Fighting Terrorism & Radicalization In Europe’s Neighborhood: How To Scale Up EU Efforts: Conclusion

Analysis 9 January 2019
Fighting Terrorism & Radicalization In Europe’s Neighborhood: How To Scale Up EU Efforts: Conclusion


This book illustrates the increasingly complex challenges that Albania, Bosnia‑Herzegovina, Kosovo, Lebanon, and Tunisia face in their fight against radicalisation leading to violent extremism and terrorism. Despite the lack of a commonly agreed definition of radicalisation, in all five chapters, entrenched societal, economic and political issues are at play. Instability, dysfunctional states, ideologies, and external geopolitical influences have had a significant impact on the spread of radicalisation. In all cases, radical Islamic doctrines – Salafism and Wahhabism – remain a significant driver. Ideologies have been mobilised to skilfully exploit a wide range of perceived or real socio‑economic, cultural and foreign policy grievances at a collective or individual level, via sophisticated narratives of ‘victimisation’. In that regard, the younger generation, which faces very high levels of unemployment and social disenfranchisement, is particularly at risk.

As such, the ideological component of radicalisation needs to be promptly addressed by counter‑narratives. In the end, radicalisation calls for a multifaceted response that includes the mobilisation of expert knowledge, the promotion of liberal democratic principles (through awareness campaigns and education), and the empowerment of local players (to reverse the radicalisation processes of vulnerable individuals).

Returning foreign fighters Returning foreign terrorist fighters, home‑grown extremists and lone‑actors pose a particular challenge across the countries surveyed in this book. There has been a lack of capacity to address the problem, in particular, the one posed by returning foreign fighters. The issue has been dealt with by both hard (revoking citizenship, prosecution and jail) and soft responses (rehabilitation measures or simply allowing fighters to return to their communities). While in the majority of cases returnees have been sent to prison, this has often proven to be counter‑productive. In several cases, radicalisation in prisons is a severe problem.

Rather than helping to de‑radicalise and rehabilitate radicalised ndividuals, prisons increasingly serve as incubators for radicalisation. Many perpetrators of jihadist attacks adopted their radical beliefs in prisons, which serve as a source of recruits. In other instances, foreign fighters have merely returned to the communities they had left, which has led them grooming vulnerable individuals in some cases.

Returning women, often the wives of foreign fighters, and their children also pose a challenge. Often, women are perceived as taking on mere domestic functions – supporting their militant husbands and raising children to carry on ISIS’ work. However, their role has evolved. Recently, women have been called to arms. Compared to male foreign fighters, their roles are less understood. There is no common approach as to what to do with them when they return to their home communities.

Mechanisms to rehabilitate these individuals to enable them to reintegrate into society are broadly missing. There is a lack of rehabilitation facilities and
de‑radicalisation projects. However, reintegration will only be effective if returnees do not encounter the same conditions that pushed them to espouse radical ideologies and leave their countries in the first place. The United Nations action plan on preventing violent extremism (PVE) has called on states to address the conditions conducive to radicalisation as part of their national PVE strategies.

External influences

The five case studies underline the common threat posed by external influences, including from the Gulf States, Turkey and Russia. External influences are visible in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), particularly in Lebanon where regional and geopolitical struggles are at play.
In Bosnia‑Herzegovina and Kosovo, for example, external players endeavour to exert their influence by all means, including the nurturing of radical elements. Gulf state investment includes everything from mosque construction to support for schools along with scholarships to Bosnian religious students at conservative Saudi institutions.

For Western Balkan states, this is nothing new. Gulf‑funded humanitarian and social rehabilitation efforts in the post‑war years were often conditional on specific religious requirements. The aim was to shift Balkan Muslims away from their traditional religious practices towards more conservative teachings and views that are alien to indigenous Muslim communities.

The threat from the promotion of these conservative strains of religion has become more challenging over time. Local populations are the targets of polarizing messages. For example, in Albania, this is dangerously undermining the country’s long tradition of religious harmony and peaceful coexistence.

Furthermore, the challenges posed by the use of new technologies and online propaganda in recruitment remain significant across all case studies. Despite international efforts to curb terrorist propaganda online, the Internet remains a crucial recruitment and propaganda tool for ISIS as well as al‑Qaeda and other terrorist organisations. Terrorist groups continue to use the Internet to groom and recruit.

