The 9th Elcano Forum on Global Terrorism discussed the danger of radicalism and the rise of the extreme right, which is worrying for the United States and Europe

The Muslim Brotherhood seeks the gradual Islamisation of European societies

photo_camera PHOTO/AFP - Flags of the Muslim Brotherhood

Abel Vecino, Legal Attaché, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), of the Embassy of the United States of America in Spain, emphasised the worrying rise of violent extremism on racial and ethnic grounds in the United States and Europe, insisting on strengthening shared collaboration in the face of this new global threat, which he described as "domestic terrorism". He also stressed the important work being done to prevent terrorist groups from spreading their messages via the internet.

These statements were made at the 9th Elcano Forum on Global Terrorism, which this year addressed "extremism related to terrorism in the West: emerging and persistent challenges". Experts on the subject analysed the challenges posed by recurrent phenomena such as radical Islamism and other new phenomena that are gaining strength in the United States and Europe, such as the rise of the extreme right. 

The Legal Attaché, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Abel Vecino, insisted on a solid and effective reciprocity in terms of information and intelligence to address the judicial standard investigation techniques of both countries, Spain and the USA, together with the exchange of experiences as established parameters to combat this scourge and without ignoring forms of action versed in the technological system that eliminate extremist content on the Internet. "Spain has a bitter experience and we thank them for their cooperation because when you give oxygen to hatred, it comes out of the stones. "It is a very relevant threat for the internal security of each country due to its rapid expansion at this time," said Abel Vecino.


At the first round table, Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Programme on Extremism at George Washington University, warned that the aim of this forum is to contribute to a pending debate in Spanish society about the Muslim Brotherhood, whose objectives in Europe are: to become leaders in European communities, to interlocute with the privileged members of the administrations or official representatives of a homogeneous community, to approach the legislative power and to polarise society with a false face. Vidino also warned of the imminent existence of the risk and breeding ground of a legalistic Islamism that operates within the law, "the greatest threat to democracy and the rule of law: the Muslim Brotherhood and its presence in Spain, mixed with political lobbying and jihadist derivatives". The Muslim Brotherhood pursues the gradual Islamisation of European societies, protecting Islamic identity and social anchoring through an orthodox interpretation of Islam.

According to his own words in a study with Sergio Altuna, associate researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute, Granada, Madrid, Valencia and Catalonia are the main centres of Muslim Brotherhood activity in Europe. The presence of networks linked to the movement is not limited to these cities. Associated activists operate in other regions with varying degrees of intensity.  The Islamic Centre in Spain was quick to realise the strategic importance of where Nizar Ahmad al-Sabbagh, the Brotherhood's first leader and founder of the centre, settled to serve as leader and khatib (Friday prayer leader).

In conclusion, Vidino posed a question: "Is the Brotherhood a threat or a terrorist group?" and thus gave way to the final presentation of his speech on the Brotherhood network's push for an Islamophobic narrative (Islam is under attack), coupled with the justification of violence. Arguments that are making an impact on the minds of 18 year olds via the internet.


In the second round table debate, Manuel Rodríguez García-Risco, chief commissioner of the Central External Information Unit of the National Police Force, wanted to clarify that the State Security Forces and Corps pursue crimes and not ideological currents, however radical they may be. Behaviour linked to radicalism is sometimes not prosecuted as a terrorist offence. It is worth noting that the jihadist threat in neighbouring countries inspires, through the online spectrum, the recruitment of young people. Recently, local al-Qaeda franchises have been detected, which does not mean that they will commit terrorist acts. Likewise, in August, a returnee from the Balkans was arrested, "which increases our concern, compared to those who return by sea, who are subject to a biometric protocol".

The head colonel of the Special Central Unit 2 of the Guardia Civil's Information Headquarters, Francisco José Vázquez, highlighted the importance of international collaboration with the USA, precisely because of the presence of radicalisation in prisons, together with the emergence of the lone wolf, a phenomenon that does not manifest its presence in organisations. This is a person who does not leave his physical space, connected to the internet, where he consumes content such as the oath of allegiance, making his own explosives, etc. In recent operations, profiles have been identified in the area of conversion, linked to processes of transition to extremism, behavioural problems, membership of the army and recruitment of minors. "It's an explosive cocktail".

Today, there is a change of mechanisms in the production of content in Spanish, linked to networked media tools, exposed to the public and reproduced, in turn, by spontaneous agents. "We are talking about vectors of penetration in Spain and Latin America". "In the identification and dissemination of propaganda, we carry out huge activities with the idea of hindering the terrorist's space, making it uncomfortable for them to use this platform".


In the third panel, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, Professor at the School of Public Service, American University, argued that the far right is a very complex concept to define because it includes neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, anti-LGBTBI, white supremacist, anti-government, and conspiracy theories, without a clear leader. Strategies devised earlier, after 9/11, to deal with terrorist violence do not fit with the emerging far-right phenomenon. There is the democratic deterioration, political violence and white supremacism, embedded in a subculture (the widespread belief that white people are superior to other ethnicities) of global online networks that are driving gun-connected extremism in the media: a full-blown existential threat to immigration, identified with criminality. 

Thus, the human potential of extremism has been growing in a broad spectrum that includes paramilitary training of young people, creation of suspicious Muslim communities, conspiracy theory refuted by the argument that everything European is going to be destroyed by the immigrant, along with anti-COVID movements.

In the closing session, the Secretary of State for Security of the Ministry of the Interior, Rafael Pérez Ruiz, recalled that the latest police actions have managed to identify 1,124 user profiles that were dedicated to disseminating terrorist and extremist content, and have located and removed 563 digital contents on 106 websites, which served as a guide for the manufacture of explosives or for the preparation and execution of terrorist attacks. 


In any case, the Secretary of State for Security stressed the need to continue to be "proactive" in the fight against terrorist groups in order to anticipate their recruitment, indoctrination and training plans and to dismantle their financing structures around the world.

The Elcano Royal Institute Forum has the support of the US Embassy in Spain, the Secretary of State for Security of the Ministry of the Interior and the Program on Extremism of the George Washington University. 

Carmen Chamorro García, CIP and ACPE Director