Posts Tagged ‘radicalisation’

Another catch up post, this time a piece for The Times in the wake of the horrible attack in Nice. Not sure the article totally corresponds with the piece, but the fundamental point about France facing a very acute problem definitely holds unfortunately.

France must learn from its intelligence failures

France_Times_July 2016

From the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January last year, the attack on Paris last November and Thursday’s outrage in Nice, it is clear that France is the western focus for Islamist terrorists.

The reasons lie in a unique combination of practical and historical factors. Back in the 1990s, the nascent terrorist threat to Europe came from north Africa, where France had been the big colonial power and a focus for hatred.

Algerian groups launched a series of attacks in France, and put in place networks that were nurtured on the jihadist battlefields of the Balkans war. These networks developed links with London, through preachers and terrorists who would enter the UK, and even with north America in the shape of, for example, Ahmed Ressam, who was arrested trying to cross the border from Canada into the US to bomb Los Angeles airport on New Year’s Eve 1999.

However, during the 2000s the focus shifted, with the UK bearing the brunt of attacks directed by al-Qaeda against the West, with the US often proving too difficult for terrorist networks to penetrate.

Today, France is once again at the centre of the threat. It has always been regarded by Islamists as one of the old imperial powers at the heart of the western alliance against them. But what’s changed is that the terror threat comes increasingly from the Arab Levant, a part of the world encompassing the eastern Mediterranean and north Africa that France has stronger links with than any other European power.

Previously, the heart of global jihadism was in south Asia, a region that Britain had a greater connection to. Nowadays, both France and Britain have jihadists going to fight in Syria and Iraq.

France does, however, have noticeably more.

There are practical issues that have exposed France to a greater threat. Its open borders with fellow EU nations, through the Schengen free movement area, give it the benefits of free trade, but make it harder to secure against terrorism.

With an almost uncontrolled flow of people and weapons, French authorities are dealing with a threat that is much more heavily armed than anything in the UK. In an echo of the British experience after the 7/7 attacks, French MPs recently lambasted the performance of their intelligence agencies and the institutional rivalries that prevent them from collaborating effectively.

Since the intelligence failures of 7/7, Britain has invested huge sums in personnel and technology. France needs to learn the same lesson to ensure that its squabbling agencies focus on the job in hand. We should be careful not to blame the attacks in France on the country’s large Muslim population. It’s clear that Muslims in France feel alienated, but so do Muslims in many other countries in Europe that are much less tolerant of religious and ethnic minorities. Before some French politicians seek to blame the attacks on their fellow citizens, they should realise that fomenting civil strife is what these atrocities are designed to do.

France may be in the crosshairs of Islamist terrorism, but once it develops a response, the scourge will seek new countries in which to carry out attacks.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute

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And a second post-Brexit article, this time for the Guardian, covering some of the same points but this time focused singularly on the far right and the implications for them for the Brexit vote. This has some depressing portents in the future for it, and lets hope that politicians and others can find ways to move us forwards.

Ignored by the authorities, emboldened by Brexit, Europe’s far right is surging

Rightwing extremists are a grave danger in themselves, let alone when you factor in their influence on mainstream politics, and on terrorism
Poles against migrants protest

The result of Britain’s referendum on EU membership has strengthened far-right activism across Europe. In the UK there have been reports of public racist abuse, while far-right-leaning parties across the continent have taken advantage of the situation to call for their own referendums. There is a danger that an already polarised political environment will become even more broken with some individuals choosing a path to violence in response.

Extreme rightwing terrorism has been a growing problem in Europe for some time. A recent study by a consortium led by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) highlighted that when looking at the phenomenon of “lone actor” terrorism in particular (terrorist acts conducted by individuals without any clear direction from an outside group), the extreme right wing was responsible for as many as Islamist extremists. And not all were random one-off killers – Anders Breivik was able to butcher 77 people in a murderous rampage in Norway. What was particularly worrying was the fact that these individuals sat at the far end of a spectrum of extremists that included elements closer to the mainstream.

In the runup to conducting his act of terrorism, Breivik claimed to have attended protests organised by the English Defence League (EDL), a group he admired for its stand against what he perceived as invading Muslim hordes in Europe. Founded in the UK in response to a perceived refusal by authorities to clamp down on the noisy extremist group al-Muhajiroun, the EDL became a grab bag of far-right, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant protesters who would take to the streets. It spawned imitators in continental Europe.

The emergence of the EDL, however, came at a moment when more established European nationalist groups such as Front National in France, the British National party (BNP) or the Austrian Freedom party, all became prominent in the public conversation. Far-right nationalist xenophobic sentiment has always been a part of the European conversation, but the strengthening of these groups highlighted how much the ideas they represented had started to slip into the political mainstream, largely off the back of anger with the usual parties of power. But while the far right tried to move itself into the mainstream, its violent edge remained, and as the European debate on immigration and Muslims has become more pronounced, there has been a growth in incidents of extreme rightwing violence.

The response from security forces has been mixed. While we have seen an apparent increase in extreme rightwing violence, there has been less attention paid to it by authorities. In the RUSI-led research, a particularly striking finding was that in about 40% of cases of far-right extremists, they were uncovered by chance – the individual managed to blow himself up or was discovered while authorities conducted another investigation. By contrast, around 80% of violent Islamist lone actors were discovered in intelligence-led operations – in other words, the authorities were looking for them.

But it is easy to understand why the extreme right wing gets overlooked. Most examples are fairly shambolic lonesome individuals whose efforts to launch terrorist plots seem amateurish at best. But they are still attempting to kill fellow citizens to advance a political ideology. And in the case of lone actors, they are at least as lethal as their violent Islamist counterparts – in our dataset of 120 cases, even when one removed Breivik as an outlier, the extreme right wing was as lethal as violent Islamists.

The concern from this phenomenon must now be twofold. On the one hand, the increasing mainstreaming of a xenophobic anti-immigrant narrative will feed the very “clash of civilisations” narrative that groups such as al-Qaida and Isis seek to foster – suggesting that there is a conflict between Islam and the west which they are at the heart of. It will only strengthen this sense and draw people towards them.

But there is also the danger of frustrated expectations. The reality is that notwithstanding a rise in anti-immigrant feeling in Europe, the migrants will still come. Attracted by the opportunity and prosperity they see in Europe (which is often a huge improvement on the environment they came from), they will come to seek low-paying jobs – jobs that western economies will still need to fill and are not taken by locals, which offer better prospects than where they came from. This economic dynamic means that people will not necessarily notice a dramatic change in their material environment. Foreigners will continue to come and will continue to be a presence around them – providing a community to blame when individual economic situations do not change or feel like they are getting worse.

Here lies one of the more dangerous sides of this new European political environment. A polarised society which does not appear to materially change – frustrating those who feel like they have expressed their political will only to find it unanswered. The result, unless handled properly by the mainstream political community, is a potential for violence that has already reared its head brutally on the European continent, and unless carefully checked will do so again.

It has been a depressingly busy week for lone actor terrorism with atrocities in numerous places. In the wake of the events in Orlando, I wrote the below for the Times and there should be more to come specifically about the far right next week. Less on the media front, though spoke to the Financial Times about how to counter terrorism in cities ahead of the EuroCup, The Times after the US raised it terror threat level in Europe, and did some longer discussions with BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed show, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs about radicalisation and jihadis more broadly, and my home institution RUSI about the spate of attacks in this past week.

The Times masthead

Terror threat grows more random by the day

Recent Islamist attacks will renew calls for sweeping surveillance powers but the cure might be worse than the disease

The massacre of clubbers in Orlando at the weekend is not the first time that terrorists have targeted the gay community. In 1999, the right-wing extremist David Copeland left a nail bomb in the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, London, that killed three people and injured about 70. In the weeks leading up to the attack, he had left devices targeting minorities in Brixton and Brick Lane that caused multiple injuries. Copeland, who had links to British far-right groups, said after his arrest that he wanted to spark a race war. His indiscriminate campaign showed how the ideology of the extreme right was aimed at the whole of society rather than any specific group.

There are similarities to be drawn with Islamic State. While the group has not yet taken concerted action against LGBT people in the West, it has executed dozens accused of homosexuality in Iraq and Syria. The fact that Orlando is the first attack of its kind outside the Middle East, therefore, is not for any lack of will on the part of Isis. It underlines the random way in which “lone actor” jihadists now pick their targets.

This approach was set out by Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, a senior Isis commander, in 2014. Calling for attacks on the movement’s foreign foes that would “turn their worldly life into fear and fire”, he said that there was no need to “ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict. Kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military, for they have the same ruling.” This carte blanche electrified those drawn to Isis’s ideology. However, when your message is so omnidirectional, it will inspire not only hardened followers but also individuals with a range of motives — or illnesses. Take the case of Muhaydin Mire, who was convicted last week of trying to murder a man on the Underground while shouting that it was “for my brothers in Syria”. It emerged that he had been mentally unstable for some time and had been reading about Islamist ideology online.

When considering a response to such incidents, it is vital to remember that they can stem from a variety of motivations — from the personal to the ideological and all points in between — for which there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

It becomes harder still when the targets chosen by Isis and lone actors can be so diverse: from football stadia to music venues, as well as attempted attacks on churches, public transport networks and bars. In 2014, Isis acknowledged Man Haron Monis’s attack on a Sydney coffee shop that led to three deaths including his own, even though he turned up for his attack with the wrong banner. In contrast they failed to acknowledge Yassin Salhi, another troubled man with a history of links to extremist groups, who decapitated his boss last year before trying to cause an explosion at the gas factory in Lyon where he worked. French authorities said the attack bore the hallmarks of Isis, although no link with Salhi was ever uncovered. He hanged himself in prison before standing trial for murder.

This lack of clarity between terror groups and their foot soldiers is not actually as new as it might seem.

Al-Qaeda promoted the idea of lone wolves launching undirected attacks in its magazine Inspire, drawing on a methodology laid out by ideologue (and former London resident) Abu Musab al-Suri. And the far right has long called for lone wolves to rise up in their own societies and provoke race war by any means possible.

Other groups like the IRA, ETA or left-wing organisations during the 1970s were more structured but happy to use the broader community of radicals that were drawn by high-profile bomb attacks, assassinations or kidnappings.

There is, unfortunately, very little that can be done to counter the dissemination of terrorist ideology in our interconnected world.

Even countries with tight control of the internet such as China find it hard to prevent the spread of extremist messages to vulnerable or otherwise receptive minds.

And even if such control was possible, it is arguable that we would be doing the terrorists’ work for them by giving the state sweeping powers to monitor and control communications on a massive scale. While this is little comfort to those suffering in the wake of an attack such as Orlando, it is unclear that tightly-controlled societies are any better at dealing with terrorist threats than open ones. Instead, we should seek ways to distract those drawn to these messages in the first place (if they can be identified early enough), as well as continuing to attack the appeal of Isis and its ideology by degrading its capability on the ground.

European security agencies continue to worry about the possibility of an attack by Isis during the Euro 2016 tournament.

The only publicly disrupted plot was of a far-right Frenchman arrested coming back into his country from Ukraine, armed with guns and explosives intended for a series of attacks on synagogues, mosques, highways, bridges and football stadia. This underlines the increasingly random nature of terrorism. The goal is as much to sow shock and horror in the venues of everyday life as to bring attention to a specific cause.

Orlando joins the names on a long list of terrorist atrocities in the West since 9/11 and will, sadly, not be the last. Terrorist violence will continue to grow more indiscriminate.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

Another very belated post coming after the Brussels terrorist attack, this time for the Spanish daily El Pais. I have pasted the published Spanish below, alongside the English I submitted below it.

To also catch up on some media interviews, had a conversation with La Repubblica about the terror threat to Europe, to the New York TimesGuardian, Wall Street JournalIndependent, Daily Mail, CNBC, Telegraph about the terror threat after the Brussels attacks and the impact to the UK, as well as to the Daily Mail about the recently concluded Tarik Hassane case in the UK and some weapons adverts that were being posted from Libya onto Facebook to the Daily Mail and BBC.

El espionaje es clave enate el terror

Los servicios de espionaje necesitan establecer nuevas prioridades para enfrentarse a las crecientes amenazas

Spanish cops

Ahora que ha pasado la tormenta de los atentados de Bruselas, se levantan los dedos acusadores que preguntan cómo una gran red, responsable de dos gravísimos atentados terroristas, pudo atravesar el cordón de seguridad europeo. Poco a poco se ha ido filtrando información que muestra que los servicios de seguridad tenían en sus radares a individuos que formaban parte de esa red y, a toro pasado, parece que nuestros servicios de inteligencia tenían una imagen muy detallada del panorama. Sin embargo, ese a posteriori resulta una lente defectuosa para analizar los fallos del espionaje, que requieren una lectura mucho más profunda para comprender correctamente cómo pudieron producirse unos errores que, en apariencia, se podrían haber evitado.

El descubrimiento, tras un atentado terrorista, de que se disponía de información sobre las personas involucradas puede resultar deprimente. Después del atentado del 7 de julio de 2005 en Londres, salió a luz que al menos dos de los implicados habían pasado por campos de entrenamiento en Pakistán cuya existencia conocían los servicios de espionaje. De hecho, el líder de la célula y su mano derecha venían apareciendo en los márgenes de las investigaciones desde casi cuatro años antes del atentado, e incluso había fotos de ellos junto a un grupo de condenados por planear un atentado en Reino Unido. También en el caso de los atentados del 11-S en Estados Unidos, las investigaciones posteriores revelaron que los servicios de seguridad ya habían señalado a los individuos implicados como elementos preocupantes. Dos de los miembros de la célula del 11-M que reventó los trenes de Atocha en 2004 eran viejos conocidos de los agentes que seguían la huella del salafismo en España.

