“From criminal to terrorists and back?” Is the new project of GLOBSEC, an independent, non-partisan, non-governmental organization from Bartislava, presented yesterday in Milan at the prestigious Catholic University. The project, the biggest research effort of its kind to date, seeks to determinate whether the crime-terror nexus exists. On the sidelines of the seminar, organized by the professor Marco Lombardi, Director of Italian Program ITSTIME, we met Stanislav Matejka, Junior Research Fellow, Defence and Security Programme, GLOBSEC Policy Institute.
–The perpetrators of the terroristic attacks in Madrid, Paris, Bruxelles and London had prior ‘ordinary’ criminal careers. How do criminals become terrorists?
“That’s a good question, the work we do includes 11 countries and in all these 11 countries you can see different examples of terrorists from the criminal past, from criminal careers. In Belgium or in France we see a phenomenon that we call ‘gangster jihad’. The phenomenon is about street pushers and drug dealers and petty criminals recruited by organisations such as Sharia4Belgium and the like. This threat might rise with the returning foreign fighters, who, if not jailed o rafter released from prisons could become recruiters. The tactic of Isis now is changed, from recruiting people to travel to Syria, now they are asking for aspirant jihadists to stay home and perpetrate the attack in Paris, in Berlin, in Bruxelles and wherever they’re based. This is how they become terrorists”.
–How the terrorists use their network to fund their activities?
“So far we cannot draw conclusions based on the data we have. The preliminary info now shows that not too many of these people use illegal funds. There is this tease of criminals using their networks, their skills to fundraising for terrorism, but so far it doesn’t look like that, because most of these people use their salaries, their benefits, some of them use even their savings to financing terrorism, if we look at individual. If we look at the organizational level, there might be a different look, but this is not what we focus on, so these individuals they usually use legal means and they finance terrorism by weapons or dealing with logistic…”.
-So, you think there is a real danger inside Europe?
“Yes, definitely. Looking to this database we have and looking also at other data coming from the media, you can say that the majority of these people are born in the European Union or if they are not 1st generation immigrants, they are the 2nd even the 3rd generation so most of these people are Europeans by birth or by citizenship. This is a huge problem for the European Union, see how this will rise because of a big number of returning foreign fighters now, whom have experience of fighting in Syria. I think this problem will have to be look out from the security services in Europe, moreover more people will be radicalized, for example now we have many youth in European countries were Muslims and return number of people coming back from Syria they my being influencing these youngsters to join jihad, to join their cause and to perpetrate attacks in Europe. For this I think there is a real danger”.
-What can European states do to prevent these phenomena?
“There are several ways how the countries are trying to prevent this problem. Many countries are looking the French legislation that use separate place for radicalized subject in the prisons because part of the problem is also the radicalization in jails: thieves, murderers and other criminals while they’re spending their time in prison, they become radicalized and going out of prison they perpetrate terroristic attacks. For this reason, one of the policy is to separate the groups, separate these were already known to be recruiters from the ordinary coding potential criminals. Other thing, there is a lot of legal, moral and ethical questions about returning mothers with children, on the national and international base. We are discussing about reintegration program in all of these countries that have the largest number of returning foreign fighters. Integration is easy to say, but difficult to perform and we’ve been dealing with this for decades at least, this is an issue for time to come”.
–Talking about mothers and children, for example in Libyan prisons there a lot of ISIS’s relatives coming from Tunisia. Why their country doesn’t accept them back?
“I think it’s a national security issue for this country. As well, you don’t need to go to North Africa to see that, we have the same example in Europe when countries like Britain and France are now keeping quiet while their citizens are being held in prisons in Iraq and Syria. These citizens are known to be Jihadists or known as members of Isis and these countries don’t want to import another problem for their national security. It’s a difficult question, every country has its own priorities and every country don’t want to import another problem, so they now following the policy of let’s wait and see”.
-But they are their citizens, they are not something that countries import…
“I know, but there is a problem because they don’t want them back and there are Us and British army that specifically mentioned that they don’t want them to return back. They want these people be Justice served for them in the countries where they are, but they are not prepared for it. What I’m saying is the state of play in European Union now. It looks like if they just don’t know what to do with them and don’t have a solution for that”.
– Do you think children can be reintegrated?
“This is a long-term process because they have seen many things, some of them have seen beheading, executions and fights. They have been exposed to extreme violence, now when they come back, they need to be reintegrated. European Union is standing on the values of democracy and human rights, so we should be reintegrating these people back, but it needs to be an effective policy. There is an example and it’s covered by how Russia are dealing with their citizen coming back from Syria and usually small children: their policy was if they can have these children with their grandparents, so they are in the family environment, all of their parents are either dead or still of large in Syria, they are integrating back and there is a program being run by local institutions to get them back into normal life, so that they don’t get used to some extreme violence in the long run”.
–Tell me about your project: what you will do the in the next months? And how your research can help the European security?
“The project started in September last year and we collate and analyse data on terrorism convicts and this collection will continue until spring 2019. We have 11 countries in the makes of the European Union and those were selected based on the report of Europol, for the highest number of arrests for terrorism offences from 2015. These top 11 EU countries are in our team, in our research. What we will do next, we will be publishing our quarterly reports of national chapters about the situation in each of these 11 countries, those are being fed to us by the national teams like here in Italy by the professor Marco Lombardi and his team. During the summer we will be writing the middle-term report, we will be presenting the preliminary data, we would see the demographics of these people, the radicalization of arrivals, how they become terrorists, how they got into prison, what are their networks and so based on these findings we go through 2019. We will have meetings like this one, today in Catholic University, and some more high level with the Ministers of Interior and Justice, we want them also to talk to us about what policies they propose to the problems that we found in our research project. We want also to talk to practitioners’ people who are on the field, on the ground, like transnational security agency as Europol”.
-About counter terrorism, what we must expect for the next months?
“The situation of the return of foreign fighter is the most serious, there are more people coming back to Europe and more problems to deal with them, for judicial system, for their reintegration offices, for the immigration system. What we can expect are some new terroristic attacks. I don’t want, and I don’t like to predict that, but I think we might raise level of security in several countries. I think that the return of foreign fighter represents a big danger because they will be able to do some small attacks again. I think they will turn back to regular terrorism going back from State building, Caliphate, they will perform smaller attacks coordinated by far. They will renew this strategy of remote control terrorism, they don’t meet with the person nearer, but they communicate through different channels. They will run small attacks in Europe from Syria, Iraq, Pakistan or from Afghanistan through solitary actors in our continent”.