With The Terror Threat Growing, Europe Changes Course

Europe mapby Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
August 31, 2016

Sixteen years ago, when Dutch commentator Paul Scheffer published his “Multicultural Drama” declaring that multiculturalism in the Netherlands had failed, the response was swift and angry. Critics across Europe called him racist, bigoted, nationalistic. Others dismissed his views as mere rants and ramblings of a Leftist in search of a cause.

Not anymore.

With over 275 people killed in 10 Islamic terrorist attacks since January 2015, Europeans harbor no more illusions about the multiculturalist vision: where immigrants from Muslim countries are concerned, that idealist vision has more than just failed. It has produced a culture of hatred, fear, and unrelenting danger. Now, with European Muslim youth radicalizing at an unprecedented rate and the threat of new terrorist attacks, Europe is reassessing its handling of Muslim communities and its counterterrorism strategies and laws.

Among the changes being considered are a reversal of laws that allow radical Muslims to receive handouts from the very governments they seek to destroy; restricting foreign funding of mosques; and stronger surveillance on private citizens.

Chief among the new counterterrorism approaches is a program to coordinate intelligence data among European Union countries – a tactic that has not been pursued with any regularity or such depth before now. But following the November attacks in Paris, the Dutch intelligence agency AIVD initiated weekly meetings among intel agencies from all EU countries, Switzerland, and Norway, with the objective of sharing information, exchanging new clues, insights, and suspect alerts, and discussing improvements to a Europe-wide system of counterterrorism and intelligence.

Through these meetings and the improved shared database, it is now possible for each country to contextualize its intelligence and understand links between individuals and various groups from one city to another – and so, between radicals and radical groups as they pass through a borderless EU.

Concurrently, EU members are now beginning to share information about web sites and even details about private citizens where needed. Most countries had been reluctant to make such exchanges, citing both privacy concerns and the need to protect their sources. Other cooperative efforts include an EU initiative begun in February 2015 to counteract Islamic extremist propaganda. The project received a major €400 million boost in June, indicating the high priority Europe now places on fighting recruitment.

Earlier this month, Europol began a new effort to screen refugees still awaiting placement in Greek asylum centers. According to a report from Europa Nu, an initiative between the European parliament and the University of Leiden, Europol agents “specifically trained to unmask and dismantle terrorists and terror networks” will be dispatched to the camps to try to prevent terrorists from infiltrating the flood of refugees to Europe.

Some EU measures, however, have been based more in politics than counterterrorism, including efforts to crack down on the ability of radical Muslims to benefit from welfare programs. British citizens, for instance, reacted with outrage when it was discovered that the family of “Jihadi John” had received over £400,000 in taxpayer support over the course of 20 years. In Belgium, Salah Abdeslam, the terrorist accused of participating in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, pulled in nearly €19,000 in welfare benefits from January 2014 and October 2015, according to Elsevier. And Gatestone reports that more than 30 Danish jihadists received a total of €51,000 in unemployment benefits all while battling alongside the Islamic State in Syria.

Such concerns have also spread to the United States. Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, introduced the “No Welfare For Terrorists Act.”

“Terrorist victims and their families should never be forced to fund those who harmed them,” he said in a statement. “This bill guarantees this will never happen.”

But not all of Europe’s new approaches to the terror threat are being coordinated out of Brussels. Many more, in fact, are country-specific, such as England’s decision to follow an example set earlier by the Netherlands and Spain, separating jailed terrorists and terror suspects from other prisoners. The measures follow others the country adopted after the July 7, 2005 bombings of a London underground and buses, to criminalize “those who glorify terrorism, those involved in acts preparatory to terrorism, and those who advocate it without being directly involved,” the New York Times reported.

