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ISIS Smuggler: Sleeper Cells and ‘Undead’ Suicide Bombers Have Infiltrated Europe

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Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ardian Shajkovci & Hamid Sebaly

Europe is bracing for a new wave of jihadist attacks by terrorists affiliated with the so-called Islamic State, what “you might call ISIS 2.0,” as Interpol chief Jürgen Stock recently told reporters. Some previously imprisoned jihadists are being released from jail, others are returning to Europe—and to prison—while still others, we have learned, have never been known to police and operate as “sleeper cells” waiting to be mobilized.

It is in the face of such concerns that U.S. intelligence chiefs have warned, despite President Donald Trump’s assertions to the contrary, that ISIS is still far from defeated.

Last week, the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) interviewed 18 ISIS cadres held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) closely allied with U.S. coalition forces in Syria. Two of the prisoners interviewed were former members of the ISIS intelligence operation known as the “emni,” sometimes also written as “amni.”

One of them, a Tunisian named Abdel Kadr, was a 35-year-old athletic-looking and obviously clever individual, who had illegally smuggled himself into Europe in 2008 and then managed to get legal residency, to live and work there, by marrying a German. Abdel Kadr claimed to have “found religion” and also, like many foreign fighters, to have been moved by the plight of Syrians assaulted by Bashar al-Assad’s forces, which caused him to leave Germany for Syria in 2014, driving an ambulance loaded with humanitarian supplies.

Abdel Kadr ultimately joined and served ISIS until he was captured by the YPG last year. He appears to have had high-level access in ISIS and was open to discussing what he knows while also seeking not to incriminate himself.

Regarding the ISIS emni, Abdel Kadr says there are both internal and external emni networks in ISIS, the former enforcing security within the self-declared caliphate and the latter sending operatives outside of it, to be sleeper cells organizing attacks in Europe and globally. They are not police but intelligence operatives, he said. “They live 24 hours per day with a mask. They are chosen specially for this. They have their own houses, special families. They have been chosen specially, and many were sent back to Europe.”

People smuggling

Prior to joining ISIS, Abdel Kadr had been a human and goods smuggler based in Germany, working between Turkey and Europe. He said he joined the Islamic State alongside his friend Dominic, a white German convert to Islam. Dominic wanted to return to Germany to work as an undercover operative for ISIS and, being fair-skinned with no known criminal history, he believed he could do so undetected. (He should not be confused with Dominic Musa Schmitz, a Salafi who wrote a book in German in 2016 about his disillusionment with Salafi Islam.)

“There are a lot of those who were trained by ISIS to go into Europe,” said Abdel Kadr. The emni member who trained and facilitated many of them was also a white European, an Austrian who went by the kunya, or pseudonym, of Abu Musa al-Almani.

“He was in charge of Germany,” Abdel Kadr explained. “He spoke around seven languages: German, Dutch, French, Arabic, and German with the accent of Austria. He was an Austrian native with long hair and a red beard,” Abdel Kadr said. “He was from a wealthy family in Austria and a convert from Christianity. I met him in Syria, but he was moving everywhere.” He was traveling back and forth via Turkey.

“I heard about this wave that they prepared for Europe,” Abdel Kadr told us. “They asked me if I’d like to go back to Germany. They were saying to me if you want to go back don’t worry about money, but they don’t know how I think.”

Abdel Kadr was content at that time inside ISIS doing business on the side and making considerable profits. And he had a ready excuse for begging off from such a mission. “I have seven pieces of shrapnel in my body,” he explained. “If I pass through an airport they will catch me.” Also, he looks like the Arab he is, and is liable to fall prey to profiling. “They were sending athletic guys who look European back into Europe,” Abdel Kadr told us.

The ISIS emni asked Abdel Kadr to return to his former human smuggling trade. “They wanted me to make logistics and coordination because before I joined ISIS and came, I was smuggling people between Turkey and Greece.” That was when Abdel Kadr was living in Germany with his German wife, making thousands of dollars smuggling Bengalis, Iranians, Pakistanis, Afghans who had already made their way into Turkey on into Europe. The back trails across the border were primitive and rough, he said, but he knew them. “Our bridge to cross the river was a tree we cut for that purpose.”

ISIS intelligence “knew I was a people smuggler. All my German friends knew I was a smuggler,” Abdel Kadr explained. “Abu Musa al-Almani, who was in charge of Germany, came to me in Raqqa with Dominic and asked me about the smuggling. He said, ‘Dawlah [the State, ie. ISIS] needs you. The whole nation of Islam needs you.’”

