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#ReaCT2021 Co-editor’s note: Flavia Giacobbe, Director Formiche and Airpress

by Flavia Giacobbe, Director Formiche and Airpress

Pandemic, crisis, vaccines and recovery. The great spotlight of politics and public opinion have been fo-cused for months on the Covid-19 emergency. Yet, latent but concrete, other threats keep on pressing on Europe (and not only): terrorism, ji-hadist radicalism and different forms of extrem-ism. In early January, the as-sault on the U.S. Capitol shocked the world. An attack on the very heart of the star and stripes democracy that was thought unthink-able, perpetuated thanks to movements like the now well-known conspiracy organization QAnon. It shows how real the threat is and how much attention it de-serves, even now when other issues and other urgen-cies have climbed the ranks of public attention.

The main issue is how to address these risks, de-ploying effective preventive measures to anticipateradicalization processes before they occur, before they turn into tangible violence, like the one witnessed on Capitol Hill. However, jihadist terrorism keeps frightening the most, and Europe is at the front line both because of its proximity to war zones, and the presence of numer-ous foreign fighters returned from the battlefield.

Among the data in the ReaCT 2021 report, one is par-ticularly striking: 20% of terrorists who acted last year were irregular immigrants. This shows how prevention is closely tied to migratory policies, coordinationamong European partners and dialogue with countriesof origin and transit. It also proves that it is essential to have a clear understanding of the constantly evolving geopolitical framework surrounding our country and Europe. The ashes of the Islamic State in Syria andIraq have left many questions on the ground, first and foremost the displacement or repatriation of fighters, a phenomenon that requires international coordination. The Balkan route remains at the core of the attention by authorities, in particular Kosovo, from which most of the fighters who went to Syria came and in which Italy has a leading role, also thanks to the leadership of the NATO mission KFOR.

Within our national borders, the threat has been well outlined in the latest annual Intelligence reports. In addition to warning policymakers about jihadist risks that can undermine the Republic’s security, they have also recently highlighted far-right resurgences. This trend has to be watched, contrary to European general data that show a prevalence of the phenomenon linked to the extreme left.

Overall, an important boost to de-radicalization may come from our Parliament. During the last legislature, after a very troubled process, the Manciulli-Dambruoso bill has passed only in the Chamber of Deputies. This has undoubtedly made the country to miss an opportu-nity to have a regulatory instrument capable of com-bating and preventing the phenomenon of terrorism, at a time when public opinion was paying the greatest attention. In the new legislature, the text has been put back in the making, and we all hope for a shared and bipartisan political process, with the common goal of providing the country with more effective and far-sighted tools to combat the causes and spread of a threat never disappeared. Of course, dialogue be-tween politics, experts and security services remains the key to achieving good results. To this end, the ReaCT 2021 report proves to be a useful working tool, a compass to orientate the under-standing of the phenomenon, its roots and evolutions.

For this reason, Airpress and Formiche chosen to co-edit the second edition of the report, to contribute in keeping alive the interest of decision makers on a topic that significantly affects our collective security.


#ReaCT2021 – Tools to counter violent radicalisation: a case study

by Alessandra Lanzetti

The killing of the French professor Samuel Paty and the recent attacks conducted in Nice and Wien, clearly show that the jihadist-inspired terrorism represents one of the most dangerous threat to Europe, notwithstanding the fall of the Caliphate.

The counter terrorism agency is aware that to counteract effectively this phenomenon, it is necessary to place side-by-side to the law enforcement tools, also measures that allow to anticipate the radicalisation process, by affecting the stages that precede the perpetration of terrorist crimes.

In Italy, already in the past legislature, a Parliament debate started aiming at channelling into an Act, all the tools that are usually employed in practice in order to detect in time all the radicalised subjects and, therefore, to facilitate their de-radicalisation, which means giving up a violent ideology and fostering their social, cultural, employment integration, in compliance with the fundamental rights of religious freedom.

The debate of a bill signed by the honourable MP Fiano is still pending at the Chamber of Deputies; its contents follow closely the previous one being signed by the Honourable Manciulli – Dambruoso; in the Italian practice, the legal tools in force were used to start some de-radicalisation interventions.

One of them is the case of B.A., a teenager of Algerian origin, who in 2017 was investigated into by the Tribunal for minors in Trieste for instigation to perpetrate terrorist crimes, with the aggravating circumstances of the use of IT tools.

B.A. was fourteen years old when in 2017 Digos personnel in Udine and UCIGOS found him in possession of some important messages related to the religious war and the image of the Islamic State flag. The investigators have been after him for months, through a constant monitoring of his chats on Telegram platform; a virtual space where he was not any longer an introverted boy with no friends, but rather a contact point of the so called Islamic State group, who administered numerous IT channels and widespread the contents of the jihadist propaganda, teaching how to manufacture home-made bombs and instigating users to perpetrate terrorism crimes against humanity, also offering substantial help to whosoever intended to join the jihadist cause.

The investigation started from a notification issued by the intelligence, shared at CASA – Committee for Counterterrorism Strategic Analysis, according to which a young Italian of Arabic origin allegedly intended to commit an unspecified attack against the school “Deganutti” in Udine.

But who is B.A.? And how did he end in the Islamic State network?

