Following European raids on jihadists it seems that concerns regarding returned jihadists are somehow materializing. We have been talking about this danger for quite a long time so how much is Europe prepared in your opinion and what needs to be done? Read few comments.
Daniela Irrera, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Department of Political and Social Sciences, University of Catania
Recent terrorist attacks have obviously shocked public opinion all around Europe but also alarmed on the potential risks affecting daily life. An indiscriminate offensive in a crowded place or a specifically targeted incursion are both considered as a tangible danger to the life of millions of people.
The perception that terrorists can assault everywhere and anytime is not new and has only been shaped reduced or modified in these last decade, since September 2001. The labelling process is quite established as well, even though all analysts are currently focusing on renovated efforts in identifying these forms of terrorist manifestations. Are they foreign fighters? Individual players or members of larger cells? Jihadists dealing with Al-Qaida or ISIS?
Therefore, nothing really new appeared in front of the intelligence units in France, Belgium or elsewhere, except the fact that terrorists now may be part of ISIS framework.
Europe is a weak theatre exposed to several security threats, including criminals, terrorist, illegal trafficking, cyber-attacks, etc. Governments are struggling for maintaining their traditional control over their borders and to fulfil, at the same time, the needs of ensuring the EU integration objectives and goals.
It seems a renovated version of the dilemma between security and freedom protection which has been at the core of debates within the EU for over a decade.
Thus, what needs to be done? I can provide a list of ‘traditional’ remedies: more coordination among intelligence units; an efficient reform of the Schengen procedures; more active bilateral cooperation with MENA and neighbouring countries; a serious reorganization of EUROPOL structure and competences, in a word, more EU!
That is all true. However, no practices can be strengthened or procedural results can be achieved without a real reformation of the European (not EU) security strategy. Terrorism has a set of political, economic and social root causes which cannot be analysed and managed but in the long-term. The war in Syria, the poor institutional arrangements in Iraq and Afghanistan, the unsolved (and ungoverned) Kurdistan question, the dimension of global drug trafficking as a source of funding are the faraway context which allow the ISIS lords to recruit desperate, annoyed, or even well-educated young Europeans and to convince them of the ‘doctrine’.
In other words, and finally, we are shocked by visible manifestations and we will probably continue to find remedies to them (or maybe to prevent them), but we don’t touch (and probably contributed to) the root causes.
Max Abrahms, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Department of Political Science, Northeastern University
Since toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003, Western security officials have warned about the threat posed by returning jihadists. Only now, however, is that threat truly materializing. This is a big problem. We need to have more accurate information about where people are traveling, clearly. We also need to have stronger laws punishing those who travel to conflict zones like Syria and Yemen for dubious purposes. I have lost confidence in estimates over the number of jihadists as well as the number of returnees. The problem is particularly pronounced in Europe, where people can travel more easily with less oversight.
Aaron Mannes, Researcher at Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics, University of Maryland
European security services have been reasonably effective at preventing radical violence. Considering the number of people who have travelled to the Middle East and Pakistan or who were generally attracted to the Islamist cause, the number of attacks has been low.
However, relying on the security services to disrupt plots means they are already behind the curve. Better tools are needed to prevent radicalization to begin with. Not just countering the radical narrative ideologically, but identifying and engaging vulnerable individuals before the Islamists recruit them. This is the social work side of counter- terror. It receives far less investment than the security side and perhaps that needs to change. A drop of prevention worth a bucket of cure.
Adrian Guelke, Professor, Centre for the Study of Ethnic Conflict, Queen’s University of Belfast
We shall have to see how this develops and what information comes to light. I suspect the threat is mainly being generated within Europe, though the AQAP connection to the events in Paris is serious ground for concern as Al Qaeda does have a strategy of attacking the “far enemy” that I don’t think is shared by Islamic State/ISIS, at least as yet as far as I am aware. Insofar as the problem is home-grown it is important that the authorities across Europe do not exaggerate the challenge they face or act in ways that lend credence to the idea that episodic attacks in different countries (for all their horrible consequences in terms of loss of life) are capable of bringing about political change other than an increase in Islamophobia. It is quite likely on the basis of the history of American Somalis joining al Shabaab that quite a number of those who go to Syria will become disillusioned. In this context, helping people to leave behind jihadi associations matters and might also provide valuable information. Establishing the organisational basis of recent attacks (some of which seem to be lone wolf or based round small networks) is clearly going to be a priority for the security services. An area that seems likely to receive greater attention than it might have done in the past is the links that home-grown jihadis forge in jail.