Si los servicios de seguridad tenían fichados a esos individuos, ¿por qué no impidieron que siguiesen adelante tendiéndoles una emboscada y atrapándolos? El problema radica en que este planteamiento olvida cómo funciona el espionaje.

Aunque a posteriori estos detalles pueden parecer significativos y una señal clara de un peligro inminente, es posible que quedaran enterrados bajo otra cascada de detalles, hechos e hilos. Volviendo al ejemplo de los terroristas de Reino Unido, existía información de años atrás que los situaba en un campo de entrenamiento hablando sobre su marcha al extranjero para combatir. Pero formaban parte de un grupo de 12 sospechosos y, en aquel entonces, otros colectivos constituían una amenaza mayor. Es una cuestión de prioridades. Los servicios de espionaje disponen de recursos limitados y se ven obligados a elegir y descartar. Unas pistas que más tarde parecerán enormemente significativas, en el momento se juzgan menos importantes y bajan peldaños en el rango de prioridad.

Por desgracia, el establecimiento de prioridades es una ciencia imperfecta que necesita evolucionar para reflejar la amenaza a la que se hace frente. Parte del error de cálculo sobre los conspiradores del 7 de julio en Reino Unido fue obviar que unos ciudadanos británicos pudieran cometer atentados suicidas en su país. Parte del error de cálculo sobre los terroristas del 11-S fue pasar por alto que Al Qaeda pudiera ejecutar una conspiración tan ambiciosa y sofisticada en territorio estadounidense. Parte del fallo en los atentados de París fue infravalorar la intensidad con que el Estado Islámico (ISIS, en inglés) se organizaba para atentar en Europa. Parte del fallo con relación a la célula de Bruselas fue desconocer su tamaño y pensar que París constituía su punto final. Ahora, a posteriori, esa red y sus objetivos pueden verse parcialmente en una serie de atentados e intentos previos, como el tiroteo de Mehdi Nemmouche en el museo judío de Bruselas o la confesión de Reda Hame de que había vuelto a Europa con la intención de abrir fuego en una sala de conciertos.

También hay fallos menos abstractos que pueden verse en el caso de la célula de Bruselas y París. El hecho de que ahora podamos ver la mano de Abdelhamid Abaaouden conspiraciones en Europa que se remontan a 2014 demuestra que debería haber sido una prioridad mayor en todo el continente. Eso apunta a un fallo en los servicios fronterizos y en la forma en que los diferentes países del continente comparten información secreta. Schengen crea un espacio común en el que los terroristas pueden actuar con impunidad, y del que por desgracia no se benefician los servicios de seguridad que los persiguen. La cooperación y la coordinación son esenciales para los servicios europeos de seguridad y espionaje, habida cuenta de que su jurisdicción solo llega hasta sus fronteras. Al mismo tiempo, la prioridad también varía entre los distintos países: mientras que para Bélgica y Francia este problema es el más acuciante, ya que existen células activas listas para atentar, es posible que para otros Estados miembros, como Portugal o los países del centro y este de Europa, la amenaza no parezca tan inminente.

Por último, las diferencias legislativas entre los Estados miembros son otra dificultad añadida. Es difícil detectar la ubicación de armas peligrosas, como las pistolas, porque la legislación es muy diferente entre países. Además, las competencias de la policía y los servicios secretos son dispares entre Estados y no siempre está claro con qué organismo homólogo hay que colaborar, con lo que es más que posible que resulte más difícil compartir información. En algunos países, la policía lleva las riendas de las investigaciones, pero en otros los servicios secretos recelan a la hora de compartir información por miedo a poner en peligro una fuente de información al exponerla a un proceso judicial. Esta es una diferencia clave entre los servicios de espionaje y la policía: mientras que la segunda trabaja con un procesamiento judicial como meta, los primeros se mueven en las sombras, evitando el foco de los tribunales. Eso provoca problemas, dentro de los Estados y entre ellos.

