Community Policing

Solving problems together

Radicalization is a growing problem affecting societies in various ways. Especially the increasing number of young people leaving western countries to support terror organizations in conflict zones has attracted the attention of law enforcement agencies. This is particularly true for the Western Balkans that account for the – in relation to their population – largest number of the so-called ‘foreign fighters’. The role of the internet and social media in the radicalization and recruitment processes cannot be underestimated. The web-strategies to promote the global jihad have become increasingly elaborate and with the anonymity of the Dark Web, the counterterrorism measures are limited. Community resilience and early prevention measures have become core concepts to tackle radicalization. But little is known of how these counter-strategies can be implemented effectively. COP approaches to radicalization run the risk of blurring the lines between cooperative strategies and gathering intelligence for counter-terrorism measures and securitizing the relationships with communities.


The threats from radicalization and extremism in various forms are perceived as one of the major security concerns in societies. COP can play an important role in the prevention, detection and fight against extremism, especially by approaching the strongly related phenomenon of religious radicalization. However, it should be noted that extremism leading to terrorism is not monopolized by the radical Islam, also political right and left wing terrorism has risen to serious threats, especially for western societies.[1] However, a lot has been written on the topic over the past years without ever agreeing on a clear definition of terrorism. Therefore, with a view to the thematic context of this handbook, we will focus on the radicalization processes leading up to the engagement in terroristic acts, as these are most relevant for COP. Moreover, with a view to the region-specific context, we will focus on Islamic radicalization and on the phenomenon known as ‘home-grown terrorism’. The term refers to the fact that the vast majority of radicalized individuals active in Western countries were born or have lived most of their lives in the West.[2] Often they are also referred to as “lone wolves” and if the radicalization process has reached the stage of active engagement, as “foreign fighters.” The latter phenomenon has become an increasing problem over the past years, respectively in the Western Balkans, and will, therefore, be at the center of this chapter.


The term “lone wolf” refers to a self-radicalized individual, promoting violent acts based on a cause or beliefs. According to scientists, there exist three types of lone wolfs:

  1. Individual terrorists who operate autonomously and independently of a group in terms of training, preparation and selection of targets.
  2. Individual terrorists who maintain links with organizations and who have received training and equipment but ultimately act autonomously.

Thirdly, isolated dyads of individuals who operate independently of a group.[3]

Foreign fighters are, according to the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2178, “nationals who travel or attempt to travel from their territories to a State other than their States of residence or nationality, for the purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts, or the providing or receiving of terrorist training.”[4]

Radicalization Processes

Radicalization and the factors that explain it have become the focus of research over the past years. A lot has been written about it but still relatively little is actually known about the phenomenon. Up to date, there is no consensus on common characteristics of radicalized individuals or a specific pathway of radicalization. Nevertheless, effective COP approaches to prevention of radicalization have to take into account as much as possible the known factors promoting it. Radicalization can predominately be explained by the links individuals of more or less the same age, sharing similar experiences and political/religious views, establish and maintain with each other, often within isolated communities. These processes often appear secretive and are highly independent of terrorist networks, making detection by law enforcement agencies so difficult. The role of recruiters or gatekeepers is crucial, the latter being former jihadists with experiences in conflict regions functioning as bridges between different cells and extremist groups. They are people of trust and sources of expertise in religious questions as much as in questions related to global jihadism. [5]      

Gender, Radicalization, and Motivation

The exposure to ideas and narratives that legitimize terror­ism and foster its appeal are considered of being critical pull factors for young people. Different narratives that legitimize violence and enhance the appeal of terrorism are skillfully disseminated. According to the OSCE, these narratives include[6]:

- using the logic that the ends justify the means, arguing that violence is a necessity in the pursuit of an imperative social, ideological, political or other goal and that there is no alternative;

- dehumanizing intended victims on the basis of intolerance, hate, and denial of universal human dignity;

- presenting terrorism as something exciting, counter-cultural or anti-establishment; and

- building on the charisma and/or perceived legitimacy of terrorists and, in particular, their leaders.

The adoption of a religious belief system provides a sense of belonging to a broader cultural and religious community which has to be protected against western aggression by the will of God. An insightful study of Kosovar foreign fighters conducted by Shtuni demonstrates how the idea of a humanitarian jihad is strongly interwoven in the narratives of these fighters and reconnected to the contemporary history of Kosovo.[7] A young seemingly disillusioned foreign fighter from Kosovo is quoted with the words: “When the Arab Spring began, I wanted to help the Syrian people. I have experienced war and horrific raids firsthand as a child in Kosovo, and wanted to help those children, the families.” Another man who had returned to Kosovo from Syria in 2014 apparently said the following: “I spent time watching videos of Assad’s cruelties against Syrian children. I wanted to fight against that criminal man. I also wanted to experience war. During the Kosovo War, I was too young to fight, which made me feel like I was incomplete.”       