The importance of counter‑narratives As highlighted in the case of Albania, Bosnia‑Herzegovina, and Kosovo, there is an urgent need to develop effective counter‑narratives to extremist ideologies. In fragile and polarised societies such as those described throughout this volume, it is necessary to provide unifying discourses and shared visions for the future.

The lack of a long‑term strategy to contain the destabilisation attempts coming from outside also needs to be addressed. Against this background, closer ties with the European Union are the most effective tool to counter jihadism and Islamic radicalisation in the Western Balkans.

They will bring stability and serve as an engine for domestic reform processes. According to the authors, progress along the long path of accession to the European Union represents the most effective way to counter radicalisation in candidate countries.

The prospects of EU membership can also explain differences between Western Balkan countries and the MENA region. In Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia‑Herzegovina, the prospect of EU membership means that EU engagement in their transformation – including in areas related to human rights, security, and justice – is much stronger than in MENA countries.

For example, while Tunisia has tried to address the terrorist threat primarily focusing on the security‑related aspects, the Western Balkan countries have developed a much more comprehensive approach.

More targeted and local support from the EU Turning to the role and impact of the EU, the case studies reveal that the Union and some member states have significantly increased their engagement in counter‑terrorism (CT) cooperation with all of these countries over the past few years. The EU has elaborated actions plans with individual countries, which have led to improvements in coordination, monitoring and evaluation.

At regional level, coordination between Western Balkan countries and international partners is crucial. Today, the Western Balkan Counter‑Terrorism initiative (WBCTi) coordinates EU, international and regional efforts in the CT field. It aims to minimize duplications and maximise cost‑benefit efficiency. To date, however, neither Bosnia‑Herzegovina, nor Albania or Kosovo
have fully implemented comprehensive programmes aimed at preventing and countering radicalisation.

The challenge now is to ensure that the WBCTi and its corresponding integrated plan of action for the region are fully implemented. The EU should increase its assistance to Western Balkan countries implementing their national strategies. For example, so far, the financial support of the EU and its member states to Bosnia‑Herzegovina has been limited.

It remains unclear, however, whether the introduction of CT experts in the EU Delegations has boosted the role of the EU in the prevention of radicalisation, beyond better coordination between individual member states and the relevant national security agencies in third countries. At the same time, the authors highlight that the lack of coordination at EU level, with competing
and overlapping initiatives of the EU and its member states, still remains a problem.

Furthermore, the five studies suggest that CT experts should be better associated with the conception and implementation of programmes. It was the objective envisaged by the European Union when the policy was first initiated in 2016.

In the end, all case studies underline that there is a need for more targeted involvement. The root causes of radicalisation are context‑driven. Even within the countries themselves, local dynamics may differ. The countries analysed in this book vary in their societal, political and institutional settings. Hence, their capacity to implement effective policies to cope with radicalisation and terrorism diverge. Ultimately there is no single or simple recipe for the fight against radicalisation leading to violent extremism or terrorism. There still is a long way to go.

Going forward, differentiation will be critical. A thorough evaluation of each context is also paramount. Some of the authors report that the EU spends too much money on conferences and seminars, or research on the drivers of radicalisation and the training of government officials. Finance has failed to adequately reach communities, grassroot civic initiatives or frontline practitioners (e.g. social services and mental health specialists).

More focus needs to be placed on building the resilience of communities and the capacities of local players to fight radicalisation. Efforts in preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) need to be informed by the local context and expertise. To make EU‑financed activities more effective and address gaps, there needs to be better coordination, monitoring and evaluation of P/CVE efforts both domestically and regionally.

It emerges from the five case studies that the European Union and its counter‑terrorism strategy has exerted considerable influence in the formulation of policies at national level. The four pillars at the basis of the European Union counter‑terrorism strategy ‘prevent, protect, pursue, and respond’ and their articulation constitute a complete toolbox that can significantly contribute to actions in different contexts. Neighbouring countries have broadly endorsed the EU approach. Such support should encourage further EU efforts and the push for reforms in various relevant fields, not least in the social and economic fields along with security sector reform. Pushing partners to focus on prevention is also important as in the majority of the case studies this was a particularly weak element.

While the challenges are enormous, it is clear that the Union needs a zero‑tolerance approach towards radicalisation along with a long‑term, multistakeholder strategy to prevent this threat. To successfully address radicalisation and keep EU citizens (and others around the world) safe from further terrorist attacks, intensified cooperation between member states and third countries needs to remain a priority.

Recommendations for the EU A number of essential lessons and recommendations can be drawn from the five case studies concerning the role of the EU and its member states:

1. The European Union should make a greater effort to put in place carefully assessed and balanced, comprehensive approaches. There is no one‑size‑fits‑all formula. Such a multidimensional challenge requires a multifaceted response. As a consequence, P/CVE and CT efforts need to be conducted as part of a broader approach under the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Western Balkans Strategy.

2. The European Union should better integrate its efforts in the national reform agendas. The differences across the five country cases demonstrate that the identification of the underlying trends and causes of radicalisation must take into consideration the national and local contexts. The support of the European Union and its member states to P/CVE efforts should be supported by and streamlined in the broader policy and reform agendas of the countries themselves. Box ticking exercises should be avoided.

For example, cooperation with countries in transition such as Tunisia – where a far‑reaching security sector reform is required – will have different institutional reform needs than a more stable and consolidated EU accession candidate country such as Albania. In Tunisia, post‑revolutionary governments have addressed the terrorist threat by primarily focusing on the
security‑related aspects.

They have failed to give enough attention to prevention or the uprooting of the causes of radicalisation. Hence, the EU could focus its support there on institutional and socio‑economic reforms.

3. Much more should be done to reconcile and coordinate different initiatives at both the European and member state levels. Such an approach currently does not exist. Even if there is a clear intention to address challenges in a more comprehensive and coordinated manner, the actions and programmes on the ground reveal that the EU and its member states could do more to avoid a silo approach that undermines long‑term success.

All activities need to be thought of as complementary and mutually supportive. Efforts towards the accession and reform agenda and those aimed at addressing radicalisation and terrorism should go hand‑in‑hand to achieve a more effective and lasting transformation. Projects and programmes in place call for careful design and coordination, in an effective and targeted manner. However, as of yet, there is an insufficient impetus in this direction. Although political declarations at high‑level meetings and in policy papers are ambitious, there is still a lot to be done.

4. Social and economic inclusion are essential. Given that citizens in the region appear to be strongly influenced by religious figures as well as by family and friends, it is crucial that grassroots‑level participation is encouraged in both the planning and implementation stage of ‘whole‑of‑society’ efforts to counter extremism. While the necessity of this engagement is acknowledged in the CVE strategies and action plans of each country, putting this into practice has proven quite difficult, not least because these countries all face considerable economic obstacles and there is often limited political will from the authorities to address these challenges.

The EU should design a concrete set of activities in communities for people who are most vulnerable to radicalisation. It should also increase support for capacity‑building in counselling programmes as well as for organisations that can reach out to returnees and their families and provide opportunities for rehabilitation. Furthermore, local context and expertise should inform
‘whole‑of‑society’ and P/CVE efforts.

5. The EU needs to focus its funding better. Funding should privilege concrete programmes and projects that have an impact on communities (e.g. ‘whole‑of‑society’ approaches), support the work of frontline practitioners and reach out to the most vulnerable people. The five case studies call for a greater focus on ‘whole‑of‑society’ approaches and greater involvement of women, youth, and civil society, victims of terrorism, and religious community leaders as agents of change in society.

For example, more representatives of the younger generation should be invited to participate in the planning of national strategies. It is particularly crucial that the EU engages in efforts to support capacity‑building for frontline workers, including teachers, police officers, healthcare workers, probation staff and relevant local authorities, as there is currently a lack of awareness on the critical role that they can play in countering radicalisation. In this framework, designing programmes based on needs and that complement existing work – rather than duplicating it – is also essential. There should also be better coordination between the European Union and other donors, especially the United States.

6. There is a need for exchanges between the EU and its member states and third countries on how to deal with returnees, in particular, foreign terrorist fighters. For example, the countries examined in this book would greatly benefit from shared experiences, and best practices in these areas and the network of EU CT experts would be a useful platform in this respect. Furthermore, when it comes to minors, robust and tailored programmes should be developed to effectively disengage, de‑radicalise and rehabilitate juveniles who have travelled to Syria and Iraq with their parents or who have been born or raised with ISIS.

7. In all case studies the challenge of radicalisation in prisons, along with the reintegration of released radicalised prisoners back into communities is flagged as a critical priority. There is an urgent need to prevent the indoctrination of vulnerable individuals with dangerous ideologies, especially in prisons. It is also crucial to further develop programmes for the rehabilitation and reintegration of (former) terrorists to minimise the chances of future violence. Given that many EU member states are facing the same challenges sharing experiences – particularly between the prison and probation services – would be useful.