ATbar Europe and North America: Lessons Learned from Recent Attacks – ICT16

Europe and North America: Lessons Learned from Recent Attacks – ICT16

14/09/2016 | by ICT16  

The session was part of the ICT's 16th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism: "Unpuzzling Terrorism". Radicalization continues to be a problematic issue as it can be countered only through comprehensive collaboration amongst all stakeholders. This collaboration is necessary in order to efficiently utilize existing information and maintain the balance between security and democratic rights. It is apparent that ISIS specifically targets 2nd generation immigrants, who are most likely to struggle with identity crises, which are easier targets for radicalization. There is also a recruitment trend to target “dumb” individuals with a criminal record, given that more intelligent recruits tend to get caught and become a liability to the organization. Besides countering radicalization, European governments must better involve their citizens in being responsible in reporting indicators of radicalization or taking action in active emergencies.  

Chair: Prof. Assaf Moghadam
, Director of Academic Affairs, ICT & Associate Professor and Director of the MA Program in Government, Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy, IDC Herzliya, Israel

Dr. Michael Borchard, Director, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Israel

Mr. Paul Cruickshank, Editor-in-Chief, CTC Sentinel & CNN Terrorism Analyst, United States of America

Prof. Boaz Ganor, Founder & Executive Director, ICT, Ronald Lauder Chair for Counter-Terrorism & Dean of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy, IDC Herzliya, Israel

Mr. Friedrich Grommes, Head of Directorate TE, International Terrorism and International Organized Crime, Federal Intelligence Service (BND), Germany

Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Russell Howard, Senior Fellow, Joint Special Operations University, United States of America

Mr. Clint Watts, Robert A. Fox Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute & Senior Fellow, Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, George Washington University, United States of America


Dr. Michael Borchard

Dr. Michael BorchardIn his statement, Dr. Borchard claimed that Germans stand in contrast to the American public’s overwhelming sense of unity and fortitude in face of terrorism. He argued that while German society is fragile, in recent years the German people have begun to change, due to the increasing chances of a terror attack. The increasing threat of terrorism brings about a need for reinforced security in Germany, but one cannot ignore the dilemma between privacy and security. This dilemma is also greatly influenced by the rise of Islamophobia. Dr. Borchard noted that there are are two categories of people, when referring to individuals at risk of radicalization and terrorism: fundamental radicals and moderates. Surprisingly it is not the fundamental radicals that cause the most concern; instead, moderate Muslims are at a higher risk for radicalization. While refugees are at a high risk of radicalization, we cannot ignore the risk of 2nd and 3rd generation Muslims being radicalized into jihad. Our notion in terrorism is that too much religion is dangerous, but the real problem is not being aware of our religious roots in daily life. Dr. Borchard stated that in order to increase effectiveness in counterterrorism, countries must begin cooperating, sharing knowledge and information. Dr. Borchard ended his presentations and claimed Europe must turn to Israel to learn from their experience.

Mr. Paul Cruickshank

Paul Cruickshank

Mr. Cruickshank's presentation focused on the Islamic State’s campaign against Europe. He argued that as the Islamic State loses territory, it should be expected that attacks would increase in Europe. This pattern is due to foreign fighters returning home with the expressed purpose of attacking their home-state. Cruickshank noted that ISIS has set up training camps with the sole purpose of training fighters to carry out attacks in Europe. Additionally, the complexity of these fighters' return to Europe implies that those returning are being supported by an external group. This is an extreme advantage for the Islamic State as it allows the organization to send hardened operatives into Europe. Mr. Cruickshank claimed that the new wave of terrorism is interesting because attackers have a puppet master that only provides information when necessary. ISIS has set up a complex support system in Europe, including logistics of communications and weapon transfers.  Furthermore, Cruickshank concluded, the deep financial pockets of ISIS only ensure that this problem will persist.

Prof. Boaz Ganor

Boaz Ganor

Prof. Ganor began his presentation by claiming that terrorism is constantly evolving, that new technologies and modus operandi are constantly being used. He noted that while it may be important, as students of terrorism, to attempt to understand the rationale of terrorism, it is constantly changing. As such, it is crucial to always renew our understanding. Ganor focused his presentation on radicalization and lone wolf attacks. He identifies three classifications of terrorist attacks: personal initiative attacks, local initiative attacks, and organized attacks. Ganor claims that there are four prototypes for lone wolf radicalization: personal trait concerns, young adult concerns, extreme religious goals, and immigration concerns. He argues that those who are 2nd generation immigrants and onwards are at higher risk of radicalization because they develop an identity crisis that their parents (1st generation immigrants) didn’t experience. This crisis is exploited by terrorist organizations, i.e. ISIS, in recruiting processes, as they specifically target young adults and 2nd generation individuals. Prof. Ganor concluded his presentation by claiming that in order to properly combat terrorism, especially in Europe, cooperation (intelligence, operational cooperation, etc.) must be established and expanded.

