Bridging Transatlantic Voices: Civic Approaches to Confronting Violent Extremism

Civic Approaches to Confronting Violent Extremism
Abbas Barzegary,Dr. Shawn Powers andNagham El Karhili, September 2016

Bridging Transatlantic Voices is a civil society dialogue project funded by the European Commission’s Foreign Policy Instrument. The programme focuses on civil society efforts in countering violent extremism (CVE). Over three years (2015-2018), the British Council with partners from Georgia State University and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue will hold six workshops in six cities on this subject.

The project will also produce a total of three reports containing sector-wide, civil society and policy recommendations for the European Union and major CVE organisations and government entities to utilise in their efforts towards this widely popular issue of countering violent extremism. This first report was released in September 2016 and is authored by scholars at Georgia State University.

“Shooting in the right direction”: Anti-ISIS Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq

Anti-ISIS Foreign Fighters
Henry Tuck, Tanya Silverman and Candace Smalley, August 2016

This report represents the first publication in ISD’s new “Horizons” series, launched to examine emerging trends related to violent extremism or CVE.

Whilst the term “foreign fighter” is commonly associated with these individuals joining ISIS and other extreme Islamist groups, there has been far less attention on the hundreds of other foreign fighters that have travelled to fight against ISIS. This report builds on ISD’s research into the Islamist foreign fighter and female migrant phenomenon, and is based on a dataset of 300 anti-ISIS foreign fighters. It sheds light on this understudied group, examining who they are, who they are fighting with, and why they are prepared to participate in a far-away conflict. It also considers the legal frameworks of the countries providing the largest numbers of anti-ISIS fighters and the possible future implications for the fighters themselves, as well as their national governments.

The Impact of Counter-Narratives

The Impact of Brexit
Tanya Silverman, Christopher J. Stewart, Zahed Amanullah and Jonathan Birdwell, August 2016

The concept of creating counter-narrative in order to push back against extremist recruitment and propaganda has become well established in recent years. In practice, however, it has proven difficult to curate this content in a systematic way, target it toward at risk audiences, and – most importantly – measure constructive impact on their behaviour.

ISD’s Impact of Counter Narratives report presents the development, deployment, and evaluation of three counter- narrative campaigns orchestrated by the Against Violent Extremism network and Jigsaw (an incubator within Alphabet that uses technology to address geopolitical issues) with additional in-kind and financial support from Facebook and Twitter. The report provides fresh evidence that social media campaigns can help spark de-radicalisation.

The Impact of Brexit on far-right groups in the UK: Research Briefing

The Impact of Brexit
Melanie Smith and Chloe Colliver, July 2016

This research briefing uncovers the impact of both the announcement of the Brexit vote and the murder of Jo Cox MP on UK far right groups. Despite huge press attention on the issues of xenophobia and racism following the Brexit vote, very little research has emerged to show how the result has affected levels of support for existing far right political parties and street movements like ‘Britain First’ or the ‘English Defence League.’ Monitoring and analysing the presence of these groups on Twitter shows that followership of all of the five groups studied increased following these two events.

This study also investigated the use of derogatory xenophobic language on Twitter over the last two months, revealing that the election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London and the Orlando terror attacks had a much more significant impact than the Brexit result.

ISD launches a new series of reports looking at the multiple security challenges now facing Turkey

The Impact of Brexit
July 2016

On the back of a failed coup attempt in July 2016, Turkey has entered into a period of uncertainty and the world looks on to see how far the Erdogan administration will go to ensure its own security and ensure any further attempts to stage an uprising are nullified. Paralleling this, continuing regional instability threatens Turkey’s borders and the threat posed by extremism and terrorism is ever present. In a series of newly published reports, a group of distinguished authors look at the challenges facing Turkey geopolitically; from the threat posed by Jihadist recruitment, including al-Nusra and ISIS; and by internal radicalism. Turkey now occupies the unenviable position of addressing these challenges whilst maintaining state solidity, all of this against a backdrop of increasing international scrutiny of the Turkish Government’s methods of seeking to impose control.

Click below to view series publications:

Youth Innovation Labs: A Model for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism

The Counter-narrative Handbook
Dr Erin Saltman, Moli Dow and Kelsey Bjornsgaard, June 2016

The following publication discusses the development, implementation and evaluation of Youth Innovation Labs. Labs are immersive, activist-led events that create a secure environment to facilitate capacity-building while giving participants the contacts, tools and resources needed to develop strategic campaigns for preventing and countering violent extremism.

