Monday, May 05, 2008

Europol: Jihadist Recruiting Is Improving

Europol has released the 2008 version of its EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report. A few noteworthy highlights regarding terrorist recruiting, via Terrorism Monitor:

The Europol report underscores several interesting trends in Islamist terrorism in Europe:

First, “although the majority of all arrested suspects for Islamist terrorism continue to be North African citizens, the member states reported a high number of arrested suspects with the nationality of the country of arrest.” This seems to confirm a growing threat of homegrown terrorism that has been observed for several years.

Second, this increase in homegrown terrorists is partly the result of an increase in quantity and a “new quality” in jihadi propaganda in Europe (see Terrorism Focus, February 20). It is now widely recognized that propaganda on the internet has a central importance in recruitment. Hence, some recent developments appear particularly worrisome. For instance, al-Qaeda’s media arm, al-Sahab, now offers English subtitles or translations.

Recruitment constitutes an important part of jihadi activities in Europe and arrests related to this activity have increased. The observed developments in propaganda and recruitment suggest that al-Qaeda is taking roots in Europe and could potentially become stronger in the near future.

Third, propaganda and recruitment serve multiple purposes. Some would-be jihadis are recruited by local cells to carry out operations in their own countries. Some are “self-recruited” through the media, and constitute a “new generation” of terrorists. Some limit their support to financing terrorism. Others, finally, decide to join the jihad abroad, in Iraq—which remains the main destination for European fighters—in Afghanistan, or, increasingly (according to French intelligence), in Somalia.


Anti-recruitment efforts are clearly important to winning the war against terrorism. As long as young people are drawn out of society into these violent groups, we'll always be fighting this war. It's imperative to ensure that young people have strong social bonds with those who eschew violence. Community policing can help law enforcement prevent and detect potential problems.

The "self-recruited" group who radicalize via the Internet is the hardest to prevent. Yet at the same time, they are the least likely to develop the higher-order tactical skills necessary to pull off a major attack. There is still a reliance on the expertise of experienced fighters. The critical thing is to cut off the connections between those hardened fighters and potential recruits.

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