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Radical Islam Passing through Greece

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Greece is an E.U., NATO and Eurozone country that has traditionally strong links with the Islamic world due to the geographical proximity with the Middle East and North Africa and the Ottoman rule that lasted four centuries, along with numerous historical encounters with Islam since the Middle Ages.

Currently the country faces a debt crisis that, apart from its obvious disastrous financial consequences both in a domestic and in a global scale, also raises security concerns related to terrorist networks of Islamist origin.
Recent upheavals in Maghreb and the Middle East pertain to Greek and European security as well.
Presently, the country hosts a Muslim minority that is a remnant of the Ottoman Empire, but also an expanding Islamic population from the Arab countries and Pakistan that enter Greece in significant number as illegal immigrants. Corporations in the country, such as banking institutions, tourist companies and real estate firms are in control of Islamic funds, whereas countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Libya can be considered significant trade partners of Greece.
The wider picture
In Athens, Greece, the Iranian Saderat bank is hosted, which is a U.S black-listed institution due to alleged links with Hezbollah. Iran covers 25 percent of Greece’s oil needs per annum and segments of its natural gas needs. There are indications that Hezbollah groups are operating in a logistical-support basis in Athens by gathering funds through tobacco contraband over the past years, as a 2007 report by American collective security research outlined.
In a broad sense, Greece, due to a mixture of its geographical placement, history and business links, is considered a gateway for the Islamic element in close proximity to the European Union and the Balkans, and over the past 10 years it has become one of the main transit territories for Islamic-originating illegal immigration to Europe.
Until now Greece does not seem to have a particular issue of Islamic fundamentalism. Nevertheless, as aptly described in a 2009 U.S. State Department report on terrorism, “Greece is increasingly an E.U. entry point for illegal immigrants coming from the Middle East and South Asia, and there was concern that it could be used as a transit route for terrorists travelling to Europe and the United States. The number of illegal immigrants entering Greece, especially through the Aegean Sea, increased dramatically in 2008 and 2009, with more than 100,000 illegal immigrants, nearly half of whom originated from North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, arrested each year.”
Presently in Greece, there seems to be activity within radical Islamic elements as well as gradual projection of Islamic political entities through the use of Greek nationals.
A revelation by the infamous WikiLeaks telegrams showed that the ex-U.S. ambassador in Athens, Daniel Speckhard, has noted the danger of the nexus between Greek domestic terrorist groups and Islamic groups, including those from Iran, as he was informed by the then-Greek minister of public Order, Michalis Chrysohoidis. The leaked telegram was presented by the Greek weekly paper To Vima along with further analysis that points out that the fears expressed are of valid nature.
In 2007 a rocket launch attack with an RPG against the American Embassy in Athens was carried out by the Greek group Revolutionary Struggle, which stated in its proclamation note support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. In 2009 the Greek weekly To Proto Thema reported that Greek leftist terrorists seem to have been trained in Lebanon in paramilitary camps operated by Islamists.
In a special report by the French daily Le Figaro, on December 21, 2010, the case of the route of Islamic terrorists from Lebanon to Europe was noted with significant details. The Lebanese Army Cornell Mahmoud Issa noted to the French journalists that since November 2010, some 20 extremists managed to escape from a camp where they were kept in Lebanon and found their way to the European Union. He stated that already the authorities had been notified on an international level, although he admitted that this is a difficult task. The French security authorities believe that this is the case of a new jihad mission heading towards European metropolises.
In classified documents that were in possession of radical groups in Lebanon, it was noted that three men managed to leave the camp through Syria and Turkey and up to Greece and Bulgaria with the assistance of illegal immigrant transport networks managed by Turks. They managed to acquire fake IDs and were finally caught by a common operation of the Bulgarian and Greek authorities. That case was closely monitored by British and French intelligence due to the fact that these two countries were the ultimate destination of the Lebanese group. Mahmoud Issa stated that more cases are to be found that evade the authorities so far.
Incidents of interest
 
According to the pre-9/11 French intelligence report, American interests in Greece and Cyprus were considered by Osama bin Laden’s network as targets. Citing a DGSE document, To Vima reported that members of al Qaeda, mostly located in Beirut, in cooperation with Taliban officials and other armed groups, were planning to hijack airplanes between March and September 2000, yet it was never carried out due to various logistical and operational disagreements.
European intelligence agencies have also reported that about 20 Arab fundamentalists have been arrested in Britain, Italy, Portugal, France and the Netherlands for having in their possession forged Greek passports, according to a 2007 revelation by the Greek daily Ta Nea and for the period 2001-2006.
In another notable case, in September 2005 Moroccan Anwar Mazrar— one of the leading Al Qaeda operational terrorists in Europe—was arrested on the Greek-Turkey border while attempting to travel to Greece on the Istanbul-Thessalonica bus service. Mazrar had been accused of being a leading member of terrorist groups in Morocco and also of having ties with al Qaeda. It was revealed that Mazrar was planning to stay in Greece for a while as an illegal immigrant and then move on to Italy and plan two bombing attacks.
Mazrar regularly travelled from Milan, Italy, to Algeria, Syria and Turkey. Greek authorities suspected that he was interested in setting up a base of support in Greece and use the country as a safe haven between Italy and the Middle East. In 2005, immediately after the capture of Mazrar, there was a boost in surveillance by the Greek authorities of suspected Islamist radicals in the country. Cooperation between Greece, the United States, France, Italy and the United Kingdom intensified in that sector.
Towards the end of 2010, various press reports claimed that radical Islamic action was increasing in the center of Athens, and the issue became widely publicized after it was brought to Parliament via the LAOS political party, which demanded state explanations on the issue and proper notification of security forces. According to statements by several Greek politicians, the country hosts amongst its illegal immigrant population radical cells and quite possibly “al Qaeda sleeping cells.”
In another case in 2005, the so-called “Pakistani abduction case,” 28 Pakistani immigrants were allegedly kidnapped by Greek intelligence agents in Athens. That case was connected to the cooperation between Greek and U.K. authorities following the July 2005 bombings in London, but was also the first notable case of accusation of the Greek state by Islamic organizations that Greece is actively turning against the Islamic element and taking harsh measures in the “war against terror.” The Greek weekly newspaper Proto Thema disclosed the names of 15 alleged Greek agents and an MI6 spy chief allegedly involved with kidnapping and torturing the Pakistanis eight days after the London bombings of July 7, 2005. There was widespread support by leftist groups that demanded through a series of legal actions and demonstrations the punishment of the Greek and U.K. security members involved.
According to all data up to now, the Pakistani immigrants were somehow connected, probably via mobile phone SMS texting and conversations, with the terrorist group responsible for the July 2005 bombings in London. Although six years have passed, Greek and U.K. authorities have not revealed the extent of the involvement of these immigrants.
In early 2011, the Greek media revealed information mainly derived from WikiLeaks that U.S. diplomats in Athens had since 2006 information that there is a nexus between illegal immigrant trafficking networks from Pakistan and terrorists groups in that country that profit from that illicit market. American diplomats at that period in Athens met with their Pakistani counterparts and then provided to Greek authorities several names of traffickers suspected with links to terrorists.
According to the State Department, the Greek authorities didn’t take any action, and one Pakistani diplomat who served in Athens at that period, in a conversation with an American officer, commented that he suspects “Greek security officials may be involved in covering the traffickers.”
In July 2009 Abu Sanjat, am Iraqi citizen wanted by Interpol due to his involvement with terrorist attacks in Baghdad, was arrested in Greece. His arrest was a joint Greek-American-Iraqi operation. According to media reports, he was one of the main ringleaders of al Qaeda in Iraq who wanted to expand the network into Europe. He came to Greece as an illegal immigrant by crossing the borders with Turkey and joined a team of another 20 immigrants. When he was arrested he had forged papers identifying him as a Palestinian refugee claiming political asylum.
In 2006 another case of interest took place in the Athens international network. According to reportage by the Greek daily paper Kathimerini, an imam and Pakistani citizen wanted for terrorist attacks and homicide was arrested as he was flying from the United Kingdom, where he lived in a provincial town. The police investigation revealed that his purpose of visiting Athens was to enact a series of religious seminars for the expanding community of Pakistani immigrants in the city. Although there was an international arrest warrant against him by authorities of Pakistan, he was able to pass through the airport controls in London before taking his flight to Athens. That particular incident alarmed the Greek authorities who surprisingly were able to map an emerging social network of Pakistani radical Islamists in Greece before they were able to commit illegal activities or terrorist actions.
Overall
Greece’s geographical placement, in addition to the wider culminations in the Mediterranean that have unfolded over the past year, has sounded alarm bells over the peril of the country being used as a regional logistics hub for international Islamic terrorists and a breeding ground of radicals amongst the communities of illegal immigrants from Islamic countries.
A Greek intelligence service report that was leaked in April 2011 in the Greek daily paper Ethnos points to a definite nexus between international organized crime, illegal immigration trafficking, and the communities of Islamists in the country who in their turn finance and form NGOs in order to attain influence in the local society. The danger of infiltration of terrorists in all of the above is also highlighted.
The main known countermeasures that have been taken by the Greek authorities include increased exchange of intelligence with partner countries, technological upgrade of surveillance equipment, and infiltration of suspected radical and terrorist cells.

