“The European institutions have not been able to gauge the seriousness of radicalisation”, declared José Luis Serrano, Head of Area at the Intelligence Center for Counter-Terrorism and Organized Crime, today in Valencia, during the closing ceremony of ‘TAKEDOWN’, a H2020 European project that has been investigating the social, psychological and economical aspects of terrorism and organized crime as well as their impact in social cohesion for three years, with the aim of developing prevention and intervention tools aimed at professionals in the sector.
The meeting, held today at the headquarters of the Local Police of Valencia, has been inaugurated by the mayor of the city, Joan Ribó, and has gathered more than 150 people from 18 countries, including members of law enforcement agencies, researchers from different fields and professionals in the sector.
The event, under the banner “New Approaches for Fighting Radicalization, Terrorism and Organized Crime”, has been the finishing touch to three years of work on this project funded with more than three million euros by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program, and also considered as an example of “success” by the European Commission.
Throughout the day, the results of TAKEDOWN have been presented, highlighting the digital platform First Line Practitioners, an innovative tool for training, advice and information, aimed at professionals who work with people who are vulnerable to radicalization processes, such as social workers, educators, psychologists or police officers.
The conference also has had a team made up of 34 experts from European and North American institutions, such as the Elcano Royal Institute (Spain), the European Judicial Cybercrime Network, the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (United Kingdom), and the Virginia Commonwealth University (United States).
The topics addressed during this closing ceremony include: cybercrime, cooperation between key actors in the fight against violent extremism, the nexus between terrorism and organized crime, as well as the financial aspects of these two phenomena that threaten the security of the European Union and its population.
The increase in the number of European citizens recruited as foreign fighters or as members of these criminal networks explains the seriousness of these threats and the concern of governments, which are increasing the expenditure to prevent and fight against terrorism and organized crime.
In that sense, José Luis Serrano, head of the area of the Intelligence Centre against Terrorism and Organised Crime, belonging to the Ministry of the Interior, stated that „European institutions have not been able to gauge the seriousness of radicalisation as a threat to the security of their member states“.
According to Florian Huber, project manager at SYNYO, the Austrian organization coordinating the project, we are facing “a big issue with more money from online crime entering the regular economy through money-laundering and real estate investment, as well as trafficking of drugs and human trafficking”.
“This research is vital if we are to understand the underlying causes of radicalization or the motivation to get involved in organized crime, for example, social inequality or exclusion”, Huber adds on TAKEDOWN.
David Webber, Doctor of Social and Cultural Psychology and Assistant Professor in the Virginia Commonwealth University, has also pointed in this direction. During his presentation “Mechanisms for Terrorism Rehabilitation”, he insisted on the importance of addressing “the psychological motivation of extremists, the political ideologies that justify the use of violence and terrorism, and the mechanization of the terrorist social relationships”.
“It is very hard to find a narrative as appealing as the one provided by extremist groups who take advantage of people’s need to feel significant”, Webber pointed out.
On his part, Daniel Hooton, in charge of the Strong Cities Network of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, focused his presentation on the programs for the prevention of radicalization, which, according to him, “lack of a sound infrastructure of delivery for professionals in the field, and of a clear policy framework integrating local action plans into the national policy architecture in different countries”.
One of the particularities of today’s terrorist networks with respect to the traditional ones is, undoubtedly, the presence and the increase of social networks. In this regard, Sandra Cardoso, technology manager for the company Insikt Intelligence, has spoken out: “Over the last decade, (social networks) have dramatically altered the way terrorists cells operate, providing them a space from which to address a worldwide audience, to communicate among themselves lost within the clutter of billions of other conversations and to propagate their ideology unchecked”.
“This is an enormous challenge as hate and radical propaganda can disseminate at rates previously unimagined”, but also, Cardoso has added, an opportunity for law enforcement agencies because “the public nature of social networks exposes potential criminal, their relations and their plans to be more easily recognized and tackled”.
Behind the TAKEDOWN project is a consortium made up of 18 entities from 13 different countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom.