U.S.-born al-Qaeda extremist Anwar al-Awlaki has for years served as a radicalizing figure for U.S. and European extremists. On September 30, 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki was targeted and killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. Nonetheless, his lectures online have continued to inspire Westerners to terror, both before and after his death...
British citizen Anjem Choudary is an internationally designated Islamist cleric and convicted ISIS supporter. Choudary’s Islamist speeches, anti-Western rhetoric, and declared support for violent Islamist movements drew the attention of British authorities, who connected Choudary to manifold terror-related cases in the United Kingdom and Europe. Choudary was arrested in 2014 after he pledged allegiance to ISIS, but he was released on parole in 2018 after serving only half of his sentence. Though British police continue to monitor his movements and communications, Choudary remains a dangerous and influential figure. CEP has compiled a list of violent individuals and organizations that Choudary influenced or communicated with throughout his career.
Abdullah al-Faisal is a U.S.-designated Islamist propagandist who has recruited for ISIS and facilitated travel to ISIS-held territory. After ISIS declared its caliphate in June 2014, Faisal called on Muslims around the world to support it and praised the concept of hijra, migration to the Islamic State. Faisal’s lectures, websites, and videos have incited “untold numbers of people around the world to take up the cause of jihad,” according to the U.S. government. Failed Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad reportedly praised Faisal and al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki as “the only two clerics out there who have got it right.”
Ahmad Musa Jibril is an Arab-American Islamist preacher who has reportedly influenced Westerners to fight in the Syrian conflict. Jibril “encouraged his students to spread Islam by the sword, to wage a holy war, to hate and kill non-Muslims,” according to his 2005 U.S. sentencing memo on fraud charges. Though the number of foreign fighters traveling to Iraq and Syria has decreased since 2014, Jibril’s message continues to resonate with extremists. His lectures remain freely available on Twitter, YouTube, and other social media platforms.
Yusuf al-Qaradawi is a Qatar-based Islamist theologian and the unofficial chief ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood. Through his writings, speeches, and fatwas, Qaradawi has called for the murder of Americans, gay people, and Jews. He has served as the chairman of numerous Islamic organizations and operated on a variety of media platforms, including a televised broadcast on Al Jazeera, which reached approximately 60 million viewers. He is a co-founder of the popular Islamic website IslamOnline.net, which features a larger number of his fatwas. Qaradawi has written more than 120 books, some of which are included in the Muslim Brotherhood’s educational curriculum. As a result of his public persona, Qaradawi has been tied to violent extremists and propagandists around the world.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a transnational Sunni Islamist movement that seeks to implement sharia (Islamic law) under a global caliphate. Founded in Egypt in 1928, the Brotherhood is that country’s oldest Islamist organization and has branches throughout the world. A 2015 U.K. government investigation concluded that the Brotherhood has “promoted a radical, transformative politics, at odds with a millennium of Islamic jurisprudence and statecraft….” In line with the British assessment, and despite the Brotherhood’s official commitment to non-violence, CEP has documented ideological and operational links between the Brotherhood’s ideology and violent terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.
As the progenitor of the modern Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood has had a profound influence on the belief system that fuels al-Qaeda and ISIS. These groups share ideological underpinnings based on the writings of the late Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb…
The Muslim Brotherhood is many things to many observers. Some label it a terrorist organization, while others accept it as a modernist movement. There is reason as to why this entity is challenging to pinpoint. It has constantly evolved and has expanded across multiple countries, where the group took on various forms and adjusted its activities accordingly. Its Western European activities have been thoroughly covered in academic literature. What is lacking, however, is uncovering the group’s on-the-ground presence in Eastern Europe. Supported by CEP, GLOBSEC has begun to map the Brotherhood’s work in a selection of countries in the region.
In the previous report, CEE activities of the Muslim Brotherhood: Mapping the Ikhwan’s presence in the region, the authors presented the cases of five countries in the CEE region, each representing a different landscape in which the movement could operate. This report will focus on three of the selected countries, namely Czech Republic, Poland,and Serbia.
In 2016, terrorism analyst J.M. Berger said that no major American Muslim organization was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. That was not always the case, however. While the Internet is filled with false accusations and conspiracy theories regarding Brotherhood infiltration at the highest levels of the U.S. government, particularly under the Obama administration, it is nonetheless accurate to note the Brotherhood’s involvement in Muslim-Americans’ university life dates back to the 1960s.
Often referred to as the father of modern Islamism, Egyptian author Sayyid Qutb was a lead theologian of the Muslim Brotherhood in the mid-20th century. Qutb’s hardline interpretations of the Quran and his excoriation of the failures of Western society inspired the modern jihadist movement and led the Egyptian government to execute him in 1966. His influence can be seen in violent groups such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban, and among such notable extremists such as Osama bin Laden, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
While traditional white supremacist groups such as the Aryan Brotherhood promote blatant racism and violence, more modern groups such as the League of the South and Identity Evropa have promoted white nationalism as a legitimate ideology that belongs in mainstream political and academic spheres.
More than 70 years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, ethno-nationalist and white supremacist movements in Europe continue to thrive. They include far-right political parties, neo-Nazi movements, and apolitical protest groups. Some groups openly espouse violent white supremacy, while others have propagated their radical stances under the guise of populism. Though not all of these groups directly link their ideologies to Nazism, their propaganda portrays immigrants and ethnic minorities in a similar manner to how Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews, blaming them for national economic troubles and depicting them as a serious threat to the broader national identity.
The study, Career Break or New Career? Extremist Foreign Fighters in Ukraine, focuses on the motivations of western foreign fighters from the extreme right-wing milieu. The study aims to explain who these fighters are, where they come from, and what they are likely to do next, as well as assess to what extent these individuals pose a security threat.
Neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and far-right groups and online businesses maintain a presence on Facebook. Facebook is the third most visited website on the Internet and is also the world’s largest social media network, with over 2.2 billion regular users as of February 2018. Because of its popularity, Facebook has become an important tool for political or community organizations and commercial brands—including, unfortunately, for far-right extremists. Even though the company explicitly bans hate speech and hate groups in its Community Standards, Facebook appears to have a reactionary approach to removing neo-Nazi and white supremacist content from its platform.
Siege is an anthology of violent pro-Nazi and pro-Charles Manson essays written by American neo-Nazi James Mason in the 1980s and first published as a single volume in 1992. The book has since inspired a generation of neo-Nazis who have formed a violent online subculture called Siege Culture devoted to Mason’s calls for independent terror cells to carry out a race war.
In The Turner Diaries’ Ties To Extremists, CEP has documented the book’s role in the deaths of 248 individuals. The most deadly of these attacks was the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168. Police found a copy of the book in the car of bomber Timothy McVeigh. He also reportedly sold the book at gun shows. Another white supremacist, James Mason, stated that The Turner Diaries influenced the writing of his neo-Nazi manifesto Siege, an anthology of violent pro-Nazi and pro-Charles Manson essays. Mason was imprisoned in 1994 for three years for sexual exploitation of a minor.
Technology and Extremism
The present study is the result of a cooperation between the KonradAdenauer-Stiftung and the Counter Extremism Project. The authors, Prof Dr. Hany Farid and Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, deal with the destructive potential of so-called deep fakes – videos and images altered by artificial intelligence (AI) misused for political manipulation
The misuse of social media and other Internet services by terrorist organizations, including for financing activities, has been regularly discussed in the media and among experts. In January and March 2020, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) conducted a study to evaluate the current defense mechanisms of large social media platforms against the misuse of their services by financiers of international terrorism or for the financing of terrorism.
CEP Policy Paper: NetzDG 2.0 - Recommendations for the amendment of the German Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG)
In February 2020, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Berlin carried out a sample analysis to test the extent to which YouTube, Facebook and Instagram block “manifestly illegal” content and characteristics of banned organizations upon notification. The results of the study indicate that the logic behind the procedure of "notice and take down", which is the basis of the German Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG), is not sufficient to reduce illegal content online. YouTube only blocked or deleted just 35% of the illegal videos reported by CEP. Videos with identical content were blocked in some cases but not others (see Appendix 1). Facebook blocked the reported illegal photos according to NetzDG but did not do so with unreported, manifestly illegal content in the same photo folder (see page 11).
Germany’s Network Enforcement Act, or NetzDG law represents a key test for combatting hate speech on the Internet. Under the law, which came into effect on January 1, 2018, online platforms face fines of up to €50 million for systemic failure to delete illegal content. NetzDG has not provoked mass requests for takedowns. Nor has it forced internet platforms to adopt a ‘take down, ask later’ approach.
CEP supports the introduction of the EU regulatory proposal. We believe that such is the urgency and gravity of the proliferation of online terrorist content, that it merits a directly applicable regulation rather than a directive. The legislation, if implemented, will tackle the serious and ongoing problem of online extremism and recruitment by terrorist organisations. The viewing of terror content online has serious consequences for society as it plays a critical role in enabling the radicalisatio of individuals, with devastating consequences.
From March 8 to June 8, 2018, CEP conducted a study to better understand how ISIS content is being uploaded to YouTube, how long it is staying online, and how many views these videos receive. To accomplish this, CEP conducted a limited search for a small set of just 229 previously-identified ISIS terror-related videos from among the trove of extremist material available on the platform.
To read the fact sheet, please click here.
The U.K. government’s Department for Digital, Media, Culture, and Sport and Home Office jointly published the Online Harms White Paper in April 2019. The White Paper outlined different options for regulating the tech industry with the goal of combatting online harms—including child exploitation, terrorist content, disinformation, cyberbullying, and Internet safety—and sought an open public consultation to gather views on these various issues. CEP has submitted its responses to several of the White Paper’s consultation questions.
This report profiles 168 individuals who consumed official propaganda materials produced by the media arms of groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and al-Shabab, which are intentionally crafted to radicalize, inspire, and incite to violence. Individuals accessed and disseminated this content on a variety of social media platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, WhatsApp, Skype, Tumblr, and Paltalk.
CEP set out a number of recommendations ahead of the release of the European Commission’s proposal on removal of terrorist content online in autumn 2018. In a position paper, CEP reiterates that online platforms are not doing enough to tackle extremist content online. While some progress has been made compared to a few years ago, there are still significant gaps by companies in the development and deployment of technology to quickly and accurately find and remove terror-related content.
This report analyzes the strength of the Islamic State’s (IS) network on Facebook using online network measurement tools and uncovers the myriad of ways in which IS operates on Facebook. To do so, researchers Gregory Waters and Robert Postings mapped the accounts and connections between 1,000 IS-supporting Facebook profiles with links to 96 countries.
On July 21, 2017, Google announced the launch of its Redirect Method Pilot Program, which is intended to target individuals searching for ISIS-related content on YouTube and direct them to counter-narrative videos. Between August 2 and August 3, 2018, CEP reviewed a total of 649 YouTube videos for extremist and counter-narrative content. The result of CEP’s searches highlights the extent of the enduring problem of terrorist content on YouTube and undermines claims touting the efficacy of the company’s efforts to combat online extremism.
In November 2017, YouTube adopted a policy prohibiting content from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki. YouTube’s decision is a positive step, but more must be done to eliminate radicalizing extremist ideologies from the Internet. There is no shortage of extremist actors and ideologues online. At a minimum, content from individuals with links to violent extremist actors should be removed from online platforms.
Terrorist and extremist groups use encrypted application Telegram to recruit new members, fundraise, incite to violence, and even coordinate terrorist activity. Telegram’s messaging application has both public-facing and private components. This flexible interface enables extremists to do everything from self-promotion, brand development and propaganda dissemination, to secret plotting of attacks outside detection or interference from law enforcement.
Extremists have weaponized social media and other Internet platforms to recruit, incite, and propagandize. Unfortunately, industry reaction to terrorists’ misuse of Internet platforms has often been reactive, inconsistent, and piecemeal. CEP has worked to outline and compare Internet and technology companies’ approaches to extremist content as it may appear on social media, messaging applications, websites, blogs, and video-hosting websites, among other platforms.
The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) compiles summary reports on today’s most influential propagandists and recruiters. Since our launch in 2014, CEP has tracked terrorist recruiters and propagandists operating on behalf of ISIS and al-Qaeda. CEP’s Digital Disruption project highlights the systemic problem of online recruitment by...
The rapid adoption of state-of-the-art communication tools—with an emphasis on Internet-based applications—has been critical to the organization, expansion, and success of terrorist networks. Terror groups use modern communication technology in myriad ways, from fundraising, radicalization, and recruitment, to issuing threats, inciting violence, and planning attacks. While Osama bin Laden used fax machines and satellite phones in the 1990s, the early 2000s saw a boom...
Cryptocurrencies as Threats to Public Security and Counter Terrorism: Risk Analysis and Regulatory Challenges
The rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies poses new challenges for the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing (AML/CFT). Cryptocurrencies provide their users with the opportunity to make global payments that are beyond the control of financial regulators and security authorities. In addition, there is a growing risk that terrorist financiers may evade state surveillance and tap into new sources of funding.
