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INTERPOL: A Counterterrorism Resource for Police Executives

Ronald K. Noble, Secretary General, INTERPOL

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This article is an excerpt from a speech originally delivered at the IACP global policing summit in Paris, France, September 21–22, 2010. Partnering with the IACP to conduct this event were INTERPOL, FRANCOPOL, and the French National Police. Secretary General Ronald K. Noble was asked to provide an overview on the theme of the conference: terrorism and the prevention of youth radicalization. Following are his remarks.


he IACP has been around since 1893—a full 30 years longer than INTERPOL—and it has kept in step with the most contemporary and pressing concerns facing police executives throughout its long history.

The radicalization of youth is a serious issue for INTERPOL, beyond the obvious threat it poses to global safety and security.

As law enforcers, we make a commitment to strengthen our societies and sow the seeds for a better future. This means helping all our member countries keep their children out of harm’s way—out of the reach of criminals—both as potential victims and as potential perpetrators.

Preventing radicalization is a particularly complex challenge for law enforcement because many of the behaviors associated with it are not in and of themselves criminal.

But there are some practical steps an individual must take to become involved in terrorism. This article discusses how INTERPOL could support you, as police executives, in confronting potential terrorist activity.

Path to Radicalization

At the time of the 9/11 attacks, Fritz Gelowicz, a German convert to Islam, opposed acts of terror, according to testimony he gave to the police.

A little over a year later, he said he was determined to “someday take part in the jihad.”

Gelowicz came from a middle-class family. His mother was a doctor. He was described by friends as a fan of American football and popular music.

At some point, something snapped and everything changed. He violently assaulted a man and ended up in court. He dropped out of school.

He was making his way through what experts call the four stages of radicalization: (1) preradicalization; (2) self-identification; (3) indoctrination; and (4) jihadization. His downward spiral took him to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.

In September 2007—six years after 9/11—the radicalization process was complete.

Gelowicz and two other men were arrested by the German Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt, or BKA). They were members of the Islamic Jihad Union and were planning to carry out simultaneous bombings against airports and American interests in Germany.

After the arrests, the BKA asked INTERPOL for assistance in investigating the case. Thanks to the great support we received from our INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, we were able to help authorities involved link the Islamic Jihad Union to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

This and other information obtained through international police cooperation via INTERPOL enabled prosecutors to charge the men as members of a terrorist organization and not simply as individuals planning a criminal act.

The three men also became the subjects of INTERPOL–United Nations (UN) Security Council Special Notices issued in 2009 and thus the targets of UN counterterrorism sanctions, including the freezing of assets and travel bans.

Gelowicz’s path to radicalization was far from extraordinary.

We just passed the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which killed citizens of more than 90 countries.

That attack, which we could reasonably call the first major one of the Internet era, shed light on a phenomenon few knew about—a phenomenon that has spread in line with the globalization of information and ideas.

It is the advent of the Internet that has made the process of radicalization so much easier to achieve and the task of combating it that much more difficult.

The key elements of the backgrounds of those we can define as “post-Internet” terrorists clearly underline the importance of our efforts to prevent radicalization around the world.

Many of the 9/11 hijackers were well-educated professionals who came from good homes.

The mastermind behind the Bali, Indonesia, bombings in 2002, Imam Samudra, was by all accounts a star pupil with a bright future.

Three of the men implicated in the failed attempt to drive a propane-laden car into Glasgow’s international airport in 2007 were medical doctors.

In 2008, Shirwa Ahmed, a young man of Somali descent, became, authorities believe, the first American citizen to carry out a suicide bombing. He and others like him escaped that country’s instability as refugees, only to return from the United States as extremists.

Men like these—but also, increasingly, women—have opportunities. They are more educated and more successful than most would expect. They frequently do not have criminal records, and they are getting younger.

In France, in 1998, the average age of individuals arrested on terrorism-related charges was 32 years old. By 2005, that figure had dropped to 21 years.

The recruiters are smart. They target young, vulnerable individuals by offering what parents often view as a safer alternative to gangs.

They seek out middle-class students because they are usually not on the radar of law enforcement.

And, they exploit the Internet to their great advantage.

The Internet, the Internet, the Internet—this is what we must focus on as we struggle to keep more of our youth from becoming radicalized.

Al Qaeda has been called a “web-based phenomenon,”1 while technological developments have helped, in the words of one researcher, “transform living rooms into radical madrassas.”2 The number of extremist websites skyrocketed from 12 in 1998 to 4,500 just eight years later.3

Radicals release their videos and messages with English subtitles, in a clear indication of their desire to reach a global, tech-savvy audience.

There are common socioeconomic, psychological, religious, and political factors that push youth adults towards radicalization, but those who cross the extremist threshold do not constitute a distinct, homogeneous group.

According to the New York City Police Department, since 9/11, jihadists comprising 70 nationalities have been captured in about 100 countries around the world.

The threat is global, it is virtual, and it is on our doorsteps.

In September 2010, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, was evacuated following a bomb threat. Fortunately, there was no bomb, but the incident has capped a period of heightened tensions for French officials.

France has been a primary passage point and recruitment base for volunteers for jihad since at least the London, England, bombings in 2005. But the threat the country faces today has never been greater, France’s counterterrorism chief, Bernard Squarcini, has said.

