ATbar Recent Immigration to Europe: Gauging the Terrorism Threat and Counter-Terrorism Options – ICT16

Recent Immigration to Europe: Gauging the Terrorism Threat and Counter-Terrorism Options – ICT16

14/09/2016 | by ICT16  

The session was part of the ICT's 16th World Summit on Counter-Terrorism: "Unpuzzling Terrorism".  Refugees and immigrants themselves do not pose a terrorist threat. The problems manifest themselves through one of the following three ways: 1) Terrorists indicate they will infiltrate with the refugees / immigrants and create an overreaction within the existing population; 2) Refugees / immigrants become radicalized because there are no solid integration programs in place within the community, or 3) Lone wolves who are inspired by terrorist organizations. All of these manifestations require European countries to work together and develop a coherent counter to both the messaging and terrorist movement throughout the region without exacerbating the existing political tensions among local entities.


Chair: Dr. Amichai Magen, Researcher and Head of the Terrorism & Governance Desk, ICT& Head, MA Program in Diplomacy & Conflict Studies, Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy, IDC Herzliya, Israel

Mr. Yassin Musharbash, Deputy Editor, Investigative Department, Die Zeit, Germany

Mr. Jan Pad'ourek, Deputy Director-General for Analysis and Foreign Relations, Office of Foreign Relations and Information (ÚZSI), Czech Republic

Prof. Fernando Reinares, Professor and Chair, Political Science and Security Studies, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos & Senior Analyst on International Terrorism, Real Instituto Elcano & Member of the Professional Advisory Board, ICT, IDC Herzliya, Spain

Mr. Alexander Ritzmann, Senior Advisor, European Foundation for Democracy (EFD), Belgium

The Honorable Giulio di Sant’Agata Terzi, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Italy


Dr. Amichai Magen

Dr. Amichai MagenDr. Magen opened the workshop and presented the questions framing the presentations and the subsequent discussion. He noted that the initial questions the panelists face are about knowledge and research of immigration and terrorism in Europe; what do we know (and do not know) about the relationship between immigration and terrorism in Europe? How can we measure these links, what is the true scale of the threat, and how is it relative to other security issues? He questioned whether there is a gap between threat perceptions and reality.

Dr. Magen then questioned the future of immigration and terrorism; whether immigration to Europe of likely Islamist and terrorist elements is expected to increase or decrease in the coming years, and whether it is possible to project future threat levels. He noted that one of the main questions is how well Europe is prepared to deal with these waves of migration and terrorism. Dr. Magen then stressed that analyzing the key determinants or drivers of successful or unsuccessful integration is essential, as is examining the difference between 1st and 2nd generation immigrants. He emphasized that it has been found that 1st generation immigrants are less radicalized and less likely to be involved in terrorism. Drawing on this distinction, Dr. Magen claimed that questions regarding policies and political/legal/economic and social changes are of great importance; asking what cultural institutional policy adaptation does Europe have to experience, either at the level of member states or super-national level. Dr. Magen also asked what legal, economic and security changes need to take place for better management of this immigration-terrorism nexus in Europe?

Ambassador Giulio Terzi

Ambassador Giulio TerziImmigration raises issues for democracies about the respect for human rights and the rule of law. The number of illegal migrants into Europe hit an all-time high, with more than 1 million people crossing illegally into Europe. Until the attack at the Bardo Museum in Tunisia in March 2015, the idea that terrorists might be hiding amongst immigrants, might be taking the immigrants' route into Europe, was considered by most in Italy an anathema. Not only was this not considered, but until the Bardo tragedy, the idea that immigrants may be radicalized and become terrorists was never mentioned. The conviction that immigrants may pose a risk was so deeply ingrained, that the EU Commission criticized Italy for letting migrants entering without identification and verification. Italy ignored warnings which came from other sources about the potential of terrorists entering Europe and Italy as immigrants.  Terzi mentioned the problematics of political correctness, as well as the lack of attempt to create a serious dialogue between Italy and other identities.

Terzi claimed that the Italian Parliament is attempting to address these issues in multiple ways. There is a legislative proposal that is currently being discussed by the Italian Parliament in regards to both prevention and the fight against extremism, radicalization and recruitment. It is important to note that 2nd generation immigrants are much more at risk of being radicalized and thus pose a bigger threat.

Mr. Yassin Musharbash

Mr. Yassin MusharbashThe connection between immigration and terrorism is highly politically charged. It is even increasingly difficult to have academic debates about this topic. Mr. Musharbash discussed three main topics during his presentation: the Ansbach and Wurzburg attacks, ISIS operatives posing as refugees and the German Jihadist population.

In regards to the Ansbach and Wurzburg attacks (both of which took place in July 2016), Musharbash noted that the Wurzburg attacker was a 17-year-old man who showed no signs of being radicalized. The attacker had a good life in Germany and it seemed he was integrating well. Seemingly out of nowhere, he carried out an axe attack in a train and was killed by Police Special Forces. The Ansback attack was carried out by a 27-year-old Syrian who arrived in Germany via Bulgaria and Vienna. His deportation was pending, and he had a history of (possibly severe) mental issues. He detonated a bomb hidden in a backpack outside a festival. Mr. Musharbash pointed out that both attackers entered Germany as refugees. They formally pledged allegiance to ISIS and were in touch with ISIS operatives. Neither of them had been officially dispatched by ISIS to carry out these attacks, though Amaq News Agency claimed the attacks as ISIS attacks. Both attackers had been in touch with an ISIS operative, using a Saudi phone number (“Hotline supported”) with which they discussed their attack and were given directions. Musharbash argued that the main difference between the attackers was their radicalization history. The Wurzburg attacker was radicalized in Germany, via online capabilities. The Ansbach attacker had a radical history and had fought with ISIS in Syria.