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Terrorism

Who are the Real Terrorists in North East Syria?

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Earlier this week President Trump abruptly changed course and green-lighted a Turkish incursion into north east Syria with disastrous results. The subsequent invasion has unleashed a hellish nightmare of carnage and chaos in what was a dangerous, but relatively peaceful, area governed by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who had just defeated ISIS territorially.

In recent days, over 30 civilians—including Kurds, Christians and minorities, and very young children—have been killed in indiscriminate Turkish bombings and mortar fire. Likewise, the UN reports that over 130,000 Syrians have suddenly become displaced, fleeing Turkish violence. In addition to these massive displacements, Turkey insists that it will forcibly repatriate 1 to 2 million of the 3 million Syrian refugees it is currently housing back into the SDF-held areas it is now overtaking. That 83% of these Arabs never lived in the areas they are to be forcibly resettled in, begs the question of whose homes and lands will they be overtaking? 

Turkey claims to be fighting a terrorist group and wanting to clean their border area of terrorists, but the pictures coming out of northeast Syria instead make Turkey look like the terrorist aggressor. Countless photos and videos, many of them validated, circulate of Syrian civilians lying bloodied and dead on the ground while their family members wail unconsolably. Hevrin Khalaf, a female, and the Secretary-General of the pro-Kurdish Future Syria Party, is reported to have been dragged from her car and assassinated by Turkish-hired thugs who said while filming her corpse, “this is the corpse of pigs.” Likewise, video footage of bearded mercenary soldiers backed by the Turks, shooting their Kurdish captives while calling them “kufar scum” (unbelievers) are said by U.S. forces to appear authentic. If so, these actions are war crimes.

These bearded assassins, backed by Turkey are likely the same unemployed ISIS, al Nusra, and other former jihadists still happy to kill in the name of Allah, who Turkey used to clear Afrin in 2018. Indeed, they have shown a brutality akin to their mother groups, some even shouting ISIS slogans as they kill, such as “Baqiya wa tatamadad!” meaning we (ISIS) will remain forever, and expand. 

That Turkey would use former ISIS cadres to fight the Kurds is no surprise, given they worked closely with ISIS to try to quell the Kurds early on in the Syrian conflicts and continue to see their interests in destroying Kurdish power to lie with militant jihadist and Islamist groups. An ISIS emir that ICSVE interviewed in 2019 went into great detail about his work on behalf of ISIS, about how he negotiated with the Turkish MIT and military regarding border entry for the 40,000+ foreign fighters that streamed across Turkey into ISIS-controlled areas of Syria, agreements for sending wounded ISIS fighters back into Turkey for medical treatment, supplying water for the Tabqa dam to provide electrical power for ISIS, and so on. According to this emir, even then, Turkey was insisting on a buffer security zone. Now it appears they will go to any lengths to get it.

Meanwhile, General Mazloum Kobani Abdi told U.S. Ambassador William Roebuck, the U.S. Deputy Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS “You have given up on us. You are leaving us to be slaughtered.” He also asked in confused despair how the U.S. could also insist that the Kurds not turn to others, like the Russians for support, effectively boxing them in for slaughter.

When ISIS foolishly attacked Kobani in 2014, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) rose up and fought valiantly and since 2015, they fought with U.S. military backing, to defeat ISIS.  They have been our “boots on the ground”, sustaining most of the casualties and doing all the heavy lifting in defeating a global foe. While U.S. forces lost less than 20 troops after they aligned with the Kurds to fight ISIS in Syria, our hardy allies lost 11,000 male and female brave fighters who faced down this global foe.

Indeed, while ISIS was an active force on the ground in Syria, it external emni (intelligence arm), threatened the globe, mounting and inciting attacks in many major cities from New York, to Brussels (where two Americans were killed), to Paris, Nice, Stockholm, London and Istanbul to name but a few.

In serving as our “boots on the ground” forces for the territorial defeat of ISIS, and continuing to battle the remnants of ISIS, the Kurds saved, and continue to save, countless Americans and Westerners from being slaughtered by a heinous force willing to attack, anywhere, at any time.  