In fact, prisons worldwide, including in the U.S., have long been viewed as warm breeding grounds for radicals and potential terrorists. Ahmed Coulibaly, the gunman at the Porte de Vincennes siege in January 2015, was serving time for a bank robbery, for instance, when he met Cherif Koauachi, one of the Charlie Hebdo attackers. Both converted to Islam there. It was in that same prison that the two encountered Djamel Beghal, an al-Qaida operative who attempted to blow up the American Embassy in Paris in 2001.

Hence many experts now argue in favor of isolating those held on terrorism-related charges as a way to stop them from radicalizing their fellow inmates.

Yet British officials have until now resisted creating separate wings for terror suspects, arguing that doing so gives them “credibility” and makes it harder to rehabilitate them. But a recent government report on Islamist extremism in British prisons forced a change in thinking, in part by noting that “other prisoners – both Muslim and non-Muslim – serving sentences for crimes unrelated to terrorism are nonetheless vulnerable to radicalization by Islamist Extremists [sic].”

Similarly, France, the site of the worst attacks of the past two years, also balked at first at the idea of separating terrorists from other prisoners, arguing that doing so “forms a terrorist cell within a prison.” But the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January 2015 changed all that. Now, officials are even going further, looking at other potential sources of radicalization: the mosques.

Shortly after the Bastille Day attack in Nice, Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced plans to ban foreign financing for French mosques as part of an effort to establish a “French Islam,” led by imams trained only in France. France hosts dozens of foreign-financed mosques – many sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Morocco – which preach Salafism, an extreme version of Islam practiced in the Saudi Kingdom and the root of much radical Islamist ideology. And according to a new report on counter-radicalization, about 300 imams come from outside France.

That same report also calls for “regular surveys” of France’s 4-5 million Muslims, according to France 24, in order “to acquire a better understanding of this population in a country where statistics based on religious, ethnic, or racial criteria are banned.”

Both proposed measures have been met with resistance. The “surveys,” as even the report itself notes, are a means of circumventing laws against gathering information on the basis of religious criteria – and so, go against democratic principles. And many French officials also oppose the ban on foreign funding for mosques, arguing that French government intervention in places of worship contradicts separation between church and state. Besides, they claim, radicalization doesn’t take place there anyway.

But Dutch authorities and counter-extremism experts are not so sure. The announcement earlier this month that Qatar would finance an Islamic center in Rotterdam, for instance, set off alarms even among Muslim moderates, including Rotterdam’s Moroccan-born mayor Ahmed Marcouch. There are good reasons for this. The Salafist Eid Charity, which sponsors the project, has been on Israel’s terror list since 2008, according to Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad. Moreover, in 2013 the U.S. Treasury Department accused the charity’s founder, Abd al-Rahman al-Nu’aymi, of providing funding for al-Qaida and its affiliates, and named him a “specially designated global terrorist.”

Plans for the center sound much like those of the now-abandoned plans for New York’s “Ground Zero mosque,” with sports facilities, prayer space, tutoring for students, Islamic child care, and, reports Dutch newspaper Volkskrant, imam training.

Yet the center’s prospective director, Arnoud van Doorn, a convert to Islam and former member of the far-right, anti-Islam political party PVV, insists that any fears about the project are unfounded. “Our organization has nothing to do with extremism,” he told the NRC. “We want only to provide a positive contribution to Dutch society.”

Notably, though, France’s proposal to ban foreign mosque funding and the Qatari backing of the Rotterdam center point to some of the deepest roots of Europe’s radical Islam problem, and, despite all the new initiatives now underway, the greatest challenges to ending it. When Muslim immigrants came to Europe in the 1970s, they carved prayer spaces wherever they could: the backs of community grocery stores, in restaurants and tea rooms. But these soon became too small to handle the growing Muslim population. Mosques – real mosques – would have to be built.

But by whom? The Muslim communities themselves were too poor. Western governments, wedded to the separation of church and state, could not subsidize them with taxpayer funds. And so the door was opened to foreign – mostly Saudi – investment, and the placement of Saudi-trained and Saudi-backed imams in European mosques. Europe had, in essence, rolled out the welcome mat for Salafism.

