EU pris­ons a breed­ing ground for ji­hadists

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Pris­ons in Europe are be­com­ing “breed­ing grounds” for ji­hadist groups, with some crim­i­nals see­ing vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism as a form of re­demp­tion for their crimes, a re­port by a Bri­tish think tank pub­lished yes­ter­day said. Ji­hadist and crim­i­nal groups are re­cruit­ing from the same pool of peo­ple, while their so­cial net­works are also con­verg­ing, the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for the Study of Rad­i­cal­iza­tion and Po­lit­i­cal Vi­o­lence (ICSR) found, in what it dubbed a “new crime-ter­ror nexus”.

The emer­gence of the Is­lamic State group (IS) has strength­ened the link be­tween crime and ter­ror­ism, ac­cord­ing to the re­port which ex­am­ined the pro­files of Euro­pean ji­hadists re­cruited since 2011. Rather than look­ing to uni­ver­si­ties or re­li­gious es­tab­lish­ments, IS in­creas­ingly turns to “ghet­tos”, pris­ons and “un­der­classes” to re­cruit in­di­vid­u­als with a his­tory of crim­i­nal be­hav­ior, it said. Pris­ons pro­vide a ready sup­ply of “an­gry young men” who are “ripe” for rad­i­cal­iza­tion, ac­cord­ing to the study, en­ti­tled “Crim­i­nal Pasts, Ter­ror­ist Fu­tures: Euro­pean Ji­hadists and the New CrimeTer­ror Nexus”. ICSR di­rec­tor Peter Neu­mann, one of the re­port’s au­thors, said the lines be­tween crime and ji­hadist groups were be­com­ing “in­creas­ingly blurred”. “Prison is be­com­ing im­por­tant as a place where a lot of net­work­ing hap­pens,” he said. “Given the re­cent surge in ter­ror­ism-re­lated ar­rests and con­vic­tions... we are con­vinced that pris­ons will be­come more-rather than less-sig­nif­i­cant as breed­ing grounds for the ji­hadist move­ment.”

Crim­i­nals seek­ing ‘re­demp­tion’

Neu­mann said rad­i­cal­iza­tion was be­com­ing faster be­cause “a lot of these peo­ple have al­ready been con­victed of vi­o­lent crime, so the jump to be­ing a vi­o­lent ex­trem­ist is not so big.” Re­cruit­ing in pris­ons al­lows ji­hadist groups to tap “trans­ferrable skills”, the study found, in­clud­ing fa­mil­iar­ity with weapons and self-fi­nanc­ing through crime. Re­searchers from the ICSR, based at King’s Col­lege London, com­piled pro­files of 79 Euro­pean ji­hadists with crim­i­nal pasts, from Bel­gium, Bri­tain, Den­mark, France, Ger­many and the Nether­lands.

All had ei­ther trav­elled abroad to fight or been in­volved in ter­ror­ist plots in Europe. Over the past five years an es­ti­mated 5,000 Western Euro­peans have trav­elled to the Mid­dle East to join ji­hadist groups such as IS and the Syr­ian Fateh Al-Sham Front, a former Al-Qaeda af­fil­i­ate, the re­port said. Of those stud­ied, 57 per­cent had been in­car­cer­ated be­fore be­ing rad­i­cal­ized and at least 27 per­cent of those who spent time in prison were rad­i­cal­ized be­hind bars. For some, ji­hadism of­fered a form of “re­demp­tion” for their crimes, re­searchers said. Ali Al­manasfi, a Bri­tishSyr­ian from London who fought in Syria af­ter serv­ing a jail term for vi­o­lent as­sault, was cited in the re­port as say­ing: “I want to do some­thing good for once. I want to do some­thing pure.” Ac­cord­ing to Neu­mann, the find­ings point to a shift if the way IS op­er­ates. “We think IS no longer as­pires to be a very the­o­log­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion. It em­bod­ies the bru­tal­ity, strength and power that these young peo­ple who were of­ten mem­bers of gangs are look­ing for,” he said. “It ba­si­cally tells them ‘you can con­tinue to do all the things you did be­fore, but now you can get into heaven’.” — AFP

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