The emni asked Abdel Kadr to help them smuggle trained operatives back into Europe following the routes from Turkey into Greece that he had previously exploited. Abdel Kadr claims he refused. “I took my injuries as an excuse to escape from this, I have a screw in my leg, shrapnel [from a bomb attack]. It took seven kilometers walking to get across to Greece. My role was five kilometers up to the tree [bridge]. Someone else took them inside, an Algerian guy.”

Abdel Kadr claims that he told ISIS he was no longer fit enough to do it. It may be true that he refused, as he was at the time engaged in a smuggling and trade operation inside ISIS, enriching himself there, or he may in fact have re-engaged in his former trade but did not want to tell us.

The Undead

According to Abdel Kadr, when the emni was going to send a European back to attack they would first falsely announce inside ISIS, and on their external media, that he had been killed fighting or in a bomb attack. But later, it would be revealed that he was actually alive and had successfully attacked in Paris or Brussels, for instance, and had been “martyred” there.

In the case of most suicide attacks in Europe, according to Abdel Kadr, the death of the operative is announced by ISIS a few months earlier, when in fact, “they took them to a camp to train them. Then after you get a communiqué about their action in Europe. The communiqué on this date stated he died in France or Belgium, but for ourselves, seven or eight months before [we had heard] they were announcing his death.”

The same was true of Dominic, according to Abdel Kadr. “ISIS said he was killed, but it wasn’t true. He lived next to me and when I went to see his wife and children inside the ISIS area [in Tabqa, near Raqqa], they told me, ‘He is not killed, but we don’t know where he is.’” Abdel Kadr already knew Dominic’s desire to return to Europe to serve ISIS.

“He’s alive somewhere,” Abdel Kadr told us. “Up to now, there is no communiqué [about his actions in Europe].” Abdel Kadr, who is imprisoned by the YPG and says he is now totally disillusioned with ISIS, claims to have tried to thwart any possible attack by Dominic by alerting German and European intelligence about his friend’s “disappearance” and fake death announcement inside of ISIS.

“There are 1,000 partisans in Europe,” Abdel Kadr claims. “They have a big plan to introduce hundreds of refugees from all nationalities of the world,” he claims, saying ISIS was able to insert them into the refugee streams flowing into Europe. Many are sent to Europe with false passports. “They are processed by surgery, training and language and they send them as sleeping cells. In Turkey they give them hair transplants, surgically change their eyes, even the eye color.” (Presumably that would be with contact lenses.)

At least two of the attackers who struck Paris in November 2015 had entered Europe among refugees and carried false papers.

In 2015, Harry Sarfo, a German whose family originally was from Ghana, and who’d grown up in Britain, working as a postman there before he joined ISIS, was pressured by the ISIS emni to train and return to attack in Germany. He told the authorities, and later Der Spiegel and The New York Times, about his training and knowledge of these ISIS emni activities.

ISIS was telling Europeans to book short vacations in resorts in the south of Turkey, take many pictures, and then come to train for a short time with ISIS to be sent back to join sleeper cells in Europe. Without overstaying their Turkish visas and with the strong alibi of the resort booking and pictures to confirm it, they passed suspicions if questioned by security about their activities.

Abdel Kadr confirmed that this indeed was happening. “They are able to bring a youth into ISIS and then back into his family without the knowledge of his parents. They send him home to Europe after one year in training with ISIS,” he states. “There are some people who came with European faces for a short time and went back through Turkey,” he explains. “Like my friend, Dominic. I think he’s living in Europe,” Abdel Kadr concludes.

When asked about this case and others like it, a high-level YPG security official explains that his organization is doing everything it can to stop such operations. The YPG says it has caught and now holds in its prisons over 3,500 foreign fighters, many of them Europeans.

But the Kurds feel frustrated knowing that these foreigners streamed in through Turkey, some of them received medical help inside Turkey when injured, and most of the logistical supplies and extra food supplies for ISIS were delivered across the Turkish border.

Although the YPG has provided the core ground force working with the Americans to defeat ISIS, President Trump’s decision to withdraw some 2,000 U.S. troops providing logistical and other support leaves the organization in a vulnerable position. The Turkish government insists that the YPG is a branch of the Kurdish Workers Party or PKK, which Ankara and many other governments, including the U.S., deem a terrorist organization.

