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Ministry of Interior

06 Mar 2019

Integration and collaboration: The key elements to countering terrorism for Gulf countries

The world is growing increasingly “insecure”, with events such as the Pulwama suicide bombing that killed more than 40 Indian soldiers in disputed Kashmir a couple of weeks ago.

Suicide bombers and terrorist attacks across Europe and other regions are now becoming all too common. As such, the Gulf and the Middle East at large are focusing their attention on counter-terrorism efforts and vital measures for prevention.

But experts believe the task at hand will not necessarily be as straight-forward as many may think. “One cannot completely stop the threat of terrorism,” said Riad Kahwaji, Founder and CEO of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai. “Global and regional powers have adversaries in many places. These adversaries could be states or radical groups advocating political or religious ideologies – this is a historical fact that still exists today and will continue in the future.”

As a result, these powers must always remain vigilant by heavily investing in their respective intelligence services. Mr. Kahwaji spoke about acquiring sufficient early warning capabilities through human, signal and image intelligence, which will enable the security services to pre-empt and prevent terrorist attacks.

He pointed to intelligence cooperation as the most important component needed in counter-terrorism. “This cooperation should be internal between the multiple security agencies of the state, or external with intelligence agencies of friendly and allied nations,” he noted. “One state alone cannot confront today’s highly sophisticated global terrorist groups. It needs to gather information and acquire knowledge about tactics, techniques and procedures of these terrorist groups, their communications channels and transportation routes.”

“One state alone cannot confront today’s highly sophisticated global terrorist groups” – Riad Kahwaji, Founder and CEO of INEGMA

Many states do not have their own satellites to monitor movement and communications of these groups, and hence need to rely on their large allies to acquire them and use them to bolster their security and prevent attacks. “But there can never be 100 per cent effective security measures because terrorist groups learn and evolve in their operations,” he argued. “Hence, security agencies must work hard to stay up-to-date in intelligence gathering and training on new systems and hardware to counter terrorist threats.”

For Javed Ali, a senior behavioural scientist at the RAND Corporation in Washington, DC, each terrorist incident is different. “Terrorist attacks are based on a number of different factors, such as the local dynamics, the security conditions on the ground, the threat actor in particular and their intentions and capabilities,” he explained. “Sometimes, there is a timing aspect to an attack because specific dates or events are deliberately targeted although that does not appear to be the case with the Pulwama incident. It’s very complex and there is no generic answer, but you have to ask yourself what the attackers were trying to achieve, knowing it would not only invoke a retaliatory response from India or a crackdown from the Pakistanis, but it has also heightened regional tension and that’s sometimes not a consideration in terrorist attacks.”


“Terrorist attacks are based on a number of different factors, such as the local dynamics, the security conditions on the ground, the threat actor in particular and their intentions and capabilities” - Javed Ali, senior behavioural scientist, RAND Corporation, Washington, DC

Every terrorist attack must be looked at through its own prism to be able understand all the dynamics around it. “Counter-terrorism to me is the incorporation of multiple tools of national power to combat various terrorist threats,” noted Mr Ali, whose work has focused on counter terrorism for almost 30 years. “Some countries view it more from a perspective of law enforcement, or prevention, or even foreign assistance programs.” 

He spoke of a whole spectrum of activity that constitutes counter-terrorism, from aid and assistance to hard power, military force, law enforcement action, intelligence operations, and “everything in between”.

In terms of challenges, he mentioned that military force alone, over the track record of modern terrorism, will not generally lead to strategic defeat of a terrorist group, with only a few instances recorded over the last 40 to 50 years. “When you fast forward to the ISIS campaign, a lot of military force was applied over the last four years to take fighters off the battlefield, to prevent the group’s ability to raise funds and they lost their Caliphate,” Mr Ali stressed. “Does that mean group is defeated? It’s an open question because, depending on who you talk to, even the US military, they claim there are still thousands of ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, so while the international coalition may have removed the Caliphate, it doesn’t mean that the group is militarily defeated or the threat is gone.”

In terms of preventive measures, he gave the example of the 9/11 terrorist act in the US, which led its government to reorganise itself, including reforming the intelligence, law enforcement, and military communities, and becoming much more integrated to meet the growing threat of terrorism. “The key principles were integration, collaboration and information sharing,” he explained. “If you don’t have these areas, terrorists will exploit them. From that tragedy, the US implemented a tremendous amount of governmental change and reform.”

In the Gulf, countries are being urged to think about counter-terrorism from multiple perspectives, like prevention, physical infrastructure, intelligence and information sharing. According to Mr Ali, countries in the region can draw lessons from the US’ experience in counter-terrorism but also adopt strategies and policies that are tailored to their own circumstances and capabilities.

For Maqsoud Kruse, Executive Director of the counter-extremism think tank Hedayah in Abu Dhabi, one of the strategies adopted by some Muslim countries for confronting and dealing with violent extremism is joining global multilateral efforts, such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), the Global Coalition to Counter Daesh (GCCD), and the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT).


“These partnerships provide a platform for practical engagement with the international community and allow the Muslim countries to be active in the global effort to confront violent extremism” - Maqsoud Kruse, Executive Director of the counter-extremism think tank Hedayah in Abu Dhabi

“Some Muslim countries, such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, have developed and implemented national strategies to deal with violent extremism based on their specific challenges, levels of threats, and local considerations.”

He spoke of a “multi-axiom strategy,” which approaches violent extremism from multiple angles and confronts it at the grassroots level to prevent extremism. “The UAE, for example, has used this strategy,” he said. “It aims at pre-empting the root causes of violent extremism by combining three complementary approaches: security diplomacy, legislative infrastructure, and a culture of moderation.”

The second is the “de-radicalization strategy”, which is based on the development and implementation of rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for detained violent extremists, and which Saudi Arabia and Jordan have applied. Its aim is to treat former violent extremists by providing a variety of programmes that use re-education, religious and psychological counselling, and family support for reintegration. “It is necessary to understand the complex reality of the political and ideological debates on Islamism and secularism in the Muslim World in order to initiate countering violent extremism strategies,” Mr Kruse argued. “It also helps to predict and portray the role that these debates will have and have had in shaping future political ideologies and, hence, the strategies needed to defeat violent extremism.”

Gulf countries are on the right track. Events such as the International Exhibition for National Security and Resilience (ISNR) in Abu Dhabi and the Saudi National Security and Risk Prevention Expo (SNSR) in Riyadh, are keeping up with latest technologies and strategies in the field to disseminate to governments and experts alike.

Mr Kahwaji noted that Gulf countries had done an “excellent job” in building their security enforcement and intelligence gathering capabilities. “They have been acquiring the latest technologies and restructuring their agencies to produce more effective results and maintaining a good level of training,” he said. “They must stay on course and maintain the good lead they have against terrorist organizations.”

However, one area no state can do enough in, he argued, is intelligence sharing and cooperation with its neighbours and friends. “They have to always to look into means to bolster and improve this cooperation to yield faster and more effective results,” he concluded.

“They have to pay particular attention to cyber terrorism, where these groups are becoming more active in attacking and threatening state infrastructure and trying to appeal to the minds of the young in order to recruit them”.

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