Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Blurring Lines of Terror

After the Oslo terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings and the Woolwich attack, it is time to reflect on the blurring line of international terrorism and domestic extremism as Europe once again seems to be behind the curve.

Several incidents happened recently which were carried out by Muslim individuals that shine a light on new trends in terrorist acts. Two Chechen men, who were not born in the US but grew up there, placed several bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring 264. Two men in Woolwich, England brutally attacked a soldier in civilian clothes then attacked the police constables arriving on the scene. The perpetrators were Muslims born in England and one of them at least only converted to Islam later in his life. Furthermore, a French soldier patrolling the outskirts of Paris was attacked by an allegedly Muslim perpetrator, stabbing the soldier in the neck, wounding him severely (the details of this attack and the motives behind it are still unclear).

In the light of these incidents one must contemplate the consequences and draw new conclusions about the differences and similarities between international terrorism and domestic extremism. The Athena Institute have been concentrating solely on domestic far-right/left extremist groups (the Hungarian Roma serial-killers, Anders Breivik or the National Socialist Underground), differentiating them from any kind of international or state funded terrorist organizations, be that Islamist like Al Qaida or separatist like ETA or the IRA. However, the aforementioned attacks are signalling a changing picture where the lines between organized domestic extremism and international terrorism – as we understood these two phenomena previously – are becoming more and more blurred.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Structural Drivers of Extremism in Europe (I.)

The European integration is a great and unparalleled endeavour, but the real life implementation of very positive ideals (freedom of movement) bore side-effects. The domestic extremist “industry” thrives on the structural tension generated by this ever-changing environment.  Therefore, the EU must face these challenges and it has to be loud and clear about the importance of dealing with the aforementioned problems on a European level, drawing up European initiatives, policies and programmes. Otherwise the domestic extremism problem of Europe will grow more and more sombre and dangerous.

Source: The Telegraph

Europe has had a domestic extremism problem – now mostly of the far-right blend – for more than a decade now. Presiding on top of the 'extremist pyramid', local far-right parties sitting in local and national parliaments and the European parliament are critical or hostile to the mainstream democratic processes and the EU, still they mostly accept the basic rules of party politics – thus they can be dealt with politically. The worst part of the problem, therefore, is posed by second tier of the pyramid: Europe’s ever-growing non-party organized extremist group scene that is glimmering on the fringes of the bourgeoning far-right scene of the Old Continent. (The 'bottom' layer of the pyramid is the broad, loosely-tied 'movement' with the counter-cultural, etc. aspects.)

The process as the new threat emerged from the irrelevance of obscurity was marked by deadly incidents: the racist shooting in Florence, Italy and the attacks of the far-left Nuove Brigate Rosse, the National Socialist Underground in Germany, the Malmö sniper in Sweden, Breivik in Norway, the Roma Death Squad in Hungary, the plot to bomb the Sejm in Poland, the lynching-like actions of the Golden Dawn and the commonplace fire bombings carried out by far-left groups in Greece all occurred in the past few years. At the same time, since the 2005 London bombings, one single international terrorist incident took place on the continent (the Burgas attack against Israeli tourists).

While some alarm bells were rung, still European political elites mostly keep acting as if the new emerging threat had nothing to do with the deep systemic vulnerabilities – ranging from immigration to the economy, social mobility and education – that plague every country in the EU. As a consequence, the same political elites seem to ignore the fact that the aforementioned national problems have become EU-wide issues – politicians keep acting as if they were still governing the same nation states as in the 1950s and not multicultural, multi-ethnic, poly-religious, demographically heterogenic countries that have become organic parts of a supranational organisation.

The European integration – enhanced by the Schengen Agreement - is far from being over or from being perfect. Thus it is paramount for everybody to understand that problems like immigration, integration, racism, multiculturalism, etc. that used to be seen as national issues have become common European problems that must be dealt with by the EU as a whole, because the situation right now is a hotbed for extremism that thrives on the insecurities and prejudices of people.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dawns are Gonna be Golden in Europe?

