What is needed in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism? Representatives from numerous countries have been debating that very issue for two days at the OSCE conference in Berlin, but divergent approaches emerged from the talks. EurActiv Germany reports.
In February, an incident in Hannover, in which a 15-year-old stabbed a policeman received extensive media coverage, on the back of claims that she had an Islamist background. The Süddeutsche Zeitung even reported that the perpetrator, Safia S., had been recruited by the so-called Islamic State. Chat-logs were reported to have shown that she had been in contact with known IS affiliates during a stay in Turkey.
Safia S. is a clear example of the challenges faced by many countries around the world. The threat of international terrorism is increasing and is taking on a new dimension.
“The relatively new phenomenon of female terrorists must be given more attention,” said German Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is currently “acting OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) chairman, at the international anti-terrorism conference in Berlin. In fact, more and more cases of women and girls, like Safia S., being violent extremists are being recorded. Some 20% are female, many from well-off backgrounds.
One of the most pressing international security issues is why and how these individuals decided to join terrorist organisations. Steinmeier’s government colleague, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, highlighted some important figures: Of the 4,500-5,000 people who have so far departed Europe to wage jihad, 810 have left Germany to join up with IS in Syria and Iraq.
Although security services have recorded fewer departures lately, De Maizière warned of the dangers of people returning as “they have learned to hate and to kill”. He also added that many members of the growing Salafist milieu in Germany are “highly alienated and brutalised”. Charismatic leaders and internet propaganda are just as fertile breeding grounds for terrorist organisations as prison. “Soft measures” should therefore go hand in hand with “hard measures,” he said.
Steinmeier, arguably in a passing swipe at Russia, said that some countries have focused too narrowly on repressive measures. The federation’s representative at the event, Foreign Affairs Minister Oleg Syromolotov, urged other countries not to interfere in other countries counter-terrorism measures. Russia has implemented its own strategy against terror since 2014.
However, Steinmeier insists that the only path to success lies in international cooperation.
One proposed measure to this extent is the free exchange of Passenger Name Records (PNR) between all OSCE countries, including those of Central Asia. However, currently only 20 of the 57 OSCE nations have signed up to the project.
The Council of Europe’s Jan Kleijssen called for more cooperation with the private sector and to pay more heed to “terrorism’s most important platforms”; namely, the Internet and social media. He also added that international exchange of information, as provided for in the Council of Europe’s 2015 Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, needs to be implemented urgently.
The Berlin conference will not provide any sort of decision on the matter though. But more substantial steps are expected from Germany’s Foreign Office before the end of the year at least.