The purpose of this publication is to share the methodology and structure that YouthCAN has developed, as well as the best-practices and outcomes from YouthCAN’s work with young activists and creatives.

Guidance for International Youth Engagement in PVE and CVE

The Counter-narrative Handbook
Dr Erin Saltman and Jas Kirt, June 2016

Over the last several months, ISD’s Youth Civil Activism Network (YouthCAN) has made a concerted effort to reach out to young activists and garner important feedback regarding the UN PoA and Resolution 2250 in relation to specific national and regional contexts.

The YouthCAN UN PVE Survey was distributed to young activists between April – June 2016 and contained 25 questions addressing key elements of the UN PoA and Resolution 2250. The survey was distributed online to the YouthCAN network, as well as a range of international youth networks.

This report presents the findings from the YouthCAN UN PVE Survey in order to bridge the gap between international policymakers and the expressed needs and concerns of young PVE activists.

The Counter-narrative Handbook

The Counter-narrative Handbook
Henry Tuck and Tanya Silverman, June 2016

Given the proliferation of violent extremist content online in recent years, developing effective counter-narratives – messages that offer a positive alternative to extremist propaganda, or deconstruct or delegitimise extremist narratives and challenge extremist ideologies – is an increasingly necessary alternative to online censorship.

This Handbook, funded by Public Safety Canada through the Kanishka Project, was created to help anyone looking to proactively respond to extremist propaganda with counter-narrative campaigns, and is intended as a beginner’s guide for those with little or no previous experience of counter-narrative campaigning. It takes readers through the main stages of creating, launching and evaluating an effective counter-narrative campaign. It can also be used alongside ISD’s freely available online Counter-narrative Toolkit, which can be found at

Lone Actor Terrorism: Analysis Paper

Clare Ellis, Raffaello Pantucci, Jeanine de Roy van Zuijdewijn, Edwin Bakker, Benoît Gomis, Simon Palombi and Melanie Smith, February 2016

A systematic analysis of lone-actor terrorists reveals considerable variation in terms of individual characteristics, methodologies, motivations and indicators of violent intent.

Lone Actor Terrorism: Policy Paper 4: – ‘Leakage’ and Interaction with Authorities

Clare Ellis and Raffaello Pantucci, February 2016

This fourth policy paper of the Countering Lone-Actor Terrorism series examines how lone-actor terrorists reveal their intent to commit attacks and recommends a targeted approach based on the characteristics and motivations of the specific threat.

Lone Actor Terrorism: Policy Paper 3 – Motivations, Political Engagement and Online Activity

Melanie Smith, Sabine Barton and Jonathan Birdwell, February 2016

This policy paper makes three key recommendations to European governments and global social media companies based on data collected during the Countering Lone-Actor Terrorism project undertaken by a consortium of partners (RUSI, Chatham House, Leiden University and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue). This research brought to light the significant threat posed by right-wing lone-actor terrorism, as well as the need to continue infiltration and monitoring of violent extremist groups. The paper also recommends that social media companies continue to improve user-based reporting systems to expedite responses in potential cases of lone-actor terrorism.

Lone Actor Terrorism: Policy Paper 2 – Attack Methodology and Logistics
Simon Palombi and Benoît Gomis, February 2016

This second policy paper of the Countering Lone-Actor Terrorism series examines the key variables relating to attack methodology and logistics, and suggests policy recommendations based on the analysis.

Lone Actor Terrorism: Policy Paper 1 – Personal Characteristics of Lone-Actor Terrorists

Prof. Dr. Edwin Bakker and Jeanine de Roy van Zuijdewijn, February 2016

This policy paper emphasises the importance of focusing on different subgroups and of benchmarking in order to accurately interpret results. Likewise, they underline the necessity of lowering barriers to mental health services, as well as multi-agency cooperation.

Lone Actor Terrorism: Database Workshop Paper

Sebastien Feve and Kelsey Bjornsgaard

This paper is the third publication in the Countering Lone-Actor Terrorism (CLAT) project. This paper examines the second workshop of the CLAT Consortium, hosted by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in March 2015, which discussed the development of the project database (based on the definition of lone-actor terrorism agreed at the first workshop) and some of the underlying principles that would inform data collection and retention.

Lone Actor Terrorism: Definitional Workshop Paper

Edwin Bakker and Jeanine de Roy van Zuijdewijn, December 2015

The first step in assessing the nature and scale of the threat posed by lone-actor terrorism in Europe is the establishment of a working definition of the term.