Y, sin embargo, estamos ante una amenaza ­paneuropea. En las semanas previas a los atentados de París, las autoridades italianas llevaron a cabo una investigación más amplia en todo el continente contra un grupo que se hacía llamar Rawti Shax: una comunidad compuesta en su mayoría por extremistas kurdos suníes, vinculada a Ansar al Islam, un grupo extremista de kurdos iraquíes muy cercano al ISI, precursor del ISIS. Su desmantelamiento, con arrestos en Escandinavia, Italia, Reino Unido y Bélgica, mostró todo el potencial de la cooperación judicial y entre los servicios secretos en toda Europa.

Pero el éxito duró poco. Al cabo de pocas semanas se produjo la masacre de París y se descubrió que una red más amplia de terroristas llevaba un tiempo activa y operando en todo el continente. Desde entonces se redobló la atención, pero una célula logró colarse en Bruselas. Aunque esta red marcará sin duda un punto de inflexión para los servicios belgas y franceses, la cuestión es si la lección tendrá eco en todo el continente. Toda Europa tiene que aprender las lecciones de París y Bruselas, ya que los grupos y redes vinculados al ISIS (y a Al Qaeda) siguen queriendo atentar en el continente. El espionaje, siempre una ciencia imperfecta, es en última instancia una de las últimas barreras contra la amenaza compleja y sofisticada que representa el ISIS.

Raffaello Pantucci es responsable de estudios de seguridad internacional en el Royal United Services Institute y autor de We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists.

How Was ISIS in Europe Missed?

As the dust has settled on the Brussels attacks, fingers of accusation have been pointed asking why a large network that produced two major terrorist attacks was able to get through Europe’s security cordon. News has slowly filtered out showing how security agencies had individuals who were part of the network on their radars, and in retrospect a growing intelligence picture looks rich in indicative detail. But hindsight is an imperfect lens through which to look at such intelligence failures, which requires much closer reading to properly understand how such apparently obvious failures could have happened.

It can appear a depressing indictment when in the wake of a terrorist attack, information is discovered to have been already in the possession of intelligence agencies about individuals involved in the attack. In the wake of the July 7, 2005 attack in London it was discovered that at least two of the individuals involved had attended training camps in Pakistan that had been known about by intelligence agencies. The cell lead and his principle support had in fact shown up on the periphery of investigations for almost four years prior to the attack, including pictures of them alongside a group who had been convicted of planning an attack in the United Kingdom. Similarly, for the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States, subsequent investigation uncovered how the individuals had been flagged up as of concern by security officials. One agent in the FBI had written a memo in which he worried about the fact that so many individuals who were of concern as terrorist suspects were showing up at flight schools seeking to learn how to fly.

But if security services knew, then why did they not act? If they had these individuals in their sites, why did they not prevent them from moving forwards and sweep them up in their dragnets?

The problem is that this is an incomplete way to consider these details and strands of intelligence. Whilst in retrospect, these details can appear massively significant and indicative of the pending plot, at the time they would have come in they would have been buried in a flood of other details, facts and strands of intelligence. To use the example of the July 7 plotters in the United Kingdom again: the strands of information that linked the plotters to a previously disrupted plot and placed them at a training camp as well as discussing going abroad to fight meant that the plotters Mohammed SIddique Khan and Shezhad Tanweer were two of twelve different individuals who were being followed up on by investigators after the earlier set of arrests was undertaken. Investigators did not unfortunately get to follow up on them in time.

At the time Khan and Tanweer were two of a large pool of people, with the two of them appearing more prominently involved in discussions about petty fraud and criminal activity to go abroad rather than try to launch attacks in the United Kingdom. At the same time, security agencies were stretched. Not only were they concerned with the wide network of people they had discovered in the earlier investigation, but also focused on a number of other high profile individuals and cases that appeared more menacing at the time.

The question is one of prioritization. Intelligence agencies have limited resources and are obliged to prioritize what they focus on at any given time. Some strands of intelligence can appear more significant and get more attention. Pieces that later appear hugely meaningful, at the time appear less important and get pushed down the rank of things to focus on. This might be the explanation for why intelligence agencies appeared to largely know about the individuals involved in the terrorist attacks yet seemed unable to do anything about the information.

Prioritization is unfortunately an imperfect science and one that needs to evolve to reflect the threat that is being faced. Part of the mis-calculation behind the July 7 plotters in the United Kingdom was the fact that British nationals would launch suicide attacks in the UK. Part of the miscalculation around the September 11 attackers was that al Qaeda would try such an ambitious and sophisticated plot within the American homeland. Part of the failure around the Paris attacks was a misunderstanding of the intensity of plotting that was underway by ISIS to attack in Europe. Part of the failure around the Brussels cell was to fail to understand the size of the cell and the fact that Paris was not the conclusion of their effort. The larger network and their ambition was in retrospect partially visible in a string of previous attacks or attempted attacks from Mehdi Nemmouche’s shooting at the Brussels Jewish museum, in Reda Hame’s confession of coming back with direction and intent to shoot up a music hall, in Ayoub el Khazzani’s attempted massacre on a Thalys train or a heavily armed cell in Verviers, Belgium. A series of plots that now appear linked and set the groundwork for what happened in Brussels and Paris.