So it is in this environment, under these circumstances, and not just in France but in many countries, that I am here to reemphasize that INTERPOL is uniquely placed to support you in ways that are not possible by only working bilaterally or across highly specialized counterterrorism units.

INTERPOL can empower your front-line officers with access to the global tools and services they need to identify people in possession of the false identity documents that terrorists value so highly.

We can help front-line officers make links between terrorism and other criminal activity.

And we can expand the sharing of information on persons of interest among police in our 188 member countries.

Simply put, INTERPOL connects police across borders and across disciplines.

And this is the key to preventing radicalization. Why?

First of all, radicalization requires networks. It cannot occur in isolation. An individual may be self-radicalized, but that extremism can survive only if the individual finds others out there who share and support radical views.

The Internet permits these individuals to locate other like-minded individuals in any country, anywhere in the world. Eventually, many will connect or cross paths with someone known to law enforcement, even for crimes not related to terrorism.

Through the INTERPOL I-24/7 global police communications system, our global databases and our network of National Central Bureaus in our 188 member countries, police can share information like this—an alias, an identity document number, a photograph, a phone number, a fingerprint, a DNA profile, a vehicle license plate number—instantly and securely, just over the border or around the world.

In addition, we have a network of more than 200 designated contact officers who work with us in fighting terrorism through INTERPOL’s Fusion Task Force, our primary counterterrorism initiative. More than 120 member countries contribute data on active terrorist groups, and our registry currently includes close to 10,000 names of wanted or suspected terrorists.

At the request of a member country, INTERPOL can also issue international notices to warn police of imminent threats, suspicious activity, or modus operandi.

In recent years, we have published global security alerts for hundreds of suspected or convicted terrorists following prison breaks in Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco, and other countries.

I cannot think of any single situation that requires more urgency than when terrorists are on the loose, and it is only through INTERPOL’s network that this type of information can be disseminated quickly throughout the world.

Radicalization also requires physical mobility. Although individuals can learn how to make bombs on the Internet, success takes practice.

A potential terrorist will often have to travel across borders to hone these and other skills at a training camp, or to conduct surveillance, or to plan an attack. And frequently they will need travel documents to do that.

INTERPOL created its database of stolen and lost travel documents in response to the threat posed by terrorists using fraudulent passports to plan or carry out attacks.

Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, used a stolen blank Iraqi passport to enter the U.S., where he claimed political asylum upon arrival. Fraudulent passports were used by or found in the possession of the terrorists involved in the attacks in Madrid in 2004 and in London in 2005. Even one of the 9/11 terrorists attempted to alter an entry in his passport to conceal his previous travel.

This database, the only global repository of its kind, contains almost 24 million records submitted by more than 150 of our member countries.

Through special technology we developed, our member countries have put this and other INTERPOL databases directly into the hands of officers at immigration and border checkpoints.

In 2006, France became one of the first countries to implement this technology at airports. It saw the number of searches it conducted of the databases rise from a few hundred to more than 10 million in just a few years.

As a whole, INTERPOL member countries have conducted more than 450 million searches of the database this year, uncovering more than 41,000 suspect documents—each one a threat or potential threat to our citizens and our borders.

We are now pushing to expand access to these databases beyond airports and other points of entry to any location where there is Internet access.

We are also exploring ways to allow sanctioned searches of the databases by hotel, travel agencies, rental-car companies, and banks—in other words, any service that a potential terrorist would need to plan or carry out an attack.

Connecting the Dots

The targets of terrorist acts may be international, but the steps to getting to that point are unfolding in the streets of your cities, your towns, and your communities.

The language of hate is spreading with unprecedented speed, mobility, and ease of access. The loose networks of extremists behind this hate are located throughout the world, but technology has given them a virtual base of operations.

The only way to counter such a threat is to create an equally powerful network of law enforcement professionals empowered with the tools and know-how they need in the field to connect the dots, make the case, and advance the investigation.

That network is INTERPOL, and I have shared with you some of my perspectives at the international level as its Secretary General.

Many countries have a lot of valuable experience and have seen much success in dealing with radicalization, and I look forward to hearing about those insights.

We will not come up with all of the answers immediately. But [the IACP global policing summit in Paris, France, September 21–22, 2010] is a great step forward as we work to devise common approaches to countering this virus that threatens us all. ■


1Angela Gendron, “Militant Jihadism: Radicalization, Conversion, Recruitment,” Trends in Terrorism 2006, no. 4 (Ottawa: Integrated Threat Assessment Centre, 2006), 15 (accessed December 17, 2010).
2Ibid., at 17.
3House of Commons, Communities and Local Government Committee, “Preventing Violent Extremism, Sixth Report of Session 2009–10” (March 30, 2010), 81, (accessed December 22, 2010); and Simon Wiesenthal Center research, as cited in INTERPOL Criminal Analysis Service, “A Changing Modus Operandi: Recruitment Methods of International Terror Networks,” (research from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, April 2007).

Please cite as:

Ronald K. Noble, "INTERPOL: A Counterterrorism Resource for Police Executives," The Police Chief 78 (March 2011): 64-66.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVII, no. 3, March 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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