Qatar supported and harbored international terrorist organizations and individuals. The hydrocarbon-rich Gulf country sends direct financial and material support to internationally-designated terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Nusra Front, and knowingly permits internationally-designated or wanted terrorist leaders and financiers to operate within its borders.
Over the next five years, nearly a quarter of the United States’ terror convicts will complete their terms of imprisonment. While it is possible that these individuals will commit offenses at a lower rate than other federal prisoners, it is still likely their recidivism rate will not be zero. Further complicating the situation, the United States has neither established a formal rehabilitation and re-entry program for convicted terrorists nor developed infrastructure to support individuals upon their release.
Interest in the nexus between crime and terror has increased in recent years. This is due in part to terror attacks in Europe carried out by individuals with a criminal history and in part to the large number of European foreign terrorist fighters with criminal backgrounds. This publication presents new research intended to help solve a deep-rooted and ever-evolving problem. It is the result of vigorous and fruitful cooperation between experts at the Counter Extremism Project and the European Policy Centre.
Throughout 2019, GLOBSEC, within the scope of a new project developed in cooperation with the Counter Extremism Project, mapped out and thematically analysed the pathways to jihadism of the 300+ individuals included in the original dataset.
This report picks up where the previous report published within the framework of the project run by GLOBSEC and the Counter Extremism Project, The Input: Pathways to Jihad. A Thematic Analysis of 310 Cases, left off in early April 2019.
For the last year and a half, GLOBSEC has been studying the phenomenon of a crime-terror nexus in Europe. Its research team has built up a dataset of 348 individuals arrested for terrorism offences, expelled for alleged terrorist connections, or who died while staging terrorist attacks in Europe in 2015, the peak year of European jihadism. The dataset covers the 11 European countries.
Trends in Extremism
On March 22, 2017, terrorist assailant Khalid Masood killed five people and wounded 50 more during a vehicle and stabbing attack in London. The following day, a similar attack was thwarted in Antwerp, Belgium. Similar ISIS-claimed attacks in Nice, Ohio, and Berlin each involved armed assailants using cars and trucks as weapons, charging at pedestrians in crowded civilian areas.
How do terrorists select their targets? The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) has analyzed attacks carried out by al-Qaeda and ISIS operatives in the United States, Europe, and Australia. CEP’s report—Terror Targets in the West: Where and Why—explores the ideological and tactical rationale for selecting targets to attack.
Thousands of people from Europe and North America have left their homes to fight alongside al-Qaeda and ISIS. Others have stayed behind to carry out attacks in France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other countries in the name of extremist ideologies. CEP’s Extremist Hubs resource examines a list of the neighborhoods, cities, and states that Western news outlets, mayors, and other government officials have labeled as “hotbeds of extremism” or “extremism hubs.”
Terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda have for years relied on foreign recruits and lone-wolf supporters to bolster their ranks. Jamal Ahjjaj, an imam at As-Soennah Mosque in The Hague, told the Washington Post that converts are “the most vulnerable because they do not yet fully understand Islam.” The imam noted that “sometimes there are people — the wrong people — waiting outside the mosque to greet them...”
Since the end of World War II, extremist groups have carried out numerous acts of violence in Europe in the pursuit of political and religious objectives. The policy responses from European governments to these terrorist acts have too often been weak, ad hoc, and have failed to deter future attacks or dismantle terrorist networks...
Fiction: ISIS-fighters celebrate and embrace new recruits.
Fact: Local ISIS militants treat new foreign fighters as amateurs, or worse, spies. Most of the newcomers are given undesirable tasks, such as removing dead bodies from the streets. In a December 2014 letter, one French foreign fighter wrote to his family, “I also help clean weapons and transport dead bodies from the front. Winter’s arrived here. It’s begun to get really hard.” ISIS fighters are often wary of newcomers’ commitment to the cause, and may test the newcomers’ knowledge of Islam...
The international conference on terrorism, "What threats and challenges after the fall of the Caliphate?", organised by the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism (CAT) and the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), was held at the Ecole militaire on November 7, 2019. It brought together various officials, practitioners and experts from France and beyond, some of whom rarely speak because of their everyday commitment.