The YPG says the Turks have actually been complicit with ISIS. “They call us the terrorists” another YPG military intelligence officer told us, “but we are fighting terrorism every single day, losing our lives by the thousands doing so and trying to keep Europe safe from such people. We are fighting terrorism, while others are helping them to come and go, in and out of Syria, across our borders.”

Author’s note: Article first published in The Daily Beast

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). She has interviewed over 500 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, the Balkans, the former Soviet Union and many countries in Europe. She is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Follow @AnneSpeckhard

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Terrorism

Balancing Counter-Terrorism Measures with International Human Rights

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In his statement at a special meeting of the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee on 6 March 2003, the Former Secretary-General Kofi Annan has noted:

 “….Our responses to terrorism, as well as our efforts to thwart it and prevent it, should uphold the human rights that terrorists aim to destroy. Respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law are essential tools in the effort to combat terrorism – not privileges to be sacrificed at a time of tension.”

Acts of terrorism are one of the gravest forms of human rights violations that can potentially shake up the spirit of society. People acquire a hateful approach towards the terrorists and those involved in terrorist activities. Moreover, governments do not hesitate to take all possible hardest actions against terrorism to secure their citizens and nation. It can be understood that any counter-terrorist measure taken to satisfy this sentiment of society will more likely be appreciated rather than being criticized. In the wake of this situation, it becomes crucial for the state and its agencies to observe the human rights laws while enacting and exercising the anti-terrorist measures (OHCHR 2008). It has been found that there exists a continuous struggle between national security interests and the protection of the human rights of individuals. In numerous cases, European and American Courts have preferred human rights over the draconian legislative provisions to curb terrorism. When one is dealing with terrorism, measures taken for counter-terrorism shall give high regard to human rights. If States fail to achieve this balance, they will ultimately defeat the success of their counter-actions. Thus, it is to be remembered that one should not become a demon that they are fighting.

Understanding International Human Rights

Human rights are the core universal values available to every individual and group being a human. It provides fundamental freedoms to individuals and protects them from the arbitrary use of power by the state (OHCHR 2008). International human rights are the rights reflected under various core international human rights treaties and customary international law. It includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and others. Moreover, the prohibition of genocide, torture, and slavery is widely recognized as peremptory norms from which no derogation is possible. All the concerned state parties are under an obligation to protect human rights enshrined under these instruments. They shall not take any action in the breach of their commitments.

The immense importance of human rights raises a few considerations before the state. Whether human rights can be compromised in the name of national security? How should states deal with a situation where human rights fall between their national security or other interests? This short note will try to reflect on these essential issues.

What Is Terrorism?

There exists no universal definition of the term ‘terrorism’ (Acharya 2009); however, General Assembly has tried to define it as “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them” (UNGA 1995). This term finds its mention under International Humanitarian Law that prohibits ‘terrorism’ and ‘acts of terrorism’ committed during an armed attack (Kaponyi 2007). During peacetime, such acts are dealt with under national laws, international criminal law, and human rights laws. Terrorism has been observed as a criminal act rather than an act of war (Acharya 2009); however, this definition is still evolving.

Terrorism is a controversial term, and its meaning differs from context to context and time to time. A person or group who acts as a terrorist for some might be a hero for others. However, it should be presumed that all such violence and destruction that constitutes terrorism and terrorist activities are done in the breach of human rights. These activities cause severe injury to the life and liberty of the individuals and the unity and integrity of the nation (Kaponyi 2007). In the interest of humanity, the state needs to adopt counter-terrorism measures in its legislation and enforcement actions to prevent and suppress terrorist activities while observing the rule of law.

Interaction Between Counter-Terrorism Measures And International Human Rights

There exists an unavoidable link between counter-terrorism measures and international human rights (Kielsgard 2013). Acts of terrorism provide legal justification to the threatened state to take actions that can cause severe human rights abuses. The interplay between these two concepts aims to address three dimensions of human rights: concerning the victims of the terrorist attacks, concerning the suspected terrorists, and concerning the people subjected to terrorism (Kaponyi 2007). The first category requires the right to life and dignity and the right to justice. The second category talks about the right to life, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the right to a fair trial, freedom from arbitrary detention, torture and degrading treatment, and the right to asylum. The third category talks about the right to life, right to information, freedom of association, strike, and expression. It is to be noted that the list of these rights are not exclusive and may include other related rights. Therefore, the state’s actions must not defy its international human rights commitments in the guise of national security. There have been instances when courts have curtailed unnecessary and vague security measures found in infringement of human rights.