Lone Actor Terrorism: Literature Review

Raffaello Pantucci, Clare Ellis and Lorien Chaplais, December 2015

Lone-actor terrorism is not a new phenomenon; however, research suggests the threat is increasing as pressure from security services forces a tactical adaptation and groups call on those who share their ideology to act alone without direction or support.

One to One Online Interventions – A Pilot CVE Methodology

Ross Frenett and Moli Dow, September 2015

This report outlines the results of the One to One pilot programme undertaken by ISD in partnership with Curtin University and members of the global Against Violent Extremism (AVE) Network. The project aimed to test the viability of an approach based on directly messaging those openly expressing extremist sentiment online and seeking to dissuade them following that path. This report details the results of the pilot programme, outlines lessons learned and invites other organisations to critique these results.

‘Till Martyrdom Do Us Part’ Gender and the ISIS Phenomenon

Erin Marie Saltman & Melanie Smith, May 2015

Representing the second instalment of ISD’s Women and Extremism (WaE) programme, this report explores the phenomenon of Western females travelling to Syria and Iraq in support of ISIS. It first elaborates upon the motivations for these women and girls to migrate, explores some of the diverse range of profiles that have been monitored, and clarifies the role that they are likely to encompass once arriving in ISIS-held territory. Additionally, the report aims to elucidate how current government prevention and de-radicalisation infrastructure may be adapted to deal with this trend.

Blasphemy, Charlie Hebdo, and the Freedom of Belief and Expression

Rashad Ali, February 2015

This briefing paper discusses the reactions to the horrific events that unfolded in Paris in January 2015, with the murders of a group of journalists, a police officer, and members of the Jewish community. Responses have ranged from the slogan ‘Je suis Charlie’ to those highlighting the Muslim victims of terror, to those defending the right to get offended and react, but not violence. So what is blasphemous and insulting about these cartoons? Why has such an extreme perspective on speech been used to explicitly justify murder and acts of terror in the minds of the perpetrators? Rashad Ali discusses the inconsistencies and contradictions in terrorist and extremist interpretations of Islam and blasphemy, and demonstrates the need to highlight the ideological flaws in their narrative.

The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author and do not represent those of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

Becoming Mulan? Female Western Migrants to ISIS

Carolyn Hoyle, Alexandra Bradford & Ross Frenett, January 2015

Launching ISD’s Women and Extremism (WAE) programme, this report focuses on those women that have travelled from the West to ISIS held territory in support of the terrorist organisation. The first in a series of reports, this research draws on our database of known female migrants to ISIS and analyses their reasons for joining the group, the threat they pose and how to stem the flow of women joining ISIS.

Western Foreign Fighters: Innovations in Responding to the Threat

Rachel Briggs OBE & Tanya Silverman, December 2014

The security threat posed by so-called ‘foreign fighters’ is an ever-present fear of Western Governments. The departure of European and North American nationals to war zones to participate in conflict or terrorism-related activities presents a number of potential and serious threats.

This paper argues that Western Governments in particular need to expand their efforts to develop measures to effectively counter the foreign fighter phenomenon. Existing legal and policing measures should be supplemented by (a) building resilience to extremist propaganda, both online and offline; (b) prevention of travel through interventions; and (c) reducing the risk represented by radicalised individuals upon their return and providing support for their parents, families and wider communities.

Old Threat, New Approach: Tackling the Far Right Across Europe

Old Threat, New Approach
Vidhya Ramalingam, March 2014

From 2012 to 2014, ISD and the Swedish Ministry of Justice partnered on a pan-European project to enhance understanding of what works in preventing and countering far-right extremism in 10 countries (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovak Republic, Sweden, the UK).

Over the course of the two-year project, the partnership carried out research and country visits to identify measures taken by civil society and at the policy level. This report is the second in a series of publications to share the key challenges, and lessons learned about what works in tackling far-right extremism.

On the Front Line: A guide to countering far-right extremism

Vidhya Ramalingam, March 2014

From 2012 to 2014, ISD and the Swedish Ministry of Justice partnered on a pan-European project to enhance understanding of what works in preventing and countering far-right extremism in 10 countries (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovak Republic, Sweden, the UK).

It has developed a package of resources which include the above policy report, Old Threat, New Approach: Tackling the Far Right Across Europe, as well as The FREE Initiative – Far-Right Extremism in Europe, an online resource which aims to inspire and connect those tackling the far right and showcase best practices.