Wednesday 18 September 2019

Declan Power: Prevention and intervention the key to stopping similar atrocities

A police officer of the Counter Terrorism Centre with sub-machine gun patrols at a Christmas market in downtown Budapest as security has been beefed up at venues visited by large number of people after a truck ran into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin killing several people. Photo: Janos Marjai/MTI via AP
A police officer of the Counter Terrorism Centre with sub-machine gun patrols at a Christmas market in downtown Budapest as security has been beefed up at venues visited by large number of people after a truck ran into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin killing several people. Photo: Janos Marjai/MTI via AP

Declan Power

The terror attack in Berlin was no surprise to the security and intelligence community around Europe. For some time now an attack was expected, particularly in Germany.

It has a significant Islamic population, and has demonstrated fault lines in its society that have been taken note of by extremist ideologues.

If an Islamic-Salafist terrorist is looking for a country that is showing hesitancy in how to manage matters such as counter-terrorism, integration and refugee resettlement, then Germany is it.

Isil and other Salafist online propaganda outlets have long been seeking to provoke western over-reaction. To implement this, they have been aiming certain simple and key messages in recent times at their growing online following.

Followers are urged to keep their attacks simple so they will not attract the attention of the authorities in the planning or co-ordination of such an attack. Also, so there will be a maximizing of fear and division in the community when an attack is personal and up close.

There have been a number of other violent incidents in Germany involving members of both the Islamic and refugee communities. While the incidents are not in the same league as the attack on Monday, they have steadily contributed to a growing unease in Germany that has facilitated a rise in confidence in the hard right and a sense of fear in both the general German citizenry and the German-Islamic population.

This polarisation of society is a key objective of extremist groups. The unfortunate consequence of Monday's attack, and indeed Monday's murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, is the likely increase in reactive physical security measures.

However, the greater need for resources and co-ordination lies not just within law enforcement throughout Europe or indeed dependence on military responses. While maintaining the necessary armed response is of course an essential element of protection and the responsibility of all European states, a more imaginative collective response is needed.

This must take the form of more long-term solution of a preventive measure. This solution has already been in development in places like the UK and a number of Scandinavian countries.

Research from areas such as the Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King's College in London tells us that Counter Violent Extremism projects can work if the right ingredients are sourced and applied.

From my own more recent experience working on EU Counter Violent Extremism projects in Africa, I can testify to the practical utility of such schemes to protect societies and limit violence.

So how does this work?

Firstly, it's about each country accepting countering violence is not just a security task. It is a 'whole of government' task. In Ireland, we are already well versed in this concept for other policies such as managing the dispersal of aid or in resettling refugees. We must now take it a stage further and evolve a policy for countering or limiting violent extremism within our own borders.

Monday's attack will inevitably give rise yet again to questions about whether we in Ireland are fully resourced to defend against such an attack.

In many respects, we are fortunate in that we are an island, and we do not have a large population of Middle-Eastern or Islamic origin. However, recent figures released by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSRPV) estimate 30-40 Irish Muslims left these shores to engage in jihad in the Middle East.

This has also been corroborated by sources within the Irish security establishment.

To put the figures into context, we share virtually the same figure of those gone to engage in jihad per million inhabitants as Germany. We are listed as having seven fighters per million inhabitants and they are listed at 7.5 per million inhabitants.

This tells us that Irish Muslim communities are not immune to the effects of radicalisation.

There are many layers to the Islamic community in Ireland, and they do not all share the same outlook. Many are calling out for greater engagement with the Irish State to ensure the 50-odd mosques dotted across Ireland do not fall prey to extremist influence.

The first and most import step in countering the terror we are witnessing in Europe is prevention. This is the role of the State.

The next is intervention against extremism. This we must do in partnership with our Islamic community.

The final element is preparation for de-radicalisation of those Irish citizens who may have left to fight. The State must now consider developing a policy to effect this and do so with the partnership of Ireland's Muslim communities.

Doing this will be a step forward in ensuring real security for all our citizens and neighbours.

Declan Power is a security analyst and author who has worked as an evaluator and adviser to EU counter-terrorism and extremism.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss