The Islamic State group may be defeated geographically in the Middle East, but radical extremism is spreading to other parts of the world, and a new crop of potential terrorists now in prison will be out in a few years.
A week after a deadly terrorist attack in eastern France, a top international law enforcement official warned that countries should brace for future assailants mirroring the profile of the alleged gunman Cheriff Chekatt, a man with an extensive prison record.
Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock says a second wave of radicals linked to the Islamic State group and other organizations may soon emerge from jail. The inmates, he warns, are serving relatively short sentences for lesser terrorism-related charges, but may have become hardened in prison.
“This generation of early supporters or early terrorists will be released in the next couple of years — in two, three, four, five. We will see a wave of those who need to be released, and will again perhaps be part of a terrorist group, or those supporting terrorist activity,” Stock said.
Despite deradicalization experiments in several countries, Stock says prisons remain a top incubator for radical ideology.
Since the Islamic State group’s geographical defeat in Syria and Iraq, it and other movements have migrated to places like sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where they compete and sometimes cooperate with other extremist groups. Homegrown terrorism is another threat, with cases like Chekatt, a native of Strasbourg, France, who killed five people and injured a dozen others in his hometown last week.
Based in Lyon, France, Interpol is the world’s only global police organization, with 194 member states. The body aims to intensify international cooperation in fighting criminal activity, ranging from drug and human trafficking to sex crimes and terrorism.
Interpol recently emerged from high drama, after its former president Meng Hongwei was detained in China over corruption allegations and last month’s election to replace him saw South Korea’s Kim Jong-yang win over a controversial Russian candidate. But speaking to reporters in Paris, Stock emphasized the body’s apolitical mandate, noting Interpol committee members like Meng serve on a sort of honorary capacity.
“What we saw was a Chinese official arrested by Chinese authorities on Chinese soil. That is what happened,” Stock said. “That is an issue of sovereignty of a member country … it is not in Interpol’s mandate to judge what a sovereign member country is doing.”
Stock says Interpol is building what he calls a global early-warning system against terrorist activity, including a database on foreign terrorist fighters that has zoomed from profiles of a dozen individuals in 2012 to 44,000 today.
Another key challenge is policing the so-called Dark Net — parts of the internet purposefully not open to public view. Stock says 60 percent of the Dark Net’s content deals with illegal material.