Dr. Mubarak Ahmed
It was the declaration of the establishment of the alleged Muslim Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, which compelled European governments to adopt new views of the threats to their national security. The Muslim state was declared by ISIS’s leader Abu-Bakr al-Bughdadi’s in July about four years ago.
The Europeans were at their wits end, looking for more effective anti-terrorism measures. The dilemma hitting European security and intelligence agencies got worse after discovering that ISIS ideology had attracted the attention of a relatively big number of European young people, who were sent to Iraq and Syria.
The wakeup call was sounded much louder after ISIS’s instructed its ‘lone wolves’ to attack European major cities, such as Paris, Brussels and London. In addition to ISIS, different Jihadist groups had exploited social networks to radicalize European teenagers and young people. ISIS also quarried illegal migrants in Europe for new recruits.
The return of European Jihadists to their countries after ISIS was defeated in Syria and Iraq increased the dimensions of the threat to the European security. Rehabilitation programmes were initiated to help these returnees relinquish the Jihadist ideology and re-incorporate them into society.
Therefore, this study is divided to three major axes. The first is interested in debating new bills and recommendations European governments have adopted to counteract the evolving threat. The second axis of this study examines EU’s counterterrorism strategies; and the third chapter sheds light on extraordinary challenges, which appeared to have compromised EU’s security and intelligence efforts in this respect.
First-EU’s counterterrorism legislation
It was in 2005 when the Council of the European Union first adopted the EU counter-terrorism strategy to fight terrorism globally and make Europe safer. The strategy focuses on four pillars: prevent, protect, pursue and respond. The EU’s strategy also stressed the importance of cooperation with third countries and international institutions.
Addressing the causes of radicalisation and terrorist recruitment has become a key priority for the EU. In 2008, the Council adopted an EU strategy for combating radicalisation and recruitment to terrorism. The strategy was revised in June 2014 in light of evolving trends, such as lone-actor terrorism, foreign fighters, and the use of social media by terrorists. In December 2014, the Council adopted guidelines for the implementation of the revised strategy by member states.
To protect citizens and infrastructure and reduce vulnerability to attacks is the second priority of the EU counter-terrorism strategy. This includes securing external borders, improving transport security, protecting strategic targets and reducing the vulnerability of critical infrastructure. In this area, the EU adopted in April 2016 a directive regulating the use of passenger name record (PNR) data.
The EU also works to hinder terrorists’ capacity to plan and organise, and to bring these terrorists to justice. To achieve these goals, the EU has focused on: strengthening national capabilities, improving cooperation and information exchange between police and judicial authorities, tackling terrorist financing, depriving terrorists of their means of support and communication. In May 2015, the Council and the European Parliament adopted new rules to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.
Priorities in recent years have included, defining the arrangements for the implementation by the EU of the solidarity clause, through a Council decision adopted in June 2014, reviewing the EU emergency and crisis coordination arrangements, replaced by the EU integrated political crisis response arrangements (IPCR) in June 2013; and revising EU civil protection legislation.
In June 2014, the European Council called for an effective counter-terrorism policy integrating the internal and external aspects. In February 2015, EU leaders stressed the need for the EU to engage more with third countries on security issues and counter-terrorism.
The counter-terrorism agenda is present in the relations between the EU and third countries in many forms, including:high-level political dialogues, the adoption of cooperation clauses and agreements, or specific assistance, capacity-building projects with strategic countries
The EU also works closely with other international and regional organisations to build international consensus and promote international standards for fighting terrorism. The EU’s policies in this respect are in line with the UN Security Council’s resolution 2178 in 2014, which obliges member states to prevent and suppress recruiting, organising, transporting or equipping; prevent and suppress financing; and prevent travel.
In July 2017, the French parliament approved an anti-terror bill, which gives security authorities and the police exceptional powers, including the deportation and electronic tag monitoring of potential terrorists, the storage of passenger data by airline companies and the use of spy software.
In the UK, the government adopted new counter-terrorism strategy—known as CONTEST—, which includes tight measures to ensure that there are no safe spaces for terrorists, especially online, which is exploited by terrorists for propaganda and radicalisation of people. The British government also approved longer prison sentences and better management of terrorist offenders on release.
The British government also placed confidence in the potentialities and capabilities of MI5 and the police after the 2017 attacks. The government asserted that counter-terrorism policing and security and intelligence services have the support they need.
The British government committed itself in 2015 to spending more than £2 billion on counter-terrorism each year by giving counter-terrorism policing a £50 million increase in funding. In the meantime, the government decided to recruit over 1,900 additional staff across the security and intelligence agencies. The CONTEST also prioritized close cooperation with international partners, including the EU; key partners outside of central government. Private sector in Britain is also given a leading role in counter-terrorism strategy. This includes faster alerts for suspicious packages, improving security at crowded places across the UK and reducing the vulnerability of critical national infrastructure. Britain’s CONTEST also stressed that new detection techniques, data analytics and machine learning have the potential to dramatically enhance counter-terrorism capabilities.
The British government’s approach in its new counterterrorism strategy urges more efforts to prevent people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. The British security and intelligence agencies have investigated about 20,000 people, who are wiedly considered potential terrorists. .
The following section reviews some of the changes that were implemented in 2017 and early 2018; including the deportation and electronic tag monitoring of potential terrorists, the storage of passenger data by airline companies, the use of spy software and risk assessment tools used by German authorities.