Now they want to roll it in again. But is it too late? Even as Western intelligence is now uniting to fight radical Islam, Islamic countries are pooling together in Europe to expand it. The result, as Manuel Valls told French daily Le Monde, is that, “What’s at stake is the republic. And our shield is democracy.”

Hence as the number attacks against Western targets increase, many Europeans are coming to understand that preserving the core of that democracy may mean disrupting some of the tenets on which it’s built, like certain elements of privacy, for instance, and religious principles that violate the freedom that we stand for . It is, as it were, a matter of destroying even healthy trees to save the forest. But in this tug-of-war between the Islamic world’s efforts to shape the West, and Western efforts to save itself, only our commitment to the very heart of our ideals will define who wins this fight.

Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands.

Dutch Intelligence: Competition Could Fuel Jihadi Plots

by Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
April 27, 2016

tweetA “large scale, spectacular attack in Europe or the US”: this is the prediction of the Netherlands’ Intelligence Service (AIVD).  And, they say, it could happen very soon.

The AIVD’s report on 2015, released last week, analyzes the threat of terrorism, cyber-terrorism, and other national security issues based on the past year’s events and global intelligence-gathering.  The agency found that ongoing competition between jihadist groups is proving even more dangerous than the threat of continued “lone wolf” attacks and localized bombings by jihadists who have either returned from the Islamic State or were inspired by them.  That competition, particularly between al-Qaida and ISIS, is likely to lead to major attacks on the West in order to “demonstrate to one another that each is the real leader of jihadism,” the AIVD report says. This is particularly crucial for al-Qaida, which may stage an attack soon in order to re-assert its prestige and power at a time when ISIS seems to be getting the most attention.

These predictions align with similar warnings from former CIA operative Brian Fairchild,  who last fall also warned of  “another 9/11,” driven by rivalry among the terrorist groups.

That rivalry is intensifying as various factions continue to battle for power in the Levant.  Al-Qaida, for instance, recently published a statement accusing ISIS of “lies and deceit,” and describing them as “one of the biggest dangers today in the jihadi fields.”  And in a video, al-Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahiri called ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi,  “illegitimate.” ISIS, according to al-Qaida, “invoked the curse of Allah” on its opponents, specifically on Jabhat al Nusra.  Al Nusra, which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaida, is considered another powerful rival of ISIS.

Like the AIVD’s 2005 report, “From Dawa To Jihad,” now something of a classic in the literature about the radicalization of Western Muslims, many insights presented in this year’s overview are likely to be taken seriously by intelligence agencies and counter-terrorism strategists globally.  Alongside concerns about a major attack in the near-term, for instance, the AIVD report offers an analysis of the complexities of Islamic terrorism at this moment – and the vastness of its reach.

Those complexities again put the lie to notions that Islamic extremism breeds in impoverished neighborhoods, among the unemployed and disenfranchised. They defy, too, ideas that immigration is to blame, or that simply “closing the borders” will solve the threat. As the report notes:

“The attacks in Europe present a disturbing illustration of the threat Europe currently faces: people from our own homelands, who grew up here and mostly were radicalized here, stand ready and willing to take up weapons against the West [….]  So, too are jihadists who return from the battlefields of jihad prepared to perpetrate similar atrocities [at home] – and jihadists who had planned to join the foreign battle, but never succeeded [in making the trip]. Young, inexperienced jihadists can perpetrate attacks, but those jihad-veterans known to intelligence officials and who have long been quiet may also suddenly come roaring back.”

Similarly, “attacks could be planned and attackers sent from outside Europe, or they can be planned and activated from within; they could be major attacks, arranged by professionals far in advance, or relatively simple and small-scale,” the AIVD report says. “The threat can come from organized groups and networks sent in to commit attacks but also by individuals or small groups who sympathize with a certain jihadist group.”