In Hamdan v Rumsfeld US Supreme Court held that the structure and procedures of the Military Commissions been set up to try detainees of Guantanamo Bay violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Common Article 3 of Four Geneva Conventions, 1949. It was a landmark case that restrained the Presidential power vis-à-vis the treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners (Philips 2006). In Hamdi v Rumsfeld Supreme Court rules, US citizens detained as enemy combatants have the right to due process and the ability to challenge their enemy combatant status. However, in Rasul v Bush Supreme Court provided that it has jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus petitions foreign nationals detained at Guantanamo Bay. This case attracted several petitions from foreign citizens challenging the basis of their detention. To prevent a large number of petitions from detainees, the US government came up with Military Commission Act in 2006 that bars foreign nationals from challenging their detention that was ultimately held unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in the case of Boumediene v Bush. It can be observed that the Supreme Court has generally prioritized human rights over its national security issues (Wald 2010).

Similarly, the Court of Appeal in Miranda v Secretary of State for the Home Department found arbitrary ‘stop powers used against journalistic information’ contained under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, 2000 of the UK to violate freedom of expression provided under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. In another case of Gillan and Quinton v United Kingdom European Court of Human Rights held blanket power to stop and search under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, 2000 to violate the right to respect for private life that later got repealed and replaced by the legislature.

Counter-terrorism measures provide incentives to the government authorities to reinterpret their law justifying interrogation, detention, and ‘targeted killing’ (Sanders 2017). It provides immunity and legitimacy to their acts of human rights abuses with the least accountability. Under its ‘War on Terror’ against the Taliban Government in Afghanistan, the US has denied applying human rights and humanitarian law to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay and termed them as “enemy combatant” (Duffy 2005). However, from the International Humanitarian Law perspective, it can be counter-argued that the US is detaining combatants by creating a category based on a weak claim supported by reliable facts. They are arrested for an indefinite period without providing them the rights of prisoners. From the International Human Rights approach, a State is obliged to fulfill its international commitments over the persons who are present under its authority and control. This global outreach of the subject founds its applicability even in the areas beyond national jurisdiction, thus holding the US responsible for Guantanamo Bay that lies outside US territory.

Counter-terrorism measures are abused on the pretext of discrimination (Kaponyi 2007). General Assembly Resolution and UN Council on Human Rights Resolution prohibit discrimination that treats people from one ethnic or racial origin, religion or belief, disability different from the others. The creation of plausible legality of human rights violations by the state establishes a requirement to promote human rights (Sanders 2017). Where the UN General Assembly and Security Council have taken several counter-terrorism measures to combat terrorism, UN bodies also aim to respect human rights even in emergency cases. Law is undoubtedly evident that counter-terrorism measures cannot be fulfilled without considering human rights (Kielsgard 2013). States should respect human rights along with its counter-terrorism and security measures.

Conclusion

The real issue lies in determining the legality of counter-terrorist measures that occasionally fall short of the state’s international commitments under its human rights regime. It has been observed that the absence of any definition of terrorism provides ample scope for the state to interpret the term ‘terrorism’ with a political bias favoring its interest (Kaponyi 2007). Further, a State can easily justify its actions in the name of national security that denies human rights to the individual and ultimately raises questions on the rule of law (Duffy 2005). Under the case laws, judges have shown an inclination to respect the international commitments on human rights regime. However, this cannot be said affirmatively for the legislature and enforcing authorities.  It is not the counter-terrorism measures, but their abuse is problematic. Arbitrary and poorly-implemented counter-terrorism measures have their consequences. Co-lateral damage must be proportional. Since both counter-terrorism measures and human rights are important issues for a country; thus, it is essential that a balance be struck between them. It should be noted that fight against terror and the observance of human rights must go hand in hand. The State’s responsibility is to respect human rights and not use counter-terrorism measures as a justification for their violation.

