Ministers look to strip online jihad’s ‘glamour’

International jihadists. Mali, 2012. [Magharebia/Flickr]

European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels today (19 January) will pave the way for concrete measures to prevent online platforms seducing impressionable Muslims with a “glamorous narrative”, officials and diplomats said last week.

Foreign ministers will discuss a range of counter-terror proposals in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, with the internet’s role in the jihadi cell’s actions taking centre stage.

“It is well known that the Charlie Hebdo murderers were self-radicalised on the Internet,” an EU official said, adding that there is “rising fear of the use of the Internet and particularly social media platforms that are being used by young Muslims to self-radicalise, disseminate propaganda, attract funding, and lure impressionable young Muslims with a compelling if bogus narrative,” said one official.

“There is room for improvement in cooperation of law enforcement and intelligence agencies although these remain within the prerogative of the member states,” the official said.

Foreign ministers will have a “full and frank discussion in the context of the recent atrocities in France,” according to an EU diplomat.

>>Read: In Belgium and France, marginalised Muslims fight in Syria ‘out of despair’

Another diplomat said that “commitment to cooperate on issues concerning the internet should emerge from Monday’s meeting”, as a precursor to concrete measures being pursued by justice and home affairs ministers meeting informally later this month (29-30 January) in Latvian capital Riga.

Access to social media raises privacy issues

Firm proposals are then likely to be discussed by heads of state and government meeting at a Spring summit in Brussels next month (11-12 February).

“We need to focus more on the counter narrative. We need the Muslim community’s intelligence: their arguments and their theology to deconstruct the caricature of a narrative offered by jihadists, we need to strip it of its illusory glamour,” said one official.

>>Read: Anti-terrorist measures in EU go in all directions

Officials acknowledged that the debate on social media was difficult since it raised sensitive privacy issues.

“We know that some of the material in social media sites is illegal, but we need to have the conversation over how far further we should legislate, and we are already in constructive talks with the Internet service providers and social media platforms,” said one official.

Cyber security will also be likely to be pushed up the EU agenda in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and social media hacking in the US by jihadist sympathisers.

The need to complete the EU’s proposed cyber security directive, which is still being negotiated by member states in the Council of Ministers, will be underlined by foreign secretaries.

 The Italian presidency wanted to complete the cyber security directive, but agreement was stymied by the scope of reporting obligations covered by any directive.

Obama to push cyber security in State-of-Union address

The directive would oblige certain infrastructure-critical companies to report cyber attacks, but the definition of what types of companies would be covered remains controversial.

Barack Obama unveiled new cyber security measures last week (13 January) in the wake of the attacks.

>>Read: Foiled Belgium terror attacks fuel fears of radical Islam in Europe

“With the Sony attack that took place, with the Twitter account that was hacked by Islamist jihadist sympathisers yesterday, it just goes to show much more work we need to do both public and private sector to strengthen our cyber security,” the US president said during a speech in Virginia.

Cyber security will be one of the key themes of the US president’s State of the Union address in Washington on Tuesday (20 January).

UK Prime Minister David Cameron pressed Obama on Saturday (17 January) in Washington to put more pressure on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, to do more to cooperate with intelligence agencies.

Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, an interest group for social media platforms, said: “Just as governments have a duty to protect to the public from threats, internet services have a duty to our users to ensure the security and privacy of their data. That’s why internet services have been increasing encryption security.”

  • 19th January 2015: Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels
  • 29th-30th January 2015: Informal meeting of home affairs and justice ministers in Riga, Latvia
  • 12th-13th February 2015: EU heads of state and government summit, Brussels

EU Institutions

Press articles

Subscribe to our newsletters