On November 20, The Hague Institute hosted a event on Countering Terrorism in a Data Driven Age, co-organized with the Institute for Economics & Peace, with a keynote speech by National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism in the Netherlands, Dick Schoof. Following the speech, the Global Terrorism Index 2017 was launched and discussed in a presentation by Dr. Daniel Hyslop, Research Director at IEP.
CEO at The Hague Institute, Steven van Hoogstraten, opened the event emphasizing current events in the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, and indeed throughout Europe, where the threat of terrorism has grown and manifested itself in several deadly attacks.
“The formulation of adequate responses to these types of threat and violence brought about by religious motives is a matter for highly specialized and well equipped state intervention,” Van Hoogstraten concluded his introduction, “with the capacity to cooperate flawlessly at the international level.”
Before commenting on the Threat Assessment Netherlands, which presents data and analysis by the NCTV in cooperation with intelligence services, the police and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dick Schoof praised the IEP’s Global Terrorism Index for being the “most comprehensive dataset on terrorist activity” codifying “over 170 000 terrorist incidents.”
The threat on terrorism is continuous and changing, said Schoof, as even while groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda have been geographically losing ground, the appeal of their ideas continues, as does their commitment to attacks against the West.
Yet the complexity of the threat is increasing, with terrorists using different ways to communicate and to attack a variety of targets.
“We have to prepare ourselves and think about what the next wave of jihadi terrorism will look like.”
— Dick Schoof
Even though there has not yet been an attack in the Netherlands, the threat of one remains substantial. This is closely tied to terrorists’ international activity and their ability to cross borders and assert influence abroad.
Of special interest to the Netherlands are the foreign fighters that have joined jihadi ranks in Syria and Iraq: out of the 285 people who have gone abroad to fight, 55 have died and 50 have returned to the Netherlands. Additionally there are those who have stayed in the West in order to plan or carry out an attack here.
Schoof outlined the strategic principles of the Dutch counter terrorism efforts. “Our approach is threat-based and comprehensive, and it recognizes the interconnectedness between the international and domestic sphere. It is aimed at both networks and individuals.”
He continued, “Countering terrorism starts with the exchange of information, data, and analysis.” Information sharing between agencies and between countries is essential, and was made one of the priorities of the Dutch EU presidency in 2016.
During the Dutch presidency, a roadmap of information sharing in the fields of Justice and Home Affairs was developed, and a database for Counter Terrorism Group members was initiated to provide intelligence services of EU member states, Norway and Switzerland with real time information on foreign fighters.
Additionally, Schoof mentioned the European Counter Terrorism Centre, which operates as part of Europol to foster and make more efficient the cooperation of police forces within the EU, as well as to monitor and combat extremism and extremist propaganda online. In 2016, these efforts resulted in “removal of extremist content in almost 85% of cases.”
Moreover, the EU is formulating new laws to prevent and prosecute terrorism, for example by freezing assets, by the Egmont ISIL Project that makes it possible to share intel on names and bank records with 38 countries including the U.S., and the Passenger Name Record directive that from 2018 on will make it mandatory for airlines to keep records of passenger lists that are accessible to governments, to give insight in travel movements of terrorists and other perpetrators of international organized crime.
“If the threat is changing, we have to change.”
The Netherlands also focuses on prevention of radicalization in cooperation with cities and schools, and on preparing government officials, police and public servants for what to do in the aftermath of a possible attack in order to diminish the damage as much as possible.
In the meantime, Schoof continued, foreign fighters who return home are arrested upon arrival, questioned, and, if possible, prosecuted. “We’re working with other coalition partners and the international community to gather information that can be used as evidence in a court of law.”
Above all, “the core of our Counterterrorism Strategy is that we have to be adaptive. Collecting and sharing data are essential to detect trends and threats and to be able to change if necessary.” Also the Global Terrorism Index support this objective.