REFERENCES

  • Acharya, Upendra D. (2009): “War on Terror or Terror Wars: The Problem in Defining Terrorism,” Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, Vol 37, pp 653.
  • Boumediene v Bush (2008): 553 U.S. 723
  • Duffy, Helen (2005): The “War on Terror” and the Framework of International Law, Cambridge University Press
  • General Assembly, Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, A/RES/58/187 (2003)
  • General Assembly Resolution, U.N. Doc. A/RES/49/60 (Feb. 17, 1995)
  • Gillan and Quinton v United Kingdom (2010): ECHR 28 (2010)
  • Hamdan v Rumsfeld (2006): 548 U.S. 557 (2006)
  • Hamdi v Rumsfeld (2004): 542 U.S. 507
  • Kaponyi, Elisabeth K. (2007): “Upholding Human Rights in the fight against terrorism,” Society and Economy, Vol 29, pp 1.
  • Kielsgard, Mark D. (2013): “Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights: Uneasy Marriage, Uncertain Future,”Journal Jurisprudence, Vol 19, pp 163.
  • Miranda v Secretary of State for the Home Department (2014): EWHC 255 (2014);
  • Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2008): “Human Rights, Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism” <https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/Factsheet32EN.pdf>
  • Philips, Dennis (2006): “Hamdan v Rumsfeld: The Bush Administration and ‘The Rule of Law’,” Australian Journal of American Studies Vol 25, pp 40.
  • Rasul v Bush (2004): 542 U.S. 466
  • Sanders, Rebecca (2017): “Human rights abuses at the limits of the law: Legal instabilities and vulnerabilities in the ‘Global War on Terror’,” Review of International Studies Vol 44, pp 2.
  • UN Commission on Human Rights, Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2003/68: Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, E/CN.4/RES/2003/68 (2003)
  • Wald, Patricia (2010): “National Security versus Human Rights: An uneven playing field,” American Society of International Law, Vol 104, pp 458.

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Pakistan’s fight against terrorism inside its borders

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When Pakistan first appeared on the map, it had little to no idea how its neighbors would harness its land. It came quite clear after the separation of East Pakistan that the land of the pure would require more foresight in dealing with those around it. They might even need to fight to maintain peace on its soil.

Since the birth of Pakistan, it has been subjected to different fights to maintain its status. With all its struggles, finding peace for the valley, and balancing its economy, the country has faced many turbulences. It has proven itself against all sorts of malicious endeavors. Some that had the potential to harm its name in the international society.

It was 9/11 that not only shook the whole world but this nook of the Asian continent as it plunged into instability. It seems like someone was busy hiding a terrorist network in Pakistan. From terrorism attacks on the APS school to the attack on the five-star PC in Gwadar. The country has been struggling to keep its face clear even though it has suffered from Islamophobia in the international community.

Pakistan and its army have been heading strong and determined to keep the citizens of Pakistan safe along with protecting the people on the globe who accept the hostility of the country to open its land for tourism. Since 2010 the country has been busy weeding out terrorist organizations. Many casualties have been taken as the roots of terrorism were attacked. The blood of martyrs has colored the land, but success has come in bits and pieces. The country was not facing armed militia but organized troops funded by the neighbors.

The terrorist funding trail reveals India’s involvement. These are no more allegations, and evidence of 22 billion PKR expenditure for the nourishment of such networks in Pakistan are available. This is quite a question, especially when keeping in mind the economy of the country. Besides, Narendra Modi’s support for extremism is simply a dot that needs to be connected.

The attack on APS was the boiling point for the whole nation. When every eye cried. Investigations were made to let the world know that Pakistan will not tolerate terrorism of any sort. Peace will be kept, and any intention against it will be answered with unpleasant outcomes. It has been, and the number of terrorism incidents has remarkably gone down.

As per the UN charter, the intrusive involvement by patronizing any country’s domestic issues is a clear violation. With ISIS contributing their share to terrorism in further Asia, it has been investigated that Indian intelligence agencies are trying to knit a scarf of deception by linking ISIS by creating “Daesh-e-Pakistan.”Adding firmness to their plan, they have already admitted 30 Indian militants in this organization and relocated them to camps along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Two Indian agency representatives were responsible for handing over these militants to Daesh commander Sheikh Abdul Rahim.

The geographical advantage that Pakistan holds brought a ray of sunshine with the CPEC project. But as the country started working on its economy’s progress, the state has witnessed countable heart-wrenching fights against terrorist groups. While Pakistan struggles to keep global security and safety and fights against incendiary of this terrorism, Indian state policy has internalized terrorism as an instrument. With Modi’s incumbency, the Kashmir valley has burned, but Muslims in Delhi face their wrath.

Hence, the policy was not a joke, it was a serious mission, and satisfactory amounts were sent to sub-nationals through humanitarian assistance to cause unrest in Balochistan. With Peshawar police attack on 11 May 2020 to target killing and eventually linking with a suicide attack on Mardan Judicial Complex in 2016. Pakistan has been highly receptive to all intelligence gathered to averting a colossal attack on 14 August 2020. Maj Fermin Das, an official from Indian intelligence, was found to be the mastermind behind the planning of this attack. This person was operating from Afghanistan, which failed obviously!

