Police-community partnerships may be helpful in preventing vulnerable individuals from supporting terrorism or becoming terrorists.
By Linda Karadaku for the Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 14/10/13
Preventing extremists from committing acts of terrorism in the Balkans is one of the top priorities for security personnel. [AFP]
Law enforcement officers in the Balkans are gathering intelligence on extremists who potentially could be recruited by terrorist organisations, but should consider partnering with local communities to improve their efforts to stop terrorism, experts said.
Kosovo police said law-enforcement works to prevent all criminal acts, including terrorism, and focuses activities on "vulnerable" individuals or groups.
"The anti-terrorism directorate, based on the national strategy against terrorism, monitors the activity of every person or groups of persons suspected of having tendencies to undermine Kosovo's judicial order and cause any other criminal act," Brahim Sadriu, a spokesperson for Kosovo police, told SETimes.
Experts said Kosovo police have been active in adopting different strategies, including taking preventive action to ensure individuals do not join extremist organisations.
But the role of communities in preventing terrorism cannot be overstated. An important tool in terrorism prevention is civil society involvement in policy-making, public education and a public dialogue to promote tolerance, according to Abit Hoxha, a researcher at the Centre for Security Studies in Pristina.
Efforts should include more open public discussion on the dangers of radicalism and should establish standards for humanitarian and charity organisations that have been used in the past as cover for extremist activities, Hoxha said.
"The inter-religious dialogue, in which academia, policy-makers and religious leaders are involved, is very important for the (prevention) programs to have a local reach," Hoxha told SETimes.
Another approach that has proven effective is the strategy adopted in 2007 by Great Britain to provide support to individuals, work with institutions and publicly challenge extremist ideologies in order to prevent vulnerable individuals from becoming or supporting terrorists.
Zubeda Limbada, project manager at the Birmingham city council and West Midlands' police counterterrorism unit, traveled to Pristina last month as part of a seminar sponsored by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe on countering violent extremism.
She said that the British experience of involving communities in partnership with the police has proven valuable in addressing the roots of terrorism.
Experts said Kosovo police has been active in adopting different strategies, including taking preventive action to ensure individuals do not join extremist organisations. [AFP]
"There is no magic bullet. [Success has to do] with how to get communities to become a partner in terms of being the first gate, the eyes and ears," Limbada told SETimes.
Limbada said community members should be included in partnership with law enforcement because stopping terrorism does not solely involve jailing dangerous individuals, but also influencing hearts and minds.
Officials at the EU Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) in Kosovo -- which investigates, prosecutes and adjudicates serious crimes including terrorism -- said they have not used such an approach because the agency is focused on prosecuting criminal cases, not community outreach.
"We do not have the kind of activities like awareness campaigns related to terrorism, we just deal with the cases characterised as terrorism," Irina Gudeljevic, a spokesperson for the mission, told SETimes.
Limbada acknowledged the British approach has its share of challenges. It takes a long time to form the right partnership as well as involve suitable law enforcement personnel.
"Not everyone has the skills to work with the communities. It is important that people trust the police and have confidence the information they are sharing with the police is not about gathering intelligence, but about real active partnerships," she said.
Officials said they are aware of the dangers of Islamic extremism, which spread in the early 1990s when fighters arrived from the Middle East to join the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. Since, many Islamic fighters obtained citizenship and remained in the Balkans.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) courts have convicted people in 11 terrorism cases since 1997, but officials acknowledge dealing with and educating communities is crucial in the fight against terrorism.
"People who live in small towns and far-away areas may not [quite] recognise the danger. BiH politicians need to understand that extremism is a threat to all … people who live here," Dusanka Majkic, chairperson of the BiH parliamentary committee on defence and security, told SETimes.
Correspondent Drazen Remikovic in Sarajevo contributed to this report.
What preventive measures can the authorities in the Balkans take to prevent terrorism? Share your view in the comments space.