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C.E.T.RA. Research Centre


Counter Extremism Terrorism RAdicalization

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Terrorism is one of the greatest threats we face today and it is almost certain that this threat will represent one of the challenges of the future.

Terrorism aims at undermining democratic modern societies by directly threatening peoples’ lives and liberty. Its objective is to instill fear and at the same time disrupt the normal functioning of society.

Terrorism is not a new or recent phenomenon but certainly the attacks of 11 September 2001 marks a turning point in world history.

According to the third Global Terrorism Index 2015 (GTI) 32,658 people were killed by terrorism in 2014 compared to 18,111 in 2013; this increase represents the largest yearly increase in deaths ever recorded. The report also shows with absolute clarity the rise in terrorism over time, with deaths increasing by nine-fold since the year 2000.

Altough terrorism is highly concentrated in five countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria) Europe is currently facing the most significant terrorist threat in over ten years.

Terrorism has not affected all Member States directly or with the same intensity but the threats are continuous and real and the well-coordinated organization of the recent attacks shows how widespread and advanced these organizations are.

The best way to fight against terrorism is prevention, in order to prevent not only attacks but the roots leading to become a terrorist. Despite a lot has been done in counter-terrorism – but still not enough – less attention is given to prevent causes pushing people, mainly young, to join terrorist group.

It’s urgent now to develop together new tools – cognitive and operational – to face both the results of terrorism as its motivation.

It is in this vision that C.E.T.RA. want to address terrorism and violent extremism leading to terrorism.

Violent extremism, although not a new phenomenon, is increasingly recognized as a main challenge of our times. The issue is complex and our usual theoretical premises and assumptions often prove incomplete or deficient. The best way to respond to this global phenomenon as it now presents itself is far from obvious. Yet, inaction would be both foolish and intolerable. The stakes are important and the dangers associated with violent extremism potentially threaten every country or community.

The goal of the project is to enhance the capacity of policy makers and practitioners to design strategies that will achieve verifiable counter-violent extremism outcomes. This aim cannot be achieved without working together with researchers and practitioners from around the world in order to add new information to the scientific debate as well as provide innovative ways of addressing violent-extremism and terrorism issues.

Within the vast domain of violent-radicalization the attention has been driven to the issue of the recruitment of young people to join conflicts as fighters. This particular aspect has started gaining international after the proclamation of the Caliphate and since then it continued to preoccupy the international community and, in particular, policy makers and security officials in countries in which foreign fighters are recruited and sometimes return.

One of the most urgent issue to address in relation to radicalization are the causes or drivers of violent extremism and the factors which facilitate the recruitment of youth by violent extremist groups.

In recent years, policy-makers and academics in the West have focused on the need to provide an effective counter-narrative to the global jihadist movement. At the same time, many Muslim interventionists working in de-radicalization programmes in community and custodial environments believe that challenging the perceived religious authenticity of the global jihad narrative is integral to their work. Thus, focusing on the ideological drivers behind the jihadist worldview and narrative is necessary. Jihadist groups claim that their violent actions are supported within the four traditional schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, and that Islam itself mandates a jihadist view of scripture. It is instead acknowledged that their arguments are not based on traditionally recognised interpretations of Islamic sources and are antithetical to the normative values displayed within classical Sunni jurisprudence.

However, it is necessary to have a broader approach for addressing a complex issue such as radicalization and to break the stereotyped way it has been framed, always particularly focused on ideological reasons. Recent facts have demonstrated that radical views are not always based on ideological issues only. Thus, there is a urgent need to account for different paths to radicalization, in order to design actions and programmes that can be effective.

In any case it is fundamental to establish basic methodology which first identifies push and pull factors that lead to recruitment or radicalization into violent extremism, and then designs interventions that specifically eliminate these root causes. Thus, although it is still necessary to explore the theoretical background and state of research in regard to de-radicalization and disengagement programmes as counter-terrorism and prevention tools against violent radicalization leading to terrorism, a broader perspective is required.

Real grievances of populations for which extremists claim to speak too often remain unaddressed and unresolved. In truth, there are many ways in which conflicts, violence, oppression, corruption, the illegitimate and abusive exercise of power, perceived enmities and historical grievances can fuel the indignation of young adults and provide them with a convenient rationalization for violent extremism. Whether this process is rapped in a religious, political or other ideology is often just one of the many variables that must be taken into account.

The need for proactive measures to counter the radicalization of youth has led to several prevention programmes, including many which attempted to craft and communicate effective counter-narratives tailored to weaken and discredit the violent extremist messages and recruitment efforts. In this regards, the experience to date emphasizes the important role that must be played in that regard by civil society and communities. In fact, it is highly necessary to consider whether a balanced response to violence extremism is even possible and what can be the collateral damage of counter-terrorism measures. To frequently too little attention is given to the unintended consequences of counter-radicalization and counter-terrorism measures on various vulnerable groups and communities.

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It is the growing interest in the preventative measures towards violence across nation that has given rise to our intention to establish in partnership with other members the research centre C.E.T.RA “Counter, Extremism, Terrorism, RAdicalization”.

The C.E.T.RA department proposes to be a place to meet and discuss ideas in order to provide cognitive instruments that are necessary to comprehend and take on the next challenges set by terrorism on the theme of security.

