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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


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

FULL REPORT AVAILABLE HERE (ITA/ENG LANGUAGE)

REPORT INDEX

 


#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 – Sixty days of fear: the lesson learned

by Marco Lombardi, ITSTIME, Catholic University.

The pandemic seemed to have sidelined terrorism when, suddenly, October 2020 revived the threat that seemed to be overcome. In fact, between the first days of September and the beginning of November there is a chain of events that, listed in its succession, clearly highlights a dramatic and articulated scenario.

  • 1 , Charlie Hebdo magazine republishes the caricatures of Muhammad that made it the target of jihadist terrorism in 2015.
  • 2 , the trial of 14 supporters of the perpetrators of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher supermarket opens in Paris.
  • 25 , Zaheer Hassan Mahmoud attacks two Employees of Premières Lignes TV with a knife in front of the former Charlie Hebdo headquarters.
  • 27 Sept., the “Second Nagorn-Karabakh War” begins, with the Turks supporting Azerbaijan. The war ends on November 9 with the Azerbaijani victory.
  • 2nd Oct., French President Emmanuel Macron strongly attacks “Islamist separatism”.
  • 5 Oct., Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia, declares that Europe will soon see Turkey on the outskirts of Vienna.
  • 16 Oct., teacher Samuel Paty is beheaded by Abdoullakh Abuyezidvich Anzorov because he discussed Muhammad caricatures with his students. Paty is the victim of an intense social media campaign and three students have given information to his killer.
  • 22 Oct., a woman with a burqa threatens to blow herself up at Lyon station, stopped she had no explosives: the event is one of the imitative behaviors that highlight the sedimentation of the jihadist threat in the western society.
  • 24 Oct., Turkish President Erdogan responded to the question of separatism by stating that Macron, would need “psychiatric care“, then called for a boycott of French products and presents himself as the champion of offended Islam.
  • 29 Oct., in the cathedral of Nice, three people were killed by a Tunisian terrorist, Brahim Aouissaoui, who landed in Lampedusa on 20 Sept., quarantined on the ship ‘Rhapsody’, identified and informed of his expulsion on 9 Oct. Aouissaoui loses his tracks and on the 26th goes from Palermo to Rome by bus, on the 27th from Rome to Genoa by train: the 28th is in Nice.
  • On 29 Oct., Vienna, fifty young people of Turkish origin broke into St Anthony’s Church to the cry of “Allah Akbar”. The episode is part of the climate of Erdogan’s statements.
  • 2nd Nov., just few hours before the lockdown began, 4 people were killed in Vienna and 23 were injured by Kujtim Fejzulai in the city centre, in about nine minutes of six-point fire along a mile-long route. Kujtim, who was jailed for trying to reach Syria and join islamists, was released after 22 months for not being dangerous. Slovak intelligence informed Austrian colleagues of his attempt to purchase ammunition for AK-47 in July 2020.
  • 2 Nov., France banned the Grey Wolves, a Turkish ultranationalist group after clashes with the Armenian community. Earlier, in June, Austrian Chancellor Kurz had ordered the closure of 7 mosques linked to Turkish associations following demonstrations for the re-enactment of the Ottoman victory at Gallipoli. Turkey accuses Austria of anti-Islamism and racism.

Listing the events that have punctuated these weeks is a fundamental lesson learned to draw some conclusions to place terrorism in the right perspective: a threat destined to persist in different and new organizational forms that will be able to adapt to the different scenarios.

The general climate of widespread violence found an ally in the virus

It was feared that Covid-19 was an opportunity that could be exploited by terrorism which, in its immediate propaganda, called for action its symphatizers because a possible relaxation in the police guard. This was not the case, proving that home-grown terrorists share as much fear for their health as the “kuffars” they want to strike. However, the virus, like every critical event, has been a booster of processes already underway and, above all, the leaven of a culture and a climate of widespread and pervasive violence that characterizes our society in recent years (from the Gilets Jaunes in France to Hong Kong, from Santiago to Lebanon): recent history shows how society has lost over time the intermediate bodies capable of mediating tensions and that the pandemic is an effective incubator of violent behavior. This context has given a good game to the sowers of violence to do their job more effectively and quickly: the processes of radicalization have become much faster, the transition to select, indoctrinate, convince people to turn to violence has now been reduced over time and the profound reasons for the choice have been lost confusing themselves with the immediate violent manifestation of their personal anger, which has far outweighed the ideological and religious motivations of terrorism.

In this cultural context, Islamist terrorism is now rooted and infiltrated in everyday life: in France one can lose its head for a cartoon and the “Caliphate” survives in families, in circles of friends, in its “clans”, where radicalization is no longer an ongoing process but a result achieved and stabilizing identities. And terrorism itself finds unexpected and unconscious allies in the denigrating of the victims, which feed the distinctions not comprehensible in the radical vision of “everything is or right or wrong“, as in the incitement interventions against the teacher who appeared on Social Media.

The political and cultural delay in responding to the threat of terrorism

The “lone wolf” narrative, used in recent weeks, is an example of the inability to overcome comfortable and dangerous stereotypes. The attacks in Paris, Nice and Vienna found support by  friendly circuits who are not necessarily ideologized but certainly unable to express their anger outside the extreme violence that characterizes the widespread culture we have described. This means that the “lone wolf” narrative is extremely dangerous if, as it often emerges, it explains a threat for this less relevant. On the contrary, the loneliness of the “wolf” is such only compared to an absent formal organization, but not compared to an informal supporting circuit, first emotional and then logistical: the result is that terrorist action becomes unpredictable. Even when the signs are manifested in the biography of terrorists and actions, the lack of procedures that allow information to be “exchanged” at least for the mutual benefit of the agencies, rather than “shared” for free on the basis of a common project, generates vulnerabilities that are no longer tolerable. But even operational delays in Vienna allow for the mobility of a man who is on fire in six different places are not tolerable either. Nor does it underestimate the infiltration of “radicalized” individuals through the paths of illegal immigration, which feeds on bureaucratic procedures that generate vulnerabilities. None of this is compatible with the desire to counter the threat of terrorism.

Terrorism is a weapon of hybrid warfare.

As with the virus, for which there is no evidence that it was voluntarily launched into the world as a weapon, but which was exploited by everyone as a weapon once it was spread, so for the terrorist attacks, of which there is no evidence that they were directly activated by national agencies, it can be said that they were exploited as a weapon in the ongoing hybrid conflict. On the other hand, the organizational collapse of Daesh provided the militancy of terrorists deployed from the Syrian front to the North African front, to the Azerbaijani front as a weapon of rapid use, and the “Charlie Hebdo” trial provided the communicative context to drive dormant terrorism, giving new horizons for the defense of the Umma offended. If there is no evidence of tactical activation, however, it is clear the inspiration for the series of attacks, useful to national interests in the wider context of the conflict. In this sense, we have to consider the legacy of Daesh, which has promoted, legitimized and trained too many wanna be terrorists to behave easily, and the use of this labour force in an increasingly structured way also by state entities.

In conclusion, these sixty days of fear tell us that terrorism is now a ‘normal’ rather than an ‘exceptional’ phenomenon, as an instrument of the ongoing and continuing conflict. It is important to associate this vision with the awareness of a world in which threats intersect, overlap and feed but certainly never evade each other, so as not to fall into the error of considering a sequential time, as in September when the pandemic seemed to coagulate all concerns, making us forget the circular plurality of threats: terrorism among them.


#ReaCT2021: 2nd Report on Radicalization and Counter-Terrorism

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

FULL REPORT AVAILABLE HERE (ITA/ENG LANGUAGE)

REPORT INDEX

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

Introduction: terrorism at the time of Covid-19
Claudio Bertolotti

Numbers and profiles of jihadist terrorists in Europe
Claudio Bertolotti

Sixty days of fear: the lesson learned
Marco Lombardi

Countering radicalisation and terrorism via criminal law
Francesco Rossi

The Islamic State and Al-Qaeda online terrorist propaganda during the Covid-19 emergency. Comparing strategies
Stefano Mele

Terrorism and immigration: links and challenges
Claudio Bertolotti

The terror threat in the UK
Raffaello Pantucci

Jihadist extremism in Europe. The concepts and importance of PVE/CVE
Chiara Sulmoni

Tools to counter violent radicalisation: a study case
Alessandra Lanzetti

Terrorism in Vienna: the Balkan clue
Enrico Casini

Kosovo’s experience in repatriating former foreign fighters
Matteo Bressan

Extreme right and extreme left in pandemic times: some reflections
Barbara Lucini

Right-wing Violent Extremism, Its Transnational Character, and Its Interdependent relations with Islamist Extremism
Mattia Caniglia

QAnon: a threat to democracy
Andrea Molle

FULL REPORT AVAILABLE HERE (ITA/ENG LANGUAGE)


QAnon: the new global threat?

by Andrea Molle

Scholars and analysts typically look at conspiracy theories focusing on their conduciveness to fake news and the adverse effects on the electoral process. However, the attention should now increasingly be switched to assessing their security implications, especially in the case of QAnon.

QAnon has been able to exploit mechanisms of “gamification” and “customization,” typical of some ARG (Alternate Reality Games) and open-world videogames to spread. Mainly exploiting existing social networks, the movement has had repercussions in real life and inspired violent actions, which have dramatically increased its appeal, just as in LARP (live-action role-playing game) groups.

Violence associated with QAnon should be analyzed and challenged in the same manner as religious terrorism and deviant cults to which the group shares the following traits:

  • First, QAnon is structured as theology, which has gradually become a paradigm through which adherents perceive and interpret reality in a distorted fashion. In social psychology, this effect is known as apophenia, or the recognition of patterns and logical connections in random and nonsensical data.
  • Secondly, QAnon has a prophetic, eschatological worldview. It can be summarized in the idea that the world is experiencing the final stages of a cosmic war between Good and Evil. Any failure of such a prophetic framework, like Trump’s political demise, will not result in the end of the movement. Indeed, there are safeguard mechanisms that are activated to contain the damage and ensure that group members engage in acts of rationalization, often ritualistic and in some cases involving violence, to assure the survival of the movement.
  • Thirdly, QAnon is an all-inclusive experience, whereas affiliates are embedded in a social bubble, made up of people with substantially homogeneous opinions. This process facilitates a dynamic that in sociology is defined as “social encapsulation,” the isolation of the subject from external influences that could compromise his socialization and loyalty to the group. Followers of QAnon also display an alarming and growing level of hyper-aggression in interpersonal interactions.
  • Finally, social characteristics such as lower culture, a tendency to irrational thinking, right-wing extremist political views, religious extremism, young age, or economic instability make people on average more attracted to QAnon. However, none of these traits allow us to define an ideal recruiting profile. In fact, like a cult, QAnon is not a phenomenon that exclusively impacts specific demographics. Additionally, individuals can be involved in the movement harmless ways, such as simple disseminators of information or “researchers” or, in the most severe cases, as zealot “militiamen” who end up getting involved in criminal and violent acts.

The political use of QAnon is extremely worrisome. In the USA, where QAnon now operates in a network of several white supremacist groups, the so-called “conspiracy caucus” is a fundamental political actor of what we can call the Trumpverse. In Europe, QAnon has not yet reached momentum and the complexities shown in the United States. As of today, the European QAnon community essentially deals with three issues:

  • the American presidential elections;
  • the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • the fight against the European Union.

In all instances, followers consider them intertwined elements of the same international plot hatched by the Deep State’s satanic-pedophile cabal.

It is evident in the analysis of the social media presence of QAnon that followers show growing interest toward political extremists, particularly in the sovranist right. For the time being, no European political party seems to be infiltrated by QAnon, as has instead happened in the USA. However, isolated political actors such as Orban, the Hungarian premier, seem to favor conspiracy theories in their political action and propaganda. The high marginal utility of conspiracy theories is moving sovranist political positions closer to those of QAnon. The immediate advantage is to attract the voting favors of its followers, but in doing so, paving the way for its members to obtain positions of power within the continental party system, not unlike what happened in the American Republican Party’s case.

In summary, QAnon represents a growing danger to Europe. The followers of Q are not just dangerous because of their subversive project. However, above all, they are a threat for the ease with which they multiply, radicalize, and for the all-inclusive and potentially violent ways they pursue their goals, demonstrating a high level of cohesion and drive in the pursuit of their objectives. They are comparable to a religious terrorist movement, and it is necessary to treat QAnon as such.


EUNAVFORMED “Irini” operation: constraints and two critical issues

Abstract
The war in Libya represents the main obstacle to stability in the Mediterranean area. While regional and international actors scramble for influence, the European Union and European states seem unable to revive the diplomatic path launched last January with the Berlin Conference and to prevent a looming humanitarian disaster just beyond the EU’s southern border (ISPI, 2020). As war persists in the North African country, factors such as weapons’ supply, illegal migration, drugs and human trafficking continue to affect the region and the south of Europe -including NATO’s border- and to impact on security in the area. EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” operation aims at ending arms trafficking in Libya: but such goal is far from being achieved due to a lack of political cohesion and ineffective military capability.

Analysis by Claudio Bertolotti  

EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” operation: constraints and two critical issues

The Berlin Summit as a premise to the “Irini” operation
Participants at the Berlin Conference on Libya, which was held on 19th January 2020, committed specifically to fully respecting and implementing the arms embargo established by the United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1970 (2011), 2292 (2016) and 2473 (2019). On 17th February 2020, the Council agreed to launch a new military operation in the Mediterranean, which would oversee the enactment of the embargo by means of aerial, satellite and maritime assets. In a break-through following months of negotiations, Greece confirmed its willingness to assist irregular migrants saved at sea by EU military ships, who would therefore not -at least formally- be sent over to an already hard-pressed Italy. This issue had previously stalled any tangible progress.

On 31st March 2020 Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy announced an agreement over the creation of operation “Irini” (Greek for “peace”), an Italian-led mission with its operational centre in Rome. As well as supporting the implementation of the UN arms embargo on Libya, and in accordance with Resolution 2292 of the U.N. Security Council, the mission also entails the inspection of vessels navigating the high seas off the coast of Libya, assumed to be carrying weapons (or related material) to, and from, Libya; it also inherits some secondary tasks from its predecessor, EUNAVFORMED’s operation “Sophia”, including the training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy, and search-and-rescue duties.

the mission entails the inspection of vessels navigating the high seas off the coast of Libya, assumed to be carrying weapons to and from Libya

But up to now, “Irini” proved unable to achieve its primary goal, due to a fundamental political weakness brought about by the heterogeneous priorities set by EU countries, and to a limited military capability.

“Irini” ’s mission
On 30th March 2020, the European Council officially launched EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” operation in the Mediterranean. Through the imposition of an arms embargo and a new military operation within the scope of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), the European Union is stepping up its efforts towards peace in Libya.

up to now, “Irini” proved unable to achieve its primary goal, due to a fundamental political weakness brought about by the heterogeneous priorities set by EU countries, and to a limited military capability

The main task assigned to EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” consists in implementing the embargo by also inspecting vessels to and from Libya, which can be reasonably assumed to be carrying weapons (or related material) for belligerents; as well as gathering extensive and comprehensive information on the trafficking of arms and other military equipment and supplies by sea. As secondary tasks, EUNAVFOR MED “Irini” will also:

  • monitor and gather information on illicit exports of petroleum, crude oil and refined petroleum products from Libya
  • contribute to the capacity-building and training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy in law enforcement tasks at sea
  • contribute to the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks through information gathering and patrolling by planes

“Irini” ’s mandate will initially last until 31st March 2021 and the operation will be performed under the close scrutiny of EU Member States, who will exercise political control and strategic direction through the Political and Security Committee (PSC) -in its turn under the responsibility of the Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy-. Unlike its predecessor “Sophia”, which operated in the Strait of Sicily, “Irini” shifted eastwards to patrol the waters between Egypt and Crete, with special attention payed to Cyrenaica.

A worsening situation: weapons keep reaching Libya
The internationalization of the conflict -its transformation from a civil war into a war by proxy- ensures that technologically-advanced military equipment continue to reach Libya by air, land, and sea.
The fact that non-state armed actors in the country are pretty familiar with such weapons systems is a harbinger of danger for bordering countries as well: between 2012 and 2014, terrorists and separatist groups filled their arsenals with weapons belonging to the former Libyan army. These weapons could now cross into bordering countries, a number of which are increasingly struggling with insurgencies fueled by, among others, the so-called and dangerous as ever Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaida.

participants at the Berlin Conference on Libya committed to fully respecting the arms embargo established by the UN Security Council; according to the UN, the latter has since been broken by several participants

Against such background, the optimist attitude displayed at the Berlin Conference now seems unjustified, especially as according to the UN, the arms embargo has since been broken by several Summit participants, with planes landing at airports in both Eastern and Western Libya with their cargos of weapons, armored vehicles, foreign fighters, and military advisors. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL, 2020) reported that “several among those who participated in the Berlin Conference” have been involved in the “ongoing transfer of foreign fighters, weapons, ammunition and advanced systems” and other military equipment (Kaim, Schulz, 2020).

From theory to practice: operational difficulties and political boundaries
“Irini” started its activities at sea on 4th May but, despite some initial confidence, it has since been marred by differences among EU members. Greek and French ships joined the mission at the end of May but Malta, which had pledged specially-trained on-board personnel, withdrew its participation in an apparent attempt at influencing the Libyan GNA and Turkey.

The mission currently operates with the Greek frigate “Spetsai” (Hydra class) and the French frigate “Jean Bart” (Cassard class); a small maritime reconnaissance aircraft made available by Luxembourg and Poland; a German P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft; and (as of July) the Italian ship “San Giorgio”. In August, Germany provided its “Hamburg” vessel -a Sachsen class frigate with a crew of 250 military personnel. Italy further contributes with a drone for surveillance operations and with the logistical bases of Augusta, Pantelleria and Sigonella, while a P72 maritime patrol aircraft, an Air early-warning aircraft (Aew) and a submarine “will occasionally be available in support” (Pioppi, 2020). According to its operational commander, the deployment will “soon be capable of reaching full operational capacity” (Pioppi, 2020): nevertheless, compared to its initial objectives, it suffers from very limited resources and its effectiveness is further undermined by poor political cohesion among the 27 European partners.

Turkey’s challenge to the European Union
On 10th of June 2020 the Greek frigate “Spetsai” (under Italian command) tried to approach Tanzanian-flagged mercantile ship “Cirkin”, which was being suspected of carrying weapons from Turkey to Tripoli. The maneuver was countered in the Gulf of Sirte by direct intervention of a Turkish military unit escorting the mercantile (Hassad, 2020). A second Turkish military unit apparently converged towards the Greek frigate after a Greek navy helicopter overflew the “Cirkin”. As soon as the Greek helicopter approached the “Cirkin”, it received a call from the Turkish frigate explaining that “the Turkish ship is under the protection of the Turkish Republic”. The Turkish official said that the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) had not recognized “Irini”. A laser framing action on the part of the Turks -as a prelude to an escalation- is thought to have put an end to the situation by forcing “Spetsai” into retreat.

The “Cirkin” freighter, which entered the port of Tripoli on 11th of June (a day after the event), had set sail from the Sea of ​​Marmara, south of Istanbul, after docking in a “roll-on roll-off” (RORO) port for a loadful of weapons, equipment and heavy vehicles, including armored vehicles hailing from a nearby military base of the Turkish army. The 4,000 tons, 100 metre’s long Turkish freighter was launched in 1980 and has previously been used by Ankara for shipping armored vehicles and other equipment to the GNA in Tripoli.

Greece denounced the incident -which would later re-occur with the French ship as well- as a blatant violation of the UN embargo; to which Ankara replied by underlining how, since the “Cirkin” enjoyed Turkish protection, the “Irini” intervention could in fact be deemed un-necessary. Turkey undeniably exposed the European operation’s critical issues; it also criticized its unilateral bias in favor of General Khalifa Haftar and further suggested the creation of a new mechanism by the United Nations (Hurriyet Daily News, 2020).

The incident, which did not make headlines outside Greece, testifies to the political -rather than operational- ineffectiveness of the European mission, which is supposed to be enforcing a military embargo on Libya; but as a matter of fact, does not seem to be able to control naval routes and to  stop flows of weapons and other equipment from reaching General Haftar’s faction by land, from Egypt, and by air, from Russia.

the fact that the EU mission deals primarily with naval violations of the embargo raises questions about its effectiveness

“Irini” ’s two principal shortcomings
The fact that the EU mission deals primarily with naval violations of the embargo raises questions about its effectiveness.
Military supplies reach the opposing Libyan factions from two directions: the western maritime border, used by Turkey to provide the GNA in Tripoli with weapons and fighters; and the eastern border, whereby Egypt and the United Arab Emirates send their support to Haftar’s LNA (al-Jazeera, 2020). As Egypt and the UAE are determined to take advantage of the situation, the Turks are left with no other option than supplying Tripoli with weapons across waters that are now being patrolled by the EU.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently complained that “the EU mission did not do anything to stop other powers’ shipments into Libya”, including what he alleged were “arms being sent by France to Haftar”. France, which denies supporting Haftar but has long been suspected of favoring him, voiced its fury last month after alleging that the French ship “Courbet” was subjected to laser framing by Turkish frigates’, while inspecting a mercantile en route to Libya (al-Jazeera, 2020).

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio addressed the issue as well by specifying that “Irini” “is not a naval blockade. The international regulatory framework includes the naval blockade as a method of war. Therefore, the blockade is a measure that can only be adopted during international armed conflicts. “Irini” envisages measures which must be selective, legitimate and fully respectful of international law, and aimed at promoting the return of peace and security in Libya “(Di Feo, 2020). Di Maio’s statement implicitly upholds the operation’s structural limitations, which clearly emerge in the form of two main criticalities.

the absence of a jurisdictional framework for States to operate in Libya or bordering nations, allows countries wanting to flout the arms embargo, to directly supply weapons to the conflicting parties by land, sea and air

One of the weak points of the arms embargo on Libya consists in its implementation. States’ and EU actions are restricted to enforcing the arms embargo at sea. Initially, the Security Council had only called upon States to inspect all cargos to and from Libya “in their territory, including at seaports and airports”, should they possess information providing reasonable grounds to believe that those cargos contained arms. The absence of a jurisdictional framework or authorization for States to act outside their own territory and to operate in Libya or bordering nations, allows countries wanting to flout the arms embargo, to directly supply weapons to the conflicting parties by land, sea and air.

The second criticality resides in the option of extending monitoring activities to Libya’s land borders, which involves having “boots on the ground” EU military personnel, but only in the event of a request from local authorities. If up to very recently, an agreement on this issue between General Khalifa Haftar in Tobruk and Tripoli government’s chairman Fayez al-Serraj seemed utterly unlikely, the truce which was announced on 21st August 2020 by al-Serraj and Aguila Saleh (spokesperson of the Chamber of Representatives in Tobruk) could open a different scenario (and al-Serraj’s apparent intention of leaving office at the end of October also adds to the picture[1]). Currently though, without any Security Council authorization or consent on the part of the Libyan authorities, the EU cannot conduct any aerial surveillance activities within Libyan airspace, let alone stem the supply of weapons by air or enforce the arms embargo on the ground in Libya. As most of the weapons destined for General Haftar’s forces are being transported by land or air, a stricter enforcement of the arms embargo at sea comes at the expense of the Libyan Government of National Accord, which receives most of its supplies from Turkey via the sea route.

One might question whether the EU operation will be any more than symbolic, as EU member States are not likely prepared to commit all the naval and surveillance assets which are required to effectively enforce the arms embargo.

Analysis, assessment, forecast
Despite the UN arms embargo, Turkey signed a military cooperation deal with the GNA and sent drones, armored vehicles, Syrian mercenaries and military officers to support al-Sarraj against the forces of eastern-based commander, General Khalifa Haftar. Ankara’s support affected the balance on the ground, forcing Haftar’s Libyan National Army to retreat from the west of the country following an unsuccessful attempt at capturing Tripoli; an attempt which turned into an exhausting one-year siege.

It is clear how current rules make it impossible to stop weapons’ shipments from Turkey, while the latter consolidates its position and role in Tripoli. As a sign of this, Ankara was assigned the port of Misurata in a move which saw the simultaneous removal of Italy from the same area.

“Irini” should essentially consist in a deterrent barrier; however, due to its shortcomings in countering embargo violations, such deterrence inevitably fails and Europe cannot but acknowledge, at most, Turkey’s commitment to war, and its success in Libya.

Due to a lack of control on land, sea and air routes, the overall impact of “Irini” is currently marginal. The mission will only be successful in so far as it is inscribed into a broader strategy which needs to be clearly defined and better implemented.

As recently suggested by ECFR (European Council for Foreign Relations), Italy should grab the opportunity offered by the German presidency of the EU Council to initiate a platform from which -together with allies- to enforce international norms on the conflict; broker among international competitors who have an interest in ‘feeding’ a war-by-proxy; enable a new UN conference on Libya. An engagement in this direction would jeopardize Russia’s attempt at protracting the conflict and possibly fill the vacuum generated by Turkey, Egypt and the UAE, who are supporting opposing sides.

due to a lack of control on land, sea and air routes, the overall impact of “Irini” is currently marginal. The mission will only be successful in so far as it is inscribed into a broader strategy 

The recent UN Security Council resolution 2473 (2019) in support of operation “Irini” can be seen as a useful stepping-stone towards bolstering a European political vision able to turn into diplomatic and military action and initiative. EU member States should launch a real, impartial and balanced operation based on a shared strategy, which would concretely fulfill the Berlin Conference’s commitments. In order for this to be achieved, the embargo must necessarily be extended to include air and land, rather than being restricted to patrolling sea routes (Varvelli and Megerisi, 2020).

[1] On 15th September 2020, al-Serraj apparently announced his intention to leave his post at the helm of the GNA by the end of October. 


‘Laser’ episode discusses de-radicalisation and studies on the brain of jihadist supporters (Swiss National Radio)

Part 1
What is de-radicalisation about? What do these programmes deal with, and what do they imply?

often with an individual, when you’ve taken them through this, and they no longer belong to ISIS or al -Qaeda or another jihadist orientation (…) their identity is broken. They’re no longer this ‘warrior fighting against the world’, so where do they belong? Their connection to morality is also separated now, because their previous kind of black-and-white moral perspective has been shattered; they do not necessarily have a sense of morality. All of these things need to be replaced, they need to be reintegrated in terms of their self-identity, their sense of belonging, their socialisation; their moral perspective needs to be reintegrated in a wider, societal perspective (Rashad Ali)

Part 2
How do the brains of extremists and jihadist supporters react to specific situations or social experiments? What do their scans tell us?

Which factors can precipitate radicalisation, and which ones help disengagement?

LISTEN TO THE ‘LASER’ EPISODE ‘DERADICALIZZAZIONE. DENTRO LA MENTE JIHADISTA’ (aired on 22nd September by Swiss-Italian Radio – RSI)

Chiara Sulmoni meets Rashad Ali, a practitioner and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London, who works on de-radicalisation initiatives in the context of prisons, probation and the wider community; and Nafees Hamid (Research Fellow at Artis International and Associate Fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism), who’ll explain the results of neuroscientific studies he conducted in Spain on the brain of jihadist supporters and whose conclusions scientifically confirm how social exclusion plays an important role in radicalisation, while social influence can ‘reactivate’ deliberate reasoning and help disengage from violence.

Further to the topics discussed in the documentary, here’s another take by Nafees Hamid:

“We have a tendency to overfocus on the individual: how can we build individual capacity to be more preventative of radicalisation, how do we teach people how to think critically, and so forth…. While radicalisation manifests at the individual level, it originally emanates at the community level, so when you see radicalisation happening, it’s clustering -geographically clustering-. Usually it’s just a few neighbourhoods in any country that  produce the bulk of recruits into any terrorist group. There is clearly something happening in certain communities that make them more vulnerable. One of the things is lack of social cohesion, people do not really have a strong sense of belonging, purpose, identity, which make them an easy picking for terrorist groups to recruit. So while we are spending so much time on individual capacity building and counter-messaging, I think we could be focussing more on what I call ‘counter-engagement’.

the reason why terrorist groups are appealing to a lot of people, is because they are offering them engagement in a meaningful cause, they are offering them something to do. (…) If we want to prevent people, throwing nice messages their way is not going to be enough -or even mentorship-. You should probably give them alternative pathways for meaning and purpose

The reason why terrorist groups become appealing to a lot of people, is because they are offering them engagement in a meaningful cause, they are offering them something to do; you can get up off your couch, you can go and become a foreign fighter somewhere, you can become a smuggler, you can proselitize other people, you can promote the movement, you can do a  variety of things with your life, that will give your life purpose and meaning through action. So if we want to prevent people, just throwing nice messages their way is not going to be enough, or even mentorship; you should probably give them alternative pathways for meaning and purpose. So if this basic, fundamental need to be an agent of social change, to want to engage in meaningful behaviour, if this need can be satisfied at the community level -whether it’s through community centres or schools, or any other possible avenue that gives people a sense of purpose, not just a job or a source of income but a real sense of purpose- you are offering them a pathway to purpose so that they don’t have to turn to extremist groups.  


WAR AND PEACE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN: understanding the Turkish escalation between the Chinese expansionism in Africa and the reshaping of Middle Eastern equilibria

by Andrea Molle

The renewed interest in the Mediterranean, too often considered as a secondary theater in the context of International Relations, derives from several medium and long-term processes that are affecting the global geopolitical equilibria. In particular, it is the consequence of an aggressive Chinese trade policy in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has intensified in the last decade and sees many African states, such as Kenya and Congo, for example, reduced to colonies or in a de facto subordination to China’s interests.

This dynamic is echoed by Beijing’s desire to complete its Belt and Road Initiative, affirming itself as a privileged trading partner of the most important powers within the EU to force it in a relationship of strong dependence. This scenario is made possible by the vacuum created with the protectionist and isolationist turn of the USA led by Donald J. Trump, who seems to lack any coherent international strategy. Moreover, it is a consequence of the lack of a coordinated European strategy in foreign affairs, as demonstrated by the recent Italian interest in becoming a closer partner to China independently from its partners’ choices.

The intensifying of migratory fluxes, aggravated by climate change, corruption, and the increased radicalization in Africa, is a symptom of the destabilization resulting from the Chinese expansionist policy that handed control of critical commercial routes and hubs over to Beijing. Faced with a substantial erosion of their economic systems, mostly caused by the quasi-monopolies established by Chinese companies and investors and the consequent social crisis, more and more people leave Africa to seek fortune in Europe, accentuating the demographic crisis of the continent. Paradoxically, such an easing of demographic pressure contributes to the perpetuating of Chinese control over African governments, hence aggravating the crisis and divisions within the European Union.

Moreover, the crisis is exacerbated by the recent Turkish initiatives aimed to gain a hegemonic role in the Maghreb and the Eastern Mediterranean. This pitch invasion is seemingly facilitated by the shared Islamic culture to which Turkey claims the role of Defensor in open competition with other countries such as Saudi Arabia. Once again, this is a consequence of America’s withdrawal and the lack of a single European voice. With the expected resignation of Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) recognized by the United Nations, the effects on the current Turkish activities in Libya are hard to anticipate. Nevertheless, the intentions of Ankara remain unchanged: to become the privileged Chinese partner by taking advantage of this economic and political conjuncture.

To better understand Ankara’s strategy while not underestimating its chances of success, it is paramount to consider the totality and complexities of the Sino-Turkish relations. We are witnessing several signals. First of all, a softening of visa policies between the two powers has been underway for years. In addition to intensified cultural exchanges, China has recently granted Turkey considerable financial resources to support the industrial and military development plans of the government led by Erdogan. To overcome its structural military inadequacies, Turkey is now rumored to considering the purchase of fifth-generation Shenyang J-31 stealth fighter aircraft. The opening to a partnership with China has been made possible by the exclusion of Turkey from the Lockheed Martin F-35 initiative, wanted by the US. It also represents a further step towards Turkey’s exit from NATO. Should it happen, the loss of the Turkish partner would undoubtedly cause a crisis in the Atlantic Alliance, which is already in a state of suspended animation according to several international observers. A possible weakening of NATO is also a goal of Putin’s Russia, which, despite the current political tension with Turkey, is already providing the country with anti-aircraft systems and is pressing Ankara to purchase its Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighters.

In this context, the normalization of the diplomatic relations between Israel and some of the Middle Eastern powers, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and the unconfirmed rumors of possible future agreements for developing common military assets, should not be at all surprising. Indeed, this event cannot be just considered due to Trump’s plan to bring stability to the Middle East, which many commentators describe as insufficient if not wholly nonexistent. Instead, it must be understood as evidence that the Arab world, in a perpetual crisis of relevance, is aware of the profound changes in the geopolitical equilibrium of the Eastern Mediterranean and is trying to gain the most advantageous position possible. Finally, what seems to be consolidation now may appear as an anti-Turkish front. However, on a closer look, it is more likely to form an opposing front to Chinese neo-colonial reaches in Africa, or at least contain them while reducing at the same time the dependency from the West.

This game of Risk against the Sleeping Giant will eventually involve all those Persian Gulf countries, which were once sworn enemies of the Jewish state, which today think of Israel more and more as a natural ally. To them, Tel Aviv will represent not only a strong military partner but also an economic and technological hub capable of rivaling Beijing. Such a realignment of alliances and loyalties would probably lead to a solution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This result, however, will not be due to either the American mediation or the joint efforts of various nations and international organizations. But instead to the emergence of a common enemy at the horizon. If a solution is therefore reached, it will, unfortunately, be at the expense of the Palestinians. Clinging to obsolete rhetoric and increasingly marginalized by their former allies, they do not seem willing to accept the changes and adapt their long-term objectives and strategy accordingly, falling into complete irrelevance.

With tensions with China predictably on the rise and in the face of the recent threats to Greece, the US has recently taken a stand, causing the temporary withdrawal of Turkish exploration vessels in the territorial waters controlled by Athens. However, coming “too late and one dollar short,” the US is not signaling any intent to get involved in the Eastern Mediterranean. On the contrary, responding to the American intervention and following the announcement of military exercises planned by the Greek armed forces in the northern Aegean, Ankara accused again Athens of violating the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which ended the Greek-Turkish war (1919- 1923) by redesigning the new borders between the two countries. It is not the first time that Turkey has accused Greece of violating the Treaty. The first time was in June 1964, following the deployment of a Greek motorized brigade on the island. However, this time Turkey does not seem to rule out a military reaction to the exercises recently announced by Athens.

On the northern shore of mare nostrum, things are not going any better. Although it is clear that the game that is being played in the Mediterranean, and that involves Greece and Cyprus, is an existential threat to European and Western interests, including the survival of the European Union, few nations have fully understood it. Amongst the European capitals, the change in the balance that for years accompanied the Union’s Mediterranean policy seems to be fully appreciated only by Paris. Accused of only aiming to control negligible energy resources, the second powerhouse of the EU has instead always pushed for a more incisive international role for Europe and its military integration. France is left alone while Berlin acts as Germany is still a trading state, interested only in short-term economic gains and not to upset the precarious balance reached with Turkey on the issue of migrants from the Balkan route.

As for Italy, Rome seems to think its best option is to take once again on the very same posture of equidistance and neutrality that has reduced it to a background actor in the international relations system with the addition of a dangerously ambiguous relationship with China. Nevertheless, France, which appears to be the natural candidate to lead the Union’s foreign policy, cannot expect to win this game alone. Geography is not an opinion: without Italy, the second naval power in the EU, Europe stands no chances of being relevant. It will inevitably be doomed in a humiliating position of subjugation.