In Germany, the federal cabinet approved in February 2017 a bill to regulate the use of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data for the prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution of terrorist offenses and serious crime. The directive approved by the EU parliament on April 21, 2016, obliges airlines to hand EU countries their passengers’ data to help the authorities to fight terrorism and serious crime.
German security authorities also introduced a series of measures adapting police structures to the current terrorist threat level. The elite unit of the Federal Police is expanding their staffing level by approximately a third of the current personnel.
Second-EU’s counterterrorism security and intelligence policies
EU has introduced a multibranched strategy to help security and intelligence authorities in its member states upgrade their efforts and operations against terrorism as follows:
- The European Commission revealed a security strategy (2015-2020) to upgrade counterterrorism cooperation between European countries on the organized and digital crimes. The European Commission in January 2017 decided to launch an information exchange database to upgrade cooperation between security and intelligence agencies in European countries about foreign Jihadists crossing the EU borders. The European governments also approved a new bill to stop and obstruct funding to terrorists.
- The European Parliament Committee defending human rights and fundamental freedoms ended in December 2015 a five-year dispute by voting a bill to regulate the 6-month storage of passenger data by airline companies. Furthermore, MEPS of the Foreign Affairs voted in February 2017 rececommendation on cutting the sources of income for Jihadists and targeting the financing of terrorism. The recommendation was voted by 55 MEPs and five voted against. MEP Javier Nart, who submitted the bill, said that they had adopted a new course to cut the sources of income for Jihadists. He also said that the bill was targeting financing of places of worship and religious cultural centres. However, the most fundamentally important recommendation is the establishment of an information exchange centre to coordinate intelligence activities associated with monitoring unknown credit cards, intercepting calls on cell mobiles of potential terrorists and follow the ultimate destination of money transfer to places of worship and religious cultural centres. Furthermore, in January 2018, the European Parliament’s committee assigned to defend civil rights approved a bill to establish Foreign Residents Database.
- In its meeting in Brussels in November 2015, Justice and Home Affairs Council discussed how to strengthen the EU response to terrorist attacks. The Council recalled the urgency and importance it attached to the European Passenger Name Record directive. The ministers underlined the importance of accelerating the implementation of all areas covered by the statement on counter-terrorism issued by the Members of the European Council of 12 February 2015 and in particular of the following measures: EU Passenger Name Record (PNR) directive, firearms, controls of external borders, information sharing, terrorist financing, criminal justice response to terrorism and violent extremism. Ministers also adopted a set of conclusions on enhancing the criminal justice response to radicalisation leading to terrorism and violent extremism.
- Europol (EU’s law enforcement agency), which was launched in July 1999 is one of EU’s powerful and effective mechanisms to achieve a safer Europe for the benefit of all the EU citizens. Europol also helps provides support to EU member states in thier fight against terrorism, cybercrime and othe serious organized forms of crime. Part of Europol’s counterterrorism task is, nonetheless, working closely with non-EU partner states and international organisations. Europol in April 2018 managed to compromise ISIS’s propaganda machine after hitting it by an unprecedented multinational cyber campaign. British security services were involved in the assault targeting websites hosting its flagship Amaq “news agency”, alongside allies in the EU, US and Canada. Europol said Islamist group’s ability to broadcast and publicise terrorist material has been “compromised” by a mix of cooperation with internet service providers and cyber attacks.
- Euroforce was formed in 1996 by EU’s Mediterranean states (France, Italy, Purtugal and Spain) to protect their southern borders.
- Frontex (European Border and Coast Guard Agency) was launched in October 2004 and tasked with helping EU countries and Schengen associated countries manage their external borders. It also helps to harmonise border controls across the EU. The agency facilitates cooperation between border authorities in each EU country, providing technical support and expertise.
Third-Challenges facing EU:
- Forieng Jihadfists returning from Syria and Iraq are posing a substantial threat to the security of EU member states. About 4000 foreign Jihadists have allegedly returned to their European countries after ISIS was dealt a defeat in Syria and Iraq. However, European security and intelligence agencies are struggling with fears that about 90, 000 foreign Jihadists joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The biggest threat appeared to be associated with the returnees’ children named ‘lone wolves’. According to Europol’s reports in July 2018, terrorist attacks on European targets have doubled since 2017. Europol warned that bigger number of foreign fighters were planning to return to their European motherlands only to promote their violent ideology in youth community in EU member states.
- Absence of integrated and effective security coordination between EU member states: According to Europol, several EU member states have not yet been connected to the passenger name record, PNR, databse. As a result, intelligence and security agencies in these countries were unaware of the exact number of foreign fighters, who left Europe to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq. According to Europol reports, about 90 % of foreign Jihadists are holding EU passport.
- Impact of chaotic Middle East on EU security: It appears that the EU has yet to adopt an integrated strategy to face radical changes on full swing in southern Mediterranean. The raging flames of civil wars in Syria have been hitting Libya. In the meantime, EU’s long-standing values associated with the political asylum have shaken violently after the discovery that the perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels were born in Europe. The alleged lone wolves, who were behind these attacks, were allegedly the victims of marginalization and frustration in European communities. They are also believed to ride religion to conceal their criminal past. Accordingly, they quickly answered ISIS call to join Jihad in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Algeria, Iraq and then Syria.