European security authorities are registering a resurgence in Islamist tendencies. Social media play a growing role in ideologization. The police and judiciary must therefore readjust their strategies for combating Islamist terrorists.
The French and German police in particular have now set up entire staffs that keep an eye out for possible terrorist threats on platforms such as Instagram. Just recently, a young man with Russian nationality who had contacted an Afghan leader of the so-called IS was arrested in Germany. He is also said to have translated execution videos and distributed them in chats, posted building instructions for explosive devices, called for people to leave for Afghanistan and supported a young German Kosovar in preparing an attack. Investigators arrested both adolescents, the prosecutor took over the case.
In Hamburg and Bavaria, investigators arrested two Syrian brothers who were planning an attack on a Swedish church that has not yet been named. The year before, a 21-year-old German-Moroccan planned an assassination attempt to mark the 9/11 anniversary. He was sentenced to a long prison term. The Hamburg Office for the Protection of the Constitution pointed out that the Islamist scene is growing – in contrast to the left and right-wing extremist scene. According to the annual report of the German secret service, 1,755 people are now assigned to it. The year before, there were 1,650. Until now, the hard core of jihadists in Europe, who supported IS in particular, came from the Salafist spectrum. But since the defeat of IS in Syria and Iraq, the importance of this group in the scene has declined. But who are the new hardliners, the drivers of the scene? And how dangerous are they?
Despite developments in the Middle East, IS is far from being written off. Certain organizational structures still exist locally, but also within Europe. In particular, the “IS Province of Khorasan” (ISPK) in Afghanistan plays a central role. Islamist groups such as IS and Al-Qaeda and their regional offshoots spread propaganda around the world, which apparently also reached target groups in the West. “If someone leaves the Salafist scene, that doesn’t mean that they break away from Islamism at the same time,” emphasizes a German head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. He refers to recent searches that would have affected this spectrum. In May alone, seven people were arrested across the country for allegedly collecting donations and forwarding them to IS.
But there are also other Islamic groups that are growing. Including in particular those that are close to Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT), which is now banned. Groups that abuse socially relevant issues or “actual or alleged discrimination against Muslims,” such as the headscarf ban or the burning of the Quran, “in order to get in touch with the vast majority of Muslims, who are of course democratically minded.”
Experts see a particularly dangerous development in the growth of precisely these groups. One thesis is that the traditional Salafist scene is currently self-absorbed. Not only because of the IS defeat, but also because of the smashing of the Europe-wide networks and the prevention of campaigns to distribute the Quran, a vacuum was created that was not occupied by liberal, democratic, moderate forces, but by HuT supporters, Groups like “Muslim Interactive”, “Generation Islam” or “Reality Islam”. Groups that are very active on the internet and that the European state protectors do not count as Salafism, is a mistake. It is not a classic form of Salafism, they are not directly related to IS. But their ideology is no less Salafist.
Critics say that security authorities have not yet understood how powerful groups like “Muslim Interactive” are, how much influence they have, especially among young people. Their recruitment campaigns on social media are very successful, they spread their content, which is problematic, salafist and radical, to the Instagram generation through these channels. In this way, they reach their actual target group better than the classic Salafists have ever been able to do.
What we in Europe have not yet understood is that Islamism has re-formed. There is no longer close communication with the mother ship, the Islamic State. “Especially in Europe today we are dealing with lone perpetrators who radicalize themselves online, who despise our society, some of whom are mentally unstable, who go to work in the morning and attack people with knives in the afternoon,” says a French security expert. You can see after each attack when it says: A terrorist background could not be confirmed. “And why? Because there are no videos of confession, because they can’t find any contacts. But if you drill a little, you can see that the perpetrator has Islamist references because he has consumed relevant writings, liked groups or shared opinions. Before and during numerous investigations, searches and the enforcement of arrest warrants in recent years, internet education was a central building block for gaining knowledge,” he says. A work that begins far in advance of danger prevention and criminal prosecution, which means that new units must be set up within the secret services to respond to the Islamists’ new Internet power. These departments then have all the skills and resources to be able to detect Islamist activities on the web and would also include the observation of conspiratorial Internet communication by violence-oriented Islamists.
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