Notwithstanding the embarrassing denial of entry of Dutch parliamentarian and anti-jihad activist Geert Wilders to the country earlier this month, a new report by the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London and a new British government policy tackling the growing problem of Islamic extremism in the UK give evidence of major changes in understanding and addressing the roots of terrorist recruitment. These positive developments, along with new UK government policies to combat extremism — again, apart from the hypocritical banning of Wilders after admitting a long string of Islamic radicals — are important for U.S. researchers to understand terrorist network trends and what measures could be taken here.
The new study by Dr. Peter Neumann, “Joining Al-Qaeda: Jihadist Recruitment in Europe,” was released last Monday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. This study extends the findings from a previous report prepared for the European Commission published last October. Neumann contends that in the three countries observed — Britain, France, and Spain — the kinds of threats emerging in each area are largely determined by the make-up of their respective Muslim communities. For example, the UK, with large Pakistani and Bangledeshi populations, faces threats out of Pakistan, whereas France and Spain, with North African/Arabic-speaking immigrant communities, are looking at more returning jihadists from Iraq.
One of the more important revelations from Neumann’s study is the changing dimension of jihadist recruitment in the UK. As reported by Reuters earlier this week, recruitment is now being conducted outside of mosques in smaller private venues and being led by lower-profile activists, not imams. One possible reason for this shift is the belief by the vast majority of the Muslim community that mosques are under surveillance by authorities. While first contacts with potential recruits are still being made in mosques, much of the actual radicalization and recruitment has shifted away from those settings.
Another startling trend observed is recruitment in prisons, a phenomenon already seen in the U.S. Neumann estimates that 13 percent of all inmates in Britain are Muslims — a rate four times higher than the general population. Prisons are proving to be ideal breeding grounds for terrorist recruiters as candidates are already disposed to violent behavior and the gang culture in prison forces new inmates to immediately look for new social networks for protection. Thus, recruitment happens much earlier after first contact. These jailhouse networks also extend back into the community with ready-made contacts upon an inmate’s release.