ISIS may be quashed on the ground, but it's still a 'problem' online, EU security official says

  • Islamic State is still "very much a problem" as it continues to pump out terror content online, Julian King, the EU's commissioner for the security union, said.
  • ISIS was notorious for its use of online propaganda to persuade disenfranchised young people in the West to flee their home country to fight for its cause.
  • King said several terror attacks that have targeted Europe were perpetrated by homegrown individuals, rather than people traveling to and from the Middle East.

Islamic State, the jihadist group that once held control of large parts of Iraq and Syria, is still "very much a problem" as it continues to pump out terror content online, a European security official has said.

Julian King, the EU's commissioner for the security union, said Tuesday that, although the Islamist militant organization has suffered a drop in its global influence and presence on the ground, it continues to exploit the internet as a means of promoting its extremist ideology.

"When it comes to terrorism content online there are specific organizations, most notably but not uniquely ISIS, al-Qaeda is also trying to use the digital space," King told CNBC's Elizabeth Schulze on Tuesday at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

ISIS was once notorious for its use of online propaganda material to persuade disenfranchised young people in the West to flee their home country to fight for its cause in the Middle East. It has also claimed responsibility for numerous terror attacks in the West.

"Now, they've suffered reversals on the ground in Iraq and Syria, but they're still producing material, they still use the internet to traffic their propaganda and their radicalizing material," King said. "So it remains very much a problem that we need to deal with today."

European Commissioner for security Julian King
Dario Pignatelli | AFP | Getty Images
European Commissioner for security Julian King

King added that several terror attacks that have targeted Europe were perpetrated by homegrown individuals, rather than people traveling to and from the Middle East. For instance, the group last year claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack targeting an Ariana Grande concert in the northern English city of Manchester, in which 23 people were killed, including attacker Salman Abedi.

"We … have to face the fact that in Europe, at least, over the last couple of years, 18 months, the attacks weren't carried about by individuals who had traveled to Iraq or Syria and then came back," King said.

"They were carried out by self-radicalized individuals who had never traveled. Some were radicalized in their own communities; some were radicalized in their own bedrooms, which is why this problem of the radicalizing effect of online terrorist content is so important."

ISIS, which was established in 2013, once held swathes of Iraq and Syria under siege, as well as other parts of the Middle East and Africa. It came to international prominence in 2014 when the group began releasing videos depicting its fighters beheading Western hostages. Some of its notable victims included U.S. journalist James Foley and British aid worker Alan Henning.

The Islamist group eventually lost its grip on the Iraqi city of Mosul last year, and has continued to lose territories since. U.S. military officials said in December 2017 that ISIS had lost 98 percent of the territories it had once captured, signifying the huge fall in its influence in the region.