Threats more complex a decade after 9/11
By Nathalie Vandystadt | Friday 04 November 2011
Ten years have gone by and al-Qaeda’s discourse has lost credit after the death of Osama bin Laden, Arab revolutions, operations in Afghanistan and international cooperation. The world seems safer, yet the threat of terrorism has become “more complex and more diversified,” in the words of the EU’s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Belgian national Gilles de Kerchove, a decade on from the attacks of 11 September 2001 against the United States. American analysts reach a similar conclusion.
What the United States and Europe now both fear are “groups affiliated with al-Qaeda” in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, Iraq and the Caucasus. Groups continue to recruit and some have taken advantage of the events in Libya to procure weapons and fighters. However, there are also local citizens unknown to police forces, who in the case of the EU are trained as Jihad fighters in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia and then return to Europe. Attacks have been attempted in Denmark, Sweden and Morocco. The situation is similar in the United States. “The threats have evolved since the attacks of 11 September 2001,” observes John D. Cohen, deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism at the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in a recent interview with
Europolitics.Threats used to come from outside the country, but now increasingly come from individuals or groups of individuals residing in the target country and “who do not necessarily have foreign ties”.
FORMS OF RADICALISATION
There are different forms of radicalisation in Europe, but according to De Kerchove, also interviewed recently by
Europolitics,there are two main variants: radicalisation linked to al-Qaeda, “an incredibly complex phenomenon to understand and prevent,” and radicalisation among the Islamophobic, anti-globalisation far right, illustrated tragically by last summer’s killing spree in Norway (76 deaths).
On Islamic radicalisation, to reach Western audiences rather than the Muslim world, al-Qaeda is trying to play on frustrations, notably those of poorly integrated immigrants. It attempts to speak to them in terms used by young people (cf online magazine
Inspirepublished in English by the terrorist organisation in the Arabian Peninsula) to trigger acts of violence. “This requires great attention on our part and a counter-narrative reaction policy. There are many documents available in Arabic showing the extent to which al-Qaeda’s religious rhetoric is false. Unfortunately, these are not easy to obtain in French, English or German,” adds De Kerchove. One of the EU’s projects is therefore to create a “virtual library of first-hand accounts, either by repented Jihadists or respected Muslims, who show the falsehood of al-Qaeda’s discourse”.
On far-right radicalisation, a few national studies have been carried out on members of extremist parties, like the British National Party (BNP), abandoned for want of a discourse considered radical enough, to the benefit of violence. “This is a subject on which the EU has been working for five or six years. We have a strategy to prevent radicalisation and another to communicate with the media to ensure that the way political leaders express themselves does not contribute to the radicalisation process, because inappropriate wording is often used,” explains De Kerchove. He gives the example of use of ‘Islamism’ rather than ‘Islamic’ to refer to the Muslim religion, suggesting a link between religion and terrorism. Muslim communities suffer from this connection and represent the first victims of terrorism linked to al-Qaeda.
First and foremost, though, it is police work that has to be improved, namely the monitoring of online discussions and financial transactions. The same holds for legislation (cf EU rules being adopted on precursors for homemade bombs). “The Germans have a great deal of expertise and the British as well. It is a fact that we have to do more. What happened in Norway is not evidence that we have been idle, but simply that we have to accomplish more. This is especially true considering that over and above the reality of the problem of the far right is the need to demonstrate that we are not obsessed with terrorism connected with al-Qaeda,” De Kerchove concludes.
WORK ON THE GROUND
The United States and Europe, therefore, wish to gain a better understanding of the process of radicalisation of all kinds capable of leading to acts of violence and terrorism. US President Barack Obama launched, on 3 August, a national strategy to strengthen local partners in the prevention of violent terrorism. The European Commission recently set up a European radicalisation awareness network. Allocated €20 million over four years, it will bring together players such as social workers, religious leaders, youth organisers, researchers and local police.
In short, on both sides of the Atlantic, alongside law enforcement efforts, local partnerships are being set up to understand what pushes individuals, alone or in groups, to turn against their fellow citizens. The internet is a major concern. “An increasingly sophisticated use of the internet, the media, social networks and communication technologies by violent extremists adds to the complexity of the phenomenon,” the DHS explains.
Washington is seeking to strengthen collaboration with the EU and has approached its leaders and the member states with a view to “identifying the best mechanism” for “learning from experience” on both sides of the Atlantic, “examining case studies” and studying “indicators” and “common behaviours”. Such collaboration could include regular meetings, Cohen adds.
In Europe, violent radicalisation linked to al-Qaeda and radicalisation among the Islamophobic anti-globalisation far right tend to prevail