By Lori Hinnant:
PARIS: New laws make it easier to seize passports. Suspected fighters are plucked from planes. Authorities block finances and shut down radical mosques. And behind the scenes, Silicon Valley firms are under increasing pressure to wipe extremist content from websites as Western intelligence agencies explore new technologies to identify returning fighters at the border.
Governments from France to Indonesia have launched urgent drives to cut off one of the ISIS’ biggest sources of strength: foreign fighters. At the heart of the drive is mounting concern that the organization is training the next generation of international terrorists.
Those fears have gained urgency from the group’s horrific methods: A British militant is suspected of beheading two American journalists, and a Frenchman who fought with the ISIS is accused in a deadly attack on a Jewish museum in Belgium.
With each video that ricochets around social networks, the militants gain new recruits.
Britain has taken a particularly active role in censoring content deemed to break the country’s strict rules against extremist propaganda. U.K. officials recently revealed they have been granted “super flagger” status on sites such as YouTube, meaning their requests to remove videos with grisly content or that encourage terrorism are fast-tracked.
Over the past four years, an Internet-focused counterterror unit of London’s Metropolitan Police instigated the removal of 45,000 pieces of content, the force said last week. ISIS, however, have just as quickly found other, more decentralized platforms.
In the United States, officials are trying to identify potential jihadists by comparing travel patterns with those of people who have already joined the fight, a counterterrorism official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters.
A French law to seize passports is being fast-tracked through parliament, and the government is ramping up arrests of increasingly young teenagers making plans for jihad.
That can mean last-minute arrests at the airport, as happened to a 16-year-old girl and her alleged recruiter trying to pass through security in Nice Saturday, and to a man at Australia’s Melbourne Airport who was pulled off a flight last week carrying tens of thousands of dollars in cash and ISIS’ black-and-white flag in his luggage.
Britain proposed laws Monday to let police seize the passports of those suspected of having traveled abroad to fight, while the Netherlands is making it easier to strip people of their nationality and go after Internet providers that spread propaganda.
Anti-jihadist efforts are being ramped up in traditionally Muslim countries as well: Indonesia is breaking up meetings of ISIS supporters and seizing T-shirts and other items promoting the group, and Tunisia is shutting down mosques and suspected financiers.
For the radicals who have already reached Syria, the focus of European spy agencies is on trying to identify them when they return. That can mean scouring social media sites for photos of foreign fighters or electronic intercepts for hints of terrorist activity abroad.
Officials are considering the deployment of more advanced techniques like voice recognition to identify suspected jihadis at border control by matching their conversations to those heard on militants’ videos, former U.K. counterterrorism chief Bob Quick told the Associated Press earlier this year.
There is huge interest, he said, in “being able to identify these people at the border.”
The concern is that returning fighters will launch attacks at home. Australia draws on lessons from Afghanistan a decade ago, saying of the 25 citizens who returned to Australia after fighting against Western interests there, two-thirds became involved in terrorist activities back home. Some remain in prison.
“The Australians and their supporters who have joined terrorist groups in the Middle East are a serious and growing threat to our security,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament Monday. “People who kill without compunction in other countries are hardly likely to be law-abiding citizens should they return to Australia.”
A compilation of government estimates shows more than 2,000 people with European passports have fought or are fighting in Syria and Iraq – with most looking to join ISIS.
Read more at Daily Star