Members' Research Service By / January 26, 2016

Combatting terrorism: prepare for a marathon, not a sprint

Written by Patryk Pawlak, The analysis of trends in global terrorism demonstrates that over the past 10 years the number…

Krasimira Nevenova / Fotolia

Written by Patryk Pawlak,

Global trends in terrorism
Global trends in terrorism

The analysis of trends in global terrorism demonstrates that over the past 10 years the number of countries affected by terrorism has increased from 49 in 2004 to 99 in 2014, bringing the total number of people killed in terrorist attacks to over 43 000. The terrorist attacks in Paris, Tunis, Bamako, Ankara, Beirut and most recently in Jakarta demonstrate clearly that the threat of terrorism is no longer confined to regions with weak institutions or a security vacuum.

The emergence of ISIL/Da’esh in 2014 and its successful campaign – both in terms of territorial gains and spreading terrorist ideology – have influenced other terrorist organisations worldwide, resulting in the expansion of the self-proclaimed caliphate beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq. Intelligence reports suggest that ISIL/Da’esh is increasing its operations in Central Asia, particularly in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The Western Balkans, too, are increasingly at the centre of attention given their role as hubs for transit and logistics for jihadists travelling to and from the conflict zones in Syria and Iraq. Several smaller groups have intensified their operations, including ISIL/Da’esh affiliated Ansar Biet al-Maqdis (also known as Wilayat Sinai) or an al-Qaeda’s offshoot al-Mourabitoun in Mali. It is also estimated that about 30 000 foreign fighters from all over the world have joined the ranks of ISIL/Da’esh.

Regarding the tactics and instruments used, the attacks on civilian targets (e.g. universities, hotels, shopping malls or places of worship) have intensified suggesting that small-scale and unsophisticated attacks which spread fear across Europe and in other regions might become more frequent. A scenario of a more catastrophic attack with the use of non-conventional weapons has been also presented even though conducting such attack would require significant resources and capacities. At the same time, the use of internet and new technologies has increased the capacity of terrorist groups to collect funds, recruit new members or spread propaganda via the internet. Analysis of the primary sources of funding of ISIL/Da’esh also confirms its reliance on bank looting and extortion, control of oil fields and refineries and robbery of economic assets.

Against this background, the European Union has taken a number of concrete measures aimed at limiting the terrorists’ capacity to operate both in the EU and in third countries resulting in an increase in the EU and Member State spending on counterterrorism. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris in January 2015, the European Council of 12 February 2015 adopted a statement outlining the EU’s counterterrorism agenda based on three pillars: ensuring the security of citizens, preventing radicalisation and safeguarding values and cooperating with international partners.

With regard to EU assistance to third countries, the Foreign Affairs Council of 9 February 2015 adopted conclusions on counter-terrorism which underline the importance of strengthening cooperation with the EU’s partners in North Africa, the Middle East, the Gulf, Turkey and the Balkans. Since February 2015, counterterrorism and security experts have been appointed to EU delegations in Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and Nigeria. In September, the EU and Tunisia met for the first time in the ‘targeted and upgraded’ counterterrorism political dialogue resulting in the adoption of a €23 million security sector reform programme. The EU’s thematic priorities for external counterterrorism engagement include: foreign terrorist fighters, border security, aviation security, combatting the financing of terrorism, countering violent extremism, and strategic communication.

The European Parliament has taken a stance on terrorism-related issues on several occasions. In February 2015, the Parliament called on Member States and the Commission to invest in addressing root cause of radicalisation, including through educational programmes, promoting integration, and social inclusion, among others. It has also expressed concern about radicalisation processes in prisons and asked EU Member States to pay particular attention to prison and detention conditions. In addition, the Parliament called on the Commission to evaluate as a matter of urgency the existing EU rules on the movement of illegal arms. The European Parliament’s work on counterterrorism continued throughout 2015 leading to the adoption of the resolution on Prevention of radicalisation and recruitment of European citizens by terrorist organisations. At the same time, while remaining committed to improving security of EU citizens, the European Parliament has also made it clear that it was not willing to compromise citizens’ civil liberties.

The Paris terrorist attacks of 13 November 2015 have once again highlighted the urgency of addressing the EU’s main weaknesses in the fight against terrorism. That momentum allowed the European Parliament and the Council to reach compromise on some of the most difficult dossiers in the past years: the EU Passenger Name Records system, Europol and the Network Information Security Directive. However, the key issue when considering EU legislation is its implementation. Given that the competences on counter-terrorism lie with national authorities, Member States have the primary responsibility for the implementation of EU laws. Since 9/11 the EU has adopted many pieces of legislation but Member States have not implemented these measures properly, in particular with regard to the cooperation between the Member States and Europol.

Unfortunately, the fight against terrorism and violent extremism is likely to stay on the policy agenda in the years to come. Therefore, to combat terrorism the international community needs to prepare for a marathon and not a sprint. The European Parliamentary Research Service through its research continues to support Members of the European Parliament in their effort to develop effective counter terrorism legislation and policies – from the start to the finish line.

See also a list of publications related to ‘Terrorism: the EU’s response‘,
which we prepared for the Press Seminar on terrorism organised by the EP’s Press Service on 26 January 2016.

Visit the European Parliament page on ‘The EU’s fight against terrorism‘.


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