B.A. was born in Italy from a family of Algerian immigrants who grew him up according to the traditional principles of the culture of their country of origin; this made the integration of the entire family group in the North of Italy social context, difficult.

The above is a key issue to better understand which were the mechanisms that triggered B.A.’s radicalisation process, which most of the times starts from a generic, psychological, social, cultural discomfort. Often, young immigrants of second-generation join the radical Islamist ideology; they were born, grew up and educated in a western country, most of the times by families bound to a popular religion, but who feel like strangers because of the so-called double absence, that is they do not feel completely part of their own original culture and at the same time they do not feel integrated in the country in which they live.

This frustration, associated to a personality marked by intelligence and self-confidence, but with a poor empathy and a high self-control and emotional detachment, lead these people to look into the web for the answers to their solitude; they try to gain importance and to play a role in the society through the tasks that are electronically assigned them by the “Islamic State teachers”.

The structure of the Minor proceedings made it possible to balance the needs for security and for ascertaining the crime, with the boy’s rehabilitation, in order to give him an alternative based on the compliance with legality. Indeed, in the phase preceding the trial, the Prosecutor entrusted a psychologist, together with a mentoring[1], with a professional support to B.A., in order to correctly interpret the religious aspects mentioned in the propaganda. During the proceedings, the defendant asked to enter the so-called probation; thus, the boy was assigned to the Social Service for Minors in Trieste, with the task of arranging an ad-hoc project based on the defendant’s needs and rehabilitation; B.A. had partially recognised his responsibility, confirming his conduct, but underestimating its dangerousness, and reiterating his own interest in the Islamic State group as a mere curiosity.

The programme started in May 2019 and lasted twelve months; its performance included many experts who, according to one’s competence, contributed in managing B.A.’s reintegration into society and de-radicalisation: in particular, the Judiciary, law enforcement, psychologists with the help of the mentoring, social workers all worked with the synergy of a multiagency.

The guidelines issued by the Judiciary had the primary objective to make the radicalised subject understand and elaborate the seriousness of his conduct, the dangerousness of his activity, not only as to security and public order was concerned but also as to life, health and people’s safety.

Together with the psychotherapeutic support program and the attendance at a school, B.A. started to carry out some activities in favour of disabled people and victims of violence inside intercultural aggregation centres: by giving support to weak and/or disabled subjects from different social, national or religious background, or to people who suffered from migration traumas, he managed to face cultural prospects and social dynamics which were different from his own, so as to learn the value of tolerance and non-violence as a way to recognise his own values and to develop a feeling of belonging to the community.

Moreover, these activities gave him the opportunity for a sound socialisation and for the reactivation of emotions, which were “anesthetized” by the social isolation and by the deep involvement in the propaganda material posted by the Islamic State group.

In June 2020, at the end of this process, the Judiciary issued[2] a judgement of dismissal due to extinction of the offence, considering that “the above processes led the defendant to acknowledge his own past experience and to frame it in a more coherent understanding; the stable trend of the defendant towards legality and a substantial commitment to base his own life on education and self-support through work, so as to concretely assume a future conduct based on the respect of himself and of other people”.

[1] Expert of jihadist narrative, in particular, in the case under review, it was a so-called former, that is a person who had already joined a violent extremist group and who managed to rehabilitate himself.

[2] Sentence issued by the Tribunal for Minors in Trieste n. 59/20 dated 9/6/2020 lodged on June 19, 2020.


#ReaCT2021- Extreme right and extreme left in pandemic times: some reflections

by Barbara Lucini, ITSTIME “Cattolica” University

The pandemic scenario that emerged with the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic has highlighted some challenges, which many companies will face in the coming years.

The new types of extremism that took shape in the immediate weeks following the onset of the pandemic are one of them. In fact, like any crisis, the health pandemic crisis has had an impact on terrorist organisations and extremist movements.

The first considerations that can be made in this field, focus on some emerging and typical characteristics of left and right extremism, which seem increasingly to have common trends in the use of skills, methodologies and communication strategies spread both online and in real life.

First of all, the paradox present in the increasingly international vocation, which promotes the prospect of an organizational network, animated by the crossing of geographical boundaries to unite dissimilar currents of thought and action: this internationalization, however, implies for both the extreme right and left orientations, a strong roots on the territory of origin, which increasingly assumes the cultural signature of these extremist groups. An example for everyone, the far-right PEGIDA group in Germany, which was born in Dresden and which could not be eradicated from that city and from that socio-cultural context.

This group is also interesting because it highlights another characteristic of extremist groups at the time of the pandemic: the transfer of their thought dissemination, recruitment and funding activities, mainly online. In fact, it was precisely for the PEGIDA group, which organized marches on a Youtube channel during the lockdown in Germany.

New methodologies and different uses of the network are now increasingly appearing to be a systematic trend for both extremist orientations.

Another aspect to note, which has affected national and international far-right groups, is the promotion of disinformation and fake news on issues related to the pandemic. This mode of action is a new form of communicative extremism, which has the aim of producing even more chaos and uncertainty generated by the pandemic crisis, reinforcing the dominant thinking orientation of the extremist group of reference.

In this regard, the various conspiracy theories have been fertile ground, for the use of this methodology by some extreme right-wing movements, already in place with the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In Italy, the situation regarding right-wing and left-wing extremism is similar to that of other European countries, while preserving some cultural specificities.