Moreover, the terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN), which often is misleadingly characterized as “moderate,” poses an additional threat. “JaN is a jihadist organization connected with al-Qaida and whose purpose, in part, is to commit attacks against the West,” the report says.

And while the death of many al-Qaida leaders may have caused some disruption, this does not mean that the organization is weakened, or that the threat of another al-Qaida attack against the West has vanished. Rather, battling for the mantle of dominant jihadi group could strengthen its determination to wage spectacular attacks.

And it isn’t just violent attacks. While the AIVD has found a rising interest among Dutch Muslims in obtaining weapons, the agency notes that in at least one case, the purpose was to perform a series of armed robberies in order to finance terrorist groups in Syria.

What is certain is that Salafism, the radical Islamic ideology that supports violent jihad, is very much on the rise in the Netherlands. Added to this development is the ISIS propaganda machine, which the report’s authors say, sends the message that terrorism is a form of heroism. Combined, the two forces stand to raise radicalization and the probable involvement in terrorism in the homeland.

For the Dutch, as for other Europeans,  the danger does not just come from jihadists at home and those in Syria. Belgium, with its many extremist and terrorist groups, is just across the Dutch border. Paris is a short, high-speed train ride away.  And as officials increasingly crack down in those two countries, the chances are great that terrorists there will travel elsewhere, looking for the nearest place to hide – and kill.  The result is a multi-pronged threat that hovers over the country, and increasingly, over Europe.

Europe’s Young ISIS Recruits: Should They Stay or Should They Go?

map1by Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
April 6, 2016

For weeks, Farid Bouamran, a Dutch-Moroccan immigrant who has lived 30 years in Amsterdam, watched as his son Achraf becameincreasingly radicalized, tuning in to videos and Twitter accounts online. Within two months, Achraf had traded in his jeans for a dishdasha, or robe, grown a beard, and begun spending time online with Belgian youth his father once called “men with long Arabic names: Abou this and Abou that.”

Panicked, Bouamran took every measure he could think of to intervene: he brought Achraf to his own mosque to hear the imam speak of a peaceful Islam. He canceled his son’s Internet account, forbid him to see his radical Muslim friends, and even followed him when he went out at night.

It was no use. Just after Christmas 2013, Farid Bouamran sat in his living room with officers from Dutch intelligence agency AIVD and told them he believed Achraf was about to leave for Syria to join in the jihad. Please, he begged them. Take his passport. Stop him.

Not to worry, the officers assured him, he won’t get past our borders.

But he did get past, flying out of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport the next night to Turkey, and from there, making his way to the Islamic State.

A year later, disillusioned by the realities of the life he found there, Achraf determined to return home. But en route to the Netherlands in January 2015, a U.S. missile attack on Raqqa took his life. He was 17 years old.

This is not just his story. This is Europe’s story, and the quandary Europe’s governments are confronting in the face of the thousands of its Muslims who have gone to join the jihad in Syria – and the ones hoping to make the trip.

“These people come into your house uninvited,” Farid said in an interview with the Dutch press last year, referring to ISIS recruiters. “They enter through the internet, and you cannot stop them.”

A year ago, Bouamran and the parents of several other young men and women who have joined ISIS began preparing a lawsuit against the Dutch government for its failure to keep their children home. The government, they say, should be doing more to prevent radicalization, and keeping a closer eye on young people who travel abroad – particularly when they leave European airports for countries bordering on Syria and Iraq, and without their parents.

But some see it differently. “Just for godsakes, pack your bags and go” – and never try to return, declared Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb (himself a Muslim) just after the January 2015 attacks in Paris  that targeted a kosher market and the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The government, in his view should “get out of the way.”

From a security standpoint, he has a strong argument: that if these would-be jihadists were to stay in Europe, they would likely just wage their jihad at home.

On the other hand, can a government justify sending someone to another country when you know he’s going there to kill?