There are also less abstract failures that are clearly observable in the specific Brussels and Paris cell. The fact that now in retrospect it is possible to see Abaaoud’s hand in plots in Europe dating back to 2014 shows how he should have been a higher priority across the continent and not someone who should have been able to slip in and out of ISIS controlled territory and Europe. This speaks to a failure of borders agencies, as well as intelligence sharing across the continent. The fact that for terrorists Schengen creates a common space across which they can operate with impunity is not unfortunately matched by the security agencies who are pursuing them. For European security and intelligence agencies, cooperation and coordination is key, as their mandates only stretch as far as their borders. And at the same time, questions of prioritization are true between states. Whilst for Belgium and France the problem is the most pressing security dilemma of the moment with active cells seeking to launch attacks, for Portuguese or Central and Eastern European member states may not feel as immediate a threat.

Finally, legislative and structural difference across member states adds another layer of difficulty to this problem. Different levels of legislation around dangerous weapons like guns make it a difficult threat to mitigate in a pan-European way. Different mandates for police and intelligence agencies, usually due to history or the power of local federal governments, mean that it is not always clear which partner agency needs to be engaged with and makes it potentially harder to share information with each other. In some countries, it is police who lead such investigations but in others intelligence agencies are wary of sharing with police for fear of compromising a source of information through exposing them to a judicial process. This is a key difference between intelligence agencies and police: police work towards prosecutions, whereas intelligence agencies work in the shadows avoiding the spotlight of courtrooms. These cause problems between and within member states.

And yet, the threat is one that is pan-European. In the weeks before the Paris attacks, authorities in Italy led a larger investigation across the continent against a group calling itself Rawti Shax. A community of largely Kurdish Sunni extremists they were linked to the Ansar al Islam group, an Iraqi Kurdish extremist group aligned closely with ISIS precursor group ISI. With arrests in Scandinavia, Italy, the UK and Belgium, the disruption showed the power of the possible with intelligence and judicial cooperation across Europe.

Success proved short lived. A few short weeks later, the massacre in Paris took place and a larger network of plotters was discovered to have been active and operating across the continent for some time. Since then, attention has been ramped up, but a cell managed to slip through in Brussels. Whilst undoubtedly this network will prove to be a turning point for Belgian and French agencies, the question will be whether the lessons will resonate across the continent. The lessons from Paris and Brussels need to be learned across the continent as the groups and networks emanating from ISIS (and al Qaeda) continue to want to attack Europe. Intelligence, always an imperfect science, is ultimately one of the last barriers against the complicated and sophisticated threat that ISIS poses.

A short response to last Friday’s incident in Leytonstone for the Guardian where an apparently mentally troubled man attacked some people on the tube. Unclear case, though his expression of ideology suggests a possible terrorist connection in there somewhere. A depressing event that will highlight the persistent problem of both loud ideologies and lone actor terrorists. Anyway, the piece looks at the strange effect of people choosing to video such events instinctively these days. Beyond this, spoke to Financial Times and AFP about the event, though AFP slightly misunderstood what I had said – my suspicion around the police making the link to terrorism so quickly was that they knew him before, not that it was linked to Syria as written.

Flight or film? How cameraphones made the bystander key to spreading terror message

Leytonstone attack footage demonstrates the way witnesses are a tool in the terrorists’ arsenal – but also how it can backfire

Sunday 6 December 2015
Last modified on Monday 7 December 2015 00.50

In the 1970s, an American special forces officer turned academic called Brian Michael Jenkins declared that ‘terrorism is theatre.’ The logic was that politically minded terrorist organisations were keener to disseminate their message than cause deaths. The deaths were part of the way to attract attention, with the priority being visibility to advance their message. High-profile hijackings or public murders were the norm, with the 9/11 attacks the apex of this approach.

Previously the medium to disseminate this message was the television news. Now, with video cameras ubiquitous in our phones, we are all mediums through which terrorists can transmit and broadcast.

