Toespraak van minister Koenders op het Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF)

Toespraak van minister Koenders (BZ) op het 'Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and Global Coalition against ISIL/Daesh on the matter of foreign terrorist fighters' op 11 januari 2016 in Den Haag. De tekst is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s my honour and pleasure to welcome all of you here today to the Netherlands, your partner for peace, justice and development, to this joint meeting of the working group on foreign terrorist fighters of the GCTF and the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. I like to thank Europol, especially director Rob Wainwright, for hosting us here at the heart of the international zone in the international city of peace and justice.

Especially I would like to thank my esteemed co-chairs, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Morocco, Mr Nassar Bourita and deputy Minister of Interior, Mr Sebahattin Öztürk from Turkey for being here today.

Today I wear a triple hat; The Netherlands is co chair of the GCTF, co chair of the workinggroup of the Foreign Terrorist Fighters of the anti-ISIS coalition and we are currently chairing the European Union.

I'm pleased so many of you have come to talk about one of the most pressing challenges of our time: the threat of terrorism. Together we need to share information about terrorists, so we can stop them from travelling and secure our homeland. In essence: Beat terrorism, boost freedom!

Setting the scene: 'Terrorism 2.0'

Terrorism today is a multi-headed monster. Terrorists are ruthless, resourceful and skilled at reinvention. Terrorism is a global phenomenon. We're not just talking about ISIL. There's also Jabhat al-Nusra, al Qa’ida, Boko Haram, al Shabaab, and many more. The impact of these groups is not limited to the conflict zones stretching from Africa, via the Middle East to Asia. We feel the impact also here in our Western societies and capitals.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What we face today is Terrorism 2.0: like a virus, it adapts to survive and becomes more resilient. We're not dealing with the sort of stereotypical terrorists we see in the movies, the kind that can be defeated by a one-man army à la Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

We are dealing with terrorists who aim to be a state. They are using state symbols like flags and passports to attract recruits and to sustain their reign of terror. ISIL doesn’t just sell oil or collect taxes. Exploids its own population. It confiscates land, provides health care, imposes fines and operates a budget cycle.

We see this new brand of terrorism reflected in the communication technology used: the attacks in Paris were prepared in part with the help of PlayStation communication tools. Terrorists use secure apps like Telegram to recruit. They use social media to showcase their gruesome attacks and share tips about the best travel routes.

We see it in the way they finance their attacks: plane tickets are bought online; materials are purchased with bitcoins and prepaid cards.

We see it in the way they persuade young people to join their ranks. To you and me it seems unimaginable: joining a barbaric organisation that executes people and enslaves women. But the harsh reality is that they are successful in giving some of our young people something we apparently cannot: a sense of purpose.

We see it in their international character: there are people from Cameroon joining the ranks of Boko Haram in Nigeria. There are British youths fighting with al Shabaab. There are Chechens, Tunisians and French nationals who have joined ISIL and Jabhat al-Nusra. And they have been joined by well over 200 people from my country.

Ladies and gentleman,

We keep referring to these people as foreign' terrorist fighters. The uncomfortable truth is that they are not foreign at all. They may be foreigners in the countries where they are going to. But in reality they are our compatriots, our acquaintances, the classmates of our kids, the guys and girls we see in our supermarkets. They are part of our societies. Perhaps the only thing that's foreign to us is their mentality.

President Hollande eloquently captured this feeling when he said, 'Nous le savons, et c’est cruel que de le dire, ce sont des Français qui ont tué vendredi dautres Français.'

Who are the FTFs?

President Hollande was right. An important part of the threat comes from within our own societies, from wherever we are. We have to ask ourselves: who are these people? Who are the people that go to Syria, pick up guns and willingly join ISIL?

It is a varied group, from different backgrounds and with different motives:

  • It is a Dutch soldier of 26.
  • It is a young man like Omar Mostefai, one of the Bataclan attackers. Born in France, he went from petty crime to terrorism.
  • It is a teenage girl, blowing herself up in a marketplace in Cameroon.
  • But it is also a young man who sits in front of his computer soliciting funds from extremists for humanitarian assistance to ISIS.

Foreign terrorist fighters are our fighters; they are often created at home. And we need to do our utmost to not only deter them, but also to prevent them from becoming radicalised in the first place.

A balanced approach is key, and with that in mind I’m looking forward to the new strategy document on preventing violent extremism, which we can expect from the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in the near future.

What are FTFs doing?

They are aware of the weaknesses in our societies, and they’re committed to exploiting them. They are attacking our way of life and our freedoms, at resorts (Sousse), markets (Turkey), bars and restaurants (Paris), and on public transport (Tunisia). They attack our freedom of expression, as happened almost exactly a year ago at the offices of Charlie Hebdo.

Their goal is not just to commit violence and spread fear. Their goal is also to distort our structures.

 In the Paris attacks we saw how they exploit travel routes used by refugees to reach Europe. How they poison the debate on migration by conflating it with terrorism. They do this on purpose, to instil fear. But I will say it once again: refugees are not terrorists. They are fleeing the very terrorism and violence we are fighting together. And they need our help. And they need our security.

The terrorists exploit our open borders. And to a certain extent they are successful. Because they make us question the future of Schengen, one of our greatest European achievements.

They exploit our new technologies that allow us to freely communicate across the globe, to transfer money and do business. They know we can’t restrain them without undermining our financial structures.

What kind of action are we taking?

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are already doing a great deal to combat this threat. And since the threat is a hybrid one, we are taking a multitrack approach.

The preventive track: we also focus on identifying and tackling the root causes of radicalisation. Because in the end, prevention is always more efficient than trying to take action after the fact. Stopping the radicals of today from becoming the terrorists of tomorrow should also remain a top priority. We need more substantive, evidence-based analyses, like those produced by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism and the Admin Unit, both of which are present here today. We also need to continue our policies to engage with young people, using teachers, police officers, religious leaders and families to ensure we are doing what we can to provide them with alternatives to the tragic and violent path of terrorism.

The military track: many of us have soldiers on the ground risking their lives to counter terrorism. I'm talking about not only the Anti-ISIL Coalition, but also the Multinational Joint Task Force, which is fighting Boko Haram, and AMISOM, which is fighting al Shabaab. We’re not only fighting them with weapons; we also provide training and strategic advice to local forces.

The police track: our police forces work together to share information and monitor possible suspects. Police officers in our communities are engaging with young people at risk.

The financial track: a new UN resolution 2253 has just been adopted that allows us to crack down even harder on terrorist financing. We have the FATF recommendations and the national, European and UN sanctions lists.

The policy track: for example, in the GCTF we aim to tackle the whole 'terrorist life cycle', from radicalisation to violent extremism. This means addressing issues such as the harmful effect of ransom payments and the process of reintegrating returnees and other extremists into society.

And in our responses we should neither be guided by obsessions, nor should we fall into naiveté. In contrast with the extremists that we fight, we act in clear recognition of the moral and legal borders set by the rule of law and human rights. And we do so taking due account of the dilemma's posed by the demands for security and privacy. Finding the proper balance isn’t always easy, but I’m convinced that the two at the end of the day strengthen each other.