Koenders: effective counterterrorism is about staying ahead of threats

The counterterrorism community must continuously anticipate new threats. It is vital to identify new trends and share information about them with international partners in order to stay ahead of new developments. This is the Netherlands’ key message to the new chairs of the Foreign Terrorist Fighter Working Group of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF).

The Netherlands and Morocco have co-chaired the group for the past three years. Their successors will be announced in September. The working group met for the last time under the leadership of the Netherlands and Morocco in The Hague on Thursday.

Speaking at the meeting, foreign minister Bert Koenders said, ‘We’ve achieved a lot in the realm of international counterterrorism, but the threat of foreign terrorist fighters remains, and it impacts all of us. In recent years we’ve had a chance to observe how terrorism evolves: it is a hydra that is constantly assuming different forms. We have to pool our knowledge and resources to stay a step ahead of the terrorists.’

According to international estimates the number of jihadist travellers has dropped in recent years from 30,000 to approximately 10,000. Thanks in part to the efforts of the working group, over 60 countries have amended their laws in order to facilitate the swift apprehension and prosecution of terrorists. The number of names and profiles in Interpol’s databases has also been growing steadily. On the basis of this information, foreign terrorist fighters can be identified more quickly and arrested.

But work remains to be done. In recent months there have been a growing number of attacks involving everyday objects like knives or using vehicles, like trucks, as occurred in London and Stockholm. More women and children have been returning from the conflict zones without passports, making it more difficult to distinguish between victims and potential threats. Experts also point out the emergence of a new group: lone individuals who have become radicalised at home, without ever leaving the country. They are receiving inspiration or even instructions from fighters in Iraq or Syria.

‘We need to try to stay a step ahead of these kinds of developments. The value of information-sharing can’t be stressed enough,’ said the minister. With this in mind, a database (the FTF Knowledge Hub) has been developed under the leadership of the Netherlands and Morocco to collect facts and figures, trends, and profiles of foreign terrorist fighters. Countries can use this information to develop and enhance their own national counterterrorism policies.

The Foreign Terrorist Fighter Working Group is a subdivision of the GCTF, which is also currently being co-chaired by the Netherlands and Morocco. The purpose of this forum is for its 29 member countries and the EU to exchange knowledge about fighting terrorism and preventing violent extremism. The Netherlands and Morocco want to remain co-chairs of the GCTF for the coming 2 years.