Between these two views is a host of legal complications that all of Europe has struggled with since the crisis of ISIS recruiting first emerged. What do you do about those who left and want to return home? Can a country block its own citizens at the border, when there is no hard evidence of terrorist activity? The Netherlands nowrevokes the citizenship of dual-nationals suspected of having joined ISIS or of planning to make the trip (known as “making hijrah“). Other countries revoke suspects’ passports so that they cannot leave, or cancel passports of those who have already left, theoretically making it impossible for them to return.

In response, ISIS has spun a lucrative business in false passports, which it supplies freely. One Dutch journalist, in fact, was able to arrange a Syrian passport for the prime minister of the Netherlands as part of an investigative report.

These issues demonstrate how far the battle against radical Muslim extremism goes beyond the reach of intelligence agencies and law enforcement. Aboutaleb’s suggestion that would-be jihadists be encouraged to leave and blocked from returning may have merit for those over the age of 21. But how to handle people like Achraf, who was still just 15 when he left home? What can or should governments do about young girls like the 17-year-old Austrian Samra Kesinovic, who was beaten to death trying to escape ISIS a year after she’d joined them, traveling with her 15-year-old best friend? How does a government explain to the parents of such children that they could have stopped them from going, could have saved their lives – but didn’t?

These are unprecedented questions, for which there are no simple answers. They emerge from a terrorist threat that is unlike any we have seen. But while Europe busies itself in the wake of the most recent terrorist attacks in Brussels with re-examining its intelligence and counterterrorism policies, its governments may want to ponder these questions as well. Because the threat of jihadists in the homeland will continue, even worsen, if they don’t.

Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands.

ISIS’s Stay-at-Home Radicals

by Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News,  
December 9, 2014

1101Across Europe and America, governments and intelligence officials are struggling to address the problem of Western Muslims who join the jihad in Syria – and then come back home again. But in the process, they may be missing the bigger threat: the ones who never left.

Counterterrorism experts agree that the danger posed by returning jihadists is significant: already radicalized before they joined groups like the Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State (IS or ISIS), they are now well-trained in the practice of terrorist warfare. Unlike most Westerners, they have overcome any discomfort they may have previously felt about killing or confronting death. Chances are, they’ve already done it.

And their numbers are increasing: already an estimated 3,000 westerners have made the move to join the Islamic State and similar terrorist groups. Hence many countries, including the Netherlands and England, have determined to revoke the passports of any Syrian fighter known to carry dual nationality (many second-generation Turkish and Moroccan immigrants carry passports from their family’s land of origin. Similar bills have also been proposed in the U.S., such as one put forward by U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. The UK has also considered confiscating the passports of all British citizens who join the jihad, but such measures have been rejected on the basis of concerns about leaving individuals stateless.

But now some experts – and returning jihadists – say ISIS “sleeper cells” are already embedded in the West. So-called “Jihadi Hunter” Dimitri Bontinck told the UK’s Mail Online last month that “influential sources” had informed him of such cells, and warned that they were “preparing to unleash their war on Europe.” And an ISIS defector reportedly told a Scandinavian broadcaster of similar sleeper cells in Sweden which were, he said, “awaiting orders.”

The presence of these cells should not come as much of a surprise. More surprising is that Europe’s intelligence agencies hadn’t spotted them earlier. In part, this could be blamed on the intense focus on dealing with returnees, a problem that has left some intelligence and law enforcement agencies stretched thin: in June, for instance, Dutch intelligence agency AIVD admitted it “could no longer keep up” with the jihadists in the Netherlands. By October they were forced to bring in police teams to assist, especially in following the 40 or so jihadists who had returned. (An estimated 130 Dutch, including both returnees and those killed, have joined the Syrian fight.)