The research centre will provide a platform for productive collaboration, exchange of experiences and expertise, being sure that this global threat requires to be addressed in a coordinated way relying on cooperation and common strategies.

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The activity of this department will consist of a series of initiatives identifying and preventing threats that originate from violent extremism.

Through Seminars and in-depth analysis the department proposes to analyse the dynamics of this spreading phenomenon, also providing counselling services to institutions and private individuals.

The department will be based in Rome and its director will be Professor Marco Lombardi of the Catholic University of Milan who will coordinate the Scientific Committee composed of Italian and international personalities from academic, political, economic and military fields.

C.E.T.RA will have a group of researchers and experts on various topics such as geopolitics, economics, security, terrorism with the objective to produce research and realise dossier and publications to influence the public debate on the subject of terrorism.

The department will also be available to periodically organise closed-door seminars and meetings with foreign institutes.

The main themes and priorities will be:

  • Connecting experts, policymakers and civil society actors
  • Producing reports and analysis of key terrorism-related issues
  • Coordination of counter terrorism efforts with other partners
  • Monitoring the situation locally and globally in regard to terrorism

The department proposes also to organize during its first year of activity an international seminar to discuss terrorism. The event aims to bring together politicians, government officials, and members of research community from different nations to discuss international terrorism.

The meeting will also provide the opportunity to present and discuss the most recent innovations, trends and concerns, practical challenges encountered and the solutions adopted in the field of counter terrorism and human security.

The conference will address different areas such as the terrorist environment, the government response and the future course of terrorism in order to outline further measures for international cooperation.

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The De Gasperi Foundation is the founding partner of the C.E.T.RA department which will have its own juridical autonomy and will work on an international level.

The department will be lead by a Board of Directors made of members chosen among the supporting members.

An Executive Committee, supported by a Secretariat, will manage current activities and programme. The Executive Committee is leaded by the Scientific Director of C.E.T.RA. and its members are proposed by the Board of Directors, chosen among researchers and practitioners from anys upporting member.

C.E.T.RA. will have its own web site both for internal as external communication, managed by the Secretariat.

The supporting members are companies, embassies and international organizations. Among them, there are: 

Arab Institute for Security Studies (Jordan)

The Arab Institute for Security Studies is a regional organization located in Amman. Established in 1995, the Institute carries out its activities in association with a number of local, regional and international agencies, including the United Nations, League of Arab States and other entities. The Arab Institute for Security Studies is committed to sustaining world peace, contributing to peaceful relations amongst people of the world and maintaining global security. The Institute seeks to provide accurate and efficient diagnosis of the security situation and provide recommendations on some of the pressing issues.

The Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund (Russia)

The Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund was established in 2010. The Fund’s mission involves encouraging development of the public diplomacy field and supporting establishment of a favorable for Russia public, political and business climate.

Makhzoumi Foundation (Lebanon)

The Makhzoumi Foundation was established in Lebanon in 1997, upon the vision and conviction of its Founder, Mr. Fouad Makhzoumi. The ultimate mission of the Makhzoumi Foundation is to empower Lebanese citizens through improving their socioeconomic status, healthcare provisions, and environmental awareness and by encouraging their quest for education; enabling them to independently develop and progress their local communities to subsequently enhance the country’s civil society on a national scale.

Project Dreyfus (Israel)

Dreyfus Project is a non-profit association that fights against anti-Semitism, fundamentalism and every sort of discrimination. Dreyfus Project observes and narrates incidents, current events and the History of the Middle East in order to comprehend current conflicts that are destined to change world equilibrium.

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Main tasks:

  1. Radicalization processes. Last events have shown that radicalization processes suffer of stereotypization by analysts, researchers and intelligence. If the starting points were prisons and mosques, later radical imams on the web took the focus. But, looking at Paris and Bruxelles networks, we can see longer processes, started already on 9/9 with a clear connection with Massoud assassination, and focused on parental and friends network, where the web has little importance. Last, the group arrested in Italy on April 2016 shows a radicalization process out of the Internet and the Dacca commando suggests again a different profile of the people. It’s urgent to reflect on a range of radicalization processes wider than expected and a plurality of profiles of the people involved.
  2. New tools for analysis and intelligence. As online domain is the most used space to spread propaganda materials aimed at radicalizing young Muslim generations, there is an urgent need to address the main drivers and targets of recruiters efforts. Regarding to this, further analyses and an implementation of the Digital Humint, said an holistic approach for the monitoring and interpreting activity of the Daesh propaganda, is required. Specifically, it is important to provide a plan for the implementation of counter-narratives based on possible receivers profile and the most suitable channels that can be used. In order to support the implementation of counter-narrative it is fundamental to account for what has already been done in terms of tackling the spread of propaganda. In this regards, a collaboration with Europol can be highly important as they are part of the “propaganda shutting down” operation, run in collaboration with service providers, targeted on online materials.

Expected results and plan for action:

  1. Networking research developed by the Executive Committee, resulting in draft papers published on the web of C.E.T.RA. and final position papers discussed in the first C.E.T.RA. Forum.
  2. First C.E.T.RA. Forum to be organized in spring 2017 at international location, involving researchers, analysts, intelligence, LEA, policy makers.
  3. Systematic research analysis developing operational tools to counter the phenomenon in an holistic scientific theoretical approach distinguishing the project.
  4. Closed meeting rounds to be proposed to stake holders, both professional and policy makers.

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