NNA News for civil society

Fighting terrorism through prevention

Mon, 17 Oct 2016 | By NNA correspondent Cornelie Unger-Leistner

BOOK REVIEW |In a far-reaching analysis of radicalisation, Prof. Peter Neumann warns that prevention should be taken as seriously as strengthening security. A start had to be made where radicalisation had its roots: in Europe.

BERLIN (NNA) – Western societies have had to learn to live with the threat not just of terrorism coming from outside but of home-grown terrorism. One of the profoundest analyses of the subject has been provided by Prof. Peter R. Neumann, professor for security studies at King’s College, London in his book Die neuen Dschihadisten – IS, Europa und die nächste Welle des Terrorismus (a revised and updated English version, Radicalized: New Jihadists and the Threat to the West, is soon to be published).

In his analysis, Prof. Neumann calls on western societies to take the prevention of radicalisation as seriously as strengthening internal security. Neumann, who is the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), also warns against a general attitude of suspicion against Muslims.

European states could no longer ignore that the “young men appearing in the videos of Islamic State and speaking about the benefits of the Caliphate in perfect German, English or French are the product of our society”. They had not been radicalised in Raqqa in Syria or Mosul in Iraq but in “Dinslaken, Portsmouth and Nantes”.

The fight against the next wave of terrorism had to start where it had its roots: here in Europe. At least 4,000 western Europeans had fallen under the spell of IS and Neumann is convinced that some of them will form the “elite of the new Jihadists”.

According to academic studies, between 75 and 89 percent of returnees would not become terrorists. But the remaining 11 percent had to be classed as “particularly dangerous” as they were well networked and had learnt their “trade” with “the most brutal terrorist group of all time”.

It was “just one of two options” to react to their threat by expanding the security services and giving them ever greater powers. The other option was to ensure that ever fewer of those cases landed on the desk of the security services. Fighting against and preventing terrorism were “two sides of the same coin”. They had to be pursued by politicians and society with “the same attention and energy”, Neumann writes.

Bundling resources

The preventive approach was achieving increasing traction internationally, Neumann emphasises. US President Barrack Obama had called on states at the G7 summit in June 2015 to develop their own concepts. Germany was one of the few countries that was so far refusing to adopt a nationwide approach to prevention, as shown by the negative decision taken by the conference of interior ministers of the German federal states in 2015.

This was a “disastrous” decision, according to Neumann, because the prevention of acts of terrorism required the “bundling of resources, avoidance of duplication, learning from successful (and unsuccesful) actions, as well as coordination between ministries and various levels of government”. In Neumann’s view, the transparency of the concept and the participation of NGOs and independent organisations was just as important.

In no other field of policy was it acceptable for “different actors and projects to work on an important national objective more or less on their own – without connection, common goals and coordination”.

As a rule, the building blocks of a national strategy were broadly similar in the countries which had so far developed one: they were aimed at the young people who belonged to the target group which was most amenable to approaches from extremists: young people from difficult backgrounds and socially deprived areas.

Here it was a matter of anticipating extremism and raising the awareness among these young people of the subject, countering possible arguments, offering alternatives and strengthening their environment, thus making them immune to the promises of the terrorists. Such activities had to take place where the young people spent their time: in school, at the youth centre, on the sports field and the Internet, Prof. Neumann stressed.


He saw a second building block in intervention among those people who had already been radicalised and were about to become extremists or even terrorists. The goal here was to stop this development through individually targeted measures. A team of theologians, psychologists, teachers and social workers was necessary for this. Parents are also considered an important target group by Neumann.

There further needed to be individually tailored deradicalisation and exit programmes. The systematic use of such programmes for disillusioned returnees from Jihad could relieve the security services in their work with the really dangerous fighters.

In his book Neumann presents a comprehensive analysis of current jihadist movements which had “dramatically increased” since 2011. This development would not leave Europe unaffected.

Neumann also sees the danger that western societies will become polarised through terrorist attacks and right-wing fringe parties will become increasingly popular so that the coexistence of people of different faiths and backgrounds will become increasingly difficult in Europe.

Thus the new jihadism was both a challenge and a danger to democracy and the European model of society.

Neumann also warns in his book against casting a general suspicion on all Muslims in Europe; it was not “the Muslims” from which the new jihadists were recruited but a “shrill, numerically very small minority: the Salafists”.

Discrimination and harsh repression did not work in most cases, it merely radicalised those who were non-violent and was “frequently precisely what the terrorists want”. Sweeping judgements about “Islam” were wrong and ultimately counterproductive because it was precisely Muslims who took their religion seriously who were needed to combat the jihadists.

Waves of terrorism

Terrrorism, so Neumann’s analysis, has been part of the history of modern societies from the beginning. In a historical overview Neumann sets out the various stages of the development of terrorism using the wave theory of US historian David Rapoport.

Against this background he sees the current stage of the “new jihadists” as the fifth wave. According to Neumann’s analysis, terrorism always occured in the context of social and political movements, the religious background was of a more recent date. Neumann sees a flaw in Rapoport’s analysis in that he does not include radical right-wing terrorism such as came to expression in the attack by Anders Breivik in Norway in 2011.

