Radicalisation & recruitment on the internet: Policy responses & implications.

UPDATED THIS PROJECT HAS CONCLUDED. Most of the resulting materials have been made openly available. See My 2007 book [buy it on Amazon] or [read it free at Google Books] and my related articles which are more up to date. Also, I have now initiated a new phase in this research, finally returning to Cambridge to continue PhD work on this area – see details of research here.

Archived material below

Visit http://www.iiea.com/blog to add to this issue. Islamist militant radicalisation & recruitment of European citizens on the Internet has already caused considerable harm, and potentially poses a long-term security threat to EU Member States. The 7/7 attack in 2005 is one example. A leaked Home Office report observed that the attack was based on information from the Internet and that the bombers socialised in a gymnasium where they perused radical material online. Three of the bombers were British-born, and apparently reasonably well integrated into society. In the post Afghanistan context, Islamist militancy’s attack on one or all Members of the EU is dependent on its ability to continue to radicalise and recruit sympathetic operatives from within EU Member States. Al Qaeda has become an ideological reference point rather than a formal organisation, and the Internet enables a virtual community of dispersed sympathisers.Accordingly, the twin problems of radicalisation & recruitment to terrorism and the use of the Internet are high on the agendas of the incoming German Presidency, the European Commission, and the “G6” group. The incoming German Presidency will follow up on the Finnish Presidency priority radicalisation & recruitment and terrorist use of the Internet. Below is a chronology of policy developments on this issue in the last 12 months.


The Institute of European Affairs is engaged two major studies: 1) Islamist militant radicalisation & recruitment on the Internet, and 2) Assessing the practicality of web filtering/censorship responses.

Study 1: Radicalisation & recruitment to terrorism on the Internet.

Our study on radicalisation and recruitment establishes the strategic value of the Internet to Islamist militants, examines the nature of the militant threat from within Europe, and investigates the message of radicalisation that attracts young European citizens to terrorism. The Institute is analysing militant Islamist material on the Internet in order to identify common trends and themes. The purpose of this analysis is to determine how young Europeans become radicalised. In addition, we are also developing a profile of the target audience of online radicalisation and recruitment in Europe through consultation with security and counter terrorism experts. This study is necessary to determine whether potent radicalisation material could be legally censored, and whether radicalisation & recruitment would be beyond the scope of a legal definition of what could be censored.

Study 2: Technical options for censorship of Internet radicalisation & recruitment, and their security, technical, economic, and legal implications.

The Institute is examining technical options for online censorship. We are consulting with the public sector, including DJELR and DCMNR, the private sector, including the Director of Internet Operations for BT Group and Irish private sector and service providers, NGOs, including the Director of the Internet Watch Foundation, IT experts at Cambridge Computer Labs, the Harvard Berkman Centre, UCD. The Institute is also examining examples of web censoring regimes introduced by private sector operators in some EU Member States, and by governments around the globe.

In order to present feasible policy options, these technical options are also examined through from a legal and economic perspective. Research thus far has demonstrated that, in the absence of an international agreement, it is impossible to remove online content that is hosted outside the EU. This rules out a content-based approach. Therefore, one must take an access-based approach, in which access to illegal content is blocked. We are studying the robust access-based approaches taken by the Peoples’ Republic of China, among others, which would appear to be legally, practically, and economically impossible in the EU. The Institute is examining the benefits and draw-backs, including efficiency and costs of implementation, of the remaining alternatives, including “web filtering” at the Service Provider level throughout the EU, and the implications that could arise for Ireland. This study will be equally useful for future consideration of policy options to block access to other illegal material, including child pornography.

The focus of current research on radicalisation & recruitment is generally security focussed. The studies outlined above present a more holistic perspective, and when considered together, will give an Irish and EU perspective on which options are technically, legally and economically feasible, and which would have an impact on the security proportionate to their costs.


Speaking on 9 November 2006, following a bi-annual EU-US JHA meeting, the Finnish Interior Minister, Kari Rajamäki, announced that the EU and US “agreed that we would explore the ways of cooperating with the United States in combating the terrorist use of the Internet. The EU … placed emphasis on research into radicalisation. The aim is to find out why second generation young people born in the EU become radicalised and what methods extremist groups use to find new recruits”.

On 26 October 2006, a G6 meeting of British, French, German, Italian, Polish, and Spanish Interior Ministers in Stratford-upon-Avon, hosted by John Reid, agreed to cooperate on monitoring Internet websites used by terror groups. The G6 agreement in Stratford-upon-Avon builds upon the agreement to conduct joint analyses of Internet use by terrorists, made at their previous meeting in Heiligendamm, on 22 and 23 March 2006. (Dr Reid is particularly seized by the issue of online radicalisation. The UK’s national Counter Terrorism Strategy, which was updated in July 2006, now highlights “the battle for ideas” and the importance of the Internet.)

On 21 September 2006, Interior Ministers at the informal JHA meeting in Tampere agreed that “as a result of the events in the United Kingdom and Germany, combating radicalisation and recruitment into terrorism has become increasingly important”.

On 16 August 2006, following the disruption of a multiple airline bombing plot and the arrest of twenty-five UK residents, Justice and Interior Ministers of Germany, France, Finland, Slovenia Portugal, and EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini issued a joint statement prioritising “mak[ing] the internet a hostile environment for terrorists and those who seek to radicalise young people, spread messages of hate and plan mass murder”. Commissioner Frattini suggested that “websites that incite to commit terrorist actions” should be blocked.

The EU Counter Terrorism Action Plan, updated on 20 July 2006, now refers to “effective action against misuse of the Internet, … [and] acting in common against extremist websites”. This built upon developments under the British Presidency in late 2005. On 24 November 2005, the new ‘European Union Strategy for Combating Radicalisation and Recruitment to Terrorism’ included “effective monitoring of the Internet” among its objectives, and stated “we must put in place the right legal framework to prevent individuals from inciting and legitimising violence. And we will examine ways to impede terrorist recruitment using the Internet”. This language was repeated in the European Union Counter-Terrorism Strategy, released on 30 November 2005, and builds upon the Commission’s references to the Internet as an asset to terrorists in the 21 September 2005 ‘Communication on Terrorist Recruitment: addressing the factors contributing to violent radicalisation’.

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