When discussing the threat of ISIS operatives posing as refugees, Musharbash noted that there are a number of such cases, for example two of the Paris attackers, who had real Syrian passports with fake information. This was undetected due to lack of data exchange between agencies and countries. Musharbash argued that this information could have been discovered, had the Greek authorities crosschecked this information in Interpol databases. He claimed that at the height of the influx of the immigration there was no effective control and registration in EU or Schengen countries. Additionally, some EU/Schengen states are more diligent and more cooperative than others.

Musharbash then discussed the German Jihadist population. He argued that it is important to note that Germany is also an exporter of terrorism to the Middle East. German foreign fighters in the Middle East have killed more people in the Middle East, than Middle Easterners in Germany.

Mushrabash concluded that there are three kinds of threats: operatives disguised as refugees, recent immigrants who radicalize in Europe or re-enlist, and self-recruiters and lone wolves. The problems are bigger than the recent wave of immigrants and refugees. Europe needs a better understanding of ISIS planning and infrastructure, more effective intelligence and police cooperation in the EU and Schengen, as well as tailor-made approaches for vulnerable groups.

Mr. Jan Pad'ourek

Mr. Jan Pad'ourekIn relation to the question of the relationship between immigration and terrorism, Pad'ourek claimed that such a relationship is hard to measure. Many issues make this so, including the fact that there is no international, universal, definition of terrorism, there is no mechanism for categorizing whether refugees pose a threat, or an ability to categorize and define the term refugee. It is very difficult to measure success in the counter-terrorism field (tactical, preventative measures, immediate response and mitigation of consequences). Pad'ourek claimed that terrorist groups have always been able to infiltrate western societies, and do not need a refugee wave to do so. They are able to influence individuals in Europe by exploiting grievances and hardships without ever having direct contact with them. Pad'ourek argued that the polarization in Europe regarding the refugee situation is slowly worsening, which poses a serious threat in the future. Social programs and education must be provided in order to help integrate these refugees, to prevent future threats. There are (right wing) extremists in European society who would attempt to exploit the presence of immigrants to reach their goals of power, influence and money. European nations need to find a compromise between freedom of movement and closed borders and tight security. There is a discussion about improving coordination, whether to focus the decision making or whether to create a new strategic international body which will serve as an umbrella for existing strategic bodies.  

Mr. Alexander Ritzmann

Mr. Alexander RitzmannRitzmann presented his claim that German society includes four actors pertinent to this discussion: the extreme right, extreme left, political Islam and the State. The right and the left usually fight one another and when they don’t, they fight the state. Recently, a group of refugees have become more prominent in the society, in the situation. In response to this, there has been an increase in violence by the right, including a front with the political Islam; hooligans vs. Salafists. The left is also fighting the political Islam, though not (yet) violently. The violence between the actors feeds off itself, creating a growing circle of hate and violence. The German government is overwhelmed, and is willing to accept any help, including from the Muslim Brotherhood.

The European Foundation for Democracy has been trying to invest in prevention of radicalization which leads to violent extremism. This includes targeted propaganda, creating counter narratives. The attempt is to create algorithms which can identify these extremist messages and shut them down before they spread virally. The Foundation work with Syrians in capacity building, preventing radicalization and empowering communities to state what they want and need and to participate in the process.  Pad'ourek claimed that it is important to note that there is a need to differentiate between short term and long term integration. He argued that the longer the conflict in Syria endures, the larger the number of immigrants that stay in Europe. Understanding this changes integration policies, which must be kept in mind.  


The open discussion begins with the, albeit crude, question: how many attacks by refugees/immigrants can Germany stomach. In response, it was noted that statistically, refugees are not (yet) the problem. Statistics have confirmed that the average refugee commits fewer crimes than the average German. It was also noted that an attack is not necessarily essential for the situation to deteriorate. The example of New Years Eve in Cologne, in which an extremely large group of immigrants behaved inappropriately and illegally, and the way it influenced the political discourse in Germany, was noted.

The important distinction between refugees and immigrants was raised, especially given the many waves of both refugees and immigrants Germany has experienced over the past few decades. Immigrants travel to Europe to better their economic and social situation, as compared to refugees who are escaping a war zone.

A question was asked about the Saudi intervention in Europe, the spread of Wahhabism and flow of Saudi money. In response, it was noted that it seems that such interaction was truer ten years ago than now. Additionally, while this intervention is inappropriate and problematic, it is the lesser of two evils compared to the ISIS propaganda and intervention among the same communities. It was stressed that while Salafism is problematic, they are the visible tip of the iceberg. There are many more, much more problematic, active organizations- such as Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. The panelists noted that these organizations’ infrastructure in Europe is much more worrying than the Salafists’ presence.