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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Gulf can help in fight against radicalisation and terrorism, EU experts say

Increasing co-operation and information-sharing among European countries and also Gulf allies is key to the continent getting a handle on its terrorism problem

Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator, questions who better than Muslim allies to help tackle the hijacking of Islam for terrorist purposes? AFP
Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator, questions who better than Muslim allies to help tackle the hijacking of Islam for terrorist purposes? AFP

As terrorist attacks continue to strike at the heart of Europe’s major cities, the continent’s authorities are turning to the Gulf for help in tackling radicalisation.

With recent incidents in Barcelona and London causing the death of numerous innocent civilians, heads of state are finding it near-impossible to prevent unpredictable terrorists from wreaking havoc.

“There are many drivers of radicalisation, one of them being the ideological factor,” said Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator for the past decade. “Tackling this means challenging the hijacking of Islam for terrorist purposes. Who better than our Muslim partners themselves to succeed in this?”

While taking part in a live online forum called Debating Security Plus, moderated by Abu Dhabi counter-extremism think tank Hedayah, among others, he said Gulf countries could play a significant role in that regard.

“We have started a dialogue with Saudi Arabia on this and are looking forward to developing this further. I would be delighted to further this discussion with partners in the UAE too,” he said.

Since the beginning of 2015, there have been about 20 major terrorist incidents in Europe, resulting in hundreds of people being killed or injured.

Last year, Europol, the Europe-wide police organisation, signed its first agreement in the region with the UAE, in a bid to share information on countering serious crime and terrorism.

“We were very pleased to sign the agreement with the UAE,” said Rob Wainwright, director of Europol. “There are important security challenges that connect Europe and the Gulf region, for example in regard to terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering.

“The agreement is in the early stages of implementation but it has already allowed increased contacts between our respective experts and I hope we can develop it further in the next few years.”

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He said Europe was in the grip of the most serious terrorist threat seen for a generation, with the national security authorities, their political leaders and the public at large trying to figure out what more can be done.

“The challenge has become about one defining a different kind of intelligence-sharing architecture that binds in many other different databases across many different countries to deal with this reality gap that we have of a terrorist threat that has become international in nature, while our response is led overwhelmingly at the national level,” he said.

“[There is a need] to form a more modern form of international terrorism-sharing in Europe.”

And despite the fall of Isil in Syria and Iraq, the terrorist threat remains serious.

“As we have seen in recent months, we have more and more home-grown attacks,” Mr de Kerchove said. “These are not people who travel to Syria and Iraq nor people necessarily connected to the organisation, but people living in Europe.”

The EU Commission made an assessment of Europe’s terrorism policy and its parliament is soon expected to set up an enquiry committee to look at what needs to be improved.

“This conversation is very much needed,” Mr de Kerchove added. “Some of the challenges include the need to improve the way we prevent someone from getting radicalised, as well as how we can remove unlawful content from the internet, how to improve the way we spot early signs of radicalisation in the street and on the internet, big data analytics, how to improve the way we can rehabilitate someone who is in prison or reached a very high stage or radicalisation and the role of ideology.”

Another challenge he mentioned was how to strike the balance between security and privacy.

“It took seven years for the EU parliament to agree on legislation on passenger name record [the database of airline passenger information],” Mr de Kerchove said. “We are now discussing access to the database and interoperability between different database and we have to find solutions to landmark decisions by the Court of Justice on access to metadata and telecom data legislation.”

According to Dolgor Solongo, who works in counterterrorism for the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, terrorism presents complex challenges with a threat that is becoming increasingly decentralised and diffused.

“New and evolving methods by terrorists demand a holistic approach where the actions counter criminal networks and prevent violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism,” she said. “The adoption of a multi-sectoral approach to terrorism prevention with the capacity of the entire society raised and close cooperation and coordination with other countries is perhaps a simple way to answer the question what can be done.”