The importance of chemical detection in the context of terrorist threats, part III

This third and last part of the ongoing series refers to the previous article which indicated three groups of entities capable of using different chemical agents to kill people and, as a consequence, achieve political and military aims. One of them – states, such as Iraq and Syria – was mentioned several weeks earlier. Now, it is high time to analyze the role of terrorist groups and experts cooperating with them. As written before, the Islamic State is the leading known terrorist group interested in using chemical agents to reach political and religious goals. Furthermore, Islamic State has acquired scientists who not only have knowledge in the field of chemical sciences, but also gained practical experience that allows the production and customization of chemical materials in the process of their militarization. This objective is not simple to reach and, as the latest data indicate, terrorist groups recruit people from Europe or the United States not only for military actions or terrorist attacks, but also for carrying out scientific and industrial activities.

Investigating the influence of ISIS fighters and experts cooperating with them is extremely difficult and complicated. A multitude of factors combined with limited access to data makes it impossible to precisely determine the number of people cooperating with terrorists. Therefore, researchers have only fragmentary data and extensive sociological, and psychological research at their disposal. The possibility of cooperation with people who have left the terrorist activity gives one of the few opportunities for, at least partial, understanding of the motivations that influenced the decision on taking up terrorist activity. Research on radicalization and deradicalisation, as well as on counter-terrorism, is today one of the most dynamically developing areas of EU and individual states activities related to terrorism. According to data from the sources indicated above, one of the currently pressing problems are foreign terrorist fighters. The most common definition of this term comes from United Nations Security Council resolution 2178, which says that foreign terrorist fighters are individuals  who  travel  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,  including  in  connection  with  armed conflict. From the European security point of view as well as of individual states, foreign terrorist fighters are a kind of internal security problem, considered in two dimensions: internal and external. On one hand, European Community is dealing with EU citizens who leave Europe to carry out attacks in other parts of the world, support the activities of terrorist groups in different ways (including through the unlawful use of specialist knowledge) or train for illegal activities. On the other hand, there are EU citizens returning from conflict zones to Europe, who are radicalized after attending terrorist training camps and ready to take any action for benefits of a terrorist group, including attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure. In both dimensions there are also fighters interested in chemical attacks and people who have specialized knowledge in this area. The latter are inclined not only to train future terrorists, but also to develop technologies that allow the use of chemicals within, among others, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). So far, ISIS has achieved success in recruiting hundreds of foreign fighters, including also those who have degrees in physics, chemistry, and computer science. Some of them worked in Saddam Hussein’s offensive chemical weapons program.   

So far, no terrorist attack using chemical weapons has been noticed in the EU countries. Nevertheless, returning foreign terrorists fighters pose a real risk to the public sphere. Politicians, public administration, safety, and security services are aware of the danger and they are trying now to take organized actions to reverse harmful trends observed both within the Union and outside its borders. Over the past few years, Member States national laws criminalized travel to conflict zones, thus hindering the recruitment of their citizens to terrorist groups. Moreover, the EU external borders are regularly strengthened, both in terms of intensifying border controls and increasing personal involvement. Last but not least, counter-radicalisation programmes have been established, also at EU level. The EU’s Radicalisation Awareness Network is one of them which tries to reach out to communities most vulnerable and susceptible to terrorist influence. By increasing public awareness and helping excluded communities, as well as by taking effective detection and protection measures, the EU community is seeking to deal with a terrorist threat, including those groups which are determined to use chemical agents.