The brutal murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013 was a turning point in terrorist messaging. Using basic weaponry, the two murderers butchered the off-duty solider before stating their creed to anyone who was standing around to listen. Having prepared no clear video or other statement of intent, the two men were entirely reliant on the wider public around them to help spread their message through short video clips recorded on telephones. And yet this medium worked to the point that, in some ways, that particularly brutal but low-casualty attack had more impact than larger terrorist plots that followed.

Woolwich was not the first low-tech terror attack in the UK. In 2010, a young woman from east London entered the office of her local MP, Stephen Timms, armed with a knife from Tesco and attempted to kill him for his vote years earlier in support of the Iraq war. And in the days prior to the murder of Rigby, a Ukrainian far-right terrorist murdered Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham.

Yet neither of these two incidents had the same sort of resonance as the murder of Rigby as there was no audience to capture them on their cameraphones. The internet was not immediately flooded with images, meaning that everyone could immediately latch onto the attack and shout about its awfulness or tweak and rebroadcast them advancing their own narrative.

On Saturday night in Leytonstone, just as in Woolwich, the attacker’s stated intent and actions were captured on camera. The subsequent broadcasting of the message around the world meant that the attack and its message resonated almost immediately. It remains to be seen whether extremist groups will capitalise on the footage in the same way that al-Shabaab did in the wake of the Woolwich incident and make it the centrepiece of an hour-long film lauding the act and calling for others to emulate it. But doubtless some of the images that were captured of the attacker on Saturday night will find their way into terrorist publications and media.

This phenomenon is in some ways the reflection of the increasingly diffuse terrorist threat that is faced. Previously, you had to go to specific locations or people to find radical material. Now it is widely available and accessible, meaning all sorts of people can latch on and express the ideology without having any contact with a terror group. But now things have gone a step further, where we are all broadcasters for the group, capturing and advancing their message through our personal recording devices that offer unvarnished views of incidents as they happen.

The one positive side to this diffuse and random form of messaging is that the attacker no longer completely controls their message. He or she can shout about Syria, but cannot stop the stalwart Londoner shouting back ‘You ain’t no Muslim bruv’ – a catchphrase that is likely to resonate as widely as the failed attack.

  • Raffaello Pantucci is director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute and the author of We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists

And in a second piece, this time from Monday’s Times, looking at the phenomenon of homegrown radicalisation, this time in the context of Mohammed Emwazi, as well as the Paris attacks.

Radicals become the killers within

Mohammed EmwaziMohammed Emwazi was drawn to radical ideas in his youth

Last updated at 12:01AM, November 16 2015

As the full horror from Paris is revealed, the inevitable news has emerged that at least one of the gunmen had deep links and history as a radical in France (Raffaello Pantucci writes).

This came in the week that news emerged from Syria that an American drone had killed Mohammed Emwazi, a west Londoner who joined Isis and rose to become the group’s public executioner. The concept of the homegrown jihadist, the killer from within, only accentuates the horror of the terrorist act — something of which terrorist groups are fully aware and capitalise on to drive their brutal message home.

The concept of the homegrown jihadist is not new. For the most part they are drawn to extreme ideologies in their youth as they are exploring their individual identities and for one reason or another find salafi jihadism the most attractive.

It is a problem that has been faced in Europe for almost two decades. The problem is one that is not going away, and is becoming more complex as we see people drawn to these ideas but in some cases not ultimately acting on their terrorist impulse for years. In the case of both Omar Mostefai, the Bataclan murderer, and Emwazi, the revelation of their names uncovered news that they were people the authorities had long noticed as individuals attracted to radical ideas. For the public, this is almost as shocking as the news of the individuals’ western backgrounds. How is it possible that these young men could have been allowed to carry out their atrocities if they were known to authorities?

It is important to look at their individual histories to address the issue. For the Frenchman, the authorities had noticed as far back as 2010 that he appeared to be interested in radical ideas. However, they did not feel that he was part of what they identified as terrorist networks. He appears to have been a higher priority as a petty criminal.

While circulating in a milieu that was not dissimilar, Emwazi seems to have been drawn to radical ideas in his youth. Graduating from the University of Westminster in 2009, he tried to join al-Shabaab in Somalia, part of a larger community of west Londoners drawn to the internationalist jihadist message advanced by that group.

While these men chose a life of violence, what is not known is how many others with similar narratives drop off security services’ radar as they move on to peaceful lives.

For the authorities the problem is a thorny one. The maturation of an individual from young person interested in radical ideas to active terrorist-murderer is something that can take years (or in some cases an alarmingly short period of time) and is not necessarily something that happens in tidy isolation or with clear markers. The Charlie Hebdo killers were also of longstanding interest to the authorities, but had been relegated to secondary priorities, given their lack of overt terrorist activity. It was the same for the murderers of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. Emwazi and Mostefai are likely to be in this category too: background concerns who were superseded by more active plotters.