But if the AIVD and other intelligence agencies can barely follow the ones they know, this leaves countless other radicalized Muslims in Europe easy prey for Islamic State recruiters, who have already turned Europe’s efforts to block returnees to their advantage. With videos online and with extraordinary social media prowess, IS agents are increasingly encouraging Western supporters to work from home: spread the word, motivate others to make the trip (known as “making Hijrah”), or prepare to attack the infidel on Western soil.

And attack they have, as in the beheading of Fusilier Lee Rigby on a London street in 2013, the killing of a Canadian soldier, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, in Ottawa on Oct. 22, and the hatchet attack on NYPD officers in Queens, N.Y. only two days later. Other assaults have been thwarted, such as the alleged plot by three British men who, prosecutors say, were inspired by ISIS calls for attacks on unbelievers. The men were arrested Nov. 6 in London on charges of planning to behead civilians.

But ISIS’s propaganda has been successful in other ways. Recruiting for jihad is on the rise in the Netherlands, according to a recent AIVD report, which further notes that “the number of Dutch jihadists traveling to Syria to join the conflict there has increased substantially since late 2012.” And overall support for the terrorist group is growing even faster – as thousands made clear during pro-ISIS demonstrations last summer. “Several thousand” people in the Netherlands alone support IS, the AIVD claims, while another recent Dutch report concluded that nearly 90 percent of Dutch Turkish youth considered IS members “heroes.” (That latter report has since come under fire, but its researchers stand by their findings.)

In Germany, ISIS support has grown so threatening that in September, the government passed a law to ban it outright. That legislation includes “a ban on activities that support the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, including any displays of its black flag, as part of an effort to suppress the extremist group’s propaganda and recruitment work among Germans,” the New York Times reported. On Dec. 5, officials used the law to close a Bremen mosque; sermons there allegedly encouraged young Muslims to make Hijrah – to migrate – and join in the jihad.

In France, where an estimated 700 people have made Hijrah – the highest number in Europe – an ICM poll conducted last summer for Russian news agency Rosslya Segodnya found that one in six people support ISIS. Among those aged 18-24 – the age of most of the country’s Muslim population –27 percent indicated a “positive opinion” of the terrorist group.

These are not just mathematical figures. They represent people: tens of thousands of young men and women. In fact, the Guardian observes, an analysis by Italian academics of more than 2 million Arabic-language posts online found that “support for Islamic State among Arabic-speaking social media users in Belgium, Britain, France and the US is greater than in the militant group’s heartlands of Syria and Iraq.”

Why?

This is exactly the question Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb –a Muslim of Moroccan origin – is asking. Despite his own hard stance against Islamic radicalization, the number of youths in Rotterdam suspected of radicalizing has increased by 50 percent over the past year. While attending the trial of one suspected jihadist, Dutch daily AD reports, Aboutaleb wondered aloud “why such youths, well-educated and full of promise commit themselves to the jihad.”

“The question is,” he is quoted as saying, “who are the people who go? Why do they make this step? Because they feel discriminated? Because they’re unemployed? Rejected by society? I don’t get that. Doubtless, that would maybe push someone over the edge, but there have to be other arguments that play a role.”

Ultimately, these are the questions everyone should be asking – intelligence and law enforcement agencies most of all. Because as the number of Western jihadists rises, and the support for ISIS grows, one thing is becoming clear: that until we have the answers to the basic queries, nothing else we do will matter.

The “Explosive Growth” of Jihadism in the Netherlands

Gatestone Institute, by Soeren Kern, November 2, 2014:

“The increasing momentum of Dutch jihadism poses an unprecedented threat to the democratic legal order of the Netherlands.” — Dutch intelligence service, AIVD.

“For adherents unable or unwilling to join the armed struggle in Syria or elsewhere, social media offers a form of involvement that allows them to identify themselves as jihadists… without actually having to fight. After all, the movement also considers ‘dawah’ — preaching the ‘call to Islam” — a form of jihad.” — Dutch intelligence service, AIVD.

“Social media has made it possible for a person to go far more quickly from being a passive recipient of jihadist propaganda messages to a sympathizer and then a supporter… Some are also known to have been involved in atrocities, such as beheading prisoners… social media has changed the structure of the and cohesions of the jihadist movement… it has taken on the characteristics of a swarm (in the group behavior sense).” — Dutch intelligence service, AIVD.

“The jihadist movement can only genuinely be disrupted, in a way that prevents the emergence of new guiding figures and structures, if such efforts [not one-off actions] are maintained over an extended period.” — Dutch intelligence service, AIVD.

“Dutch jihadists are convinced that the caliphate is not some utopian dream but an achievable reality for Syria and other Muslim nations — and even for the Netherlands.” — Dutch intelligence service, AIVD.

The home-grown jihadist movement in the Netherlands is experiencing sudden and explosive growth, according to a new report published by the Dutch intelligence service, AIVD.

The Dutch jihadist movement is not only growing in size and strength, it is also becoming increasingly open and provocative, both online and on the streets, according to the report, which warns that the increasing momentum of Dutch jihadism poses an unprecedented threat to the democratic legal order of the Netherlands.

The 58-page report, entitled “The Transformation of Jihadism in the Netherlands: Swarm Dynamics and New Strength,” provides an in-depth analysis of the various factors underlying the “new dynamism” of the jihadist phenomenon.

According to the AIVD, the Dutch jihadist movement began a process of far-reaching change in late 2010, when several jihadists were prevented from leaving the Netherlands to join fellow jihadists in Pakistan and Somalia.

Their subsequent interactions with Dutch police and judicial authorities prompted the jihadists and other members of their networks to improve their modus operandi, which eventually led to a wholesale internal professionalization of the movement.

At the same time, Dutch jihadists began adopting propaganda methods developed by fellow jihadists in Britain. Inspired by Islam4UK, a now-banned jihadist group founded by the British Islamist firebrand Anjem Choudary, Dutch jihadists launched their own activist movements, namely Sharia4Holland and Behind Bars/Street Dawah (Straat Dawah).

“By making use of activist techniques like demonstrations and leafleting to disseminate provocative jihadist propaganda openly, these groups were able to mobilize some fellow Muslims and attract new recruits,” according to the AIVD. “Many young people, in particular, found a way of venting their jihadist ideals through such activities.”

Social media has added another entirely new dynamic into Dutch jihadism. Beyond allowing far more intensive flows of information and communications between jihadists, both domestically and internationally, social media has also changed the nature of those flows.

Before the emergence of social media, information flowed vertically (hierarchical) from one to many. By contrast, information on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter flows horizontally (peer-to-peer) from many to many, thus greatly expanding opportunities for interactivity. According to the AIVD:

“Jihadists are constantly influencing one another through social media. Young people undergoing radicalization trawl Facebook in search of like-minded individuals and post jihadist material on their own profiles, thus influencing their own circle of friends. On Twitter, jihadists debate quite openly with each other and with their critics, who often face abuse or worse. They also post photographs of Dutch fighters in Syria on Facebook, which are then shared by members of jihadist communities. Lectures are announced as Facebook events, too, so that potential attendees can see whether people they know will be there as well. The Dutch jihadist world has become simultaneously large, small and fast-moving.”

Social media has also enhanced jihadist recruitment efforts:

“For adherents unable or unwilling to join the armed struggle in Syria or elsewhere, such activity provides another form of involvement that allows them to identify themselves as jihadists. It is their way of being part of ‘Syria,’ or the ‘holy war’ in general, without actually having to fight. After all, the movement also considers ‘dawah’—preaching the ‘call to Islam’—a form of jihad. This parity strengthens the links between those who stay at home to practice dawah and those who leave to fight.

