Taking down organised crime and terrorist networks

As organised crime and terrorist networks grow, aided by encrypted online communications and the 'dark web', an EU-funded project is developing new tools to help first-line community workers and law enforcement agencies identify, prevent and respond to these threats.

Theme: Security 
Framework programme: Horizon 2020 
Countries involved in the project: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechia, Germany, Israel, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland

In recent years, Europe has been at increased risk of extremist violence and terrorism – from Islamic fundamentalists, far-right fascist hate groups and others, fuelled by online radicalisation and encrypted communication networks.

At the same time, national and international law enforcement agencies are battling growing networks of organised criminals that are increasingly taking their activities online, using the notorious underground ‘dark web’ to commit illegal acts.

Faced with these threats, the EU-funded TAKEDOWN project is developing tools to understand why people turn to terrorism or organised crime, and what can be done to combat the problem.

‘Organised crime is a big issue with more money from online crime entering the regular economy through money laundering and suspect real estate investment, as well as trafficking of drugs and people,” says project coordinator Florian Huber of SYNYO Gmbh in Austria. ‘We are also seeing cybercrime become much more prevalent, with attacks on companies, state institutions and infrastructure, as well as fraud, blackmail and child pornography.’

Digging down
First, the TAKEDOWN team carried out in-depth research, analysing the latest knowledge and technology for combatting violent extremism and organised crime, putting together a detailed picture of the current situation.

Next, it took a deeper look at the issues, carrying out online surveys and focus groups with hundreds of law enforcement officers and first-line practitioners – such as social workers, youth workers, teachers and community teams – across more than 20 countries. The TAKEDOWN team also held workshops with organisations developing solutions aimed at detecting and preventing illegal online activities, such as cybercrime and fraud.

This information fed into the development of a sophisticated model designed to reveal more about the kinds of environments and situations out of which organised crime or radical extremism can emerge.

‘This research is vital if we are to understand the underlying causes of radicalisation or the motivation to get involved in organised crime – for example, social inequality or exclusion,’ says Huber. ‘We can then apply these insights into making a difference and keeping Europe safe.’

Tools and training
The ultimate aim of TAKEDOWN is the development of two online platforms – one for first-line practitioners such as social workers and community teams, and the other for law enforcement.

Both will provide appropriate tools, support and practical advice to identify, report and prevent terrorism and organised crime. The law enforcement portal will also act as an online ‘marketplace’ for small companies offering policing solutions such as tools for combating online crime or providing analysis of social media posts in local languages, which may struggle to get on the radar of national or international agencies.

Training is especially important for both groups in such a fast-changing world, particularly in the online arena, so the TAKEDOWN team has been developing training based on insights from their research in the field which will also be available through the digital platforms.

Although violent extremism and organised crime continue to pose a threat to the safety and security of European citizens, TAKEDOWN highlights the importance of bringing together a wide range of experts to find meaningful, effective solutions.

‘This project brought together 18 partners from many different disciplines – sociologists, criminologists, experts on security and counter-terrorism, digital specialists and law enforcement,’ says Huber. ‘We have all been learning from each other, sharing different perspectives on the issues and what we should be doing, which has been very fruitful for all partners.’

Project details

Project acronym: TAKEDOWN
Participants: Austria (Coordinator), Spain, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Israel, Czechia, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Belgium, Poland
Project N°: 700688
Total costs: € 3 421 063
EU contribution: € 3 146 375
Duration: September 2016 to August 2019

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