of existing tools and mechanisms for sharing of information.

Since 2013, Eurojust has held regular meetings to discuss and analyse the Member States’ criminal justice response to FTFs to help judicial authorities define an effective response. In 2015, Eurojust was also asked by the Council of the EU and the Member States to contribute to the further development of the criminal policy with regard to FTFs by continuing to monitor trends and developments in the applicable legal framework and relevant jurisprudence in the EU Member States, including the use of alternatives to prosecution and detention in terrorism cases.

Battlefield evidence

A crucial element in the proceedings against foreign terrorist fighters is the collection of battlefield evidence. In 2017, Eurojust, in close co-operation with the national correspondents for Euro¬just for terrorism matters and the Genocide Network, started mapping best practice and challenges in the use of information collected by the military from armed conflict zones as evidence in terrorism and/or war crimes proceedings and/or as the basis for opening criminal investigations or prosecutions.

This cooperation intensified throughout 2019, with Eurojust working with the U.S. Government Battlefield Information Project, a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Defense, to support the use of battlefield information collected by military personnel (in Syria and Iraq) in counter-terrorism cases in civilian courts. The project fosters close cooperation between the authorities in the USA and the EU Member States in operational counter-terrorism matters.

Further information

In addition to the legal and operational support to investigations and prosecutions referred to Eurojust for assistance, Eurojust also analyses national jurisprudence and experience in dealing with various aspects of the criminal justice response to terrorism. The analysis is shared with judicial practitioners and EU stakeholders to help identify common challenges, lessons learned and best practice. For example, the Terrorism Convictions Monitor (TCM) is a Eurojust report that provides a regular overview of terrorism-related judgments across the European Union. It is intended to encourage and facilitate the sharing of information on convictions and acquittals for terrorist offences across the European Union. The TCM was launched by Eurojust in 2008, with many of the existing editions available to view here.

Information on Eurojust’s work in relation to counter-terrorism is also presented in this factsheet. More details on the cooperation between Eurojust and the EU Network for investigation and prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (‘Genocide Network’) can be found here and in this factsheet.