A Global Approach to Rooting Out Terrorism
International Law Enforcement Academy Training Program Addresses Underlying Causes of Terrorism and How to Counter Violent Extremism
The United States woke up to the reality of terrorism on 9/11, but many of the African nations that participated in a recent FBI-led program aimed at countering violent extremism have been fighting terror attacks on their soil for decades.
“Terrorism is a global problem, and it requires a global response,” said Special Agent Rick Hernandez, who provides counterterrorism training to the FBI’s international partners. The Bureau’s highest priority is to prevent terror attacks in the United States, Hernandez noted. “But if we can prevent an act of terrorism anywhere in the world, it helps keep America safe and it helps keep our partners safe.”
The recent training—conducted at the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Roswell, New Mexico—included delegations from Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Angola, Botswana, and Mozambique. Delegates were police officers, prosecutors, and judges, and many had firsthand experience dealing with terrorism in their countries.
In July 2010, suicide bombers in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala carried out attacks on crowds watching a World Cup soccer match, and more than 70 people were killed. Susan Okalany, a member of the Uganda delegation at ILEA, was appointed lead prosecutor in the case after her colleague in that position was assassinated.
“Uganda is a young population—about 50 percent of Ugandans are below the age of 18,” said Okalany, who is now a judge. “While we have universal primary and secondary education, the rate of enrollment and retention in schools is not very high.” Without the proper programs for young people, she believes many could be indoctrinated and radicalized by extremist groups.
Other delegates shared similar concerns—as well as insights—about the threat from terrorism in their countries.
“We challenge them together,” Hernandez said. “We ask them to search for ideas, we compare them with ours, and then we find common ground. We ask each other: How can we work together? How can we be proactive to prevent acts of terrorism?”
A theme that emerged from the training was thinking “left of the boom.”
The FBI, like many law enforcement agencies, has become expert at responding to the “right of the boom,” which is what happens immediately after a terrorist bomb explodes. “We have teams, we have specialists, and we react,” Hernandez said. “Unfortunately, we’ve learned that just reacting means you are already too late. Once the attack has happened, people have died.”
“Terrorism is a global problem, and it requires a global response.”
Rick Hernandez, special agent, FBI Headquarters
ILEA participant Frank Emeka, who heads the Nigeria Police Force’s criminal investigations and intelligence divisions, discusses how the entire community must work together to counter violent extremism. | A member of the Nigerian delegation at ILEA listens to an FBI instructor discussing the underlying causes of terrorism and ways law enforcement can be more proactive in preventing acts of violent extremism. | The International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) building in Roswell, New Mexico.
The idea is to look left of the boom—a military term referring to the timeline before an explosion—and to trace the journey that individuals take from being average citizens to being violent extremists, and to find a way to interrupt that process.
“What made this average citizen start thinking about violence as an answer to express his or her disenchantment with the world?” Hernandez asked. “Can we identify people when they are vulnerable? Can we detect someone when they are going through the phases of radicalization? Can we prevent it?”
Frank Emeka, a member of the Nigerian delegation who heads the Nigeria Police Force’s criminal investigations and intelligence divisions, described the jihadist group Boko Haram as a serious threat to his country’s national security.
Before attending the ILEA training, “perhaps our emphasis back home was more on suppression and containment,” Emeka said. “One of the things this training has done for me is to open my eyes to the other side of the boom, which means we must begin to look beyond the traditional law enforcement tools.”
Beyond providing training and instruction to America’s international partners, a fundamental part of the ILEA mission (see sidebar) is to bring regional nations’ law enforcement leaders and decision makers together to address shared threats and to promote lasting friendships and professional networks.
“We cannot deal with terrorism alone,” explained Gilbert Masengeli, a member of the Kenyan delegation. “We need to partner. We need to communicate.” Masengeli, a commissioner with Kenya’s National Police Service, added, “At ILEA, we’ve come to learn how we can deal with countering violent extremism. We share our problems and see the best way of how we counter it. We’ll be looking at all of these facts when we go home.”
“The criminal groups, they have relationships, they have contacts around the world. As police officers, as members of the law enforcement community, we ought to make even bigger contacts.”
Frank Emeka, ILEA delegate, Nigeria Police Force
If the terrorists are using social media to radicalize youth, said Emeka, “we must match them skill for skill. We must begin to make counternarratives and counterradicalization messages. We must engage our people.” As for the ILEA concept of networking, delegates believe it is beneficial—and necessary.
“The criminal groups, they have relationships, they have contacts around the world,” Emeka said. “As police officers, as members of the law enforcement community, we ought to make even bigger contacts. Today, if I have a challenge with a crime and a suspect who has escaped from Nigeria and he’s in Kenya or he’s in Uganda, apart from the formal processes of the diplomatic channels, or the well-defined structures of Interpol or other international bodies, I have a very special contact, a one-on-one contact which I can leverage, all courtesy of the ILEA program.”
“The hope,” said the FBI’s Hernandez, “is that through the dialogue and the exchange of ideas and perspectives, the delegates from these countries will leave with a new, proactive perspective on countering violent extremism.”
He added that acts of terror transcend borders. “Every time there’s a terrorist attack in another country, it’s somebody’s daughter, son, brother, or mother who’s a victim. They are victims like the victims we had on September 11, 2001,” Hernandez said. “There’s really no difference.”
ILEA: A Model of International Partnerships
In the 1990s, not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, former Soviet countries in Eastern Europe asked the FBI for help. These emerging democracies had little experience with Western methods of policing and operating a criminal justice system under the rule of law. What resulted was the first International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), in Budapest, Hungary.
Today, additional academies—funded and run by the U.S. Department of State—operate in Thailand, Africa, El Salvador, and the United States. The ILEA mission, then and now, is to fight terrorism and transnational crime through specialized joint training and fostering international partnerships.
The program is designed to bring regional nations’ law enforcement leaders and decision makers together to address shared threats and to promote lasting friendships and professional networks.
A recent training at the U.S. ILEA, in Roswell, New Mexico, was attended by delegates from six African nations and focused on countering violent extremism.
“Terrorism is a transnational issue,” said FBI Special Agent Rick Hernandez, a course instructor. “Foreign fighters cross borders to reach a battlefield, and their ideology can cross the borders with them. The ILEA allows us to mirror that kind of transnational setting by bringing together law enforcement partners from different countries to fight the violent extremists that threaten us all. By training our partners,” he explained, “we are helping to protect America.”
The professional friendships established through ILEA are also invaluable. “What we are doing is building an international network to make our country safer and to make the world safer,” Hernandez said. “That network, that collaboration, is the ultimate ILEA effect.”