IS’s solo terrorists in Europe are therefore rarely the “lone wolves” they are portrayed as in the media. Investigation shows that they have had contact with networks both physically and virtually. The solo terrorist who terrorized the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, first consulted with an IS entrepreneur – religious authority (sheikh) – and received approval.
Preliminary information about the IS attack in Barcelona indicates that the contractor was a Moroccan who acted with religious authority and recruited attackers among Moroccan vagrants in Catalonia. This terrorist cell is also a good example of the historical links in European jihadist networks. The Moroccan is said to have been radicalized – while in prison – by one of the terrorists who bombed a train in Madrid in 2004.
In order to be able to take sensible countermeasures, it is important to recognize that terrorists act in networks and that they have different motives for joining terrorist cells.
6: What can prevent?
There is currently too little knowledge about what works and what does not work when it comes to preventing terrorism. Much of the debate about the European terrorist threat has revolved around Muslim immigration, integration and social discontent and exclusion.
There are undoubtedly challenges associated with the integration of Muslims in Europe and, as we have seen, socially maladapted people are part of terrorist networks. At the same time, these are not the main explanations for the formation of terrorist cells. Terrorist cells are formed both in countries with high and countries with little Muslim immigration, in countries with different integration policies, and in segregated suburbs (high density of immigrants) as well as residential areas. They are formed where entrepreneurs gain a foothold and start recruitment.
The most important measure to reduce the threat will therefore be to stop the entrepreneurs and break network connections between extremists in Europe and groups in conflict zones.
Entrepreneurs are often relatively resourceful, and they are not jihadists because they lack other opportunities. They have strong religious and political convictions. In an ideal world, the most effective countermeasure would be to persuade entrepreneurs to change their beliefs and channel them into non-violent democratic activism. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic in most cases.
Their strong value orientation makes it necessary to strengthen intelligence and police efforts towards contractors. Concrete measures can be a total ban on foreign wars and stricter penalties for inciting and recruiting to terrorism. The security services will then need increased resources to monitor networks that have grown strongly after the Arab Spring. It is important to identify groups of entrepreneurs, maladapted and wanderers who could develop into a terrorist cell. If the security services are to be able to monitor and disrupt the recruitment and management that increasingly takes place via encrypted apps, they need authorizations and tools to be able to monitor the traffic through such apps.
7: More targeted measures
According to Photionary, military action against groups threatening Europe may be necessary. At the same time – since interventions in Muslim countries clearly affect the terrorist plot in Europe – military resources must be used so that they take the form of invasion and affect civilians as little as possible. In this way, it may be more difficult for the entrepreneurs to convince potential recruits that there is a war going on against Islam.
Neither integration nor equalization policies stop terror. But a society with good integration and a fairer distribution makes it more difficult for terrorists to operate there. Such societies will also be better able to cope with the aftermath of attacks.
Because maladaptation is a target for terrorist recruitment, targeted social measures against risk groups can make it more difficult for entrepreneurs to recruit them. Measures can include everything from labor market measures to good health services. Those who work with prevention must then know who the contractors are and understand who is in danger of being recruited. Here, good cooperation between preventors and the families of those at risk will be of great importance.
The strays are difficult to achieve through measures other than the major structural ones that focus on general integration and equalization policy. These are measures that must be worked on regardless of terrorism, and they are unlikely to have a measurable effect on the level of terrorism. Few people are required to do great damage when using terror, and contractors will always find enough maladapted and roaming to form cells if they are allowed to operate as freely in Europe as they have done through the 1990s and 2000s.
The threat level in Europe is so high today that it will probably force measures that have negative side effects. Increased surveillance challenges privacy and can make groups feel suspicious. Increased armament of the police or deployment of soldiers in the cityscape are measures we would most like to avoid in open, liberal democracies. Nevertheless, we will most likely have to accept more of this in order to reduce the threat and ensure stability in the region.