It’s been no secret to everyone with Indian involvement in creating instability in Jammu Kashmir. Gilgit Baltistan is not far from it, sharing the same boundaries. Out of 60 implanted IEDs, 22 were successfully diffused, but 38 exploded and took 13 civilian lives and 48 military personnel. The explosives used in those IEDs have been traced back to, you guessed it, India.

No matter how many times Pakistan will try to keep out the pest from its soil, they seem to be crawling back inside. Safety is not just the issue of Pakistan but is the issue of the whole world.  Countries funding their neighbors to keep unrest in the continent requires global attention, and determined action should be taken.

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Terrorism

Jihadist terrorism in the EU since 2015

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Security patrol activity to prevent terrorism. Photo by Manu Sanchez on Unsplash

Europe has experienced a series of terror attacks since 2015. Who are the terrorists? Why and how do they act?

Jihadist terrorism is not new in the EU, but there has been a new wave of islamist attacks since 2015. What do jihadist terrorists want? Who are they? How do they attack?

What is jihadist terrorism?

The goal of jihadist groups is to create an Islamic state governed only by Islamic law – Sharia. They reject democracy and elected parliaments because in their opinion God is the sole lawgiver.

Europol defines Jihadism as “a violent ideology exploiting traditional Islamic concepts. Jihadists legitimise the use of violence with a reference to the classical Islamic doctrine on jihad, a term which literally means ‘striving’ or ‘exertion’, but in Islamic law is treated as religiously sanctioned warfare”.

The al-Qaeda network and the so-called Islamic state are major representatives of jihadist groups. Jihadism is a sub-set of Salafism, a revivalist Sunni movement.

Who are the jihadi terrorists?

According to Europol, jihadist attacks in 2018 were carried out primarily by terrorists who grew up and were radicalised in their home country, not by so-called foreign fighters (individuals that travelled abroad to join a terrorist group).

In 2019, nearly 60% of jihadi attackers had the citizenship of the country in which the attack or plot took place.

Radicalisation of home-grown terrorists has speeded up as lone wolves are radicalised by online propaganda, while their attacks are inspired rather than ordered by terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda or IS.

Europol explains that these terrorists may not necessarily be very religious: they may not read the Quran or regularly attend mosque and they often have a rudimentary and fragmented knowledge of Islam.

In 2016, a significant number of the individuals reported to Europol for terrorism were low-level criminals, suggesting people with a criminal history or socialised in a criminal environment may be more susceptible to radicalisation and recruitment.

Europol draws the conclusion that “religion may thus not be the initial or primary driver of the radicalisation process, but merely offer a ‘window of opportunity’ to overcome personal issues. They may perceive that a decision to commit an attack in their own country may transform them from ‘zero’ to ‘hero’.”

The 2020 Europol report shows that most jihadi terrorists were young adults. Almost 70% of them were aged 20 to 28 years old and 85% were male.

How do jihadi terrorists attack?

Since 2015, jihadist attacks have been committed by lone actors and groups. Lone wolves use mainly knives, vans and guns. Their attacks are simpler and rather unstructured. Groups use automatic rifles and explosives in complex and well-coordinated attacks.

In 2019, almost all completed or failed attacks were by lone actors, while most foiled plots involved multiple suspects.
There has been a tendency for jihadist terrorists to favour attacks against people, rather than buildings or institutional targets, in order to trigger an emotional response from the public.

Terrorists do not discriminate between Muslim and non-Muslim and attacks have aimed for the maximum of casualties, such as in London, Paris, Nice, Stockholm, Manchester, Barcelona and Cambrils.

The EU’s fight against terrorism

EU measures to prevent new attacks are wide-ranging and thorough. They span from cutting the financing of terrorism, tackling organised crime, and strengthening border controls to addressing radicalisation and improving police and judicial cooperation on tracing suspects and pursuing perpetrators.

For example, MEPs adopted new rules to make the use of guns and the creation of home-made bombs more difficult for terrorists.

Europol, the EU’s police agency, has been given additional powers. It can set up specialised units more easily, such as the European Counter Terrorism Centre created in January 2016. It can also exchange information with private companies in some cases and ask social media to remove pages runs by IS.

In July 2017, the European Parliament created a special committee on terrorism to evaluate how to better fight terrorism at EU level. MEPs produced a report with concrete measures they want the European Commission to include in new legislation.

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