Between January of this year and the end of next year, hundreds of Islamists are expected to be released from European prisons, 79 in Germany alone. Among them are 34 prisoners from the area of Islamist terrorism. This group of people includes both suspects and those convicted of terrorist offenses as well as suspects and convicts of other crimes committed with an Islamist background.
There are also 246 suspects and convicts in the European Union who are suspected of being Islamists and are therefore under special surveillance by the law enforcement authorities. Also, IS fighters will be among the released prisoners. According to the German government, twelve people were imprisoned in Germany at the beginning of this year who took part in combat operations by the so-called Islamic State (IS), were trained in the use of weapons, carried out or prepared attacks for IS, or were trained in the use of explosives. Of these, two have been released since January 1, 2022 after serving their sentences, and three more individuals from this group are expected to be released by December 31, 2023.
As part of the processing of individual cases, “case conferences” could be held by the responsible security bodies in the EU states prior to release from prison and information on upcoming releases from prison for dangerous persons would be exchanged in a joint counter-terrorism center on European level. In order to control Islamist threats from a security perspective even after their release from prison, those bodies should coordinate individual concepts of measures on a case-by-case basis.
As of this summer, there were 43 pre-trial detainees and 60 convicts in Germany alone, who were accused of crimes with an Islamist background or who were sentenced as a result. In addition, there are 104 suspects or convicts of other crimes who are under special surveillance by the law enforcement authorities because there is at least one suspicion of Islamism as a phenomenon.
An MP in the European Parliament said: “We call on the governments to take immediate measures to control Islamist threats as well as possible after their release from prison. The forthcoming releases represented a “not inconsiderable security risk. Also a subsequent preventive detention has to be introduced for criminals who have become further radicalized during their incarceration against these ticking time bombs.” Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights has set very narrow limits for the subsequent ordering of preventive detention in several decisions.
The German government points out that the Family Ministry has been funding corresponding model projects in the federal states as part of the federal program “Live Democracy” since 2017, “with the aim of developing and implementing educational strategies for preventing radicalization and supporting distancing processes in prison and probation”.
According to the administration, the model projects are primarily aimed at young people and young adults who are considered to be particularly at risk for extremist speeches or who are already radicalized. “At the same time, the funded model projects offer training courses for staff in prisons to deal with radicalized people and those at risk of radicalization.” According to a brochure from the Ministry for Family Affairs, such funded projects for deradicalization in prisons exist in all German states.
EU security agencies warned already last year that the radicalization of many imprisoned IS members often does not abate even in prison. For example, the assassins who attacked the editorial office of the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” in January 2015 and the attacker on the Berlin Christmas market in December 2016 being previously radicalized in prison. The perpetrator of the attack on a gay couple in Dresden in October 2020 and the perpetrator of the attack in Vienna in November 2020 were also temporarily detained and participated in deradicalization programs – apparently without success.
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