Yet their current aggressor, Turkey, calls these Kurds terrorists. That picking up arms against ISIS gave them the sudden opportunity to rule a considerable swathe of Syrian land that they had liberated from ISIS is no one’s fault, except those who supported ISIS in the first place—Turkish government officials among them. No doubt, the Kurds once in power, made some mistakes, but it is notable how quickly they moved to incorporating minorities into their ranks and transitioning to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who have had a good record of building a grassroots democracy amidst the ashes of war. That their majority Kurdish leadership may have long-term aspirations to one day become a fully independent Kurdish state should be no surprise, but that they were acquiescing to all U.S. demands upon them to remain within Syria and negotiate some kind of governance agreement with Assad also needs to be noted. The trouble in that regard, is Assad wants to appoint top-down leaders in the area and thereby destroy the grass-roots nature of the Kurdish democracy building. From a position of strength and good governance, with U.S. backing behind them, the SDF had a chance of becoming a real island of democracy, perhaps even one day spreading such, within the Syrian state.

In the meantime, with ISIS defeated territorially, ISIS is still far from total defeat. In recent months ISIS has been attacking on a weekly basis in both Syria and Iraq, and the SDF were busy rounding up ISIS sleeper cells while also holding more than 70,000 ISIS prisoners and their family members, thousands of which are from European and Western countries who have refused to repatriate and bring them home to justice.

Now, amidst the chaos unleashed by Turkey, up to 800 ISIS cadres have escaped when their prison was shelled, with hundreds more ISIS women and children escaping from their bombed and burning camps. Where they will run to amidst the chaos is uncertain, but Turkey and beyond, is certainly a possibility given that when cornered in Hajin, and later Baghouz, SDF leaders told ICSVE that ISIS leaders were asking to be bussed out of Syria into Turkey—presumably believing they would be welcomed into a country that had helped them in the past. 

500 of the worse ISIS cadres are said to have been transferred by U.S. forces from Syria, into Iraq, and possibly more will befall the same fate. For those of us who still believe in human rights and rule of law, even when applied to ISIS cadres, it’s unfortunate that in Iraq these prisoners—many of them Westerners—can expect forced confessions, hurried court proceedings and almost certainly sentence of life imprisonment, or death, based on very little, if any, evidence presented against them. Whereas, in our ISIS interviews conducted in SDF territory, with 100 of the ISIS foreign terrorist fighters, the prisoners stated that they were not being subjected to torture and were fairly treated by the SDF. Likewise, the SDF was working patiently, including in efforts with ICSVE, to gather testimonies and data to prod Western countries into action that have been reluctant to take their ISIS citizens home for prosecution.

While the SDF could only do its important work with U.S. support, this support was not costing us much. Few troops were deployed on the ground and our air support was operating out of Iraq, where it is likely the U.S. forces will stay for some time. That we should not involve ourselves in endless wars or that the troops need to come home is something most agree with, but how and when is also of great importance.

Any U.S. withdrawal of support for the SDF should only occur because they are no longer serving our interests and must take place in a planful and secure manner without allowing for an all-out slaughter of civilians or of the allied forces who, by fighting ISIS, saved Americans countless lives.

Given that the Kurds sacrificed greatly to defeat ISIS territorially on the ground, and when in power, began at once to build one of the only democracies in the middle east that is respecting minority rights and following Western rule of law, while being surrounded by dictatorial and corrupt regimes, it seems we should have continued to give them our full support. Instead Trump has unleashed Turkish forces on a group that Turkey universally treats as terrorists and is willing to violently displace and kill. This sudden betrayal of our loyal allies is a matter that needs to be quickly resolved in Washington, D.C. 

Our American ideals, and our reputation as stalwart and reliable allies, are at stake right now, and this disastrous decision needs to be reversed immediately.  

From our partner ICSVE Brief Reports.

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Strategies for combating international terrorism in Central Asia

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After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Central Asia has been cast as the site of a new “great game”. Central Asia has been largely influenced by international developments and the emergence of persistent sources of instability and tension in other parts of the world, including the Middle East and North Africa. Some states in the region have succeeded in expanding their relationships with other actors. For example, Kazakhstan has tried to advance its goals by participating in important international issues and designing appropriate policies. Although Kazakhstan has succeeded in this path, most of the countries in the region face major challenges.

At the moment, Central Asian states are facing serious menaces to their security from various challenges like drug trafficking, water disputes, religious fundamentalism and expansion of terrorist and takfiri groups such as ISIS.

