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Better tools to fight terror
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by Cecilia Malmstrom, European Commissioner for Home Affairs

New threats call for new tools. Today, the European Commission is calling on all EU countries to strengthen their efforts against violent extremism and terrorism. Programmes helping people to leave extremist movements should be provided all over Europe. And the EU must cooperate better, by creating a European knowledge hub in this field.

    Cecilia Malmstrom, European Commissioner

    Cecilia Malmstrom, European Commissioner

    Why is this such a pressing issue? To get an idea of what we are up against, take the 'Inspire' publication as an example. On the surface, it looks like any monthly magazine. It has glossy layout, long interviews, big photos and picture montages. But that is where the similarities end. The photos show determined, masked men with automatic weapons, the devastation of cities, and knives covered in blood. Among the articles are instructions for how to make a bomb in your own kitchen. Interested readers can also read about how to carry out attacks without access to firearms. No gun? Then run people over with your car instead. The latest issue features a full-page photo of Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, smiling widely into the camera against an edited backdrop of fluffy clouds and doves of peace.

    'Inspire' is an English-language, Al Qaida-sponsored magazine published a few times a year. It is one of many new propaganda instruments wielded by violent groups to recruit new members. Although it is probably produced in Yemen, it is but a few clicks of a mouse away for those who wish to indulge in terrorist fantasies and read glowing reports about the purportedly honourable life of suicide bombers. 'Inspire' has already paid off for Al-Qaida in a tragic way; it is believed that the two perpetrators of the Boston attacks built their pressure-cooker bombs - which claimed the lives of three people and maimed 264 others - with the help of designs published in the first issue of 'Inspire'.

    Today, people at risk of being lured into embracing extremist views can be drawn into groups where these views are reinforced. At the same time, they may remain isolated, and commit violent attacks on their own. The problem of extremism is not limited to one ideology or religion. Anders Behring Breivik justified his horrific attacks with a fascist ideology which he embraced in the privacy of his own home. He is a prime example of a lone wolf who prepares deadly attacks secretly, without appearing on the radar of the authorities.

    No European country is spared. In Toulouse and Montauban, France, Mohammed Merah killed seven people in 2012 - adults and children, Muslims and Jews - before the police were able to track him down. In Hungary, Roma people have been killed and beaten by Nazi gangs. In Sweden in 2010, Taimour Abdulwahab almost succeeded in murdering innocent Christmas shoppers with pipe bombs. In Greece, rapper Pablos Fyssas was stabbed to death this autumn, by a member of the fascist Golden Dawn party.

    With these tragic events fresh in our minds, Europe is uniting around a common cause, and finding answers. Slowly but surely, we are learning from our experiences, and learning from each other. Over the past few years, the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), which I founded in 2011, has been working on a toolbox for Europe to face violent extremism. In the network, 700 experts from the field are brought together from both national and local levels, to exchange experiences and develop solutions - police, youth leaders, social workers, researchers and others, from all over the EU.

    Today, we are presenting the results of this work. Several actions have emerged from the efforts of the network; actions that, if implemented, would contribute to significantly strengthen Europe's defences against violent extremism. The European Commission is now presenting ten recommendations that EU Member States should carry out as soon as possible. These recommendations are about better cooperation between authorities and others, and doing more locally in order to reach people earlier on in the path to extremism, and to support those who want to leave violent groups. Some EU countries have done much more in this field than others.

    All EU countries, therefore, should start providing de-radicalisation or exit programmes. We know what a positive impact such programmes have. Nevertheless, this type of assistance is only available in a few European countries at present. This needs to change. In addition, local police and social workers all over Europe should undergo training to allow them to spot signs of radicalisation among young people, and to know how to counter it.

    We must also make better use of knowledge and experiences in all EU Member States. Therefore, the EU will develop a European knowledge hub to counter violent extremism, which can help national and local authorities and decision-makers in their work. Using EU funding, this hub will also coordinate research in this complex field.

    The European Commission is urging EU Member States to present national action plans on how to become better at preventive action. At the same time, we need to work closer with countries outside the EU where radicalised young people go to participate in training camps.

    Civil society, meanwhile, has a lot of concrete knowledge on how to counter radicalisation, both locally and online. Countries' authorities need to work closer with civil society to better counteract extremists' online propaganda. We must develop methods to present counter messages to Jihadist online forums, for example. Important work to oppose online hatred is already being done by companies such as Google and Facebook. Schools also have an important role here, in strengthening resistance against extremist messages glorifying violence. So, among the recommendations presented today, the EU Commission is calling on Member States to do more in the field of education.

    We are facing great challenges now and will do in the coming years. This is why it is so important to put better cooperation in place. Several groups that act as a breeding ground for violence, such as Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece, are gaining ground and could enter the European Parliament this year. Meanwhile, around 1200 Europeans, including several from the UK, have travelled to Syria to fight in the civil war. Of these, there is a small group of radicals - young men who have joined groups with terrorist agendas, and who have been trained and hardened in war - who must be considered a clear and present security risk when returning to Europe.

    The countries of Europe need to be better prepared to counter home-spun terror ideologies, lone wolf terrorism and xenophobic violence. There must be closer cooperation between forces if we are to make a real difference in the fight against violent extremism.

    Last update: 06/03/2014  |Top