The radicalization process for someone to go from having a completely normal life to becoming a dangerous terrorist can take as little as six weeks, according to a top Europol official.
Homegrown terrorism wreaks havoc across the Western world, from the U.S. to Germany. Security officials have studied the radicalization process in an effort to curb terrorist attacks, but it appears that the time window they have to work with is quite short.
“We’ve seen examples of people becoming radicalized in a very short period, going from ‘zero to hero’ in six weeks or less, sometimes making themselves available for attacks to atone for past ‘un-Islamic’ behavior,” said Europol Deputy Director Wil Van Gemert in an interview with The Combating Terrorism Center Sentinel magazine.
It is not uncommon for former criminals to engage in a life of terror. Groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida often specifically target criminals for recruitment.
A 2016 study by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence found that 57 percent of radicals profiled in its database spent time in prison before turning to terrorism. Of that group, 27 percent were radicalized inside the prison itself and continued the path towards all-out terrorism after their release.
Van Gemert also noted ISIS has certain “tasked fighters” from countries like Syria and Iraq who are specially designated to travel to Europe and engage in attacks. Such was the case with the Paris attackers, who were trained in the so-called caliphate before carrying out their attacks in November 2015.
There is a variety of origins for terrorist threats, which makes the job for security agencies like Europol that much more difficult. Europol itself is tasked with tracking down terrorists who wish to engage in attacks similar to those seen in Brussels and Paris across Europe, in addition to its other law enforcement duties. While Europe’s typically open-border policies are convenient for economic purposes, they also make it difficult to keep track of the whereabouts of terrorists.
“Moving forward, we need to interdict foreign fighters on their return to Europe and, when appropriate, charge them and put them on trial,” said Van Gemert.
He added that while he believes ISIS will be defeated on the battlefield, it will evolve into something else. ISIS has its roots in traditional terrorism, which makes it much easier to hide compared to a large land caliphate. Experts have previously warned that the group could easily morph back into a more covert version of itself, and continue to pose a danger worldwide.
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