From Cold War time prison discussions with the Regime of the Colonels, the extreme right Golden Dawn first made it to the Greek Parliament. Now it reaches out to Italy and Spain. Are they doing it on their own?

Rise in Greece

Ever since the collapse of the world banking system in 2008, the EU and the Eurozone have been struggling with whopping levels of national debt, economic depression, stagnation and utter disillusionment of the general public. There are a couple of EU countries though that even have it worse. For instance Ireland, Spain, Italy, Hungary and especially Greece took a nosedive off the “fiscal cliff” with high rates of unemployment (particularly amongst the youth), high inflation levels and no economic growth – discontent is palpable on the whole continent.

In Greece, the mixture of total disillusionment in the political elite, staggering levels of corruption and nepotism and the high level of immigration without a sensible and sound integration strategy got hit by this enormous external shock, the great recession. The standard of living plummeted whilst unemployment skyrocketed. It did not take long for the reapers of such situations to emerge. GoldenDawn (GD), a tiny neo-Nazi extremist group developing into a party since the '80ies soon started to harvest what the political centre had sown.

A dishonourably discharged member of Greek special forces, the leader of the organization spent decades on the fringes of far-right politics while also being arrested several times for aggravated assault and illegal possession of explosive materials. His efforts to develop an impactful organization was fueled also by leaders of the far-right Greek military junta of 1967-1974 ('the Regime of the Colonels') whome he met while spending his prison sentence.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

„Time to List Jews in Hungary” - Extremist Tactics and Strategy in Modern Europe

Yesterday, during a regular, televised session of the national assembly, a Member of the Hungarian Parliament demanded that the Government „lists Jews in Hungary, because they pose a threat to the country's national security due to their allegiance to the State of Israel.” In his response, an Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that he does not understand the question.
Clear message (Photo: AP)
Nothing else happened. The next day, a public outcry followed – and expected to die down in a few days. The very same happened, when another representative of the the same far-right party raised a blood libel against the Hungarian Jewry in the Spring, 2012. This was just another day in the Hungarian Parliament.

At the same time, such 'lists' have been in existence for years. Compiled and regularly updated by organized domestic extremist groups, they are readily available to anyone on the internet. (We know as we ourselves are 'listed'.)

The point is: right contrary to some fashionable narratives, the same goes on in many other European countries. 'Targets' do change, if not the Jews, then immigrants, Muslims or the Roma are presented as „the threat' - in Greece, in France, in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

After Polish plot, time to face European extremism

Poland's ABW reported earlier this year that Anders Breivik travelled to the country to acquire explosives. Now a Polish chemistry professor is arrested for plotting to kill the country's Prime Minister while blowing up the Parliament. It is time to step up and make bigger efforts on the European-level before more people die and more European policies will be disfigured by domestic extremists.
This time Poland Internal Security Agency was successful

First, after the arrest of a Polish extremist, it is high time to forget the counterproductive generalizations on extremists being „under-educated, unemployed or poor”. Mr. Kwiecień was a professor with two doctorates, employed by the University of Agriculture in Krakow and appears to be affluent in light of the fact that the resources he was able to employ while preparing his plot required money.

Considering the tactical implications of the case, the important thing is that the perpetrator was not a 'lone wolf'. Polish law enforcement reported that they have arrested other local co-conspirators. Beyond this, his plot was discovered by law enforcement and intelligence agencies looking into Anders Breivik's network. At a news conference, Polish PM Donald Tusk said that „an analysis of Breivik's contacts abroad had helped lead Polish investigators to the suspect.” As we pointed out in our latest study on the European Threat Landscape, deadly extremists rarely materialize out of thin air – they are products of a broader extremist scene. This also implies the solution as follows.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Extremist Groups as Proxies of Foreign Powers

Artful diplomacies and intelligence services of potential adversaries might easily use domestic extremist groups as proxies to trigger if not war, but serious international political crises that they can try to turn to their advantage in degrading European positions.

Salvador Dali: Geopolitical Child Watching the Birth of the New Man
Source: Wikipaintings 
With all its troubles, Europe, with most of its states in NATO, is perceived as one, if not the most secure place on the planet. Its potential geopolitical adversaries are in a much weaker position than in previous eras. This, however, does not mean that countries interested in changing the status quo will not seek new means to achieve their goals.

Fiction I – Russia

Before the outbreak of the 2008 financial and subsequent economic crisis, many foreign policy experts portrayed Russia as a re-emerging country actively involved in limiting further loss of its Cold War-times influence and/or trying to reverse the process. This – much debated – perception was built, at least in part, on solid ground: that since the Napoleonic wars Russian strategic culture was founded on expansionism as a way to build up buffer zones to defend the homeland. After the 2008 Russia-Georgia war – in which Russia reclaimed the two breakaway regions of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in effect successfully blocking Georgia's acceptance to NATO – the perception became more widespread. Then the international financial crisis hit, the world plunged into one of the most severe recessions in modern history. Oil and gas prices went through the floor, just as Russian state revenue. The narrative of a rapidly re-emerging Russia died down; at least for now.

There remained however 'frozen conflicts' and other countries on the geopolitical frontlines: the Baltic States, Moldova/Transnistria and the Caucasus.

Russia launched its 2008 war against Georgia claiming that it is only responding to an „unprovoked attack”, an action necessary to protect the local Russian-speaking community. That time Western diplomats and NATO officials openly suggested that Russia tricked Georgia into mounting an attack using Russian passport holders as a political weapon.

In 2007, the Estonian government's decision to move a Soviet war memorial from central Tallinn resulted in a full-blown crisis between Estonia and Russia. Part of the Russian response to the Estonian move was a military exercise of its armed forces stationed in Pskov – home of airborne and other expeditionary units – practicing an intervention to ”protect the rights of Russian-speaking Estonians threatened with violence by local nationalists”. The aim of the exercise was supposed to see how easily the Russian invading forces could capture the airfields and ports, thus preventing NATO from reinforcing its allies (1). In late 2009, Russian and Belorussian units held a very similar joint military exercise reportedly based on a scenario of an attack by „Lithuanian terrorists” against the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

From California to Benghazi — and Back


In August, 2012, quite probably a middleman of an unknown actor or somebody called Sam Bacile or Nakoula Basseley Nakoula - or for that matter Mark Basseley Youssef, Yousseff M. Basseley, Nicola Bacily or Malid Ahlawi according to US Court documents provided to CNN -, after raising 5m$, hiring a staff and shooting the film, releases an anti-Islam hostile propaganda video. To aide him during the filmmaking, the 'filmmaker' hires a ‘consultant’ - a man confirmed to be a leader of a US-based, anti-Islam extremist group.
Within weeks, the video’s trailer makes its way to Youtube and gets dubbed to Arabic - days later, in early September, a firestorm of protests shook the BMNA region leading to the killing of a US Ambassador and other 3 diplomatic personnel on September 11, 2012, during an orchestrated assault involving heavy weapons and RPGs as well as subsequent storming of US Embassies in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, etc.
In the United States, events put an enormous tactical pressure on US President Barack Obama and trigger a media firestorm ‘on the nature of the course the Arab Spring societies are to take’. Also, the issue reverberates in the US election campaign as Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger raises doubt about the handling of the crisis by the administration. US authorities seem dully confused; first they reportedly provide protection for, then take the supposed 'filmmaker' in for questioning by probation authorities.
In parallel, the outburst of protests also posed a challenge for newly established governments in Arab Spring countries whose leaders were confronted with the enormous task of handling the heat in countries that are in the first phases of democratic transition.
The events also complicate matters for all involved in Middle-Eastern affairs from Germany to the Pope visiting Lebanon just that time.