The Evolution of the Terrorist Threat in the Mediterranean

Since the 1960s, the international community and, in particular, the Mediterranean region coexist with a phenomenon that we might call contemporary terrorism.

Terrorism is a particularly dangerous phenomenon, as it constitutes a form of unconventional conflict characterized by criminal violence; political, politico-religious, or socio-political motivation; clandestine structures and dynamics; and action by non-state groups, sometimes backed by sponsor states. It should be noted, moreover, that numerous terrorist groups operate both domestically and internationally.

Multiple sources of contemporary terrorism afflict the Mediterranean region: Rightist and leftist brands of extremism; intemperate ethnic-nationalist-separatist aspirations; the paradoxically violent pursuit of such values as human rights, environmentalism, and peace; and, finally, religious radicalism.

In the course of the last two decades, the terrorist menace in the Mediterranean region has greatly increased because of religious radicalism, which pursues religion not as faith – that is, the relationship between believer and Creator – but as ideology and therefore injects itself into the political sphere. While, in the course of history, no religion has been immune to degeneration by fanatical and violent minorities, at present it is Islamic radicalism that stands out, but must be distinguished from the common and peaceful practice of Islam.

Islamic radicalism, referred to as jihadism, is a much more widespread phenomenon than the notorious al-Qaida or “The Base”. The demise of Osama bin Laden cannot be considered the end of al-Qaida and, even less so, of jihadism. Today, over one-half of the terroristic groups, whether rigidly or flexibly structured, belong to the jihadist fold. These groups are complemented by small spontaneous and ephemeral aggregations, nonetheless responsible for  serious violent attacks.

The rise and expansion of the radical Islamic brand of terrorism has substantially increased:

  1. Transnational terrorism;
  2. Suicide terrorist attacks;
  3. Indiscriminate attacks in public places and against the transportation system;
  4. Radical religious proselytism in prisons;
  5. Two-track structures comprised of a terrorist element and a support element, the latter of which, partially under the guise of pursuing religious or charitable ends, is able to obtain  funds even from unwitting donors in the belief that they are contributing to social wellbeing.

The acquisition and employment of weapons of mass destruction also fall within the stated intentions of jihadism, driven by the conviction of fulfilling a “religious duty”.

Moreover, the jihadist movement, together with its terrorist components, is potentially capable of infiltrating and conditioning demonstrations and protests currently underway in Northern Africa and the Middle East.

To date, two factors have significantly prevented Islamic radical groups from carrying out attacks against individuals on a selective basis in various Euro-Mediterranean countries.

The first factor is due to the limited number of second-or-third-generation non-integrated radical Islamic immigrants and of European converts to radical Islam having, in both cases, an adequate knowledge of individual human targets that, according to the “terrorist calculus,” are remunerative because of their role in institutions abhorred  by jihadism.

The second factor entails the scarcity of resources required for selective terrorism – operationally more demanding than the indiscriminate option – against specific individuals.

Should Islamic radicalism acquire the capability to arm itself with weapons of mass destruction and/or increase selective targeting in the Euro-Mediterranean region, an additional serious threat would have to  be countered.

The struggle against terrorism, regardless of roots and motivation, requires time, will, analytical and operational skills, resources, and cooperation. At the national level, cooperation necessarily entails a concerted effort by the public and private sectors. At the global level, effective bi-national and multinational cooperation is necessary, besides the indispensable contribution of  international organizations.

Address by Prof. Vittorfranco Pisano, Chairman of the Department of Security and Intelligence, UNINTESS (International University of Social Sciences, Mantua), at the Conference on “Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean,” organized by the Italian Atlantic Committee in cooperation with the Lucania Atlantic Club  and the Ministry of Youth (Potenza, 20th June 2011).