Brig. Gen. Russell Howard

Brig. Gen. Russell Howard

The key to unraveling the puzzle of terrorism is to not be puzzled in the first place. There are many examples that show us that we should not have been puzzled, such as Libya, Syria, etc. The main theme of Brig. Gen. Howard's presentation is avoiding puzzles. In order to do so, Howard discusses three phenomena we must anticipate: foreign fighters, attacks on our homelands (i.e. in the west) and antiquities trafficking. Howard claims that we must anticipate situations by thinking both locally and globally. Currently, the world is experiencing a mass immigration movement that is unprecedented. While we are not puzzled by the foreign fighter phenomenon, it is inherently different than the one we know from the Soviet-Afghan situation. We should not be surprised if ISIS conducts "out-of-area" attacks as they lose ground in the Middle East. Simultaneously, the Islamic State has risen to being the best-funded terrorist organization on the planet, more than in part because of antiquities trafficking. These three phenomena, foreign fighters, out-of-area attacks and antiquities trafficking, are all phenomena we can counter. It is vital to enhance the processes of information sharing, law enforcement cooperation, and networking among agencies. The military's role is not the prime effort for effective counter-terrorism, for defeating ISIS. These tactics will lead towards a better counterterrorism front against this threat. Howard stresses that Israel is a key piece in the puzzle to solving terrorism.  

Mr. Clint Watts

Mr. Clint Watts

Open source analysis, vis-à-vis social networks, has become a vital tool in intelligence. Social networking platforms provide a space for individuals to announce their activity and are key to understanding the case of foreign fighters. The most important metric for whether a group is a global terror organization is whether or not it has foreign fighters, what they are telling us and where are they coming from. However, raw numbers are useless, it is important to look at the rate of foreign fighters per Sunni population and the proportion of sample. It is important to look at ISIS affiliates and analyze which affiliates foreign fighters will attempt to join? There are emerging affiliates which look better for foreign fighters (i.e. Bangladesh, Lebanon, etc.). The best recruiter of a new foreign fighter is a former foreign fighter, even one in "retirement". The questions for European foreign fighters, in this sense: do you still believe in the cause, are you still interested in fighting, can you return home? As such, the question for European countries is whether we can figure out where each country's populations of foreign fighters are drifting back to and what will they do? Unlike Al Qaeda, the Islamic State has realized that it might be easier to recruit “dumb guys” who already have a criminal background because not only it is easier for them to infiltrate populations undetected but they also have less reservations and more experience. Smarter recruits often get caught and are a liability to the organization. In terms of counter terrorism, Watts claims that countries need to raise the ratio of law enforcement personnel to terror recruits, need to figure out the indicators of the seriousness of the threat of a radicalized individual, share information as well as investigative powers, and need to do this quickly. Finally, Watts discussed how the Islamic State used directed attacks to ramp up both networked and inspired attacks. The Islamic State has done what al-Qaeda couldn’t; they have become overwhelmingly good at having successful inspired attacks, and success breeds success.


During the question and answer session at the end of the workshop, a question was raised regarding the options open to governments when they catch or capture terrorists. Do governments attempt to win their "hearts and minds" or do they "terminate with extreme prejudice" and are there any other options. The panelists, in response, explained that in a western, democratic country there is no solution other than a fair trial. It was mentioned that, domestically, the most effective tool to counter recruitment is to use defectors- who provide the alternative story.  Others mentioned that counter-terror forces should focus on the sympathizers; when the sympathizing elements are gone, recruitment may go down.

It was also discussed why ISIS has not attacked Eastern Europe, countries on the "periphery" of the European Union. In response, it was explained that ISIS itself has claimed to target countries that are taking part in the anti-ISIS coalition. They are also targeting countries with large Muslim populations in an attempt to provoke an extreme-right reaction, which will push the Muslim population towards ISIS.

Another issue raised was the blurred lines between mass-shooters and terrorists, which affects law enforcement personnel and agencies as well as decision makers. In response, it was mentioned that there is a problematic divide between "workplace-shooter" and "terrorist", when in many cases it is both. This is problematic since counter-terror methods do not necessarily correlate well with these individuals who can be categorized as both. The use of the internet may be a solution, as well as incorporating mental health professionals, which would help locate and use the psychological indicators.

A final question was asked regarding the ability of governments and states to force multiply using the average citizen (situational awareness, etc.); how do governments get the average citizen involved in either active emergency situations or intelligence situations. In response, it was mentioned that the most effective way to motivate the citizens to be involved is to have another major terror attack. The public must be included in fighting terrorism and must be made to feel responsible to contribute and be alert. Citizens must be taught that there is a risk of terror attacks but to not panic. However, one must take into account the public's reluctance to give up their freedoms, including privacy, even to their fellow citizens.