The terrorism expert sees the first wave in the anarchists of the nineteenth century and at the turn of the century; the second wave came with the colonial liberation movements after the Second World War. They too used attacks and violence to drive the colonial power out of the country in their guerilla war.

Here Neumann cites the example of Algerian War (1954-1962) in which the FLN liberation movement fought the French colonial power with brutal terrorist methods to which the French army responded with equal brutality. This provoked severe criticism in France and ultimately brought Algeria its independence. Its success made the FLN the model also for the Palestinian PLO. The IRA in Northern Ireland, which wanted to overthrow British rule in the 1960s through terrorist attacks, also belonged into this category.

In the next, third wave Neumann, following Rapoport, includes the terrorist groups of the 1970s and 1980s which grew out of the ‘68 student movement, the (unsuccessful) Weathermen in the USA, the Red Army Faction (RAF) with three generations of supporters in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy.

The internationalisation of terrorism and its religious justification only happened with the fourth wave which came about after the occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet troops in 1979 and the establishment of a Soviet-style people’s democracy in this overwhelmingly Muslim country. The resistance of the Taliban against the regime was massively supported by the USA, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to prevent Afghanistan becoming part of the Soviet sphere of influence.


Islamic fighters from many countries streamed as jihadist recruits to Afghanistan – including the wealthy heir Osama bin Laden.  Training camps for fighters were established and the cult of the martyr arose as recruits sacrificed themselves for the cause of Islam. Neumann estimates that at the time 20,000 jihadists made their way to Afghanistan from other countries.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1989, the jihadists claimed it as their own success – the “legend of Afghanistan”, as Neumann calls it, was created. Yet jihadist fighters under Osama Bin Laden’s leadership only defeated Soviet special forces once in an encounter in 1987.

The war in Bosnia formed a further stage in this new, internationally oriented wave of jihadism which for the first time mobilised European Muslims for the cause of Jihad. This, too, was a conflict between Muslims and an external non-Muslim enemy, the Orthodox Christian Serbs.

During these years Bin Laden’s al-Qaida (English: the foundation) provided the infrastructure for the terrorist networks and in the 1990s he and his fellow fighters were given shelter in Sudan. Bin Laden’s battle was against the West, but also against the, in his view, corrupt dictatorships of the Arab world such as Saudi Arabia.

In 1998 his followers carried out attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in which more than 200 people were killed. This new strategy, also in other countries, had become the “trademark” of al-Qaida, Neumann writes. The terrorist attack on 11 September 2001, organised by Bin Laden, dwarfed all attacks before that time and marked “the climax of Bin Laden’s ‘jihadist career’”.

Attacks in Madrid (2004) and London (2005) followed, a long list of further jihadist plans were foiled by the security services in the countries concerned.

From 2008 onwards, al-Qaida also used the Internet to obtain recruits for Jihad and call on followers to launch attacks. Despite their apparently backward-looking ideology, the jihadist movements have always been willing to use modern technology; Internet forums became the most important place for discussion about the cause of Jihad.

The USA responded to the attacks on 11 September 2001 with a “global war on terror” and in 2003 it invaded Iraq. The country, which had been held together by Saddam Hussein “with extreme brutality”, broke apart into its different Islamic components within a very short period of time.

Islamic State

The fourth wave of terrorism must be seen against the background of the proclamation of the Islamic State. Neumann emphasises that IS had not come “out of nowhere”. It was a product of the Arab Spring as well as, primarily, the jihadist movements which had been initiated by Bin Laden and others in Afghanistan in the 1980s. IS was the “culmination of a series of movements and developments which had been in evidence for decades”.

At the same time this new wave had its own character as it had succeeded in mobilising a younger generation, was pursuing much further-reaching ideological goals, was creating new institutions and was using even more extreme methods.

In the second part of his book, Neumann offers a precise analysis of the foreign fighters and their motives as well as of the Islamic State and its ideology. The developmennt of the various leading personalities in the jihadist movement after Bin Laden is also described, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who in 2014 proclaimed the Caliphate in the areas of Syria captured by IS. Al-Baghdadi met his fellow fighters in the American Bucca prison camp in Iraq.

It had served as a “recruitment centre and school for those whom we are fighting as terrorists today”, Neumann quotes a US military source. In addition, the IS military leadership also included jihadist fighters with many years of experience from other regions which explained its successes.

According to Neumann’s analysis, the danger of the most recent and fifth wave of terrorism arises not just from the involvement of young western Europeans who do not identify with their countries of origin but also from the competition between the various terrorist groups, the remains of al Qaida, IS as well as for example al-Nusra Front, who were trying to prove their capability with spectacular actions.

But fearmongering, as happened after 11 September 2001, was misguided; the threat was “serious but not existential”, Neumann quotes his colleague David Schanzer from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina in the foreword to his book.

Peter R. Neumann (2015), Die neuen Dschihadisten – IS, Europa und die nächste Welle des Terrorismus, Berlin. ISBN 978-3-430-20203-9

Peter R. Neumann (2016), Radicalized: New Jihadists and the Threat to the West, I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, London. ISBN 9781784536732


Item: 161017-02EN Date: 17 October 2016 

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