Comparing forms of the extreme right and left in Italy at the time of the pandemic it is possible to argue that a competition is taking place, which concerns their survival in a national framework changed by the pandemic; the demands made between the two orientations of some anti-lockdown protests demonstrate a reorganisation in place and, above all, the new heterogeneous structure of the future threat, which will see more and more mixed and varied cultural extremist forms compete or ally, with the aim of provoking social disorder and institutional crises.

In this context, it becomes essential to rethink from a theoretical perspective ideological definitions, which no longer satisfy as in the past the classification of extremism and terrorism of right and left and finally develop methodologies of study and analysis suitable for the consideration of socio-cultural aspects, often underestimated, expressed by the various forms of extremism especially in online environments.


#ReaCT2021 – Jihadist extremism in Europe. The concepts and importance of PVE/CVE

by Chiara Sulmoni, START InSight

The concepts of preventing and countering violent extremism (PVE / CVE) gained prominence along with the growth of so-called homegrown radicalization and gradually became an integral part of the global anti-terrorism architecture, of which they represent the noncoercive side. The mobilisation of thousands of foreign fighters, sympathizers and would-be jihadists which unleashed a long string of attacks from 2015 onwards in Europe, pushed the two acronyms to the top of the agenda of international and regional organizations (such as the UN and the EU) and of individual countries alike. PVE and CVE developed into a proper professional field which today can rely on interdisciplinary, collaborative networks, the exchange of know-how among experts and, last but not least, substantial funding.

The efforts sustaining PVE and CVE are driven by the awareness that counter-terrorism measures based on military or police forces are insufficient to deal with the problem as we know it, as they do not address the origins and nature of the phenomenon (they can rather add to its motivations); moreover, the high number of extremists and the complexity of their profiles make it impossible to counter it with the sole tools of repression or intelligence; especially so, when perpetrators are lone-attackers who might act out on a spirit of emulation. The current terrorist threat in the West is fluid and stratified; it can both “materialize” through attacks borne out of a well-defined Islamist/jihadist context, or by means of individuals affected by personal distress rather than entrenched ideology. Europol points out that sometimes suspects arrested for propaganda have a long history of involvement in jihadist activities, including attempts to join the Islamic State on the frontline and the planning of violent actions. A comparative study on prisons and terrorism which examines the situation in 10 European countries (ICSR, 2020) recorded 22 prison-related attacks or plots over the past 5 years; 12 of these were carried out by recently released jihadists. The real proportions of recidivism -and how to deal with it- are currently a topic for debate. According to Neil Basu, head of counter-terrorism policing in the UK, “the real way to prevent terrorism is to get it right at the start of the radicalisation cycle.”

Limits and opportunities

The objective of PVE essentially consists in pre-empting processes of radicalisation; activities can include educational projects or initiatives promoting social cohesion. CVE on the other hand refers to policies and programmes aimed at countering extremism with a view to preventing violence, therefore reducing the risk of terrorism (de-radicalization and counter-narrative fall into this category). In order to be effective, projects in both these sectors need to be very knowledgeable about the reality they intend to influence, and its constant evolution. Hence, the importance of dialogue (and mutual listening) among researchers, practitioners, law enforcement agencies and legislators on issues such as the mechanisms and contexts affecting radicalization and recruitment but also on defining priorities, expectations, training necessities, methodologies and supervision, so that all this work which involves different actors (NGOs, public and private institutions, civil society) and a wide range of “proposals” with a preventive potential, can find some continuity and represent more than just virtuous experiments. Measuring the results of PVE initiatives remains a difficult task (the same holds true for de-radicalisation); assessing the relevance of an intervention aimed at preventing a “fact” from happening is a complex exercise, which must take into account many variables -from individual psychology to the organizational or financial difficulties a program can run into. This issue is already keeping many European think tanks busy.


Report #ReaCT2021 – Director’s note: terrorism in the time of Covid-19

In my role as Executive Director of the ReaCT Observatory, I am honoured to introduce #ReaCT2021, the 2nd Report on Radicalisation and Counter-Terrorism in Europe.

This report offers a concise analysis on the evolution of radical ideologies and terrorist threats in accordance with the European Union directive 2017/541 on the fight against terrorism and is meant as a useful contribution, within the wider public debate, to the harmonisation of member States’ discrepancies around what should be defined and treated as terrorism.

The Observatory mainly focuses on jihadism; however, we make sure to afford enough room and support for studies on other forms of terrorism, ideological radicalisation and social deviance, as well as “conspiracy theories” leading to violent outcomes.

In their assessments, the authors who submitted their work for this issue of #ReaCT2021 took into account the repercussions of new social and conflict dynamics brought about by COVID-19.

Due to other priorities, the pandemic seemed to have sidelined terrorism when, all of a sudden, October 2020 revived the threat which had apparently been overcome. From early September to early November, a successive chain of events clearly highlighted a dramatic and articulated scenario. Those sixty days of fear tell us that terrorism is now a “normal” rather than an ‘exceptional’ phenomenon, as an instrument of the ongoing conflict.

2019-2020: the evolution of European jihadist terrorism

In 2019 according to Europol there were 119 successful, failed or thwarted attacks: 56 of these were carried out by ethno-nationalist and separatist groups; 26 by extreme left radical and anarchist groups; 6 by far right groups; 24 were jihadist, of which 3 were successful and 4 unsuccessful. In the same year, START InSight’s database listed 19 jihadist actions / events (as compared to the 7 reported by Europol); in 2020, the number goes up to 25.

In 2019, jihadists were responsible for all deaths from terrorism in Europe: according to Europol, 10 people lost their lives and 26 were injured (1 person was injured in a far-right attack). START InSight recorded a higher number of people with injuries (48), who were mostly victims of marginal and emulative attacks. In 2020 there was a significant increase in deaths: 16 people were killed and 55 were injured.

The long wave of terrorism which hit Europe following the emergence of the “Islamic State” phenomenon recorded 146 jihadist attacks from 2014 to 2020: 188 terrorists took part in these attacks (59 among them died in action); 406 people lost their lives; 2,421 were injured (START InSight’s database).

Cases of recidivism are on the rise: 3 out of 10 in 2020. START InSight also spotted an increase in actions carried out by terrorists already known to European police forces or intelligence services: 54% of the total in 2020.

An increase in the number of irregular migrants heightens the potential risk of terrorism: 20% of terrorists are irregular immigrants. In France, the number of irregular immigrants involved in terrorist attacks is growing. Until 2017, no attack had seen the participation of irregular immigrants; in 2018, 15% of terrorists were irregular immigrants: in 2020, they reached 40%.

Islamic State and al-Qaeda online terrorist propaganda during the Covid-19 emergency

Propaganda activities carried out during the Covid-19 pandemic and the attacks which took place in Paris, Nice and Vienna, recall how dynamic terrorism associated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda remains, especially through the Internet. In particular, the Islamic State confirmed its aggressive narrative, identifying the Coronavirus as a “soldier of Allah”. An ally, set out to punish the “infidels”, above all the military and police forces.

The concepts and importance of preventing and countering violent extremism (PVE/CVE)

PVE and CVE gradually became an integral part of the global counter-terrorism architecture. In order to be long-term and effective, these policies and projects require a constant dialogue among researchers, practitioners, law enforcement agencies and legislators which also sets out priorities and expectations. Measuring the results of these activities remains a difficult task but several European think tanks are already bent on the issue.

Countering radicalisation and terrorism via criminal law: problems and perspectives

By its very nature, counterterrorism criminal law does not affect the causes of radicalisation and terrorism. An overarching and disproportionate resort to criminal law may even produce crime-inducing side effects: radicalisation shall be addressed as a reversible process. Counterterrorism criminal law in Europe is generally prison-based, even with regard to facts that arguably do not harm legal goods or interests.

The terror threat in the UK. The challenge: identify, define, arrest and convict

The complexity of the terror threat picture faced by the UK was recently highlighted through court cases which have frustrated the efforts of the security and intelligence forces. The cases that are now emerging are so disconnected from terrorist networks, are planning such random acts and the tools of terrorism are becoming so banal that it has become almost impossible to entirely shield yourself from the threat. But it has also become almost impossible to prove who might be going in this direction. This is creating a new generation of radicals that authorities struggle to identify, define, arrest and convict.

A look at the Balkan gate to Europe

The attack which took place in Vienna in November 2020 drew attention to the issue of terrorism in Europe, especially in the Balkan Area. It also focused such attention on jihadist presence in the Balkan countries, which could become a potential logistical hub for jihadism towards Europe.

Lessons learned from Kosovo’s experience in repatriating former foreign fighters: the small Western Balkan nation of Kosovo repatriated 110 citizens, including men, women, and children, in April 2019, making it one of a very small number of countries that has actively repatriated citizens involved with the Islamic State. The paper also includes what lessons can be learned by EU countries in handling the complex issue of how to manage the return of foreign fighters and their families.

The other terrorisms: far-right, extreme left and the new QAnon phenomenon in pandemic times

The pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus has also had significant effects on the relational and communicative strategies and methodologies typical of both far-right and extreme left-wing environments. Right-wing violent extremism, a phenomenon in expansion in the West, appears to be acquiring a transnational character and has an emerging symbiotic, mutually-reinforcing interdependent relationship with Islamist extremism. This interdependence poses additional threats to European security.

A threat to democracy is QAnon, a conspiracy theory movement active in more than 70 countries and that presents a high risk of radicalization in Europe. It should be closely monitored because of its potential for violent actions.

Thanks to all of the authors who contributed to this Report. My gratitude also goes to the two co-editors who have given their fundamental input: Chiara Sulmoni, President of START InSight, and Flavia Giacobbe, Director of Airpress and Formiche.

Claudio Bertolotti – Executive Director




#ReaCT2021 – Right-wing Violent Extremism, Its Transnational Character, and Its Interdependent relations with Islamist Extremism

by Mattia Caniglia, World Terror Watch Director at the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center

In February 2020, the city of Hanau, in Germany was hit by a right-wing violent extremist attack. This episode was the latest in a string of right-wing politically-motivated incidents which, by their common characteristics and modus operandi, confirm a worrying trend: the surge of right-wing violent extremism in Europe.

This rise is, however, a global phenomenon. Right-wing violent extremism is increasingly acquiring a transnational character, and it appears to have an emerging symbiotic, mutually-reinforcing interdependent relationship with Islamist extremism. The combination of these two trends could pose additional challenges to European security.

Similarities with Jihadist terrorism

As it grows into a transnational challenge, right-wing violent extremism appears to be imitating the tactics, techniques, narratives, and procedures of groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Right-wing extremist groups are increasingly forming global networks much as jihadist did in the years leading to 9/11; their propaganda warning of an alleged “great replacement” of “whites”, mirrors the jihadist narrative of an alleged war against Islam; they promote violence as an appropriate means to defend the purity of the “white race” – just as jihadists use and promote violence to protect the purity of “Islam”.

Both right-wing and Islamist extremists recruit followers and reinforce their messages through intense use of social media and messaging applications. While jihadists disseminate martyrdom videos, right-wing terrorists post online manifestos and often live-stream their attacks. The videos, live streaming and manifestos serve the same objectives and propaganda aims: to deliver an explanatory narrative, an ideological justification, a tactical lesson, and an inspiration/call to arms for future attackers while idolatrizing the memory of those who succeeded in committing attacks.

Further similarities exist in their approach to recruitment, financing, and propaganda, and as jihadist travel to fight in places like Syria and Afghanistan, right-wing extremists too have their own theatres where they gain combat experience. Ukraine emerged as a hub in the broader network of transnational right-wing extremism, attracting foreign recruits from all over the world. More than 17,000 people from 50 countries have travelled to fight in Eastern Ukraine contributing to both Ukrainian nationalist and pro-Russian separatist sides, some of them using the experience in the conflict as a training ground for further action in Europe and the US, while at the same time strengthening transnational links.

A worrying interdependent relation

Historically, three main analogies occur between jihadism and the right-wing extremism: a binary vision of the world, a particular balance between revolution and conservatism, and the cult of heroism. Building on these clear similarities, an increasingly crucial mechanism of reciprocal strengthening and a mutually-reinforcing interdependent relationship has come to existence.

Right-wing extremists portray jihadists and radical Islamists as representatives of the whole Muslim community, whereas jihadists and radical Islamists portray right-wing extremists as representative of the entire West, and every time the “enemy” engages in a terror attack, their respective narratives and ideologies are confirmed and strengthened in what could be defined as a ‘loop dynamic’.

In the aftermath of the recent jihadist attacks in France and Austria, many far-right extremists’ groups active on messaging applications, social media and other online platforms were particularly active in sharing messages of hate towards the Muslim community, even calling for “revenge actions”. This is a phenomenon that has already been observed before; for instance, the Christchurch attack triggered a reaction in official and non-official IS and Al-Qaeda media, with thousands of communications calling for retaliatory attacks against the “Crusaders”.

This ‘loop dynamic’, powered by media, social media and propaganda means, has two main effects. It has the potential to increase the effectiveness of extremists’ recruitment strategies and therefore expand the number of radicalized individuals ready to act in the name of one side or another. Secondly, it contributes to creating a vicious circle of violence and polarisation that inflames already tense social conflicts and that could in turn “accelerate” the political destabilisation of European countries.

The ‘loop’ increases polarisation by leveraging on a process of ‘othering’, historically adopted by both right-wing and jihadist extremism. The ‘othering’ maximises the dichotomisation effect of an “us versus them” discourse, empowering the narratives of both groups and allowing them to achieve one the main effects sought in terrorist acts: to divide society.

In 2020 both right-wing violent extremist and jihadist attacks in Europe have proven particularly effective at this aim, generating polarization loops, which – amplified by media, social media and other channels of communications –- ultimately deepened tensions within the countries targeted and on a global scale.

In the context of European countries already torn by the COVID-19 crisis and its downturns, where differences in religion, ethnicity, culture, social condition become more divisive, terrorism finds the perfect ground to exploit this ‘loop dynamic’ and deepen social divides. Along these fissures, the space for radicalization processes and violent acts expands, to the point that radicalization risks to become ‘mainstream’.

Recent data from the Global Terrorism Index 2020 confirm this risk, linking the rise of right-wing violent extremism in the West with the rise of political violence and the decline on specific indicators related to the fractionalisation of elites, the existence of group grievances, and hostility towards foreigners. As and if radicalisation and polarisation become mainstream, they could have an unprecedented power to challenge the political stability of many European countries by undermining their cohesion.

Risks for European Security

Perfected techniques of radicalisation online – now increasingly similar in right-wing and Islamist extremism – coupled with the effects of the interdependence between the two phenomena, could drastically reduce timespans of radicalisation, and shorten attacks cycles making it more challenging for security forces to intercept and prevent terrorist acts.

At the same time, the mechanism of reciprocal strengthening between the two groups and their augmented polarising effects on already divided societies might result in a higher number of “Gefährder”, individuals highly likely to commit a politically motivated crime of considerable significance, possibly overstretching security resources. In this context, to assess future threats it will be necessary to monitor different forms of radicalism and improve our awareness of how right-wing violent extremism and jihadism influence and feed off each other.

In the past, right-wing violent extremism was largely disorganised, with most of the individuals carrying out attacks unaffiliated with specific terrorist groups, and broadly indicative of a mood of political alienation and discontent. However, there is no guarantee that this violence will remain unorganised. If the polarisation processes currently ongoing in our societies, and legitimised by a certain political discourse, continue unchecked over the coming years, the likelihood of an intensification in organised right-wing extremist violence could increase significantly, especially considering the phenomenon’s current shift towards transnationalism.



#ReaCT2021 – Kosovo’s experience in repatriating former foreign fighters

by Matteo Bressan, SIOI

While most European countries have been reluctant to repatriate their citizens, who have joined the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group in Syria and Iraq, the Kosovo government has taken a different path, repatriating dozens of people with the intention to reintegrate them into society. In April 2019, Kosovo repatriated 110 citizens, including men, women and children, becoming one of the few countries that repatriated its own citizens who had fought for the Islamic State. About 403 Kosovars are estimated to have joined the conflict in Syria and Iraq; among these 255 men and the rest women and children. Nearly half traveled before IS declared its caliphate in June 2014, joining various militia groups that tried to overthrow the Assad regime. Another wave subsequently joined and those who traveled after June 2014 are believed to have joined the IS directly. About 76 children with at least one Kosovar parent were born in conflict zones.

The flow of foreign fighters from Kosovo was quite high given the size of the overall population (about 1.8 million), while the percentage of its Muslim citizens was relatively low. In addressing the threat of foreign fighters, Kosovo has opted for a combination of punitive measures, rehabilitation and reintegration measures. In 2015, Kosovo became the first Western Balkan country to adopt completely new legislation to ban participation in armed conflicts outside the country, making joining foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The Kosovo Criminal Code, amended in 2019, covers all aspects of terrorist financing and contains new legal provisions relating to false documents used for travel for terrorist activities, thus facilitating the identification and capture of terrorists. In addition to these measures, anticipating the possible return of citizens from conflict zones, as early as 2017, the Kosovo government had begun to implement a plan to address the challenges related to repatriation. Most of the women and children exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and many, including six injured children and several women with severe health problems, needed medical attention. Although Kosovar courts are accusing an increasing number of women, as well as men, of terrorist-related offenses, their sentences remain lighter than for their male counterparts. The overwhelming majority of repatriated males were persecuted and those who were convicted served an average of 3/5 years in prison. Repatriated children are seen as victims and it is estimated that specific actions will need to be taken to address the trauma, determine their nationality and establish custody, as well as address the potential risk of social alienation.

In most cases, families have welcomed their return and this has facilitated the government’s action. In other European states, the reintegration process was not so natural. This could be at least in part due to the fact that in other European states many of the citizens who left to fight in Syria and Iraq were immigrants, often with dual citizenship of the state of the European Union and of another country, and therefore are not seen as “real” citizens worthy of repatriation and reintegration. In the case of Kosovo, on the other hand, they are seen simply as Kosovars.[1].

[1] T. Avdimetaj e J. Coleman, What EU Member States can learn from Kosovo’s experience in repatriating former foreign fighters and their families, International Centre for Counter – Terrorism, 20 maggio 2020

#ReaCT2021 – The terror threat in the UK

by Raffaello Pantucci, RSIS-NTU, Singapore and ReaCT

The complexity of the terror threat picture faced by the UK was recently highlighted through three separate cases; two of the infamous ISIS Beatles finally made a court appearance; two converts were jailed for trying to launch a terror attack in prison, and a case against a teenager accused of self-radicalising during the past spring lockdown, whose proceedings have failed. Taken together these show the complicated persistence of the violent Islamist terror threat that the UK faces.

The persistence is visible in the cases of ISIS Beatles and the attempted prison attack. Alexandra Kotey and Elshafee Elsheikh were longstanding figures of concern to the security services. Involved in a West London network that has long fed young British men to jihadi battlefields and created terrorist cells back in the UK. They left for Syria in 2012 to fight alongside Jabhat al Nusrah. Once out there, they joined ISIS and now are standing trial for their crimes.

The prison attack was led by Brutschom Ziamani, a convert who was jailed in 2014 for his plan to attack a soldier emulating his hero Michael Adebolajo who had murdered off-duty soldier Lee Rigby outside his barracks in 2013. Both Michael and Brutschom were part of the al Muhajiroun community, a group that has been a cradle to numerous terrorist plots and networks across Europe. Having been jailed, Brutschom lost none of his vigour and repeatedly refused to engage with rehabilitation programmes instead choosing to seek to radicalize his fellow prisoners. One of them, Baz Hockton, was persuaded to join him on a desperate suicide mission to kill prison guards and die in the act. They failed and now face further life sentences.

There is little chance that any of these men will repent their views at this stage

Given their relative youth, this means the UK system is going to be managing them for the next few decades. While Kotey and Elsheikh are not sitting in UK prisons, they are emblematic of a network that fostered dozens of young radicals who are scattered to the winds. Many of these are committed fighters who will require attention and remain of concern for years to come.

These cases illustrate the way that old problems seem to never go away, but keep popping up again

On the other side of the coin, on 9th October 2020 a court in London cleared a 14 year old boy whom authorities claimed had radicalised during lockdown with too much time on his hands. Having discovered extremist ideas, he followed them down the rabbit hole and was accused of trying to plan to make bombs. He was arrested, charged and ultimately cleared by a jury. Whether he will be re-tried or not is unclear, but this was the second time in a month that the British authorities had faced the problem of a prosecution failing.

