Role of civil society deemed crucial in fight against radicalisation

The use of tools of like cars, trucks and kitchen knives can be a sign of terrorists’ “operational weakness,” according to the head of a leading policy centre.

Berlin in the aftermath of the attack which killed 12 people Photo credit: Press association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

22 Dec 2016

The comments come in the wake of the Berlin lorry attack on 19 December, which killed 12 and injured 49 others.

A Europe-wide manhunt is under way for the Tunisian man wanted for the attack, who had been under surveillance earlier this year, media reports say.

Anis Amri, 24, was reportedly monitored on suspicion of planning a robbery in order to pay for guns, but surveillance was lifted for lack of evidence.


Before entering Germany, he had served four years for arson in Italy.

Roberta Bonazzi, President of the Brussels-based European Foundation for Democracy, whose activities focus on counter terrorism, told this website, “While the target typology and the modus operandi of the attack are in line with what both al Qaeda and the Islamic State (Isis) have been calling for, there is still no evidence that either groups are directly involved.

“It is more likely that the attack was inspired rather than organised and directed by Isis.”

She added, “Terrorists aim at generating extreme fear to advance their political and ideological agendas: sophisticated simultaneous attacks on different targets and locations would be their first choice, as was the case in Paris and Brussels but also for the September 2001 attacks or the November 2008 Mumbai attacks by Al Qaeda.

“On one hand, the use of tools of like cars, trucks and kitchen knives can be a sign of their operational weakness - compared to past terrorist operations - that then also requires different operational tactics. This is also exemplified by Isis’s own propaganda.”

She pointed out that in October 2014, late Isis spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani called on Muslims in the west to take action using anything at their disposal, including the use of any tools they could find: rocks, kitchen knives or a car.

As recently as last November, one of Isis’s propaganda channels, the magazine Rumiyah, detailed the “deadly power” of motor vehicles and, said Bonazzi, provided “descriptive examples of the lethal damage that heavy vehicles like trucks can cause.”

She said, “Attacks like these carried out by one or very few individuals operating in isolation and not as part of a sophisticated logistical network, are extremely difficult to detect and prevent by intelligence and security services since they require less preparation and very limited communication compared to more complex operations.

“In addressing the threat of terrorism, civil society plays a fundamental role, particularly in the prevention of radicalisation for which repressive measures are not effective.”

Bonazzi said, “Outreach to and cooperation with vulnerable communities and individuals is more effectively done by civil society actors.

“Friends and family are more likely to contact teachers, social workers and other civil society organisations rather than authorities if they are suspect or fear that someone they care about is at risk of being radicalised.”

She believes NGOs can support and intervene at an early stage, prevent radicalisation, empower pro-democratic voices and “therefore foster the resilience of communities in Europe.”

“To foster the ability of NGOs to work at local levels and directly with relevant groups, funding mechanisms need to be simplified, trainings need to be enhanced and evaluation mechanisms need to be strengthened.

“The polarisation in European societies has been increasing for years, the refugee and immigration crisis has amplified existing challenges. Islamists and right wing extremist feed off each other and need each other to mobilise their followers.”

Bonazzi said, “Islamic State aims at increasing the polarisation between Muslims and non-Muslims, to increase tensions and hate so more Muslims will feel excluded and might join their ranks. Their goal is to destabilise Europe/west and create chaos.

“Isis is using ‘fake’ refugees, meaning terrorists who pretend to be refugees, to provoke an overreaction by the majority against refugees, immigrants and Muslims minorities.

“It is therefore important to keep a cool head, to wait for the facts to be established and act according to the laws and principles of liberal democracies in Europe.”

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