“There is no doubt that the chance of coming into contact with jihadism—particularly on social media—has increased substantially in recent years. Consequently, it has become possible for a person to go far more quickly from being a passive recipient of its propaganda messages to a sympathizer and then a supporter. There is also a real danger that such new ‘online jihadists’ might continue radicalizing to the point where they actually commit acts of violence or leave for a conflict zone. In fact, this is exactly how many of the Dutch fighters now in Syria came to be there. They evolved very quickly from followers at home to front-line jihadists. The AIVD has established that a large proportion of them have been trained in Syria in the use of weapons and have taken part in actual combat. Some are also known to have been involved in atrocities, such as beheading prisoners.”

The Dutch-Turkish jihadist known as Yilmaz, pictured in Syria, has proven adept at the use of social media for jihadist “public relations”.

According to the AIVD, social media has changed the structure and cohesion of the jihadist movement in the Netherlands to such an extent that it has taken on the characteristics of a “swarm” (in the group behavior sense of the word). This means that it is highly decentralized, with numerous individual elements that are largely autonomous. Collectively, however, they maintain their cohesion and direction almost as if a single entity.

“The jihadist swarm may be very dynamic and changeable, but it still knows how to move like one tightly ordered body, despite sometimes seeming capricious and unpredictable,” the report says, adding:

“The upshot of all this is that government attempts to tackle particular jihadist individuals or structures will probably have considerably less effect now upon the movement as a whole than they previously would have done. Particularly when they are one-off actions. The movement can only genuinely be disrupted, in a way that prevents the emergence of new guiding figures and structures, if such efforts are maintained over an extended period.”

In addition to the internal and structural developments that have transformed Dutch jihadism, several contextual factors, both domestic and international, have also contributed to its growth.

Domestically, Dutch Salafism has undergone an important ideological shift.

Salafism is a movement that calls on Muslims to return to the form of Islam that was practiced at its inception. Its adherents reject many of the ideas and customs that have become part of Islamic tradition in subsequent centuries.

Present-day Salafism has three main strands: apolitical, political and jihadi. All three pursue the same ultimate objective: the establishment of a society based solely upon the tenets of “pure” Islam.

Unlike their jihadi counterpart, however, the apolitical and political strands argue that the principal means of reaching this goal should be “dawah,” or the “call to Islam” in the form of preaching and proselytization. By contrast, jihadi Salafism prioritizes the “necessity” of violent jihad.

In recent years, a new group of dawah Salafist preachers has emerged in the Netherlands who are more radical than their predecessors, and who have effectively blurred the lines between dawah Salafism and jihadism. The AIVD explains:

“Theirs is a radical message, which not only promulgates intolerance but also smooths over the ideological differences between dawah Salafism and jihadism in respect of the legitimacy of the ‘holy war.’ These preachers do not consider themselves part of a movement separate from that of the jihadis (a distinction the established dawah Salafists draw far more clearly). And it is they who exert the greatest influence over young people with jihadist tendencies or sympathies.

“Due in part to the emergence of preachers operating outside the established non-violent tradition, dawah Salafism has now become something of a breeding ground for jihadism in the Netherlands.”

Internationally, the conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011, has acted as a catalyst, amplifying the effects of all of the other developments to produce an explosive growth of jihadism in the Netherlands.

According to the AIVD, the large numbers of Dutch jihadists travelling to Syria show that “this particular conflict has significantly reduced the barriers to active participation in jihad.” It adds that the propaganda generated by the conflict is fuelling the growth of an “assertive Dutch jihadism” in which jihadist groups are “deliberately pushing at the boundaries of what is permissible under Dutch law.”

The AIVD concludes with a warning:

“Already, reports of jihadists’ supposed progress in Syria in establishing an Islamic caliphate under Sharia law are having a visible effect in the Netherlands, in that they are further radicalizing backers of that ultimate goal. Emanating primarily from groups like [the Islamic State], such stories convince supporters and sympathizers that the caliphate is not some utopian dream but an achievable reality for Syria and other Muslim nations—and even for the Netherlands.”

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.