EU security union commissioner Sir Julian King has called for a “significant” investment in de-radicalisation, disengagement and rehabilitation programmes.
His call, at a major security conference in Brussels on Thursday, comes on the 2nd anniversary of the Brussels attacks that killed 32 people and the first anniversary of the Westminster Bridge attack in London.
Speaking at an event organised by the European Policy Centre and the European Foundation for Democracy, King said, “True prevention requires more than erecting physical barriers around the place. If we look at those attacks, and the others which have struck across the EU in the past few years, the pattern is clear – more recent attacks are not being carried out by battle-hardened foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq. They are being carried out by European citizens, born and raised in our towns and our cities, who have never been to a warzone and who were probably radicalised sitting on their own in their bedrooms.”
Addressing a conference on “the challenge of Jihadist radicalisation in Europe and beyond,” he said, “To stop such attacks from happening again, we need to prevent these vulnerable people from becoming radicalised in the first place.
“And make no mistake, this is a serious fight. It's a fight for the future of those who would be radicalised. A fight for their hearts and minds. A fight to convince them to choose our way of life and our European values.”
The British official said, “So yes, prevention is better than cure. But just as creating safe and effective vaccinations for deadly diseases can take decades, so combatting radicalisation in the EU is not a goal which is easily achievable. It is difficult, time-consuming and complex.
“Between home-grown and returning would-be terrorists, the numbers are stark. The BKA, the German Federal Criminal Police, estimated that by July 2017, there were 657 people in the country believed to be capable of carrying out an attack. The French Ministry of the Interior said earlier this year that 20 attacks had been foiled across France in 2017. And the head of MI5 stated that the equivalent number in the UK was nine, with 3000 people known to be involved in extremist activity.”
"The pattern is clear – more recent attacks are not being carried out by battle-hardened foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq. They are being carried out by European citizens, born and raised in our towns and our cities, who have never been to a warzone and who were probably radicalised sitting on their own in their bedrooms” EU security union commissioner Sir Julian King
He pointed out that earlier this week, Rob Wainwright, the Executive Director of Europol, said in an interview with Bulgarian television that there were 30,000 people across Europe who were potentially involved in extremist activity.
King said, “We also need to look at how to counter radicalisation in neighbouring countries, especially in the Western Balkans. According to Europol, around 800 foreign terrorist fighters from the Western Balkans went to Syria and Iraq and around one third of them have returned home. These returnees pose a significant threat to the region.”
He told the audience that while the one day conference is focused on so-called 'jihadist' radicalisation, “we cannot afford to overlook or play down the increasingly worrying rise of other forms of violent extremism – particularly that of the far right.”
He said, “Such attacks are no less appalling but tend to go under-reported and in general attract less attention. The attack against worshippers outside of Finsbury Park Mosque in London last June demonstrated how terrorists – regardless of their motivation or ideology – learn from each other and adapt their behaviour accordingly.
"Terrorism is an offence to our basic principles. Defending and honouring the victims of terror is equivalent to defending our values. In the name of all the victims, we are duty bound to verify whether our tools are adequate, or whether we could do more" European Parliament President Antonio Tajani
“Likewise, Jo Cox, a British MP, was murdered in 2016 by a radicalised far-right extremist because of her tolerant, outward looking and, it has to be said, pro-EU views. Her murderer had fed his obsession through far-right propaganda, including online.”
His message was, “So we must ensure a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of violent extremism.”
Other speakers included Didier Reynders Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in Belgium and Herman Van Rompuy, president, European Policy Centre and a former president of the European Council.
To mark the 2nd anniversary, Brussels transport authority stib-mivb replaced the advertising normally found on the digital screens in Maelbeek metro station with names of the victims of the terrorist attacks of 22 March 2016. Two suicide bombers detonated explosives in the Brussels Airport departure hall, while one suicide bomber blew himself up in a metro that had pulled into Maelbeek station in the European Quarter. The attacks took place within an hour of each other.
Thirty-two victims were killed, half of them at Maelbeek.
Meanwhile, Antonio Tajani the president of the European Parliament, said, "Terrorism is an offence to our basic principles. Defending and honouring the victims of terror is equivalent to defending our values. In the name of all the victims, we are duty bound to verify whether our tools are adequate, or whether we could do more.
“In 2012 we adopted a directive on victims' rights. We should assess its implementation and see whether it is being applied across the board”