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SIMTERRORISM – Modeling Religious Terrorism in Populations impacted by Climate Change

A book by Andrea Molle

available in our catalogue on Amazon (click for sample)

This volume examines the combined effects of risk propensity, relative deprivation, and social learning of deviance on the collective grievance within a religious population under the assumption of civil unrest caused by extreme climatic events. We designed an agent-based model to demonstrate how greater or lesser amounts of grievance towards political authority are likely to create an ideal en-vironment for organized violence to emerge when resources are threatened by climate change.

Scholars have tried to formulate a generally accepted definition of religious terrorism for almost four decades, but its investigation is still controversial, especially in the context of the emerging study of the political and social consequences of climatic events. This particular form of terrorism is nevertheless highly diffuse and observed to be coming from smaller clubs of radicalized individuals instead of main-stream religious groups. However, we find that doctrinal explanations appear irrelevant in explaining how terrorist cells emerge and organize themselves.

#ReaCT2023, n. 4: the annual Report on Radicalization and Terrorism in Europe.

As Director of the Observatory on Radicalization and Counterterrorism in Europe (ReaCT), I am pleased to introduce our fourth annual Report – #ReaCT2023, which provides a comprehensive analysis of the evolving threat represented by terrorism in Europe.

This report is conceived as a unique combination of both a scientific journal and a book, with contributions from various authors and researchers who devoted their time, expertise, and insights into making this report a reality. I am grateful to all of them for their important contributions and tireless efforts.

I also want to thank the Italian Ministry of Defense, for their esteem and renewed trust in the Observatory I lead, and for granting their sponsorship on the occasion of the official presentation of this report, and the Centre for Defense Higher Studies – Centro Alti Studi per la Difesa (CASD) in Rome. My gratitude also extends to the Italian Ministry of the Interior which, thanks to the contribution of the Central Directorate for Prevention Police – Direzione Centrale della Polizia di Prevenzione (DCPP) to this publication, allowed us to add further insight into the comprehension and definition of the contemporary threat that ideological radicalisation and violent terrorism represent at the moment.

In Europe there were 50 attacks in 2022, compared to 73 in 2021 – including in the UK and in Switzerland. Over the past three years, from a quantitative perspective, the frequency of terrorist attacks remained linear. According to GTI 2023, Europe is ranked as the third region most hit by terrorism, following Russia and Eurasia, and Central America and the Caribbean.

The report highlights the ever-changing nature of Jihadism which, while spreading and radicalizing, has undergone multiple transformations since its inception in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Al Qa’ida was the embodiment of the globalized and radicalized movement until the so-called Islamic State terror group surfaced in 2014, espousing a more extreme approach. The defeat of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria in 2017-18 marked the first tangible defeat for the jihadist movement. National jihadist movements, mostly nurtured by global jihadists, are now back in fashion, with the Sahel region at the epicenter of Jihadism.

The report also highlights the threat represented by right-wing extremism, left-wing and anarchist terrorism, disinformation, conspiracy theories and white supremacism, which requires urgent attention; developing risk assessment tools that take into account vetting practices in extreme right-wing radicalization processes is crucial.

In light of a changing world and of the conflict playing out on the threshold of Europe, it is essential that we adapt our interpretative paradigms of the threat, and that we question the definition of terrorism, the approach to countering radicalization processes, and the relocation of terrorism itself in the new conflict scenario. Crisis management in the 21st century presents unique challenges due to interconnected and interdependent contexts, making prediction difficult.

The report also highlights the danger of jihadist terrorism in the Balkan region, which remains a threat to Italian and European security. Italy has implemented various initiatives to counter this threat, particularly at the level of international peacekeeping missions. Civil society organizations play a crucial role in preventing and countering violent extremism, but they also face sensitive challenges in their relationships with counter-terrorism actors.

Finally, I would like to draw attention to a recent publication which looks at “where the fight against radicalisation and international terrorism by means of criminal law is going”, and a research project which offers “an empirical study of Spanish jurisprudence dealing with jihadist terrorism over the past 21 years”. The project, focused on the Spanish system, offers constructive proposals aimed at combining the challenges posed by this criminal phenomenon with the granting of fundamental human rights and explores the potential of Restorative Justice.

In conclusion, this year’s report is a testament to the strength and dedication of our community of scholars and practitioners within the ongoing fight against radicalisation and terrorism. I hope that the insights presented in this report will contribute to a better understanding of the evolving threat of terrorism in Europe and serve as a call to action for all stakeholders to work together to prevent and counter violent extremism.

I’d like to thank all the authors: with their commendable work, they have once again contributed to the successful realization of our annual Report, #ReaCT2023. A special thanks for their support also goes to Chapman University in Orange, California, Università della Svizzera italiana – USI in Lugano and Piattaforma cantonale di prevenzione della radicalizzazione e dell’estremismo violento (Canton of Ticino, Switzerland). Last but not least, as usual, to the Editor – START InSight, for making this publication possible and for its contribution to the international distribution.

Claudio Bertolotti, Observatory ReaCt – The Executive Director

Hard copy available (via Amazon)

Go to the Index and download #ReaCT2023

Switzerland: Two decades of terrorism trials.

by Ahmed Ajil, University of Lausanne (Switzerland) – Researcher, Criminologist

An overview of the cases tried by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court since 9/11

Although Switzerland has not experienced a large-scale attack of the kind experienced in other European countries in the last decade, the phenomenon of politico-ideological violence in the jihadist spectrum is nevertheless present. In December 2021, the Federal Intelligence Service counted 41 so-called “persons at risk” considered to be posing “a priority threat to Switzerland’s internal and external security”. In the context of its “jihad monitoring”, it also identified 714 people who were active online (since 2012), showing sympathy for jihadist terrorist organisations by disseminating propaganda or by talking to people who defend the ideology of these groups. Since 9/11, 91 individuals have left Switzerland to join a terrorist organisation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria or Iraq. Some people have returned, while others, now held by Kurdish forces in Syria, are seeking to be actively repatriated, something the Federal Council refuses to do.

While there are different ways to confront the terrorist phenomenon, the use of criminal law constitutes the most obvious one. In its 2020 annual report, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (FPO) reported 35 pending criminal investigations for terrorism in 2016, 34 in 2017, 30 in 2018, 31 in 2019 and 26 in 2020. In this short contribution, I would like to present a few findings from a research project on the repression of terrorism by the Federal Criminal Court (FCC), conducted together with my colleague Kastriot Lubishtani, of which some results have recently been published in Jusletter (31 May 2021).

The FCC, operative since 2004, is the judicial authority that is charged with the sentencing of terrorism-related offences. The few criminal proceedings opened by the cantonal prosecution authorities are taken over by the FPO and then judged by the TPF, except for those relating to minors. Analysing the sentencing pattern of the FCC in this domain enables us to gain quite a comprehensive view of the most severe cases which “make” it through all stages of the so-called “crime funnel” (entonnoir pénal). At this point, it is important to note that the Federal Prosecutor’s Office (FPO) can also single-handedly sentence individuals as long as the punishment does not exceed six months of liberty-deprivation. The FPO frequently resorts to this option, but given that these verdicts are, in principle, not accessible to the public, they are not accounted for here.

From a legal perspective, there are mainly two provisions that are applied to terrorism-related offences. One of them is article 260ter of the Swiss Criminal Code which criminalises the support of and participation in criminal organisations (a term that includes terrorist groups). The other one is the Federal Law prohibiting the organisations Islamic State and Al-Qaida and related groups (in short: IS/AQ-Law), which entered into force on 1 January 2015.

We collected all sentences related to these two provisions and then selected only those related to terrorism. The only form of terrorism handled by the FCC since its inception in 2004 is jihadism-inspired terrorism. Since the publication of our article in May 2021, two hearings took place and led to convicting three (3) individuals in total, which I am including in this contribution.

The numbers

Since 2004 and until November 2021, the TPF has tried a total of 17 criminal proceedings related to jihadist terrorism cases. Most of these proceedings took place after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war and the subsequent territorial expansion of the group IS in June 2014. In fact, three (3) proceedings were conducted between 2004 and 2014 with eleven (11) persons formally indicted during this period, while there were fourteen (14) proceedings and twenty-one (21) persons tried by the TPF between 2014 and 2020. The language of proceedings was German in twelve (12) of the proceedings conducted in Bellinzona, while French was used three (3) times and Italian twice (2).

