Europe needs to take a stand against radicalisation in the Balkan

Following a letter by MEPs to High-Representative and Vice-President of the European Commission on the danger of foreign funding to radical Salafi agenda in the Balkan, it is about time that Europe takes action to stop radicalisation in the Balkan.

The letter, which has been signed by six MEPs; Fulvio Martusciello (EPP, Italy), Gianna Gancia (ID, Italy), Adrian Vazquez Lazara (Renew, Spain), Marco Campomenosi (ID, Italy), Milan Zver (EPP, Slovenia) and Thierry Mariani (ID, France) called on the presidency and the commission to immediately act over the escalating levels of Radicalisation in the Balkan and its impact on Europe, with particular focus on foreign countries (UAE and Saudi Arabia) involved in funding radical groups in south east Europe.

A recent report by London-based Tactics Institue explored radicalisation as a path towards terrorism that is neither linear nor inescapable. The report focuses on the economic and social drivers that make certain mindsets susceptible to radicalisation, such as social exclusion and available funding which catalyse the immersion of specific communities into radicalised trajectories, as well as personal triggers that bridge the gap between a radical mindset and terrorist action.

Tactics Institute warned European MEPS earlier this year about the dangerous situation in the Balkan where fighters with Salafi agenda, often promoted by Saudi-UAE funding, are a growing phenomenon in the region. According to the organisation, foreign fighters from Balkan countries were key elements in the conflict in Syria and other middle eastern countries where they were used as proxies.

“We, Members of the European Parliament, following the report on Radicalisation and Social Exclusion in the Western Balkans, presented at European Parliament in Strasbourg, last 26th November 2019, by the London-based TACTICS – Institute for Security & Counterterrorism, which recognised the following;” the MEPs began.

The letter sent by MEPs stated that radicalisation has been about numbers, creating a pool of individuals from which terrorist groups can recruit; And that the Salafi movement is actively targeting socially called excluded communities across Europe, not least the Western Balkans, including the Roma population in North Macedonia and Bulgaria;

“There are several indicators linking radicalisation to the social exclusion of communities rather than merely individuals, thereby creating a pool for terrorist recruitment… there is more than 1,000 nationals of Western Balkan origin who have fought in Syria while several hundred participated in setting up and enabling infrastructure, allowing ISIS to recruit additional fighters and raise funds for its catastrophic activity,” the letter said.

They also warned that all of these fighters exposed to a radicalising Salafi-Wahabi ideology, are linked to institutions and individuals in the Gulf States, notably the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

They went on to ask the European Commission to  invest in social outreach programs that go beyond “profiling” individuals, targeting socially marginalised communities in the Western Balkans, thereby improving radicalisation referral and intervention programs; and invest in specialised debriefing programs to examine the social context of radicalisation and politically significant faith-based terrorist action, and provide valuable intelligence that can guide policy-development work with focus groups rather than individual interventions.

The MEPs further demanded that the EU invests specifically in the study of radicalisation and social exclusion, exploring key triggers to bridge radicalisation and extremist action and to create a consolidated list of effective best-practices in prevention; and to establish an EU-wide “sponsoring of terrorism” country ranking index, which includes a cluster of variables, monitoring third country progress in assuming responsibility for radicalisation activity and take concrete action, beginning with the submission of remedial action plans.

The countries named above must immediately stop their activities in the Balkan region, the MEPs added. Media outlets have also revealed that Saudi Arabia and UAE weapons bought from the Balkan were found within some of these terrorists groups.

Their demands furthermore requested the EU commission to ensure that check-book diplomacy from countries like the KSA and the UAE does not buy tolerance for the sponsoring of radicalising discourse that legitimates violence; and to create a list of clear and escalating countermeasures for countries with a historical contribution to radicalisation discourse, ensuring that national security forces have wide-ranging political leverage and do not exchange tolerance for intelligence.

The report, which is cited by the MEPs, was launched in the European Parliament in November last year in Strasbourg. In its conclusion, the report stated that “From ISIS to al-Qaeda, a specific brand of Salafi and Wahhabi Islam is ultimately state-sponsored, by countries like Saudi Arabia (KSA) or the United Arab Emirates (UAE). But from state-agency to individual agency there is a wide gulf to bridge. Terrorists have profiles that are often reduced to their bare minimum in public discourse. They come from specific communities, although their socioeconomic profile is not singular; in the case of Islamic radicalisation, they often share similar gender roles, as well as perceptions of “justice” and “community.” “

It also argued that “Across the board, Salafism is imported and foreign. Salafi preaching comes from the margins of the Islamic community, but its outreach is amplified by endowments and direct funding from countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. While extremist discourse used to be confined to the outskirts of Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s, the Yugoslav wars brought the same logic of proxy encounters in Europe.”

It concluded that state-sponsored investment from countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE feeds into the radicalisation process, through traditional avenues of religious endowments, charities, mosque construction, and the printing of specific literature and support for preachers of a theology. These communities foster bonds of trust and common purpose that allow them to exchange small sums of money in a manner that is virtually undetectable without human intelligence and community liaison. Radicalisation activity is increasingly moving underground as Wahhabi activists employ a so-called portable Dawa infrastructure, preaching in private sessions at the homes of would-be converts.

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