CEP Senior Director Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler is a sought-after expert in the structure and financial operations of major terrorist groups, owing to his five years as a member of the ISIL (Da’esh), al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Monitoring Team of the U.N. Security Council, the last three as its coordinator. Dr. Schindler regularly briefed the members of the Security Council on the global terrorism threat and was responsible for the development of global counter terrorism sanctions. Dr. Schindler has been interviewed by ZDF, Deutsche Welle, SRF, The Sun, CNS News, WTOP, ACAMS, and many other media regarding the ramifications of a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Dr. Schindler holds a master’s degree and a PhD in International Terrorism from St. Andrews University. Prior to his work with the U.N. Security Council, Dr. Schindler was First Secretary, Political Affairs and Liaison to the Security Forces at the German Embassy in Tehran and from 2001 to 2005, he was part of the federal government of Germany's team investigating al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia.
Dr. Schindler can be reached directly via email at [email protected] to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the threat of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS. He is also available to comment on terrorist networks—both Islamist and far-right—in particular, with regards to their recruitment and financing capabilities.
Policy, Research, and Analysis
The Threat Posed by Transnational Violent Right-Wing Extremism and Terrorism in Europe and the United States
The violent right-wing extremist and terrorist environment in the U.S. and Europe has developed a distinctly transnational character in its activities and therefore presents an increasing security threat on both sides of the Atlantic. In November 2020, CEP released its report, Violent Right-Wing Extremism – Transnational Connectivity, Definitions, Incidents, Structures and Countermeasures, commissioned by the German Federal Foreign Office. Dr. Schindler contributed heavily to the drafting of the report, which focuses on the rise and metastasis of the violent extreme right-wing (XRW) threat and analyzes its growing transnational connectivity between 2015-2020 in six countries: Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States. The report is also available in German. In 2021, CEP hosted a series of webinars moderated by Dr. Schindler and dedicated to the sections of the report. The first webinar focused on the current threat landscape and provided an overview and the main findings of the report. A webinar on January 18 was dedicated to the situation in France and Germany. The webinar on February 9 was focused on the challenges facing the United Kingdom and the United States, while the fourth webinar on March 4 highlighted the risk environment in Finland and Sweden. Media coverage: The New York Times, Lawfare, and Homeland Security News Wire.
The Continuing Challenges Posed by the Situation in Afghanistan
CEP conducted webinars in September 2021 and October 2020 dedicated to the situation in Afghanistan, both moderated by Dr. Schindler. Future Terrorism and Security Challenges Emanating from Afghanistan on September 23, 2021, examined the complex global terrorism threat in light of the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan and its symbiotic relationship with al-Qaeda. Speakers included Ambassador Edmund Fitton-Brown, coordinator of the ISIL, al-Qaida and Taliban Monitoring Team, U.N. Security Council; Sofia Koller, research fellow, German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP); and Dr. Guido Steinberg, senior fellow, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). On October 16, 2020, CEP hosted The Prospect For Peace In Afghanistan, which examined the current security situation in the country, including the status of various terror groups still active in the country. Speakers included Ambassador Edmund Fitton-Brown and Dr. Ellinor Zeino, the country representative of the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) in Kabul.
Terrorism Financing and Social Media Platforms
The misuse of social media and other Internet services by terrorist organizations, including for financing activities, continues to be a vexing and dangerous modern phenomenon. 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. The study revealed that major financiers of al-Qaeda and ISIS, identified by the U.N. Security Council, are able to maintain profiles on large platforms. Authored by Dr. Schindler, Terrorism Financing and Social Media Platforms, recommended that the tech industry proactively search for and remove profiles and accounts of terror financiers on their platforms, update their community standards, and increase awareness of terrorism financing risks among their internal content monitoring and moderation teams. Dr. Schindler presented the report’s findings and recommendations during a webinar in April 2020.
The Misuse of Online Platforms by Violent Right-Wing Extremists and Terrorists
Transnational right-wing extremist and terrorist groups and networks have developed specific online ecosystems which are an integral part of their operations. In a CEP briefing paper released in November, The Misuse of Online Platforms by Violent Right-Wing Extremists and Terrorists, Dr. Schindler, Alexander Ritzmann, and Marco Macori provide a detailed analysis of how the online sphere plays a crucial role in the transnational functionality of the movement. The paper is a follow-up to a 2020 study in which CEP, commissioned by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, analyzed the transnational connectivity of violent XRW and terrorist movements in five European countries and the United States. In November, Dr. Schindler moderated a CEP webinar on this issue. The webinar was the second in a CEP virtual event series supported by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.
Financing of Transnational Violent Right-Wing Extremist and Terrorist Structures – Misuse of Online Services
The financing of violent right-wing extremist and terrorist networks and milieus—highlighted in the 2020 study by CEP—has become the focus of national and multilateral expert discussions, and the first ever report on the issue by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in June 2021. In addition to self-financing and donation drives, including crowdfunding drives using cryptocurrencies, the milieus finance themselves via commercially organized music events, festivals, mixed martial art tournaments and the sale of merchandize. In November, CEP published a briefing paper, Financing of Transnational Violent Right-Wing Extremist and Terrorist Structures – Misuse of Online Services, authored by Dr. Schindler, Alexander Ritzmann and Marco Macori, and conducted a webinar moderated by Dr. Schindler that discussed the challenges facing governments and industry in countering the threat. The webinar was the third in a CEP virtual event series supported by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany that examined problems emanating from the transnational right-wing extremist and terrorist movement.
Paramilitary Training Activities of Violent Right-Wing Extremists – Threat, Mitigation Opportunities, And Challenges
One of the most concerning offline threats emanating from members of the transnational violent right-wing extremist and terrorist movement are paramilitary training activities taking place in the United States, Central and Eastern Europe, and in the Balkans. In December, CEP published a briefing paper, Paramilitary Training Activities of Violent Right-Wing Extremists: Threat, Mitigation Opportunities, and Challenges, authored by Dr. Schindler, Dr. Kacper Rekawek, and Alexander Ritzmann. On December 13, Dr. Schindler moderated a CEP webinar that explored the paramilitary training activities of violent right-wing extremists in Central and Eastern Europe and the challenges it posed. The webinar was the fourth event in a CEP virtual event series supported by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.
On the Threat of Deep Fakes to Democracy and Society
The influence of fake news and the manipulation of public and political perception has been a threat to political systems for years. Today, fake news is often supported by so-called deep fakes—seemingly real but synthesized videos of various kinds. Due to advances in software design, significant technical skills to produce deep fakes are no longer necessary, vastly increasing the risk of their misuse. CEP, in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), released a study, On the Threat of Deep Fakes to Democracy and Society. The authors, Dr. Schindler and CEP Senior Advisor Dr. Hany Farid, discussed the study and ways to confront the problem during a CEP webinar. Media coverage: Knowable Magazine and The Washington Post.
Thought Leadership and Selected Media
Wall Street Journal: “Don’t Recognize the Same Old Taliban”
In September, Dr. Schindler argued against the United Nations recognizing the Taliban formally as the government of Afghanistan, saying that doing so would open the window for an “unchecked flow of funds and investments” that could be diverted to terrorist organizations including al-Qaeda: “In the months to come, the issue of how to deal with the new regime in Kabul will be a central challenge for the U.N. The U.S. and its European allies should work to build coalitions in the Security Council and with other U.N. member nations to ensure the Taliban are not accepted into the international community as long as they harbor terrorists, disregard human rights and run one of the world’s largest drug cartels.”
EuroNews: “Europe should take action against Hezbollah's growing strength”
Dr. Schindler, in detailing a litany of Hezbollah’s violent actions both in the Middle East and in Europe, argues in October that as the 10th Anniversary of Hezbollah’s bombing of an Israeli tourist bus in Burgas, Bulgaria approaches, it is time for action by Europe’s leaders: “The bloc must follow through on its recent resolution and properly hold the organisation to account. It is time to bring forward targeted sanctions against members of Hezbollah responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law in Lebanon, and to recognise Hezbollah as a whole, not in part, as a terrorist organisation.”
Emerging challenges for combating the financing of terrorism in the European Union: financing of violent right-wing extremism and misuse of new technologies
In September 2021, Dr. Schindler published an article in the European in Global Affairs, a journal of the European International Studies Association (ISA), exploring emerging challenges to combating the financing of terrorism. The article discusses the challenges of countering the financing of violent right-wing extremism/terrorism and the increasing misuse of new technologies, such as Internet tools and cryptocurrencies. Dr. Schindler notes that an understanding of the threat landscape is only now emerging and current EU CFT instruments, developed to counter the threat from Islamist terrorism, have not yet been adjusted sufficiently to address the threat from right-wing extremism/terrorism.
United Nations and counterterrorism: Strategy, structure, and prevention of violent extremism conducive to terrorism – a practitioner’s view
Dr. Schindler’s analysis of ways the U.N. counterterrorism structures could more effectively and efficiently support the international community was included as a chapter in the Routledge Handbook of Deradicalisation and Disengagement, published in March 2020. Since 1999, the counterterrorism efforts of the United Nations developed in response to the rise of al-Qaeda and since 2014, in response to the emergence of ISIS.
National Post: “The continued threat of terrorism”
In a November op-ed, Dr. Schindler detailed the threats to Europe and the United States from Islamist and right-wing terrorist groups around the world: “In the short term, rather than a next 9/11, attacks from radicalized individuals and small cells, fueled and enabled by online tools, are a core concern. However, this could change in the medium term. The developing situation in Afghanistan may enable al-Qaida and ISIL to again plan more elaborate plots. At the same time, the arrests, and subsequent revelations about, members of the right-wing ‘accelerationist’ Hannibal network in Germany demonstrate that these groups are also capable of preparing large-scale attacks.”
EuroNews: “Taliban takeover could lead to renewed terror attacks in Europe”
Dr. Schindler warns in August that Europe must be prepared for the aftermath of a Taliban victory, from increased terrorist incidents to a wave of refugees: “In the short term, it is pivotal to get Afghan national staff and those under threat, such as journalists, women’s rights activists and any former female officials, out of the country. Europe must then prepare for the inevitable flow of Afghan refugees fleeing the country. We must work quickly to avoid the mistakes and devastation of the 2015 crisis. In the long term, there needs to be a concrete strategy towards the new regime in Kabul, and sanctions are one of the few remaining tools. Humanitarian deliveries will have to continue. However, any potential development aid would need to be tied to conditions.”
International Sanctions: Improving Implementation through Better Interface Management
Dr. Schindler was one of 10 international experts who participated in workshops at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in 2019 and 2020, examining ways to improve implementation of international sanctions. In this SWP working paper, published in August 2021, Dr. Schindler described challenges in monitoring and enforcing U.N. counterterrorism sanctions experienced by the ISIL, al-Qaida and Taliban Monitoring Team, which advised two U.N. sanctions committees. These not only included the management of the relationship between member states and the U.N. sanctions committee, but those relating to information flows to and from the Team to intermediaries, such as the FATF or private sector stakeholders. Dr. Schindler argues that the process of sanctions design and development should be understood as a complex network of information flows and negotiations, rather than a hierarchical process.
The National: “Afghan terror training camps ‘could cause wave of attacks in Europe in five years’”
“The director of the Counter Extremism Project, Hans-Jakob Schindler, has worked in the UN Security Council unit that monitors ISIS and Al Qaeda. He believes extremists from Europe may now travel to Afghanistan to train, and that terrorist attacks could increase when they return to the continent. ‘Tragically, it feels like we have come full circle. We are very much in a situation where we run the risk that we are chasing our tail,’ he told The National. ‘Half of the Taliban’s new government are on the UN sanctions list for a very good reason. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not separate and have never been separate… In 2001, 10,000 foreigners went to Afghanistan to train with Al Qaeda. It might be five or even 10 years, if we do not pay attention, but it will happen again.’”
Newsweek: “Why the Taliban, Armed to the Teeth, May Struggle to Defeat ISIS-K”
“The Taliban have been fighting ISIS-K since 2018. But it was back in 2014 that ISIS in Syria and Iraq sent emissaries to Afghanistan to set up an affiliate. After Libya, this marked the second time that ISIS's core operations had purposely established an affiliate. ‘These [ISIS] emissaries networked primarily in southern and eastern Afghanistan and gathered disgruntled Taliban fighters as well as some local power brokers, declaring their existence openly only in 2015, gathering also a range of foreign fighters, primarily from Pakistani terrorist groups,’ CEP Senior Director Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler—a former coordinator of the U.N. Security Council’s ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Taliban Monitoring Team—tells Newsweek.”
Haaretz: “The Secret Weapon That Helps Hamas Raise Millions of Dollars”
“The QR code is just one example of how Hamas has become something of a technology leader among terrorist groups, which experts say are making more and more use of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to raise money. After being driven off the Coinbase cryptocurrency exchange two years ago by U.S. authorities, for instance, Hamas developed software that creates a new digital-wallet address each time a donor scans the QR code. ‘Now, instead of one Hamas wallet, you have many wallets and many donors. That makes it hard to follow the money,’ explains Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director at the Counter Extremism Project, a New York-based nonprofit that builds programs to sever the financial, recruitment and material support networks of extremist groups and their leaders.”
CEP Podcast: Fighting Terror
The CEP Podcast, Fighting Terror, explores different ways that society can combat the impacts of terrorism. Each episode of the podcast is hosted by CEP Senior Advisor and former European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton and features an expert guest from an area of counterterrorism. In episode 7, on April 15, Dr. Schindler offered insights, trends, and new phenomena in terrorist financing, ranging from the use of cryptocurrencies and the role of social media, to the financing methods used by right-wing organizations. All of the podcasts can be accessed on the CEP website, and on Spotify, Buzzsprout, and Podcast Addict.
What does the ISIS attack on a Kabul military hospital mean?
In a November interview with WTOP radio, Dr. Schindler explained that the complex ISIS attack on a Kabul military hospital was meant to demonstrate that pressure from the Taliban “is not diminishing their capabilities.” It also showed that despite its takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban “is not a good counter-terrorism force, it’s not good at preventing attacks.”