Clearly the justice system presumes innocence until proven guilty, but the fact that the security services expended so much energy and effort on these cases (the earlier case was of two cousins accused of building drones to use in terrorist attacks) suggests that they thought something was afoot. Yet, ultimately they were unable to prove the case. Part of the problem is that the cases that are now emerging are so disconnected from terrorist networks, are planning such random acts and the tools of terrorism are becoming so banal that it has become almost impossible to entirely shield yourself from the threat. But it has also become almost impossible to prove who might be going in this direction.

What cases we have seen in the UK over the past few years have for the most part involved individuals using knives, cars and other quotidian tools. They may be active talking to extremists or on extremist chat groups, but so are many other people and the conversations are fragmentary and intent is always unclear.

This is creating a new generation of radicals that authorities struggle to identify, define, arrest and convict

The danger is the fusion of persistence and complexity. On the assumption that some of these new confused cases are actual threats and will operate on timelines similar to earlier generations, the danger is a confusing threat which will linger decades into the future. Disconnected from known networks, but entranced by their ideas, they are likely to roam online communities occasionally turning to violence.

This helps capture the challenging threat that is faced. It is persistent in that individuals do not seem to give up ideas and continue to stay involved for decades.

And it is complicated in that it is almost impossible to easily isolate and identify the threats. Sadly, the terror threat is unlikely to pass any time soon. It is in fact likely to only complexify and confuse us further.



#ReaCT2021 – Terrorism and immigration: links and challenges

by Claudio Bertolotti

Terrorism and immigration: links and challenges

89% of terror attacks in Europe were carried out by second and third generation “immigrants” and first generation immigrants, both regular and irregular. A statistical correlation between immigration and terrorism does therefore exist; however, the number of terrorists compared to the total number of immigrants is so marginal that it makes such correlation insignificant: the order of measurement is one unit per million immigrants.

The origins of terrorists: immigrants or Europeans?

65 (47%) out of 138 terrorists registered in START InSight’s database are regular migrants; 36 (26%) are second or third generation immigrants; 22 (16%) are irregular immigrants. The latter figure is on the rise and represents 25% of perpetrators in 2020. Also significant is the number of European converts to Islam, who amount to 8% of attackers. Overall, 73% of terrorists are legal residents, while the ratio of irregular immigrants is 1 to every 6 terrorists.

Is there a link between immigration and terrorism?

Immigration does “contribute” to the spread of terrorism from one country to another, but immigration per se is unlikely to be a direct cause of terrorism. There’s no empirical evidence so far that first generation immigrants are more inclined to become terrorists. However, migratory flows from Muslim majority countries where terrorism is an occurrence, are thought to exercise a significant influence on attacks in the country of destination.

Are immigrants terrorists?

It’s difficult to argue the existence of a causal link between the two phenomena: therefore, being a migrant would not be a triggering factor for joining terrorism.

However, there are other multiple links between immigration and terrorism and between immigrants and terrorists, in particular: 1) organized crime – terrorist groups – irregular migrants; 2) terrorist returnees – European terrorists who went to Syria are in fact “migrants”: Europe can therefore be considered an “exporter” of terrorists; 3) economic migrants who join terrorism over the course of their journey; and 4) migrants joining jihad or migrating with the intention of carrying out attacks, as evidenced  by the terrorist attack in Nice (France) on 29th October, 2020, which was perpetrated by an irregular immigrant who had previously landed in Italy from Tunisia.

Ethno-national map of terrorism in Europe

Jihadist radicalization fuelling terrorism in Europe affects some specific national / ethnic groups. There is a proportional relation between major immigrant groups and terrorists. The terrorists’ nationalities, or their families of origin, are in line with the dimensions of foreign communities in Europe. Maghrebi origins prevail: the ethno-national groups which are mostly afflicted by a link to terrorism are the Moroccan (in France, Belgium, Spain and Italy) and Algerian (in France).

An increase in the number of irregular migrants heightens the potential risk of terrorism

16% of terrorists are irregular immigrants (2014-2020). 25% in 2020.

In France, the number of irregular immigrants involved in terrorist attacks is growing. Until 2017, no attack had seen the participation of irregular immigrants; in 2018, 15% of terrorists were irregular immigrants: in 2020, they reached 33%. Belgium reported that during 2019 they identified asylum seekers linked to radicalism or terrorism (Europol).

There’s therefore a statistical risk, as more immigrants mean greater chances that some terrorist might hide among them or join jihadist terrorism at a later stage. But despite this correlation, there is no manifest causal link: the choice of becoming a terrorist is not determined or influenced by one’s status as a migrant, but a series of factors such as individual experiences; living conditions at the time of arrival; voluntary or involuntary contacts with criminal or jihadist networks can all play a role.


#ReaCT2021 – The Islamic State and Al-Qaeda online terrorist propaganda during the Covid-19 emergency. Comparing strategies

by Stefano Mele, President of the Cybernetics Security Commission of the Italian Atlantic Committee [1]

Al Baghdadi’s death in October 2019 has determined the definitive collapse of the Caliphate and the defeat of the so-called Islamic State, at least concerning the territories. However, the multiple and continuous propaganda activities carried out during the health emergency linked to Covid-19 and, particularly, the recent terrorist attacks of Paris, Nice and Wien served as a memento that this terrorist organization is far from being considered as a threat to be filed in history books, but is, in fact, in a mere phase of descent and reorganization. This is proved by the largely stable number of attacks in the last twelve months, as well as the high number of arrests made by the Police.

