GCC counterterrorism experience seen as of possible benefit to EU
ABU DHABI - Realigning the crime-terror nexus and countering radicalisation are major issues Gulf countries could help the European Union with, experts in the field said.
Speaking at the sixth “Debating Security Plus” public forum, a global online brainstorming session, experts spoke of a need for multilateral cooperation in the field as well as adequate prevention programmes.
Sponsored by Friends of Europe and moderated by Abu Dhabi counter-extremism think-tank Hedayah, among others, the event focused on hybrid threats in the cyber age, Europe as a global security actor, regional approaches to migration, fraying arms control regimes, realigning the crime-terror nexus and Russia-Europe-US relations in 2028.
Titled “Conflict, Competition and Cooperation in an Interconnected World,” the forum included several thousand participants from more than 122 countries, including government officials, international organisations, think-tanks, NGOs and others. Its aim was to provide a platform to discuss security challenges, including violent extremism.
“What we’re seeing here is a very interesting and bizarre phenomena where the forces of evil are uniting, collaborating and where they borrow tactics and strategies from each other,” said Hedayah Executive Director Maqsoud Kruse.
“In my opinion, the nature of the crime-terror nexus is one that will require multilateral cooperation and continuous collaboration between all members of the international community.”
He mentioned the importance of sharing information, coordinating efforts and concentrating resources at the international, regional and local levels to address this challenge.
“There are indications that the two groups in fact collaborate and work together in terms of the different tactics, methods and approaches,” he said. “However, we still need to learn more about how this actually happens and if they learn from each other directly or remotely.”
Hedayah is a supporter of Monitoring, Measurement and Evaluation for programmes on preventing and countering violent extremism. In collaboration with the Royal United Services Institute, the organisation is developing an application that would help practitioners effectively design and assess their programme at different stages of implementation.
“The application takes the user through a necessary thought process, asking questions one should consider in design and implementation, and provides users with a vast amount of resources needed to support their programme,” said Farangiz Atamuradova, research associate at Hedayah.
“In prison radicalisation, there have been cases in which prisoners radicalised prison guards, which, in my opinion, is even more worrying than the radicalisation of fellow prisoners. Rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners back into communities is an important point that needs to be taken into consideration by different actors.”
Experts pointed out the connections between criminality and terrorism. In Belgium, criminals have joined terror groups in Syria. In the last 18 months, more than 40 terrorist attacks have taken place in Europe, the majority of which were committed by its own citizens.
Gilles de Kerchove, EU counterterrorism coordinator, said a purely repressive approach is neither sustainable nor sufficient. “If we are to genuinely tackle this, we must adopt both a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach and we must do so together,” he said.
“This means greater confidence in upholding of values and educating our children. It means working in trust relationships with local communities and international partners and for the private sector to take much greater responsibility for the online dimension of our societies.”
Improving social justice, integration, fighting discrimination and improving access to employment, as well as promoting good governance and the rule of law, while helping promote peace, finding solutions to protracted conflicts and developing disengagement programmes in and outside prison, will be key.
“While it is not for governments to embark in theological debate, there is a need to encourage pluralism in the interpretation of Islam in Europe,” de Kerchove said.
“[Gulf countries can] take part in the dialogues we propose and translate [their] good intentions into adequate actions. The ideology of jihadism, which is one of the drivers of radicalisation, must be challenged, while working closely with the EU in solving crises in the Middle East and in the UN framework to promote social justice, inclusive society, respect for human rights, tolerance and empowering women and youth.”
Shamil Idriss, chief executive officer of Search for Common Ground, a dedicated peacebuilding organisation, said Gulf countries can provide support for religious leaders to deal with challenges that are not particularly religious in nature. For instance, identifying and reaching out to alienated youth.
“This is a prevalent problem and, often, more about the generational and cultural gap between religious leaders who grew up in Muslim-majority societies seeking to connect with and support young people 30 to 50 years their junior, who are growing up in modern-day France, the Netherlands or Germany,” he said.
“Supporting the cross-cultural dialogue and engagement of Muslim communities in Europe with their fellow citizens in Europe, as well as with their young peers in Muslim-majority countries, including through the growing and very promising field of virtual exchange, is important. Essentially, anything that expands and widens the horizons of young people, who may otherwise feel ignored excluded or stigmatised, would help.”
Developing adequate prevention programmes at home, notably for young people who are at risk of being radicalised, is a must, said Stefanie Babst, head of Strategic Analysis Capability at NATO. “Ideally, these programmes should go hand-in-hand with social, educational and economic policies and efforts in order to tackle the root causes of terrorism and radicalisation.”
She said it was vital that these countries improve counterterrorism capabilities and enhance their preparedness to work with EU law enforcement and counterterrorism structures.
“I reckon that terrorism will likely remain a major security challenge across the Middle East and in the Gulf region, as long as young people continue to think that their respective state does not offer a compelling vision for their own lives,” she added.