Whatever motivates young people, men and women to join global jihad, it should be clear that the real problem of reintegrating returnees in their communities will be a major issue for the coming years. It remains widely unclear if they will be accepted back by their communities and to what extent they are able and willing to disengage from their radical ideology.[8]   

The Role of ICT in Radicalization Processes

Today, terror organizations heavily rely on ICT and social media channels for various strategic purposes. These include information collection, target se­lection, propaganda, recruitment, and fundraising, as well as the strategic facilitation and dissemination of global jihad narratives.[9] Group cohesion is promoted and informal communication and socialization between members are facilitated. Moreover, social media platforms provide a way of “spreading propaganda outside of core group membership and into other online communities, particularly semi-radicalized individuals, extremist sympathizers, people vulnerable to radicalization and the media.”[10] For example, one of the most influential pro-IS Twitter account has over 17.700 followers with tweets being viewed two million times per month.[11] Even mobile apps, online magazines, and video games are available for both, radicalization and recruitment. For example, an app called ‘The Dawn of Glad Tidings’ was an official Isis Arabic-language Twitter app, promoted by some of the organization's leading figures and is used to give updates about the group and spreads propaganda to other users.[12]

These social media campaigns have become increasingly professional. They use instruments and narratives that are far more complex than the one-sided and brutal perception of fighters portrayed in western media. Besides the dissemination of beheadings, mass-graves and killings of hostages, images of social engagements, like delivering food to conflict zones or even the depiction of an apparent love for cute kittens by IS-fighters, create a more human image of them. Moreover, different social media accounts are used to target different populations. Besides top-level accounts, there exist second level accounts, targeting a regional or local level, and individual accounts of fighters posting updates on personal experiences.[13] The propaganda efforts have been very successful, bringing in new recruits from at least 86 countries and doubling the number of foreign recruits between 2014 and 2015 to approximately 30.000 people.[14]

Western intelligence services, as well as the main social media providers, regularly take propaganda sites down but new ones appear and advanced methods of deception are used to evade deletion. Consequently, the removal or censorship of content is of little or no effect at all. Therefore, in recent years, countermeasures against hate speech increasingly included so-called ‘counterspeech’. Different initiatives have been launched since then countering the romanticized view by disseminating a more realistic picture of the jihad or even engaging in arguments with high profile jihadist accounts. [15] Even the social media platforms themselves engaged in these efforts. Facebook, for example, offered add credits of up to $1.000 to certain counter speakers and partnered with the U.S. State Department to run a competition for college students to create messages that counter extremism.[16] However, it remains difficult to estimate how effective these measures really have been. After the Paris attacks in November 2015, the IS announced to move its propagandistic effort to the Dark Web which was counted as a success since it made the propaganda much less visible. Since then, an increasing amount of propagandistic activities have been moved which makes it much harder for law enforcement agencies to monitor them (see below).

However, although the important role of the internet for terroristic purposes is undeniable, critics argue that the web only has a limited influence with regard to individual radicalization processes. In this view, the internet is more of a facilitator and only one of many elements of producing radicalization paths, being mere of use in the recruitment phase. [17] The actual radicalization is mainly fostered by individual contacts, interaction with peers and indoctrination by religious leaders.

Radicalization and Terrorism in the Dark Web

As the surface web has been increasingly monitored by law enforcement agencies over the past years and hence becoming too risky for terrorist activities, a large portion of their activities has been migrated to the anonymity of the Dark Web. Terrorist activities in the Dark Web are similar to those on the surface web, comprising the provision of information to fellow terrorists, to recruit and radicalize, to spread propaganda, to raise funds and to coordinate actions and attacks. But the Dark Web provides the opportunity to do this in a much safer way. So-called cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoins, play an important part in fundraising, money transfers and the purchase of explosives and weapons via the Dark Web. For example, the weapons used during the Paris terror attacks were purchased from a German Dark Web vendor. According to some sources, the Dark Web has even become a medium for terrorist organizations to sell human organs, stolen oil and smuggled antiquities looted from ancient cities.[18]

Radicalization and Foreign Fighters in the Western Balkans

In recent years, the western Balkans have struggled with the problem of radicalization, violent extremism and foreign fighters. It is estimated that more than a thousand nationals of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia have traveled to the battle­fields of Syria and Iraq since 2012. Hence the mobilization rate, particularly in Kosovo, BiH, and Macedonia are far higher than in other European countries, making the region a prime source of foreign fighters for the conflict in Syria.[19] However, comparing countries like Kosovo, where the vast majority of the population is Muslim, to countries with only a Muslim minority, such as in Western Europe, does only present a blurred picture. The total number of foreign fighters from Kosovo is officially estimated with 314 by May 2016, mainly consisting of young men between 17-30 years. But compared to the general population of the country, this number is almost negligible.

However, it would be a mistake to underestimate the problem. One must take into account that the official numbers only account for the tip of the iceberg, respectively with a view to the “extensive network of like-minded militants, supporters, and enablers who not only openly share the same ideology but are also actively engaged in its dissemination and recruitment efforts through physical and virtual social networks.”[20] According to Shtuni, it is estimated that the number of supporters in Kosovo for the cause of terrorist organizations, such as the so-called ‘Islamic State’ and al-Qaeda are in the thousands.

COP Strategies against Terrorism and Radicalization

Different policy approaches exist to tackle the problem of radicalization. The ICPC identifies four policies, notably those which focus on public security, those which outline broad-based integration strategies, strategies which specifically focus on the prevention of radicalization, and those which focus on the rehabilitation or de-radicalization of extremists.[21] The strategies have in common the mixed approach, targeting both security and prevention and are based on the integration of communities, social cohesion, the fight against discrimination and community resilience. Community-based approaches countering radicalization have become increasingly focused on building these resilient communities that reject violent extremist, terrorist ide­ologies, and propagandists and to mobilize citizens, individuals and groups in society in support of counterterrorism goals. This goes beyond a mere technical resilience, for example, by protecting critical infrastructure and strengthening emergency response but include a level of ideas to counteract the appeal of violent extremism and terrorism.[22]

Depending on the strategy, it has far-reaching implications on community policing approaches. For example, inter-sector coordination is a key component of all the mentioned strategies by including key stakeholders at the local level, such as local governments, social services, schools, social workers and non-governmental organizations in reaching an agreement on common objectives.[23] It includes training and awareness-raising campaigns for teachers, social workers, parents and young people to foster the ability to detect radicalization processes. Cooperation with religious leaders, such as moderate imams, are of great importance. Mentoring programs for young people at risk of radicalization or for those who want to leave radical groups have to be established. The same counts for de-radicalization programs, focusing on changing belief systems and enabling individuals at risk to refute extremist ideologies.

Concluding Remarks

It should not be overlooked that recent law enforcement measures have led to a drop in numbers of individuals from the Western Balkans seeking to fight for terror organizations in conflict zones. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to either assume that support for extremists has disappeared or that repressive measures alone can solve the problem. In view of the ethnic tensions and Kosovo’s EU ambitions, Shtuni warns to overestimate the reactive measures implemented so far while downplaying the actual level of sympathy and support for extremists views among the population. He stipulates that "the long-term cost of misdiagnosing and undertreating this critical social ill far outweighs any short-term public relations and political benefits.”[24]

Community-based early-intervention and prevention programs based on cooperative approaches seem more promising. However, marginalization of communities, the lack of social cohesion, poor integration, discrimination, segregation, parallel structures and socio-economic factors are not only root causes of radicalization but also obstacles to the cooperation with state authorities. In the future, a strong focus must be put on the issue of deradicalizing and reintegrating men and women returning from conflict zones.

For more information with regards to COP and radicalization especially with regards to risks and limits of the approach see chapter 10 of the handbook on COP.


[1] For a good overview on the phenomenon see ICPC 2016: 5th International Report: Crime prevention and community safety - Cities and the New Urban Agenda, 158ff.

[2] Ibid, 156.

[3] ICPC 2016: 5th International Report: Crime prevention and community safety - Cities and the New Urban Agenda, 160.

[4] UNSC. 2014: Security Council resolution 2178 [on threats to international peace and security caused by foreign terrorist fighters], Pub. L. No. S/RES/2178 (2014).

[5] ICPC 2016: 5th International Report: Crime prevention and community safety - Cities and the New Urban Agenda, 161-162.

[6] OSCE 2014: Preventing Terrorism and Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism: A Community-Policing Approach, 38.

[7] Shtuni 2016: Dynamics of Radicalization and Violent Extremism in Kosovo, 10.

[8] Bakker, de Leede 2015: European Female Jihadists in Syria: Exploring an Under-Researched Topic, 10.

[9] Nissen 2014: - IS’s Social Media Warfare in Syria and Iraq, 2.

[10] Bartlett, Reynolds 2015: the state of the art 2015 - A literature review of social media intelligence capabilities for counterterrorism, 14.

[11] Medi@4Sec 2016: Report on State of the Art Review, 11.


[13] Nissen 2014: - IS’s Social Media Warfare in Syria and Iraq, 2-5.

[14] LeFebvre 2016: Leveraging the Voices of Social Media for Peace and Security, 233.

[15] Bartlett, Reynolds 2015: the state of the art 2015 - A literature review of social media intelligence capabilities for counterterrorism, 22.

[16] LeFebvre 2016: Leveraging the Voices of Social Media for Peace and Security, 233.

[17] ICPC 2016: 5th International Report: Crime prevention and community safety - Cities and the New Urban Agenda, 161.

[18] Weimann 2016: Terrorist Migration to the Dark Web, 42-43.

[19] Shtuni 2016: Dynamics of Radicalization and Violent Extremism in Kosovo, 2.

[20] Shtuni 2016: Dynamics of Radicalization and Violent Extremism in Kosovo, 2.

[21] ICPC 2016: 5th International Report: Crime prevention and community safety - Cities and the New Urban Agenda, 168.

[22] OSCE 2014: Preventing Terrorism and Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism: A Community-Policing Approach, 66.

[23] ICPC 2016: 5th International Report: Crime prevention and community safety - Cities and the New Urban Agenda, 171.

[24] Shtuni 2016: Dynamics of Radicalization and Violent Extremism in Kosovo, 13.


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