ABU DHABI // An international centre to counter terrorism was opened in the capital yesterday by the Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.
The facility, named Hedayah (guidance in Arabic), will investigate terrorism and its roots and find ways to support victims of terrorism by working with academics and religious and community leaders.
"Terrorist tactics have changed but the threat lives on," Sheikh Abdullah said at the opening of the Global Counterterrorism Forum in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
"This is why the forum is important, to collect information and expertise from all and let everyone participate. Terrorism is a phenomenon that goes beyond country borders and is not tied to a nation or a specific religion."
He said the centre would help to counter violent extremism through school curricula and by addressing radicalisation in jails.
Countries have not yet agreed on a unified definition for terrorism and the centre's chief executive, Maqsoud Kruse, said this was one of the centre's goals.
"What we are trying to do is to invite everyone to further understand the phenomenon," he said.
Maj Gen Faris Mohamed Al Mazroui, Assistant to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, admitted that the definition of terrorist differed from one country to another.
"There is no international consensus on the concept of terrorism," Mr Al Mazroui said. "In this forum we do not discuss it, we are not in the UN to discuss it. Each country has its own understanding. But we are talking about studying and researching the political, economic and social dynamics that can lead to it."
Issues such as terrorist kidnapping for ransom and supporting victims of terrorism were discussed during the forum, and an action plan was adopted to support victims of terrorism.
"With victims, we spoke on how to integrate them into society, communicate with them and study their situation to deal with the impact of terrorism on them," Mr Al Mazroui said.
He added that kidnapping for ransom was a method used to finance extremists as governments worked to cut terrorism financing.
"We know that in the countries of the region, including the UAE, there are strong laws that govern this, but some countries also need to know from the available expertise," he said.
Mr Al Mazroui said that unlike the last forum held in Turkey, the crisis in Syria would not be discussed.
"The forum has not looked into the current situation in Syria," he said. "But the forum is specialised in studying terrorism and extremism."
On the sidelines, Alexander Zmeyevsky, the special representative of the president of the Russian Federation on the international cooperation in countering terrorism and transnational organised crime, said the number of terrorists was growing inside Syria.
"We are very much worried about terrorism in Syria," he said. "The number of terrorists are growing, and they are committed not by the government, and it could create danger for all peaceful citizens."
He said there was a need for evacuation.
"Every state should think of the security of their citizens," he said.
Mr Zmeyevsky said countries had to be aware of the growth of violent tendencies in Arab Spring countries.
He added that he hoped the centre would help to tackle the issue.
"The aims of the centre are very noble," he said, "It is not easy to set up a new international body and hard to gain recognition and be a success."
The US government has already funded the centre with US$2million (Dh7.3m). Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, was scheduled to attend the meeting but cancelled because of illness.
William Burns, who attended the meeting on her behalf, said that this time next year a second facility would be established in Tunis called the International Institute of Justice and the Rule of Law.
He said it would help investigators, prosecutors and others develop law-based tools to prevent and respond to terrorism.
"We hope these facilities will educate a new generation of criminal justice officials who will themselves go on to change mindsets within their own institutions," he said.
The Hedayah centre officially opened yesterday but work on it began 10 months ago.
Since then, officials from the centre – described as a “think and do tank” by the project director, Robert McKenzie – have visited more than 20 capital cities to speak to government officials about what they wanted from the centre and to gain their support.
“This is a hub. The idea is if I want to work in country X, then I connect with people with deep knowledge about country X, as well as country X,” Mr McKenzie said.
Hedayah will work with the Government, private sector and academia.
“We will hold dialogue, training and research at the centre,” he said.
Ten people work at the centre, with 10 more due to join in the near future.
* Ola Salem