These proceedings are relatively complex, which is reflected in the length of the pre-trial proceedings, as well as in their costs. On average, 882 days, or almost 2.5 years, elapsed between the initiation of criminal proceedings against an accused person and his or her indictment. The direct costs related to the investigation, the defence and the court hearing reached up to 800’000 Swiss Francs for a single case.

Across the 17 procedures, a total of 32 individuals appeared before the Federal Criminal Court. This means that in several proceedings – more precisely, seven (7) – several persons were tried. Specifically, four (4) proceedings involved two (2) persons, while the remaining three (3) proceedings involved three (3) persons, four (4) persons and the last one involved seven (7) persons. In each of the remaining ten (10) proceedings, only one (1) person was indicted.

The overwhelming majority of the terrorism cases brought before the FCC led to convictions. In total, 30 individuals were convicted by the FCC and two (2) persons were acquitted of all charges. As of 20 November 2021, there are twenty-one (21) final and enforceable convictions. Of these, six (6) persons were eventually not convicted in relation to terrorism-related offences. Hence, to date, there have been 24 convictions for terrorism-related offences, of which fifteen (15) are final and nine (9) are pending.

Who are the Swiss terrorists?

Thirty (30) accused were men, while one (1) woman was charged as a co-defendant and one (1) as main defendant. Twelve (12) of the accused were Swiss nationals, seven (7) of whom had dual citizenship. Of these, one (1) Turkish-Swiss dual national was subjected to a citizenship stripping, confirmed by the Federal Administrative Court in 2021. Nine (9) defendants had a residence permit. Ten (10) defendants were asylum seekers. Seven (7) of them had their asylum applications pending and three (3) had been provisionally admitted. One (1) defendant had never resided in Switzerland but was staying there at the time of her arrest.

The overwhelming majority, i.e., twenty-six (26) persons had no previous criminal record. This fact raises doubts regarding the pertinence of the crime-terror nexus hypothesis for the Swiss context. The other six (6) persons had been convicted of various offences under the Road Traffic Act in the case of three (3) of them, under the Weapons Act in the case of one (1) defendant, and for breach of a maintenance obligation in the case of another (1) defendant. Finally, one (1) of the defendants had been convicted on several occasions for illegal entry, threats, and coercion.

Nineteen (19) of the defendants were unemployed and dependent on social assistance at the time of the judgment. Five (5) defendants had no taxable income and were in debt. In addition, three (3) defendants were employed and had a regular monthly income at the time of the sentence. Finally, the economic situation of the remaining five (5) defendants is unknown. These observations provide some evidence for the pertinence of the biographical availability hypothesis, which suggests that a lack of structure and occupation may facilitate engagement for high-risk activism or illegal causes.

Of the thirty (30) convicted persons (twenty-one (21) final convictions and nine (9) pending convictions), custodial sentences were handed down in twenty-five (25) cases, with an additional financial penalty in four (4) of these cases. Nine (9) of the custodial sentences were conditional and six (6) were partially conditional, which means that ten (10) entirely unconditional custodial sentences were pronounced. In five (5) cases, the FCC imposed only pecuniary sentences, of which two (2) were conditional.

The most lenient punishment was a conditional 25-day fine at CHF 100 per day. The most severe punishment was a custodial sentence of 70 months, coupled with a 15-year ban on entering the country.

What are “terrorist activities” in the Swiss context?

In terms of the nature of the criminal acts committed, one notes that since 2001, no acts of terrorist violence have been committed on Swiss soil and brought before the Federal Criminal Court (the attacks of Morges and Lugano in 2020 still being under investigation).

When focusing on the 24 convictions for terrorism-related offences (6 convictions did not end up concerning terrorism-related offences), one notices that the acts that were prosecuted in relation to jihadist terrorism were mainly related to activities on Internet platforms. Two (2) proceedings involving a total of four (4) persons concerned the operation of Internet sites containing propaganda material, such as photos and videos, as well as comments glorifying the leaders of major jihadist terrorist organisations such as Osama Bin Laden. Three (3) people were recently convicted in connection with the production of a filmed interview with a jihadist rebel in the Syrian conflict, Abdullah Al-Muhaysini. For seven (7) of the convicted persons, the charges were limited exclusively to activities on social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram, consisting of sending and/or sharing videos, images and comments, and in one case translating media communications of jihadist groups.

In some cases, the activity was mainly taking place in the digital realm, but individuals were convicted of being part of a network. In one conviction of (3) men, the case was opened on suspicion of a potential attack, but in the end, they were only convicted for their activities on social networks.  In one (1) case, the single defendant was convicted of maintaining contacts with persons abroad affiliated with terrorist organisations, but also of encouraging a person in Lebanon to carry out an attack against Hezbollah or the US military.

The most physical acts were attempts to travel to combat zones or activities related to foreign fighting: Four (4) people were charged for attempting to travel to the Syrian-Iraqi territory to join IS, one (1) for joining an armed group in Syria and recruiting others, and another one (1) for practicing proselytism in Switzerland and providing logistic support for foreign fighters in Turkey.

In conclusion, it appears that out of the 24 individuals who were convicted by the FCC for terrorism-related offences, 18 convicted individuals were engaged in exclusively or predominantly digital activities, while six (6) mobilised physically to support terrorist groups. It important to note that although they were more physically involved than others, their activities on social media and via messaging platforms, that were occurring alongside, were aspects of essential relevance for their conviction.

Gradual widening of the net

Legally speaking, individuals were primarily convicted for supporting criminal organisations or AQ/IS-affiliated groups. Only three individuals were convicted for participating in a terror group. This can be explained by two things. On the one hand, it is difficult to prove membership and participation in the loosely organised networks and groups that characterise the jihadist phenomenon after 9/11. On the other hand, the analysis of the cases in question makes it clear that, compared with the quite restrictive definition of participation, the notion of support is a very large one and has come to mean basically any activity that can be considered as putting a terrorist organisation in a favourable light. By way of example, one individual was partly convicted for posting an image on Facebook of a functioning hospital in a zone controlled by the group IS to show that infrastructures are not all damaged under the terror group’s reign. In another case, an individual was convicted for sending three propaganda images via Whatsapp to another person. It is therefore barely surprising that most of the cases lead to convictions for the rather loosely treated notion of support.

The Swiss anti-terror dispositif’s evolution is also part of a larger trend, bolstered by the attacks of 9/11, to expand the applicability of criminal legal frameworks into the pre-criminal sphere, thereby widening the penal net in relation to acts that are considered to fall under the umbrella of terrorism-related activities. This is understandable from a political perspective but poses a number of challenges from a legal and ethical perspective. In fact, the preventive turn of Swiss anti-terror laws and the way they are applied leads authorities to investigate and sentence acts that are increasingly detached from the actual act of violence that is sought to be prevented. In an increasingly pre-criminal sphere, it is impossible to cover the entirety of punishable acts and therefore differential and unequal treatment becomes more likely. These aspects need to be considered when thinking about future ways to strengthen and expand anti-terror efforts in the Swiss context.

New Insurrectional Terrorism ignites individual terrorism in Europe

by Claudio Bertolotti

From Africa to Afghanistan: Europe looks with concern at jihadist exaltation

The Islamic State no longer has the strength to dispatch terrorists to Europe as the loss of territory, financial strenght and recruits reduced its operational capability to zero. However, the threat remains significant due to the availability and action of lone actors, self-starters driven by emulation without a direct link to the organization.

While on the ideological level the Islamic State remains the main jihadist threat, it is however unlikely that it will be able to replicate the overwhelming appeal the “Caliphate” enjoyed in the 2014-2017 period, as it lost the advantage of novelty, which constituted its strength, particularly with younger people. In addition, both from a legislative and operational perspective, Europe has been able to significantly reduce its own vulnerabilities, although there were greater achievements in terms of counter-terrorism rather than prevention. On the whole, however, the scenario remains uncertain due to the risks connected to copycat attacks (“effetto emulativo” in Italian) and the “call to war” issued in relation to international events, which can mobilise individuals in the name of jihad. The most important event which occured in 2021 that has provided and will continue to provide impetus with respect to transnational jihad is the success of the Taliban in Afghanistan as, on the one hand, it feeds jihadist propaganda via the underlying message that “victory results from fighting to the bitter end”; on the other hand, it fuels a competition between jihadist groups engaged in exclusively local forms of struggle and resistance and those which, like the Islamic State, understand and promote jihad solely as an means of fighting to the bitter end on a global level.

In this overall and constantly evolving picture, we must pay attention to growing extremist forces in some areas of Africa, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa, the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and, furthermore, in Rwanda and Mozambique, in order to counter the rise of new “caliphates” or “wilayats” that could directly threaten Europe.

In its prolific jihadist propaganda, the Islamic State boasts of its spread throughout the African continent and emphasizes how the goal of countering the presence and spread of Christianity will lead the group to expand into other areas of the continent. In the Maghreb, Mashreq and Afghanistan, the activities of the Islamic State are centered around the intra-Muslim sectarian struggle, while in Africa its presence imposes itself as part of a conflict between Muslims and Christians with the help of propaganda insisting on the need to stop the conversion of Muslims to Christianity by “missionaries”, and under the “pretext” of humanitarian aid.  Within this context, there’s no shortage of violence taking place; kidnappings and murders of religious missionaries, attacks against NGOs and international missions from Burkina Faso to Congo, and attacks on Christian villagers, especially during Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

A drop in attacks, but the threat of terrorism persists

Over the past three years, from a quantitative perspective, the frequency of terrorist attacks remained linear. From 2017 to 2020, 457 attacks took place in the European Union, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, including failed and foiled attacks: from 2014 to 2017, their number stood at 895.

In 2020, there were 119 attacks -including 62 in the UK and 2 in Switzerland-. According to Europol (TeSat 2020) 43% of those are attributed to radical left-wing movements (with a decrease from 26 to 25); 24% to separatist and ethno-nationalist groups; 7% to far-right groups (compared to 2019, there was an increase in percentage yet they decreased in absolute term); 26% are jihadist actions. Although jihadist violence is marginal compared to the total number of actions motivated by other ideologies, it remains the most relevant and dangerous in terms of results, the victims it causes -from 16 victims in 2020 to 13 in 2021- and direct effects.

In the wake of major terror events linked to the Islamic State group in Europe, 165 jihadist actions have taken place from 2014 to 2021, according to START InSight’s database; of those, 34 were explicitly claimed by the Islamic State; they were perpetrated by 219 terrorists (63 were killed in action); 434 victims lost their lives and 2,473 were injured.

The number of jihadist events recorded in 2021 stands at 18, down slightly from the 25 attacks of the previous year, but with an increase in the percentage of “emulative” actions – meaning, actions inspired by other attacks that occured over the previous days-; from 48% in 2020, they rose to 56% in 2021 (in 2019, they stood at 21%). 2021 also confirmed the predominance of individual, un-organized, mainly improvised and unsuccessful actions that progressively replaced the structured and coordinated actions which had characterized the European urban “battlefield” in the years from 2015 to 2017.

The “European” terrorists

Active terrorism is a male prerogative: out of 207 attackers, 97% are male (7 are women); unlike in 2020, when there were 3 female attackers, 2021 did not record the active participation of women.

The median age of the 207 terrorists (male and female) is 26: a figure which varies over time (from 24 years of age in 2016, to 30 in 2019). The biographical data of 169 individuals for whom we have complete information allow us to draw a very interesting picture which tells us that 10% are younger than 19, 36% are between 19 and 26, 39% are between 27 and 35 and, finally, 15% are older than 35.

88% of the attacks (where we have complete information) were carried out by second and third-generation “immigrants” and first-generation immigrants, both legal and irregular.

Of the 154 out of 207 terrorists analyzed through START InSight’s database, 45% are legal immigrants; 24% are descendants of immigrants (second or third generation); 19% are irregular immigrants; this last figure is growing, rising to 25% in 2020 and doubling to 50% in 2021. The presence of an 8% of citizens of European origin who have converted to Islam is significant. Overall, 77% of terrorists are regular residents of Europe, while the role of irregular immigrants stands out with a ratio of about 1 for every 6 terrorists. In 4% of the attacks, children/minors (7) were found to be among the attackers.

The ethno-national map of terrorism in Europe

The phenomenon of jihadist radicalization in Europe afflicts certain national/ethnic groups more than others. There is a proportional relationship between the main immigrant groups and terrorists, as it seems to appear from the nationality of the terrorists, or of the families of origin, which is in line with the size of foreign communities in Europe. The Maghrebi origins prevail: the ethno-national groups mainly affected by jihadist adherence are Moroccan (in France, Belgium, Spain and Italy) and Algerian (in France).

Increase in recidivism and individuals already known to intelligence

The role played by repeat offenders – individuals already convicted of terrorism who carry out violent actions at the end of their prison sentence and, in some cases, in prison – is prominent; they accounted for 3% of the terrorists in 2018 (1 case), then rose to 7% (2) in 2019, to 27% (6) in 2020, and were down to a single case in 2021. This seems to confirm the social danger represented by individuals who, in the face of a prison sentence, tend to postpone the conduct of terrorist actions; this evidence points to a potential increase in terrorist acts over the coming years, coinciding with the release of most terrorists currently detained.

Parallel to repeat offenders, START InSight found another significant trend, which is related to actions carried out by terrorists already known to European law enforcement or intelligence agencies: they account for 44% and 54% of the total in 2021 and 2020 respectively, compared to 10% in 2019 and 17% in 2018.

There is a certain stability related to participation in terrorist actions by individuals with a prison history (including those detained for non-terrorist offenses) with a figure of 23% in 2021, slightly down from the previous year (33% in 2020) but in line with 2019 (23% in 2019, 28% in 2018 and 12% in 2017); this confirms the hypothesis that sees prisons as places of radicalization.

Is the offensive capacity of terrorism being reduced?

In order to draw a precise picture of terrorism, one needs to analyse the three levels on which terrorism itself develops and operates, and that is the strategic, the operational and the tactical. Strategy consists in the employment of combat for the purpose of war; tactics is the employment of troops for the purpose of battle; the operational level is between these two. This is a simple summary which underlines an essential feature: that is, the employment of fighters. 

Success at the strategic level is marginal

16% of the actions were successful at the strategic level, as they brought about structural consequences consisting in a blockade of national and/or international air/rail traffic, mobilization of the armed forces, far-reaching legislative interventions. This is a very high figure, in consideration of the limited organizational and financial capabilities of the groups and lone attackers. The trend over the years has been uneven, but it highlighted a progressive reduction in capability and effectiveness: 75% of strategic success was recorded in 2014, 42% in 2015, 17% in 2016, 28% in 2017, 4% in 2018, 5% in 2019, 12% in 2020 and 6% in 2021. Overall, attacks garnered international media attention 79% of the time, 95% domestically, while organized and structured commando and team-raid actions received full media attention. An evident, as much as sought after, media success that may have significantly affected the recruitment campaign of aspiring martyrs or jihad fighters, whose numerical magnitude remains high in correspondence with periods of heightened terrorist activity (2016-2017).But while it is true that mass media amplification has positive effects on recruitment, it is also true that this attention tends to diminish over time, due to two main reasons: the first, is the prevalence of low-intensity actions over high-intensity actions – which have been decreasing – and on low- and medium-intensity actions – which increased significantly from 2017 to 2021. The second, is that public opinion is increasingly inured to terroristic violence and consequently less ‘touched’, particularly by “low” and “medium intensity” events.

The tactical level is worrisome, but it is not the priority of terrorism

Assuming that the aim of terrorist attacks consists in killing at least one enemy (in 35% of the cases, the targets are security forces), this aim has been achieved over the period from 2004 to 2021 on average in 50% of the cases. However, it should be taken into account that the large time frame tends to affect the margin of error; the trend over the 2014-2021 period, hints at a decline in the results of terrorism, with a prevalence of low-intensity attacks and an increase in actions with a failed outcome at least until 2019. The results of the last six years in particular, show that success at a tactical level was obtained, in 2016, in 31% of the cases (against 6% of formally unsuccessful acts), while 2017 recorded a success rate of 40% and a failure rate of 20%. An overall trend that, when taking into consideration a 33% success rate at the tactical level, a doubling of failed attacks (42%) in 2018 and a further downward figure of 25% success rate in 2019, can be read as a result of the progressive decrease in the operational capability of terrorists and the increased reactivity of European security forces. But if the analysis suggests a technical capability that has indeed been reduced, it is also true that the improvised and unpredictable character of the new individual and emulative terrorism has led to an increase in successful actions, growing from 32% in 2020 to 44% in 2021.

The real success is at operational level. The “functional blockade”

Even when it fails, terrorism gains, in terms of the costs inflicted upon its target: e.g. by engaging the armed forces and Police in an extraordinary way, distracting them from normal routine activities and/or preventing them from intervening in support of the community; by interrupting or overloading the health services; by limiting, slowing down, diverting or stopping collective urban, air and naval mobility; by restricting the regular course of daily personal, commercial and professional activities, to the detriment of affected communities and, moreover, by significantly reducing the technological advantage, the operational potential and resilience; and finally, more in general, by inflicting direct and indirect damage, regardless of the ability to cause casualties. Consistently, the limitation in the freedom of citizens is a measurable result that terrorism obtains through its actions.

In other words, terrorism is successful even in the absence of victims, as it can still impose economic and social costs on the community and influence the latter’s behaviour over time as a consequence of new security measures aimed at safeguarding the community: this effect is what we call the “functional blockade”.

The ever-decreasing operational capability of terrorism notwithstanding, the “functional blockade” continues to be the most significant result obtained by terrorists, regardless of tactical success (killing of at least one target). While tactical success has been observed in 34% of the attacks which took place since 2004, terrorism has proven its effectiveness by inducing a “functional blockade” in an average of 82% of the cases, with a peak of 92% in 2020 and 89% in 2021: an impressive result, when considering the limited resources deployed by terrorists. The cost-benefit ratio is, no doubt, in favour of terrorism.

Michele Brunelli (ed.), Understanding radicalisation, terrorism and de-radicalisation. Historical, socio-political and educational perspectives from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Italy (Book Review)

By Andrea Carteny, Elena Tosti Di Stefano

In recent decades, radicalisation and terrorism have come to the forefront of International Relations, giving rise to a wealth of conceptualisations and study perspectives, which shed light on the multiple, diverse connections between terrorist phenomena, radical ideologies, and global, regional, or local conflicts. Particularly relevant in this respect is the need to consider factors such as ethnicity, religion, historical heritages, as well as migration. Such consideration is even more salient if the military dimension of counteraction is flanked – and sometimes replaced – by prevention, deterrence, and integration strategies involving the educational, economic, and social resilience spheres.

It is on this premise that the volume Understanding radicalisation, terrorism and de-radicalisation. Historical, socio-political and educational perspectives from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Italy was developed.Published by Rubbettino in the editorial series “Laboratorio sull’Intelligence dell’Università della Calabria”, the collective work presents the results of an intense and fruitful two-year research activity carried out within the project PRaNet – Prevention of Radicalisation Network (2019-2021).

The PRaNet project, led by the Italian University of Bergamo, entails the creation of a university network between the latter institution and two universities from countries belonging to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Algeria and Azerbaijan, with the aim of deepening knowledge and understanding of phenomena linked to radicalisation, as well as promoting social inclusion and developing de-radicalisation policies for integration purposes. Project activities have been implemented within the framework of the multiannual programme “Strategy for the Promotion of Italian Higher Education Abroad 2017/2020”, jointly supported by the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI). These include, in addition to research initiatives, exchanges of students, teachers, researchers, and trainees through ad hoc programmes, such as the MaRTe Master’s degree at the University of Bergamo in “Prevention and Fight Against Radicalisation, Terrorism and for International Integration and Security Policies”, as well as vocational activities at the University Mohamed Lamine Debaghine (Sétif 2), in Algeria, and the ADA University fi Baku in Azerbaijan.

The book draws on the consolidated experience of Michele Brunelli, Professor of History and Institutions of Islamic Societies at the University of Bergamo and Director of the Master MaRTe, who has coordinated international projects concerning de-radicalisation and prevention of violent extremism in Algeria, Azerbaijan and Burkina Faso, and edited, also last year and for the same publishing house, the volume Prevention and countering of confessional terrorism and radicalisation.

The scientific quality of the book derives not only from addressing, through various perspectives, the main key-categories for understanding terrorism (definition, causality, consequences, and response), but also from analysing the historical, cultural, and socio-economic factors relating to the phenomena of radicalisation, terrorism, anti-terrorism, and de-radicalisation, taking as case studies three different confessional contexts: Italy, as a traditionally Christian society; Algeria, a Sunni Islamic country; and Azerbaijan, characterised by a Shia Muslim majority but a prevailingly secular society.

As the title suggests, the study revolves around three concepts – radicalisation, terrorism, and de-radicalisation – which are in turn the subjects of the three sections of the book respectively.

The first section scrutinises the complex relationship between radicalisation and the question of minorities and identity cleavages. Lala Jumayeva, Assistant Professor in International Affairs at the ADA University of Baku with an expertise in conflict resolution, investigates the link between ethnic minorities and radicalisation in the Caucasian area, while Naouel Abdellatif Mami, Professor of Psycho-pedagogical Sciences and Foreign Languages at the University Sétif 2, deals with the issue of identity and freedom of expression as drivers of extremism in the Algerian context. Šeila Muhić, Researcher at the University of Bergamo specialised in the field of human rights, explores the migration phenomenon in Italy as a potential fertile ground for radicalisation. Further insights are offered by the second chapter of the section, which brings together a series of essays on female radicalisation and women victims or actors of terrorism. Anar Valiyev, also a Professor at ADA University and an expert on history and institutions of the post-Soviet space, discusses case of ISIS in relation to women and children victims of radicalisation in Azerbaijan, with particular reference to Salafist environments. Next, Naouel Abdellatif Mami examines the condition of women in Algerian history, focusing on the “black decade” (1991-2002) as well as on women’s role in the development of approaches to resilience. The last study of the second chapter, carried out by Emilija Davidovic – an expert on human rights in the post-Yugoslavian scenario – concerns the involvement of women in extremist violence in the European (Western and Balkan) context. The third chapter then provides a broad overview of the phenomenon of political-religious radicalisation in post-Soviet Azerbaijan, which mainly affects minority religious and ethnic communities (Sunni and alloglot).

The second section of the book addresses terrorism and its several conceptualisations. First, Ilas Touazi, Researcher at the University Sétif 2 with an expertise in terrorism/counter-terrorism, presents an analysis of the jihadist threat in Algeria, placing emphasis on the transnationalisation of local terrorism. Professor Michele Brunelli subsequently explores the evolution of politically and ideologically motivated terrorist crimes in the European scenario, notably in Italy. The book continues with the contribution of Aydan Ismayilova, a graduate of the MaRTe Master’s course and an expert on jihadism, who examines terrorist phenomena in the Caucasus area, focusing on Armenian terrorist movements and religious extremist groups. Further food for thought is provided by the fifth chapter, which includes research contributions on critical infrastructure as the main targets of terrorist attacks. As such, Inara Yagubova (Project Manager at the ADA University of Baku) deals with the terrorist threat to energy infrastructure in Azerbaijan, while Nabil Benmoussa, Professor of Economics at the University Sétif 2, analyses the economic implications of terrorism in Algeria and the related policies of contrast. The essay written by Fabio Indeo, Analyst at the NATO Defense College Foundation and expert in energy geopolitics of Central Asia, explains the vulnerabilities and the strategies of protection of European critical infrastructure, also in light of the new challenges posed by cybercrime. Afterwards, Commander Mario Leone Piccinni, Officer of the Italian Guardia di Finanza and specialist in cybercrime, outlines the intricate financing systems of terrorist organisations at the international and local level.

The third and last section deals with de-radicalisation policies and strategies. The seventh chapter hence investigates counter-terrorist responses, with a first essay by Stefano Bonino, a criminologist expert in terrorism and organised crime, who discusses Algerian counter-terrorist strategies – from the most repressive ones to “soft” measures. As for the other two countries under consideration, counter-terrorism and radicalism activities in the Azerbaijani context are examined by Anar Valiyev, while the Italian case is carefully analysed by Stefano Bonino and Andrea Beccaro, the latter being Professor of Strategic Studies and War Studies at the University of Turin and the State University of Milan respectively. The following chapter puts emphasis on the role of education in preventing and responding to terrorism and radicalism, as clearly emerges from the case study of Azerbaijan, here discussed by Valiyev. Likewise, Benmoussa outlines the recent educational reforms in Algeria, conceived as part of the response to these phenomena; Šeila Muhić, for her part, illustrates the programmes of civil society involvement to counter violent extremism at the European level. Last but not least, the ninth chapter closes the book with an essay by Karim Regouli (Researcher at the University Sétif 2) on the delicate process of reconciliation in Algeria after the decade of violence triggered by Islamic terrorism.

For the breadth of the topics it covers, for the multiplicity of perspectives it offers and for the originality of the comparative case studies, the book provides a significant contribution to research on radicalisation and terrorism, representing, furthermore, an invaluable reference for developing effective counteraction policies. Among recent studies, the volume ranks amongst the most relevant on such topics, together with – inter aliaCommunities and Counterterrorism (Routledge, 2019), edited by Basia Spalek and Douglas Weeks, Countering Violent Extremism. The international deradicalisation agenda (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021) by Tahir Abbas, as well as “Countering International Terrorism, with particular reference to the phenomenon of foreign fighters” edited by the Società Italiana per l’Organizzazione Internazionale (SIOI) in 2019.

Understanding radicalisation, terrorism and de-radicalisation. Historical, socio-political and educational perspectives from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Italy undoubtedly constitutes a point of reference for scholars and experts, as well as for national and international institutions. The adopted multidisciplinary approach – historical, political-institutional, economic, social, operational, and socio-educational – provides for a comprehensive and articulated framework, which can be applied not only to religiously motivated terrorism and radicalisation, but also to the many historical-political expressions of such phenomena.

The new horizons of radicalisation

by Chiara Sulmoni

The pandemic of extremism

   On a global scale, terrorism has (long) tended to make fewer victims, despite a wider geographical spread and the fact that, particularly in Syria and sub-Saharan Africa, the threat has grown. This is the picture drawn by the Global Peace Index (GPI) 2021, which measures the impact of a series of indicators on the peacefulness of nations. The same document depicts an international context where, on the one hand, “the conflicts and crises that emerged in the past decade have begun to abate”; on the other, COVID19 brought about new tensions. Between January 2020 and April 2021, there were more than 5’000 pandemic-related violent events. The economic, social and even psychological impact of the different measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus helped create the conditions for a rise in extremism and in the number of militants and supporters of various causes, including conspiracy theories – be it of a political, identity, anti-technological, no-vax nature – which found their echo in anti-government protests and demonstrative actions, such as dozens of attacks against 5G masts suspected of spreading COVID19; disruptions at vaccination centers; and threats directed at scientists, politicians and even, as occasionally reported in Italy, shopkeepers and restaurateurs requesting their clients to exhibit Green Passes. On the Internet and in the streets, different orientations more frequently happen to coexist and overlap, converging temporarily on common causes and battles and/or driven by the aim of increasing their own visibility and support base.

   According to terrorism expert Ali Soufan, in the future law enforcement, analysts and researchers might look to 2020 as a watershed moment in terms of recruitment by non-state actors. It should be emphasized, however, that the significant and progressive increase in protests, civil unrest and political instability has been captured by the GPI since 2011; this is a particularly pronounced trend in the United States, where the scale of the problem clearly came to light on 6th January, 2021 when a diverse crowd of supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump, convinced that they could overturn the outcome of the vote, felt legitimized by the narrative of the “stolen elections” – which was pushed forth by some in the political spectrum and the media – to storm the Capitol. The insurrection against the transfer of power between the two American administrations, which caused five victims and left a hundred others wounded, generated a greater, albeit belated, awareness of the risks associated with an internal extremist drift which has now become a priority issue for national security. The 700 plus individuals who were arrested and prosecuted – including a 12% with a military background, according to data gathered by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University – are a jumble of exponents, supporters and sympathizers of various ideologies and acronyms linked to the worlds of white supremacism, neo-Nazism, armed militias and the conspiracy universe (QAnon above all), who were identified and incriminated also thanks to their activities and interactions, fully visible on social platforms.  A substantial part of these citizens did not appear to be officially affiliated to any organization; in this context, some experts today speak of mass radicalization.

The new normal of radicalization, shifting profiles and risks

   Twenty years since the attacks of 11th September, which opened a long chapter in the fight against terrorism at the national and international levels that took various shapes – from military interventions to the strengthening of police and intelligence measures, from legislative changes to more interdisciplinary study of the subject, to prevention and de-radicalization initiatives – not only has the threat not vanished; today, it is more widespread, fragmented and complex to deal with. The ecosystem of violent extremism is characterized by strong competition, but also by a growing exposure to the strategies, tactics and “perceived victories” of ideologically distant groups – analysts have not failed to point out, for example, the attention paid by far-right circles to the “success” of the Taliban, whose return to power after a long insurgency doesn’t merely motivate al-Qaeda and / or fighters within the jihadist galaxy, but also other (armed) groups who make “traditional society” their bulwark, oppose liberal values in the West and/or aspire to civil conflict. The proximity and sometimes the cohabitation of themes – e.g. jihadist vis-à-vis Accelerationst – narratives and symbolism does not entail a watering down of ideological principles or beliefs but rather, as one can read in a research on the subject (ICSR, January 2022), “an enhanced focus on results over practice”. With reference to the Salafi-jihadist sphere, in ReaCT2022 Michael Krona also explains that “supporter groups online are expanding the terrorism universe by forming new entities that are less inclined to attach themselves to a single organisation and instead promote wider ideological interpretations (…)“. Today, the production of propaganda and extremist narrative – but also calls for action – are no longer a prerogative of terrorist movements’ media, but an operation which sees the significant contribution of a large base of followers and militants acting on their own, both with regard to the creation of new content – where topics might differ from those addressed by the group’s official channels – and to its dissemination; a large number of indictments and convictions for crimes related to terrorism (not only of a jihadist nature) actually concern activities such as collection, assembly and dissemination of material which might also be useful for planning attacks. Because of this fragmentation, the tech giants’ battle to “clean up the Internet” is far from easy, due to the skills of those “instigators” in disguising the content of posts and accounts; in deceiving algorithms; in migrating from platform to platform (including those popular with youngsters, like TikTok) and in moving along grey areas and through encrypted Apps.

Britain is among the European countries most affected by terrorism and radicalization and for this reason, it anticipates and provides very important data and food for thought. Recently Dean Haydon, Senior National Coordinator for Counterterrorism Policing outlined the new profiles that are changing the equation in the country: in short, according to the latest trend, it’s more common today to come across individuals of British origins or nationality, increasingly young and attracted to the ideologies of the extreme right, who self-radicalize online and act on their own initiative. But 2020/21 data on referrals for suspected radicalisation to the Prevent programme -which steps in when people are thought to manifest early signs of extremism – reveal that 51% of the cases concern “mixed, unstable or unclear ideologies” (MUU).  Considering that there’s also a very high percentage, a preponderance even of situations where mental health problems, addiction and/or other difficulties might play a role – making youth particularly vulnerable to online propaganda – violence prevails over ideology as a motivating factor, as a channel for venting personal discomfort and – according to experts – as a means to “acquire significance”.  As a remarkable number of people suffering from autism spectrum disorder have entered the Prevent circuit, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation Jonathan Hall stated that “it is as if a social problem has been unearthed and fallen into lap of counter-terrorism professionals.” Within this context, radicalization takes on the connotations of a public health problem that must be studied and addressed from a broader perspective than the one adopted till now, which placed a strong emphasis on the role of ideology and consequently, with a view to countering the phenomenon, on counter-narrative. An attack which took place in August 2021 in Plymouth, where a 22-year-old who was familiar with the incel environment shot 7 people before taking his own life, is emblematic of the various nuances that make the task of identifying what new forms of violence represent a terrorist threat particularly difficult. Well-known in the United States and relatively new to Europe, incels are “involuntary celibates”, individuals who fail to establish a relationship with the opposite sex; scholars explain that within this “bubble” – which is also dubbed incel “culture” and is endowed with its own specific jargon – one can come across resentment and hate speech spurring violence against women. More generally, it harbors a mix of misogynist, racist, anti-Semitic and conspiracy beliefs. From March to November 2021, there was a six-fold increase in visits by British users – which include children aged 13 and over – to the three main online forums linked to incel ideology (data collected by The Times with the Centre for Countering Digital Hate). Official statistics say that 2021 set a record in the number of children arrested for terrorist offences.

The new horizons of radicalization are not to be observed solely in the Anglo-Saxon world; with reference to jihadism, the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service in their 2020 Report had already drawn attention to individuals “whose radicalisation and violent tendencies are rooted more in personal crises or psychological problems than in ideological conviction. The frequency of such acts of violence, which have only a marginal link to jihadist ideology or groups, will in general remain the same or possibly even increase.”  Within the same year, the first two such attacks in Switzerland took place in Morges and Lugano with the perpetrators – a man and a woman – fitting this description.

Rethinking radicalisation with a view to prevention

Over the past 15 years, security policies and counterterrorism initiatives focused mainly on propaganda and recruitment by al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and related groups. Jihadism does remain the form of terrorism causing more victims; Europol itself reports that in 2020 – possibly also due to the pressure of the pandemic on security forces? – the number of attacks which were carried out exceeded that of foiled/failed ones and more than doubled, compared to the previous year. However, as previously highlighted, there’s today a new risk emanating from a post-organized reality, where militants and (potential) terrorists are only vaguely inspired by the Islamic State; they act independently and alone, yet “exalt” and encourage one another in group, within communities and ecosystems. Outside of the academic environment, this aspect of (re)socialization – the search for a sense of sharing and acceptance, be it in a real or virtual community – is not always sufficiently grasped; yet, it is paramount in order to fully understand the process of radicalization, which lists social exclusion among its most significant triggers. Today, society at large is characterized by similar dynamics of belonging and identification with a movement or cause, in opposition to others; concurrently with strong polarization and growing “social encapsulation”, these are all elements favoring the incubation of extremism. From this perspective, the battle against conspiracy theories and fake news, which are embedded in the narratives of many, more or less violent acronyms – especially those linked to the far-right – acquires strategic significance and calls for more awareness on the part of politics and the media. Due to the many facets of social problems which might lead to violence at this historical moment, it is the time to “rethink radicalization” by paying more attention to the sociological and psychological aspects, with a view to enhancing prevention – which does not consist in repression by means of security / Police interventions in the pre-criminal phase, but rather in being engaged on the ground and in planning activities aimed at strengthening support networks where social and personal hardships may manifest at the local level. As highlighted in ReaCT2021, this approach implies long-term collaboration among different actors (NGOs, public and private institutions, civil society, families) and constant dialogue among researchers, field operators, law enforcement agencies and legislators. Faced with terrorism’s creativity and adaptability, as well as with the new normal of radicalisation which defines the current era, updating approaches and tools at our disposal to counter this threat is of the utmost importance.

#ReaCT2022: 3rd Report on Radicalization and Terrorism

Director’s introduction: The new terrorism among pandemic, social unrest and jihadist extremism

In my role as ReaCT’s Executive Director, I am pleased to introduce #ReaCT2022, the 3rd Report on Radicalisation and Counter-Terrorism in Europe (go to #ReaCT2022, n.3 year 3).

In their assessments, the authors who submitted their work for this issue took into account the repercussions of new social and conflict dynamics brought about by COVID-19 and also the effects of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan.

COVID and the Taliban drive diverse terrorist threats 

Terrorism adapts, evolves and is affected by events which ignite violent actions in the name of an ideology that justifies its methods, aims and purposes. Trends recorded in 2021 are coherent with the dynamics of the past few years; they also anticipate a likely scenario for 2022, a year that will continue to be shaped by two major developments: the Covid-19 pandemic and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. These two developments, in different ways, contribute to an increasingly threatening landscape.On the one hand, the social consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic will increase heterogeneous radical phenomena and bolster violence linked to conspiracy or ideologically-driven extremist movements; on the other hand, the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan represents a leitmotif within the global jihadist narrative.

The terrorism landscape we face in 2022 

Most data presented in this paper are drawn from START InSight’s database, which provides annual trends in jihadist terrorism and events in Europe.

In more general terms, the West is currently looking with concern at jihadist exaltation, from Afghanistan to Africa. The Islamic State no longer has the strength to dispatch terrorists to Europe as the loss of territory, financial strenght and recruits greatly reduced its operational capability. However, the threat remains significant due to the availability and action of lone actors and self-starters without a link to the organisation yet mobilised by jihadist narratives around global events. Risks connected to emulative attacks are high; 56% of the events in 2021 can be categorised as emulative actions, according to START InSight’s database. This trend is growing. Over the past three years, from a quantitative point of view, the frequency of terrorist attacks has remained linear. Europol attributes 43% of the attacks to radical left-wing movements, 24% to separatist and ethno-nationalist groups, 7% to far-right groups, while 26% are jihadist actions. While jihadist violence might be marginal in absolute terms, it continues to be most relevant in terms of its consequences and the number of victims. The number of jihadist events which took place in Europe in 2021 stands at 18 (START InSight).   

Two decades of terrorism trials in Switzerland

Although Switzerland has not experienced a large-scale attack of the kind experienced in other European countries over the last decade, the phenomenon of politico-ideological violence in the jihadist spectrum is nevertheless present. Ahmed Ajil explains that from 2004 until November 2021, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court has tried a total of 17 criminal proceedings related to jihadist terrorism cases. Most of these proceedings took place after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war and the subsequent territorial expansion of the IS group in June 2014.

The African challenge

As highlighted by Enrico Casini and Luciano Pollichieni, since the early 2000s, a growing number of jihadist organizations emerged in Africa. They are characterised by a globalist rhetoric but remain deeply connected to local dynamics (political, ethnic, or criminal) and they are also increasingly involved in illicit traffics of different types and shapes (from smuggling to human trafficking and slavery to maritime piracy). In virtue of its contiguity with the Mediterranean, instability generated by terrorist groups in Africa has an immediate effect on Europe, as demonstrated by the various migration crises of the last years.

Jihadist communities online expand the terrorism universe by forming new entities

We asked Michael Krona, a media scholar researching salafi-jihadist propaganda, to provide us with his take on the dynamics of jihadist online communities; he underlines how communities that were previously started as direct extensions of a specific organization (like the Islamic State – IS) increasingly become intertwined with broader ideological strains, rather than only relaying official IS propaganda. Supporter groups online are expanding the terrorism universe by forming new entities.

The new horizons of radicalisation

  Two decades since the 9/11 attacks and in pandemic times, the threat of terrorism has become more widespread, fragmented and complex to deal with. Chiara Sulmoni writes that the ecosystem of violent extremism is characterized by strong competition, but also by a growing exposure to the strategies and narratives of different groups. New profiles underline the domestic character of the threat and indicate how terrorists and individuals who radicalise frequently have a history of mental distress and exhibit a propensity for violence rather than ideological conviction. As society itself is becoming increasingly polarized and extremism finds its way into the mainstream, there’s a need for renewed attention on the sociological and psychological aspects inherent to radicalisation processes, with a view to enhancing prevention. 

The EU supports the Western Balkans with a new project on prevention of radicalisation

With reference to the Western Balkan area, Matteo Bressan explains how prevention of radicalisation leading to violent extremism and terrorism represents a key priority for EU Member States and Western Balkan partners. As common challenges require a common approach, the Commission will support the region in preventing and countering all forms of radicalisation. The Commission will mobilise practitioners’ expertise within the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) to support prevention work and facilitate exchanges among professionals.

Dealing with radicalised minors: the Italian approach

Minors are among the targets of jihadist propaganda and extremist ideologies more in general. They can be involved in different ways: as unaware victims of adults’ choices or as direct recipients of an ideology which exploits their need to belong. In her case study, Alessandra Lanzetti illustrates how  the State Police’s Central Directorate of the Prevention Police (DCPP) gained experience in this field and how it developed an experimental intervention protocol on child returnees, based on the criteria of timeliness and multidisciplinarity.

New radicalisms and other terrorisms fueled by the pandemic effects. Far right, radical left, anti-Semitism: from conspiracy to violence

Mattia Caniglia explains how one of the most worrying trends in 2021 has been the increasing attraction exercised by right-wing violent extremism on young people. This is probably linked to the fact that right-wing extremist propaganda is mainly disseminated online, and gaming platforms have been increasingly used to spread extremist and terrorist narratives. Evidence from investigations and research activities that emerged over the past year suggests that, in some instances, RWVE seek to emulate jihadists with respect to recruitment techniques, modi operandi and propaganda strategies. Furthermore, high-profile terrorist attacks – whether Islamist or far-right in nature – can increase reciprocal radicalization processes, where neo-Nazis and jihadists attempt to “up the ante” by increasing the frequency and lethality of attacks.

Within this context, there’s also a growth in anti-Semitic sentiment; Sarah Ibrahimi Zijno discusses the extreme and easy propagation of substantially anti-Semitic points of view, first within the American alternative right and later also within the alternative European right, with particular reference to the former communist part of the continent; as well as the substantial rapprochement of some left-oriented press towards the same conspiracy algorithm already of the alternative right, with the silent, progressive abandonment of the distinction – already fragile and questionable in itself – between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Conspiracy theories from pop culture to violent militancy: the NoVax paradox

Andrea Molle explains how the NoVax movement is now spearheading the rise of militant conspiracy and rapidly replacing religious radicalism as the primary concern for national security. His paper analyzes some of its essential traits, highlighting the risk of mass radicalization it carries.

Updating Terrorism Risk Assessment Instruments

In recent years, with the advance in Europe and the United States of more or less organised forms of extreme right-wing extremism and white supremacism, notes Barbara Lucini, the Terrorism Risk Assessment Instruments (TRA-I) have been the subject of renewed reflection with respect to their adaptive capacity, resilience and effective assessment of the multiple and varied paths of radicalisation that are being witnessed.

Neo-Nazi extremism and deradicalisation

The case study presented by Luca Guglielminetti is the first in Italy that concerns a so-called deradicalization activity aimed at a boy involved in subversive activities of the neo-Nazi far right. The path undertaken was born in the framework of a European project “Exit Europe”, which involved partners from 5 countries with a view to integrating P/CVE interventions.

Future wars: the new centrality of intelligence and the redefinition of cyberspace

In this analysis, Marco Lombardi shares his reflections on some emerging aspects of warfare, intelligence and the role of terrorism. The scenario of the future war seems to underline the maintenance, indeed the strengthening of the operating methods of terrorism in recent years, which has found its success for the ability to penetrate media communication and for the innovative (ie surprising) use of technologies. It almost seems that the terrorism of the first twenty years of the new century has experienced the new opportunities of warfare, which then consolidated into widespread practices among all the actors in the conflict.

And finally, Andrea Carteny and Elena Tosti Di Stefano reviewed for us a recent publication –Understanding radicalisation, terrorism and de-radicalisation. Historical, socio-political and educational perspectives from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Italy – which collectively presents the results of an intense and fruitful two-year research activity carried out within the project PRaNet – Prevention of Radicalisation Network (2019-2021). 

Thanks to all the Authors who have contributed to the current #ReaCT2022 Report. My gratitude goes in particular to the Editor, Chiara Sulmoni, START InSight’s President, for her fundamental and special input.


Claudio Bertolotti (ENG), Director’s introduction: The new terrorism among pandemic, social unrest and jihadist extremism

Claudio Bertolotti (ENG), New Insurrectional Terrorism ignites individual terrorism in Europe

Ahmed Ajil (ENG), Two decades of terrorism trials: an overview of the cases tried by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court since 9/11

Claudio Bertolotti (ENG), Afghanistan, Syria and the Sahel: the ‘New Insurrectional Terrorism’ (NIT) takes root. A revolutionary, subversive and utopian phenomenon looks to the West

Enrico Casini, Luciano Pollichieni (ENG), Caliphs, trafficking, and discontent: convergences and perspectives of jihadist terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa

Michael Krona (ENG), Jihadist communities online build their own brands and expand the terrorism-universe by forming new entities

Chiara Sulmoni (ENG), The new horizons of radicalization

Alessandra Lanzetti (ENG), Case study – Radicalised minors: the Italian model, between security protection and social reintegration

Matteo Bressan (ENG), The EU supports Western Balkans with a new project on prevention of radicalization

Barbara Lucini (ENG), TRA-I and radicalisation processes: current considerations and future prospects

Mattia Caniglia (ENG), Right-wing violent extremism in 2021: a rising threat across Europe?

Sarah Ibrahimi Zijno (ENG), New anti-Semitism: main factors and trends after the pandemic

Luca Guglielminetti (ENG), Case study – Neo-Nazi extremism and deradicalisation: the first case study in Italy

Andrea Molle (ENG), Conspiracy theories from pop culture to violent militancy: the NoVax paradox

Marco Lombardi (ENG), Future wars: the new centrality of intelligence and the redefinition of cyberspace

Andrea Carteny, Elena Tosti Di Stefano (ENG), Review – Understanding radicalisation, terrorism and de-radicalisation. Historical, socio-political and educational perspectives from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Italy, M. Brunelli (edited by).

#ReaCT2022: The 3rd Report on Terrorism and Radicalisation in Europe

Available to download from 24th February in Italian and English on www.osservatorioreact.it and info@startinsight.eu

#ReaCT2022 includes 15 contributions on jihadism and other forms of violent extremism characterising the current threat landscape, which acquired further strength and visibility throughout the pandemic. This Report aims at fostering long-term dialogue and collaboration with institutional and academic actors who are concerned with the issue of radicalisation. #ReaCT2022 is addressed to security personnel, social workers, the media, students, researchers and last but not least, the general audience.

Violent extremism, radicalization and case studies.  The contents of the Report.  The overall contents of the 2022 Report ranges from numbers and profiles of jihadist terrorists in Europe, to a discussion of New Insurrectional Terrorism (NIT), which draws renewed strength and motivation from the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan; from an analysis of the sub-Saharan context where jihadist organisations are characterised by globalist rhetoric but remain deeply connected to local dynamics, to European commitment in helping the Western Balkans prevent violent radicalisation; from an overview of the terrorism cases tried by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court since 9/11 to the dynamics of online jihadist communities; from the new horizons of radicalization, which broadened during the pandemic and require that more attention be paid to group dynamics and social problems linked to violence; to several articles focussing on the far-right, anti-Semitism, conspiracy theories, the NoVax movement; to case studies on the social reintegration of radicalized minors and deradicalization within the neo-Nazi context, which highlight the approach and the work carried out by Italian authorities. Finally, the Report includes considerations on the updating of Terrorism Risk Assessment Instruments (TRA-I), which are developed with the aim of being able to better assess the threat posed by radicalization processes and related activities; reflections on future war scenarios; a review of the recent book titled “Understanding radicalisation, terrorism and de-radicalisation. Historical, socio-political and educational perspectives from Algeria, Azerbaijan and Italy”.

ReaCT – National Observatory on Radicalisation and Counterterrorism (Rome) was founded by a team of experts and professionals from START InSight – Strategic Analysts and Research Team, a research and editorial production company based in Lugano (Switzerland); ITSTIME – Italian Team for Security, Terroristic Issues & Managing Emergencies, a research center within the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (Milan); CEMAS – Centro interdipartimentale per la ricerca scientifica e la cooperazione con l’Eurasia, il Mediterraneo e l’Africa Subsahariana, La Sapienza University (Rome); SIOIThe Italian Society for International Organization (Rome).

Europa Atlantica and Gruppo Italiano Studio Terrorismo (GRIST) also joined ReaCT as partners.

The Observatory includes a Board of Directors, a Steering Scientific Committee, a Parliamentary Committee and a Permanent Working Group.

All information on the website www.osservatorioreact.it info@startinsight.eu

Countering International Terrorism (SIOI, N.° 4/2019)



FRANCO FRATTINI – Introduction
ALESSANDRO POLITI – The Terrorist Next Door
GERMANO DOTTORI – States and Terrorism
MATTEO BRESSAN- The Evolution of the Terrorist Threat after Al-Baghdadi’s Death
CLAUDIO BERTOLOTTI – The Numbers and Geography of Jihadist Terrorism in Europe
CHIARA SULMONI- Perspectives on Radicalisation. Notes from a Journey through Five European Countries
ALESSIA MELCANGI – The Libyan Chaos and the Jihadist Threat: Perspectives and Potential Outcomes
MICHELA MERCURI – Libya: A Black Hole in the Geopolitical Map of Terrorism
CINZIA BIANCO – Visions, Instability, Tensions: Saudi Arabia at a Crossroads
TIZIANO LI PIANI – A Quantitative Assessment of the Mechanical Input for Terrorist Attacks to Soft Targets in Highly Urbanized Settings, based on the Behavioural Analysis of t he Input Carrier
GIUSEPPE CUSIMANO – Cyber and Terrorism
ANDREA MANCIULLI – The Future of Global Jihad. Main Trends, Counter-Terrorism Tools and Prevention Strategies

Full publication available here: Download the Volume

Comorbidity Factors (such as heart disease and diabetes) Influence COVID-19 Mortality More Than Age (Chapman University)

by Steven Gjerstad and Andrea Molle – Chapman University, USA

last update 2020.03.30

“It is an extremely important finding, not only because it allows for better decisions in the triage phase. But also because in the following phases, starting from the so-called phase 2 up to the production and distribution of a vaccine, it will be essential to make decisions aimed at protecting those who are the most at risk of serious consequences. Moreover, before the vaccine is distributed, individuals with hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, if not already developed immunity, will necessarily have to be closely monitored. Not only as they are at higher risk, but above all because if the disease is reactivating, we will see it in those with comorbidities, since healthy individuals tend to be asymptomatic and therefore could spread the virus silently.”


The global reaction to the COVID-19 epidemic has rested on a critical assumption, that all persons over the age of 60 face an unacceptable risk of death if they are infected with the virus.  Recent evidence from a detailed analysis of individual Chinese, American, and Italian patient data clearly indicates that this assumption is incorrect.  Our research indicates that only 0.8% of all coronavirus-related deaths in Italy involved otherwise healthy individuals.  The remaining 99.2% of deaths involved individuals who had at least one, and often at least 3 other illness factors.  There are significant public policy implications to our quarantine and triage strategies.

Mortality from COVID-19 increases substantially  with comorbidity factors, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and liver disease. After we control for the high incidence of  comorbidity factors among the elderly, we find that mortality from coVid-19 does not vary much with age.

The coronavirus epidemic in Italy has strained hospital resources, including ICU beds and ventilators for those experiencing acute respiratory failure. Studies of COVID-19 in China [1], Italy [2], and the United States [3] show that fatality rates increase rapidly with age, especially beyond age 60. The same studies and others also show that fatalities increase substantially with comorbidity factors, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and liver disease [1, 4]. These morbidity factors are known to increase rapidly with age [5, 6, 7]. This paper demonstrates that once we control for comorbidity factors, age has a minor effect on COVID-19 mortality. Among the elderly the higher incidence of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and other comorbidity factors lead to their increased mortality form COVID-19. The distinction is an important one for the critical triage decisions that are required now. If it is the comorbidity factors that lead to death with COVID-19 patients and not age, then triage will be more effective if healthy elderly people are provided with treatment, since their chances of survival are good.

We examine 73,780 cases of COVID-19 and 6,801 deaths from COVID-19 in Italy through March 26, 2020. Based on estimates of the prevalence of comorbidity factors in Italy by age group and on the frequency of COVID-19 cases and mortality rates for age groups, we estimate the percentage of patients with and without morbidity factor that would be expected to die, first assuming that those with and without comorbidity factors are equally likely to die. Subsequently, we use a maximum likelihood estimate to get mortality probabilities for people in each age group, with and without comorbidity conditions. COVID-19 patients with comorbidity conditions are 10.5 times as likely to die than those without a comorbidity condition. For example, an Italian COVID-19 patient between 70 and 79 years old with no comorbidity factor has about a 1.6% chance of death, whereas a 70 to 79 year-old patient with a comorbidity condition has a 21.4% chance of death.

Triage decisions based on patient age do not account for the large differences between the prognosis for patients with and without morbidity factors. As medical resources become strained during the epidemic, it will be important to take account of the probabilities of survival for patients with different medical histories.


Table 1 in [4] shows that 50.7% of the fatal cases of COVID-19 in Italy through March 26 had 3 or more of the comorbidity factors. Another 25.9% had 2 of these factors, and 21.3% had one factor. Only 2.1% had no factor. This last statistic is important. If age alone were an independent factor that leads to high mortality, then – we will demonstrate in this paper – there would be many more deaths among those who are elderly but otherwise healthy. In other words, the 2.1% frequency of no comorbidity factors would be much higher.

Tabella 1 in [8] shows that 19.2% of 73,780 COVID-19 cases in Italy through 4 p.m. on 26 March were among people age 70 to 79. From Tavola 7 in [7], we can infer that close to 25% of those people have none of the comorbidity conditions. We take death rates for the age groups from Tabella 1 in [8]. We consider the hypothesis that healthy people in each age group are as likely to die as those with 1 or more comorbidity condition. This hypothesis will lead us to the conclusion that there should be approximately 10.5 times as many people with no comorbidity factors as the number that are shown in Table 1 in [4].

People between 70 and 79 comprise 19.2% of the cases, and 25% of those have no comorbidity condition, so healthy people 70 – 79 years old are 4.8% of the cases. If healthy people between the ages of 70 and 79 are as susceptible to death from COVID-19 as those in their age group who have comorbidity conditions, then their death rate should be 16.9%, like their age group. If they were dying at the same rate as their age group, the fraction of all cases who would be people between 70 and 79 and have no comorbidity factor would be 0.048 x 0.1569 = 0.0081. Now we repeat this analysis for the remaining age groups and fill out Table 1.

Table 1: Column E shows the percentage of the 73,780 total cases that would be healthy people (i.e., no comorbidity factor) in their age group and would die from COVID-19.

The total number of deaths that we would expect for people with no comorbidity factor would be this expected death frequency times the number of cases, which is 0.0209 x 73,780 = 1,542.

Table 2: Column E shows the percentage of the 73,780 cases in each age group that would die who have one or more comorbidity factor.

We now carry out a similar calculation in Table 2, but we consider here those people who have one or more comorbidity factor. This calculation shows that 7.08% of the total cases should be people with one or more comorbidity factor who died. That would result in 0.0708 x 73,780 = 5,223 deaths. As a check, total predicted deaths are 6,765. The total number of deaths from Tabella 1 in [8] where we get our total number of cases and our lethality factors for age groups (Column D) is 6,801.3

Our hypothesis that healthy people in each age group have the same probability of dying from COVID-19 leads us to the conclusion that of our estimated 6,765 deceased, 1,542 or 22.8% should have no comorbidity factor. Yet Tabella 1 in [4] shows that only 2.11% had no comorbidity factor. Consequently, the hypothesis that the probability of dying is the same for all people in an age group regardless of their comorbidity factors leads to the conclusion that there would be about 10.8 times as many deaths among those with no comorbidity factor than what we see in the sample of deceased persons in Tabella 1 in [4].

This analysis can be augmented by assuming different probabilities of mortality for those with and without comorbidity factors. If we multiply every element in Column D in Table 1 by 0.0925 we would get 143 deaths among those with no comorbidity factor. If we multiple every element in Column D, Table 2 by 1.2677 we would get 6,622 deaths among those with one or more comorbidity factor. We would then have 143/6,765 = 2.11% of the deceased having no comorbidity factor, as in Tabella 1 in [4]. The probabilities of death are then those in Table 3.

Table 3: These mortality probabilities produce fatalities in each age group that match total fatalities and match the frequency of comorbidities found in Tabella 1 in [4].

From this we conclude that age is most likely only a moderate factor leading to COVID-19 mortality. Of course, healthy elderly patients are not dying in large numbers from COVID-19, so triage decisions that ignore the elderly healthy are not likely to lead to large numbers of deaths within this group. These patients are likely to recover, but they are likely to recover more quickly and with less physical damage if they are provided treatment. They also are unlikely to require critical care for much longer than a healthy young person, since like the healthy young, they are recovering. For these reasons, we believe that triage decisions should be made without regard to a patient’s age.

About the authors

Steven Gjerstad, PhD, Economic Science Institute, Chapman University, 1 University Drive, Orange, California, 92866 USA, E-mail: gjerstad@chapman.edu; Tel: 714-628-7282

Andrea Molle, PhD, Institute for the Study of Religion, Economics and Society, Chapman University, Orange, California, 92866 USA


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[6] “Diabetes prevalence and glycemic control among adults,” Centers for Disease Control, 2018. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2015/040.pdf

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[8] “Epidemia COVID-19 Aggiornamento nazionale,” Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), Roma, 26 Marzo 2020.