Das Brandenburgische Institut für Gesellschaft und Sicherheit (BIGS) wurde vom Counter Extremism Project (CEP) beauftragt, eine Kurzstudie über die Kosten des Extremismus am Beispiel der Bundesrepublik Deutschland zu erstellen. Dabei soll es im Wesentlichen darum gehen, zu beschreiben, was Extremismus ist, woraus die Kosten von Extremismus bestehen können, bei wem sie anfallen und welches Ausmaß sie haben.
This publication is a compilation of four different essays that focus on radicalization in Libya. The essays assess the current on-the-ground situation. They identify and analyze patterns and trends as well as specific local and regional developments. The goal is to provide a comprehensive overview of radicalization in post-Qaddafi Libya and the extent to which the situation may be contributing to regional and international instability.
Islamic radicalism has grown progressively in Azerbaijan since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The country is now home to a significant community of Salafists who follow a particularly puritanical interpretation of Islam. Sectarian divisions have also become more distinct, as support for radical Shia ideologies and the creation of an Islamic republic similar to Iran has become increasingly popular. This report analyzes these recent developments and how the state works to promote religious freedom, moderation, and tolerance.
At the end of 2010, Tunisia witnessed the beginning of the Arab Spring, and the country soon commenced its transition to democracy. Tunisia’s strong civil society, tradition of reformed Islam, history of “Islamic secularism,” smaller population, and high literacy rates make for a promising future. This report discusses how Tunisia works towards a democratic future in the face of radicalization and terrorism as well as socio-economic problems that spawned the Arab Spring.
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the country’s first supreme leader, is one of the most influential shapers of radical Islamic thought in the modern era. Khomeini’s Islamist, populist agenda—dubbed “Khomeinism” by scholar Ervand Abrahamian—has radicalized and guided Shiite Islamists both inside and outside Iran.
Qutbism is an Islamist ideology that advocates violent jihad to establish governance according to sharia (Islamic law). It is believed to be the foundational ideology of today’s most dangerous violent Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda and ISIS. Qutbism synthesizes the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, Hassan al-Banna, and Abul Ala Maududi, among other Islamic theologians.
According to Iraqi reports, ISIS has executed hundreds of Muslim women and their relatives for refusing to marry ISIS fighters. ISIS has brutal disregard for women within its territorial control. Firsthand accounts indicate that ISIS repeatedly abuses and mistreats women in its territory, enslaving and molesting non-Muslim women and girls, and abusing and restricting the movements of Muslim women and girls.
ISIS is the most notable of the many extremist groups that have weaponized social media and messaging platforms—such as Twitter and Facebook—as well as encrypted messaging applications like Telegram and WhatsApp—to recruit, incite violence, and plot attacks. Social media companies, meanwhile, have for years failed to either acknowledge the severity of the problem of online extremism or to incorporate preventive safeguards onto their platforms.
Since 2014, ISIS has demonized, threatened and persecuted religious minorities. This report explores the ideological justifications for ISIS’s violent campaign to target—and ultimately eliminate—other religious communities.
In early May 2016, an ISIS court charged a young Syrian man with the “crime” of engaging in gay sex. In front of a crowd numbering in the hundreds in Manbij, Syria, ISIS fighters threw the young man from the top of a building as punishment for his so-called “crime.” This is but one case of how ISIS exploits pre-existing religious and social biases against gay people among the populations under its control in order to justify their persecution.
Hezbollah has evolved significantly from its origins as a guerilla group in the early 1980s into a major political and military force. In defiance of U.N. resolutions and international agreements demanding its disarmament, Hezbollah has used its military strength, political power, and grassroots popularity to integrate itself into Lebanese society.
The Tri-Border Area (TBA) that straddles the intersection of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil is considered the “Golden Hydra,” as it is the lucrative regional entry point of many “heads” of transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) and foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) that all lead to the underworld of illicit trade for more than forty years.
Numerous terrorist groups operate in Paraguay’s southeast near its border with Argentina and Brazil. The region, known as the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of South America, is considered a hotspot for criminal and terrorist activity. U.S.-sanctioned terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and Hamas, are believed to recruit, plan attacks, and fundraise in the TBA, and within Paraguay specifically.
Numerous terrorist groups operate in Brazil’s southwest near its border with Argentina and Paraguay. The region, known as the Tri-Border Area (TBA) of South America, is considered a hotspot for criminal and terrorist activity. U.S.-sanctioned terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and Hamas, are believed to recruit, plan attacks, and fundraise in the TBA, and within Brazil specifically.