At the same time, Al-Qaeda is also experiencing a period of strong disorientation linked, among other things, to the death of three of its leaders during 2020: Hamza Bin Laden, heir of Osama Bin Laden, killed in July during a Navy Seal’s raid between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Abu Muhamamd Al-Masri, killed in August by the Mossad, in the streets of Teheran, and  Ayman Al-Zawahiri, died in Afghanistan in November, for natural causes.

Nevertheless, both the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda have continued to assert their identities in order to maintain strong ties with the militants, focusing first and foremost on propaganda and proselytism through Internet and new technologies. If, on the one hand, the overall analysis of their online activities during the pandemic shows a considerable intensification of these activities, on the other hand it confirms the pre-existing narratives and their broader communication strategy, mainly dictated by the different positions of strength currently exercised by these two terrorist organizations.

In this sense, the Islamic State has continued along its well-known path, linked to a narrative that is always particularly aggressive and confrontational, identifying the Coronavirus as a real “Allah’s soldier”.  An ally, able to offer to their network –as reported in some press releases – a unique opportunity to strike infidels without mercy and when they least expect it. Their attention was particularly focused on the Military and the Police who, according to the Islamic State’s proclamations, would have been an even easier target, given their deployment in the streets and alleys due to the health emergency.

On the other hand, Al-Qaeda’s propaganda during the pandemic stood in stark contrast with the messages of the Islamic State. It relied on much more “persuasive” and unusually conciliatory narratives towards non-Muslims, aimed first and foremost at continuing to pursue the policy of “heart and mind”, which is long aimed to appeal ordinary Muslims and casual Westerners alike. Therefore, it is not a coincidence that almost all their statements during this period have focused on a general invitation to Western nations to join Islam, after that – as they say – Coronavirus has rendered strong economies, armies and governments impotent. A clear example of what is being said here is the six-page document of March 2020, entitled “The Way Forward: A Word of Advice on the Coronavirus Pandemic”. Clearly addressed to a Western audience, the Al-Qaeda message focuses on highlighting the role of the Coronavirus as a divine punishment for the alleged moral and intellectual decadence of the West. “We invite you to reflect on the phenomenon that is Covid-19 and carefully consider its deeper causes” Al-Qaeda’s senior executives write – “The truth remains, whether we like it or not, that this pandemic is a punishment from the Lord of the Worlds for the injustice and oppression committed against Muslims specifically and mankind generally by governments you elect”. After that an “invisible soldier” [COVID-19, NdA] revealed the intrinsic weakness of West’s materialistic ways, the press release continues with a “General appeal for the masses in the western world to embrace Islam”. “We would like to share with you our desire that you should be our partners in the Heavens the expanse of which is far greater than the earth and the sky” – as said in this Al-Qaeda’s statement – “It is in this spirit that we would like to introduce you to Islam and invite you to enter into peace, for this is the only path that leads to prosperity in this world and deliverance in the Hereafter”.

A point of contact in the propaganda activities of these two terrorist organizations can be found, however, in relation to their communications concerning precautions to be taken in order to avoid infections. Al-Qaeda, for example, has widely promoted Islam as a hygiene-oriented religion that encourages cleanliness and personal hygiene, also through the regular ablutions to perform prayers, thus making an implicit reference to hygiene as a way to avoid being affected by the Coronavirus.

On the other hand, the Islamic State has propagated in general terms the of health and safety measures derived from religious literature and health advice dictated by Islam, especially through the al-Naba’ newsletter. However, this “sensitivity” towards their own network has not prevented them from strongly criticizing the policies of closing mosques or limiting communal prayers. In particular, the Islamic State released a large number of images in May, showing its militants enjoying Ramadan meals and community prayer without any trace of social distancing.

The short-term effects of this strategy can be seen in the recent attacks in Paris, Nice and Wien, where – at least according to the information currently available – the attacks seem to have been carried out by cells who were inspired by the messages of the Islamic State, even if not actually coordinated by them. Foreseeing medium to long-term effects is more complex and less predictable. As a matter of facts, if it is true that the persistence of the health crisis, increasingly combined with the economic one, the continuous fueling and channeling of social anger towards hostile actions and the persistent “call to action” of the Islamic State, may represent the perfect mix for be forced to look at the near future with concern, the final result can’t be so obvious and clearly delineated for all States. In fact, the same pandemic that has so far represented the key element for the strengthening of online propaganda activities, could also constitute – at least in Europe – a brake to violent radicalization, especially as long as the so-called “lockdown” measures continue. However, as the health crisis recedes the situation will have to be analyzed on a case-by-case and country-by-country basis, in order to highlight those online and offline indicators that may presage an imminent and violent drift.


[1] Stefano Mele is Partner of Carnelutti Law Firm, where he is the Head of the Technology, Privacy and Cybersecurity Law Department. He deals at national and international level with the political, strategic and legal aspects of the impact of technologies on citizens’ lives, businesses and national security. He is also the President of the Authority for Information and Communication Technologies of the Republic of San Marino. Among the many positions held, he is also the President of the Cybernetics Security Commission of the Italian Atlantic Committee and the President of the “Working Group on Cybersecurity” of the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy (AMCHAM). In 2020 he participated in the prestigious International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) of the US State Department.