Unfortunately, ideologies are patient. And as long as these ideas continue to exist, the long tail of terrorist radicalisation will occasionally brutally lash our societies.

Raffaello Pantucci is director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute and author of We Love Death as You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists

It has been rather busy of late, so a bit behind on posting. First up, I wrote a longer piece in the Independent on Sunday at the weekend on the atrocity last Friday in Paris.

parisemergency

Paris terror attacks: The lessons of Mumbai were learned – by the jihadis
For Isis to distinguish itself from al-Qaeda it must create greater misery

In November 2008, a new form of terrorism filled our television screens as a 10-man cell dispatched by Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba wreaked murder and mayhem across Mumbai. Choosing prominent targets filled with foreigners and Indians, the terrorists opened fire on anyone they came across, butchering 266 before dying fighting the authorities.

In so doing, they took over global headlines for days as well as bringing one of Asia’s super-cities to a standstill. Terrorist groups around the world celebrated this horror and began to discuss how they might try to emulate this success. Seven years later in Paris, the playbook has been copied.

This has been the longstanding fear of Western security agencies. Aware of the perceived success of the Mumbai attack, police and intelligence services across Europe have been ramping up their preparedness and training. Most recently, in June, the UK’s emergency and intelligence agencies did a dry run for a marauding shooter attack in London. And there have been scares. In 2010, a network of European cells that seemed to indicate al-Qaeda was attempting a Mumbai-style assault, with training camps in Pakistan’s badlands, was apparently disrupted.

Then earlier this year, Paris was racked by the Charlie Hebdo murders. But whereas those attacks, initially at least, were selective in their targets, Friday’s were utterly indiscriminate. The bombers at the stadium must have known the French President was in the environs, though they blew themselves up outside, killing whoever happened to be nearby. The other cell liberally targeted Parisians on a Friday night out. This is a markedly different form of horror and one that requires deep indoctrination, preparation and training. It is also a step up in terms of atrocity from what we had seen before in Europe. Mumbai-style terrorism has reached European shores.

At least one of the attackers has been uncovered as having some French background. While unsurprising given the threat picture that we have seen, this is particularly disturbing within the context of the sort of attack they undertook. To brutally shoot and execute fellow nationals pleading for their lives is something which would have required intense commitment. This training may have occurred in Syria, but in many ways this no longer matters. Islamic State (Isis) has shown an interest in stirring chaos and misery around the world with little apparent concern for its strategic impact.

Unlike the Madrid bombings, which had the effect of prying apart the coalition in Iraq, the attacks that Isis has inspired, instigated or directed, have been aimed at killing as many as possible in “enemy” countries and stirring tensions in societies. France in particular has been at the epicentre of this threat. In May 2014, Frenchman Mehdi Nemmouche opened fire at a Jewish Museum in Brussels killing three. He was later reported to have fought alongside Isis. In August this year, another young man with links to France, Ayoub el Khazzani, was barely prevented from shooting at passengers on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris.

His background remains unclear, but he was linked to a network in Turkey that was linked to Isis and connected to Sid Ahmed Ghlam, a 24-year-old Algerian French resident who was reportedly plotting to attack churches in Paris. He was detained after he called an ambulance to his home having shot himself accidentally in the leg. He was already of concern to French security services.

And none of this is to talk about the numerous plots that French authorities have faced where individuals have launched attacks in advance of jihadist ideologies with no clear evidence of any sort of network. Around Christmas last year there was a spate of random attacks using knives or cars, and in June, Yassin Salhi decapitated his boss and tried to drive a car bomb into a chemical factory in Lyon. He strung up his boss’s head on a fence, took pictures of it with an Islamist flag and sent them to a fighter he knew in Syria.

This, sadly, is the nature of the current threat. And while obtaining the high-powered rifles required to cause such mass slaughter is much harder in the UK, it could strike here. Each wave of terrorism has to cause greater mayhem to have the same impact over time, and consequently for Isis to distinguish itself from al-Qaeda, it must create greater impact and misery.

While the UK can draw comfort from the fact weapons are harder to get here, British people abroad have fallen foul of these plots. The massacre in Sousse particularly affected British nationals, and at least one Briton was caught up in Friday’s Paris attacks. Terrorism has to continually evolve and cause greater brutality to maintain impact and attract attention. And while France is currently the epicentre, the ideology and groups are ones that are keen to equally target the UK

Raffaello Pantucci is director of  international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute