Terrorism Experts Conference (TEC) 2019

15-16 October 2019 in Ankara, Turkey

      In October 2019, the The Centre of Excellence – Defence Against Terrorism (COE-DAT) held its annual Terrorism Experts Conference (TEC) in Ankara, Turkey.

       This year’s TEC hosted participants from 21 different nations, including both NATO and partner countries, and from a vast variety of institutions such as universities, NGOs, think tanks, armed forces, police services, the UN, and EU. All of the attendees are scholars or practitioners with specializations in the field of counter-terrorism, prevention of violent extremism, intelligence, cyber-terrorism, military operations, or criminal investigations.

      We are honored and grateful for the participation and contribution of all the TEC2019 expert participants and are thankful for their expertise, which led to interesting and fruitful debates.

      The following is a short overview of the TEC2019 topics and lecturers.

      A final report will be published in due time. Further details to the publication will follow on our website shortly.

      Colonel Mustafa Özgür TÜTEN, Director COE-DAT, opened the 2019 Terrorism Experts Conference, which was held under the title

Terrorism as Violent Change

How Terror Emerges, Develops, and Transforms the World

      Acknowledging the complex drivers of terrorism, ranging from social, political, and religious factors, Colonel TÜTEN welcomed the lecturers and participants, who were specifically sought out for their diverse professional backgrounds, which is needed to comprehensively approach the threats of terrorism. Although there is no silver bullet or magic lens to address terrorism, there is, however, an understanding that the defence against terrorism is a task that can only succeed if all efforts are combined, utilizing all levers of power at every level to include civilian and military, governmental and non-governmental, international, regional, and local stakeholders.

      The first conference day focused on transformations in terrorism, the Military’s role on counter-terrorism (CT), and the effects CT has on liberal societies. The first panel was moderated by Jannis JOST from the Institute for Security Politics at the University of Kiel. The panel hosted Dr. Andrew NEAL, Co-Director of the Centre for Security Research (CeSeR) and senior lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh, Dr. Peter KISS, senior researcher at the Scientific Research Centre of the Hungarian Defence Forces, Dr. Omi HODWITZ, Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Idaho, Randi Laura GEBERT, Policy Officer from the Counter-Terrorism Section at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, and David BLOSE, senior analyst at NATO Land Command in Izmir.

      Dr. Andrew NEAL, with his lecture on “State’s Dilemma: Between the Obligation to Protect and the Risks of Overreaction” gave an overview of the role of the state according to different theorists, state’s dilemma and the concept of overreaction in terms of CT policies. He looked into how a nation’s CT programs can make the state appear more repressive, which in turn can accelerate terrorist recruitment and potentially lead to new political violence. Dr. NEAL stressed the need to think strategically, especially in terms of overreaction.

      Dr. Peter KISS held a lecture on “the Military’s Role in Countering Terrorism”. Taking the cases of Northern Ireland and Israel as examples, he highlighted the different capabilities of military and police in CT. While soldiers are not typically equipped to take over police tasks, they nevertheless play a role in CT, often in a supporting role for the police with manpower, hostage rescue, intelligence collection, or police training.

      Dr. Omi HODWITZ analyzed two different legal models used to respond to terrorism. Taking the U.S. CT efforts as an example, she compared the criminal justice and the military models in countering terrorism. While the former is mostly reactive, the latter aims to tackle the terrorist threat proactively. While neither model is seen as the perfect solution, the criminal justice model seems to be more effective in deterring terrorism, but the most effective system is when these models are used in conjunction with each other.

      Randi GEBERT gave an overview of NATO’s counter terrorism policy, noting NATO’s determination and efforts to fight global terrorism as done, for instance, through NATO’s participation in the “Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS”. NATO’s role in CT encompasses awareness and analysis, preparedness and responsiveness, capabilities, capacity building and partnerships as well as operations and missions.

      David BLOSE portrayed how a jihadi terrorist thinks about Western CT policies, the West’s view on terrorism, and asks if the West has fallen into the terrorism trap? While terrorists promote an offensive ideology, the West struggles to match or counter their propaganda and ideas. For terrorists, fighting is mostly a win-win situation - it is either martyrdom or winning a battle. Furthermore, BLOSE pointed out that the West often lacks long term approaches, while terrorist networks are not bound to election cycles but see their work as a continuous struggle that lasts for generations.

      Day two of the conference focused on the transformation processes in counter-terrorism. Moderated by the independent researcher and terrorism expert Dr. Andrea Stoian KARADELI, the second panel’s lecturers were Dr. Maja GREENWOOD from the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), Dr. Abbas HASSAN from the Institute for Strategic Studies Islamabad, Professor Lee JARVIS from the University of East Anglia, Marc PORRET, Senior Legal Officer at the UN Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (UNCTED), Col. Richard ROHDE from the Centre Cyber and Information Domain Service of the German Armed Force, David BLOSE from NATO Land Command in Izmir, and Driss EL BAY, Journalist at the BBC Monitoring’s Jihadist Media Team.

      The panel started with Dr. Maja GREENWOOD and her lecture on the Future of Religiously Motivated Terrorism. Dr. GREENWOOD pointed out that the notion of Jihadism being directly connected to social and economic grievances is not fully supported by scientific research. In fact, the lack of prospect, not necessarily limited to economic success, play a far more considerable role in the justification of extremist views and behaviors.

      Dr. Abbas HASSAN analyzed in his lecture the phenomena of Lone Actor Terrorism. Albeit their unique ability to blend in, lone actors are usually bound to a larger ideology and even network. A majority even shared specific information prior to their attack with individuals or even a larger network. Thus, attacks can only be thwarted by profoundly tracking the various networks lone actors may interact with.

      In the third lecture, Professor Lee JARVIS introduced the findings of two surveys he and his colleagues conducted on the Threat of Cyberterrorism. They focused on questions of definition, threat, and response. It has been concluded that the threat of cyberterrorism is widely seen to have increased since the first survey was conducted in 2012 and target-hardening should be the focus of cooperation between states and authorities dealing with cyberterrorism threats.

      Marc PORRET spoke about the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2396 (2017), which calls to share best practices and technical expertise on how to improve collection and preservation of information and evidence obtained in a conflict zone. Often referred to as “battlefield evidence”, this would require militaries to collect and preserve information on terrorist activities, which could then be used in a court of law and would ultimately strengthen the criminal justice response to terrorism. Nonetheless, the use of military in such capacity brings its own set of dilemmas from implementing different tactics when the goal is “prosecutorial” rather than “kinetic” to questions of admissibility of information obtained by military forces in a criminal proceeding.

      Colonel Richard ROHDE introduced in his lecture the German Armed Forces’ Centre for Cyber and Information Domain Service. He pointed out that countering cyberterrorism does not only pose difficult technical questions as the digitalization of societies advances rapidly and brings with it new challenges for security services. It also raises ethical issues on how independently machines and artificial intelligence can and should work in the field of CT.

      In his second lecture, David BLOSE gave functional information on how Twitter can be used by analyst to track extremist groups. Although Twitter accounts used by extremists are often taken down or are filled with exaggerated propaganda, second hand accounts of extremists’ activities can be found easily and may give leads for further investigation.

      Focusing on the communication methods of terrorists, Driss EL BAY analyzed the use of the Telegram App by jihadist groups to distribute propaganda and to create discussion forums between various Muslim groups for the purpose of recruitment. Using this method has caused Telegram to become one of the most popular digital platform for jihadists to communicate because of Twitter’s rigorous clamp down on jihadist users. Although Telegram takes efforts to remove forbidden content, jihadists still enjoy a comparatively large freedom of operation and visibility.

       In addition to the panel discussions, this year’s TEC had two workshops. These workshops encouraged presenters and participants to share their expertise, experience, and research work, allowing the opportunity to continue the previous panel discussions and identify future challenges in the defence against terrorism.

      Workshop 1, designed and conducted by Dr. Michael FÜRSTENBERG, researcher with the research group "How Terrorists Learn" at the Max Plank Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, Germany, took up the question whether terrorist organizations learn differently compared to other organizations. The workshop participants interactively analyzed the various element of the learning processes of organizations and applied their findings to terrorist networks.

      Workshop 2, designed and conducted by Dr. Bibi VAN GINKEL, focused on the military’s role in CT and how it can engage on a kinetic, interim and future-looking level.

      The conference was wrapped up by a final discussion, moderated by the TEC2019 academic advisor and researcher at the Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies of the University of the Armed Forces in Munich, Germany, Dr. Eva HERSCHINGER.

       The two conference days allowed terrorism experts with diverse academic and professional backgrounds and from multiple organizations and institutions to join the Centre of Excellence Defence Against Terrorism in the analysis, discussion, and examination of the violent changes terrorism brings upon us. The variety of topics and the dedication and professional expertise of all participants allowed for dynamic and fruitful discussions in and outside the conference hall.

Please click for the TEC2019 photos.
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