Given the increased risk of terrorist groups infiltrating the region, the key question is: “What strategies exist to counter international terrorism in the Central Asian region?” This study suggest that an integrated long-term strategy is an effective and comprehensive way to combat international terrorism.

Central Asia and international terrorism

The war in Syria and Iraq has significantly altered modern terrorism, with radical Islamic militants from Central Asia being no exception. Most importantly, for the first time travelling outside of the region to fight in the ranks of militant and terrorist organisations became a mass phenomenon. In Syria, the radical Islamic militants from Central Asia have established terrorist organisations of their own. These terrorists have Salafi-Wahhabi inclinations and are among the backers of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, and Daesh Takfiri groups. They have turned into a potential threat for countries in Central Asia as these international and organized terrorists may one day find their way to other regions and states after Syria. 

Activities of extremist networks which send their members and devotees to Syria have a determining role in the region. Many of the foreign rebels operating in Syria had links to these groups in their own countries. A portion of them are being encouraged by their relatives and friends in Syria to join the ranks of the Takfiri militants, especially older brothers motivate the younger ones to join the terrorists.

The terrorists’ method for recruiting forces is almost the same in most of the countries in the Central Asia. They usually do this through local sources and Islamist groups and organizations that have close ties with al-Qaeda, Salafists and Wahhabists. However, this is not done openly.

A number of terrorist groups are tasked with recruiting individuals to send them to fight in Syria. In fact, all terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and the al-Tahrir Party are busy with the recruitment. The Takfiri groups of al-Nusra Front and the so-called Islamic Jihad Union are also employing nationals from Central Asia. In some countries, the process of employment is done through indigenous people. For instance, one-third of all Kyrgyz people who have traveled to Saudi Arabia in pursuance of religious education have turned into extremist Salafi-Wahhabi preachers in Kyrgyzstan. That is why today the Kyrgyz are employing their people to prevent this. 

The Challenges of Combating Terrorism in Central Asia

Fighting terrorist threats in Central Asia is a complex issue. To counter these threats, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian governments have been reevaluating their national counter-terrorism strategies. Counter-terrorism cooperation under the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has its limits because not all the Central Asian governments are members of the organizations. Also these strategies have been mainly established to counter-terrorism within the member states, not the ones stemming from other regions. 

On the other hand, some external actors play a destructive role in improving the security situation in the region. Indeed none of the great powers are not serious fight against terrorism. At present, the security conditions of the region can be made more complicated for several reasons:

First, the spread of terrorism and extremist groups;
Second, U.S. competition to increase penetration;
Third, ISIS’s willingness to be present in the region;
Fourth, the presence of people from the countries of Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the ranks of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria;

Iran and Fighting Terrorism in Central Asia

The rising threats of extremism in Central Asia represent a strong menace for Iran interests. Due to the increasing presence of ISIS forces in Afghanistan, the security of Central Asia remains a top priority on the Iran security agenda. The Iran-Central Asia Strategy should include in its objectives the challenges of foreign fighters and radicalization, drug trafficking and organized crime, and conflicts that require cooperation between Central Asia and Iran.

No one and no country can deny the constructive and positive role of Iran in fighting the scourge of terrorism in the region and the world. Iran’s efforts and assistance to regional countries have helped reign in the violence and bloodshed of ISIS terrorist group in various parts of the world by bringing the self-proclaimed statehood of ISIS to an end in Iraq and Syria. The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to advocate dialogue, cooperation and trust among regional countries as the only viable way to end terrorism and devastating wars in the Middle East. In result no country would benefit from weakening Iran in the region.

In the past years, Iran has acted as a buffer zone and has prevented the entry of terrorist groups from Middle East to Central Asia. Iran has always tried to fight with terrorist and takfiri groups. Among foreign actors in the region Iran and Russia have a good cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Iran and Russia are winning the Fight against Terrorism in Syria. Undoubtedly Iran and Russia can offer their experience in combating terrorism to Central Asian countries.

Conclusion

No doubt, security, peace and respect for the sovereignty of countries, as well non-interference in their internal affairs, and an effective fight against terrorism without double standards will be in the interest of all countries in the world.

Fight against Terrorism Requires a holistic and coordinated approach. For the implementation of the international Counter Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia need a Regional Joint Action Plan. Integrating counter-terrorism strategy to political, economic and social development policies is an important part of the comprehensive approach.

In order to combat terrorism in Central Asia, there are a few issues to consider:

1. All States in region to combat terrorism must take coordinated action.

2. Fighting terrorism in Central Asia will not succeed without creating peace and stability in Afghanistan.

3. Combating terrorism requires the formation of a regional and international coalition with States that really have a concern for countering terrorism, not the countries that have been sponsors of terrorist groups.

4. The fight against terrorism requires the use of past experiences in this regard. Iran and Russia have considerable experience in combating terrorism.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Fighting Terrorism Online: EU Internet Forum committed to an EU-wide Crisis Protocol

MD Staff

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The participants of the 5th EU Internet Forum, hosted by Commissioners Avramopoulos and King, have committed to an EU Crisis Protocol – a rapid response to contain the viral spread of terrorist and violent extremist content online. The Commission, Member States and online service providers, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, JustPaste.it and Snap have committed to working together on a voluntary basis within the framework set out by the Crisis Protocol, while ensuring strong data protection and fundamental rights safeguards. The EU Internet Forum also discussed the overall progress made in ensuring the removal of terrorist content online since its last meeting in December 2018 as well as how to strengthen cooperation on other challenges, such as child sexual exploitation online.

Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said: “Since I launched the EU Internet Forum 4 years ago, it has gone from strength to strength, offering Member States and online platforms an effective framework to work together to tackle terrorist content online. We have managed to build a strong relationship of trust and mutual understanding with the internet platforms. I am pleased with the progress we are making and the remarkable results we have achieved. Today, we are taking this cooperation another step further with an EU Crisis Protocol. With this, we will be ready to act quickly, effectively and in a more coordinated way to stop the spread of terrorist content.”   

Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King added: “The events in New Zealand earlier this year were a stark reminder that terrorist content spreads online at a tremendous speed. While our response might be quick, it isn’t quick enough. The Protocol is an EU response to contain the havoc created by such events – in a coordinated way.”

In the aftermath of the terror attack in Christchurch, New Zealand, government leaders and online platforms agreed on the Christchurch Call for Action. On this occasion, President Juncker announced the development of an EU Crisis Protocol in the context of the EU Internet Forum. The EU Protocol will allow Member States and online platforms to respond rapidly and in a coordinated manner to the dissemination of terrorist content online in the event of a terrorist attack.

The EU Crisis Protocol endorsed by the EU Internet Forum today will:

    Provide a coordinated and rapid reaction: Member States’ authorities, together with Europol, the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) and online service providers will be able to respond quickly, in a coordinated manner to ensure that the spread of terrorist or violent extremist content is swiftly contained.

    Facilitate public and private sector cooperation: In the event of a crisis, law enforcement authorities and online service providers will share relevant information on the online content (e.g., URLs, audio-visual media, and metadata) on a voluntary basis, in a secure way and in real time.

    Facilitate a voluntary arrangement: The Protocol does not replace national legal frameworks or existing national crisis management mechanisms. It should apply only to extraordinary situations where those national measures are no longer sufficient to coordinate a rapid and cross-border response.

The EU Internet Forum also discussed the overall progress made in ensuring the removal of terrorist content online since its last meeting in December 2018 and looked at the emerging challenges. This included, for the first time, a discussion on the global threat of online child sexual abuse and exploitation. Cooperation between public authorities and online platforms is key to fight against these horrible crimes effectively. Participants also took stock of the work to tackle the challenges presented by right wing extremism and the radicalising effect of violent political discourse.

Background

The EU Internet Forum was launched by Commissioner Avramopoulos in December 2015 to address internet misuse by terrorist groups. It brings together EU Home Affairs Ministers, the internet industry and other stakeholders who work together voluntarily to address this complex issue. Since its creation, the EU Internet Forum meets annually to take stock of the progress made in removing terrorist content online and to discuss emerging challenges. In 2015, an efficient referral mechanism to flag and remove terrorist content online was created at Europol.

In 2016, at the EU Internet Forum, the industry announced the creation of the “database of hashes” to make removals permanent and irreversible. The database is a critical tool in stemming the spread of terrorist content online. Since its launch, the database has gathered over 200,000 hashes (pictures, videos, etc.) and has helped both large and small platforms to remove such content quickly.

President Juncker announced the development of the EU Protocol in Paris earlier this year when he attended a meeting of government leaders and CEOs of major online platforms that was co-hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

A first exercise to operationalise the Protocol already took place at Europol on 11 September 2019.

The EU Crisis Protocol will contribute to efforts undertaken at global level in the context of the Christchurch call, in particular the Crisis Response Protocol as announced in September at the margins of 2019 UNGA.

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