Bundeskriminalamt (BKA)

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Ter­ror­ism / Ex­trem­ism Re­search Unit (FTE)

  • Date:2016.07.01

The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 as well as the attacks that were staged and/or failed in London, Madrid and Germany in the years thereafter demonstrated that the security agencies need to focus their efforts on the possible causes of terrorist violence. For this reason, in 2003 the Bundeskriminalamt already reacted by setting up the interdisciplinary-structured Terrorism / Extremism Research Unit (hereafter referred to as FTE). Police officers and scientists from various fields of social science work together at this centre and combine case-related police evaluations and analyses with professional theoretical and methodological knowledge into an integrative approach which, in addition to the scientific output, also retains the practical link to police work. The goal of the social science research carried out at the FTE is to answer the central question: "Which persons act for what reason in this manner (terrorist / extremist) at this time and in this place?

The research of the FTE is carried out in pursuit of the goal of continually enhancing and further developing the efficiency of anti-terror measures.

Organisational Integration

The FTE is a scientific division at the Institute of Law Enforcement Studies and Training at the BKA. The research unit is integrated into the group "Criminalistic/Criminological Research and Advise". In addition to internal co-operation with the competent operational units within the BKA, the research unit also pursues active information exchange and co-operation in the field of research between the police and the scientific community at home and abroad.
This ensures that the FTE at all times develops its research activities on the basis of state-of-the art research standards and methodological know-how.

Scientific Focus

"Understanding terrorism" not only implies knowing about the offenders but also understanding what effect the respective terrorist acts have on the population and the social institutions that are sometimes the direct target of these acts. Because in line with the theoretical reference framework which will be addressed at a later stage, it is assumed that there is a dynamic interplay between the terrorist agents, the institutions of social control, the political/social decision-makers as well as the media and the population as a whole. The interplay between action and reaction suggested here explains the respective development dynamics of the various types of terrorism and/or extremism. In order to comprehend the suggested interplay, research approaches with a social science orientation are essential against the background of theoretical criminological approaches. In other words: An isolated consideration of terrorist groups ignoring surrounding social and cultural conditions and phenomenon-related protagonists would fall short of the mark and generate a tenuous knowledge base where defining an adequate security policy is concerned.

Theoretical Framework

Given the complexity of the phenomenon, the FTE works on the basis of a model incorporating three reference parameters which, according to current research knowledge, are regarded as relevant for the creation and development as well as the termination of terrorist crime phenomena.

  1. The person (meaning the active terrorist actors),
  2. the ideology underlying the respective type of terrorism (meaning the motivationally-relevant body of ideas underlying the crimes), and
  3. the respective social and cultural environment from which and within which terrorism occurs.

Theoretical Framework

Current Research Initiatives / Projects

Several projects in support of police work are currently being conducted at and on behalf of the FTE.
Two research projects have recently been completed and are pending publication:

  • Extremism - The biographical perspective (EbiP)
    Although the topics "Terrorism" and "Extremism" are receiving mounting media and political attention, the number of empirical research studies is still extraordinarily low. This is not least owing to the fact that access to this field of research, which is marked by unreported borderline cases, is often difficult to achieve.
    Former studies were therefore primarily based on records, court verdicts or third party statements - data, which had not been specifically gathered for research purposes and very probably did not reflect the individually experienced realities of the terrorists and/or extremists themselves. However, in order to understand what sways and motivates terrorists and extremists it is essential to know their mindsets, contexts and interpretations.
    In a co-operative effort with the Rhine-Ruhr Institute at the University of Duisburg-Essen an effort-intensive study which stretched over the course of several years was carried out with 40 male persons with links to politically and/or religiously orientated terrorist or extremist environments being interviewed about their biographical paths: What decisive factor caused them to associate with extremist and/or terrorist environments? What motivated them to commit crimes? The project focussed on these and other questions. But above all the study also tried to find answers to the question as to who the people are that we catch a glimpse of behind the "terrorist" or "extremist" facade.

  • NPD - election mobilisation and politically motivated violence. Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia in contrastive comparison.

    Download (in german language)

    Since the beginning of the 90's, right-wing, especially xenophobic violence, has constituted a considerable proportion of the overall politically motivated violent crime in Germany. Also the fight against the political and lifestyle "enemy" has gained in importance.
    An alarmingly high and stable violence base with a disproportionate percentage of eastern federal states defines the picture. In view of the partly spectacular election successes at regional level the question arises as to the role played by the radicalised National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) in the high level of violence.
    A research group at the Hannah-Arendt-Institute for the research on totalitarianism at the technical university in Dresden carried out a study for the period between 2003 and 2006 of whether any interaction exists between the NPD election mobilisation efforts and the violence exercised by right-wing and left-wing scenes. The study draws a contrastive comparison between the federal states of Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia and pursues the central question using quantitative analyses of police and election data as well as qualitative studies (court files, scene-related publications, case studies of phases of frequent right-wing violent activity, expert interviews).

Research Co-operation

The national as well as the international transfer of knowledge plays an important role in the field of research on terrorism. The FTE co-operates in diverse projects and work contexts with research institutes attached to security authorities and universities in Germany and abroad. In 2007, the FTE initiated the European Expert-Network on Terrorism Issues (EENeT) as a central co-operation platform. This is an international multidisciplinary network made up of experts from security authorities, the field of science and security policy. The goal is to develop multi-perspective and inter-institutional approaches to the phenomenon of terrorism / extremism in order to promote a deeper understanding of this phenomenon which would then lead to more efficient (European) anti-terror measures being created.

The EENeT now has more than 100 members from over 20 European countries and European organisations / institutions. The EENeT provides a forum for ongoing interdisciplinary exchange and invites the members to a conference in one of the participating countries once a year. The EENeT committee's offices are located at the FTE.