Durres, Albania (September 16, 2016) – To address the challenge of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF) and countering violent extremism, 85 practitioners and researchers from over 30 countries gathered in Durres, Albania for the "Foreign Terrorist Fighters and Irregular Migration Routes: Prevention and Resilience" tabletop exercise (TTX) from 13-15 September. The TTX incorporated scenarios from emerging security challenges to engage participants and develop actionable recommendations regarding FTF recruitment, travel, and return.
Albania's Deputy Prime Minister Niko Peleshi provided welcoming remarks and highlighted a new initiative intended to counter the threat of violent extremism and religious intolerance in Albania. "This academic year, we are starting to implement a pilot program in a number of schools in Albania. The program is aimed not just at conveying some basic knowledge on religions and religious cohabitation, but also at preparing the youth to reject extremism pressure. Being fully in line with the secular nature of the state and of the school, the strategy is aimed at filling the gap created in the course of time when it comes to civil education about religion. This gap stemming from the hesitation to address religious issues at school in the name of secularity, resulted in room for vulnerability from radical interventions."
U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Albania Mr. Donald Lu emphasized the importance of holding this event in the region in cooperation with the Albanian government, "Albania and the Western Balkans are worried about a new threat -- the possible threat of foreign fighters transiting as refugees fleeing from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The United States is proud to support the leadership of the OSCE and the Albanian Government in holding this table top exercise to focus on preventing this emerging threat."
H.E. Romana Vlahutin, Head of EU Delegation in Tirana, provided further welcoming remarks and set the tone for the event and underscored the importance of employing collaborative efforts of this nature to solve complex modern issues. Mr. Robert Wilton, Acting Head of Presence for OSCE in Albania remarked, "this diversity allows us to build bridges towards coordinated preventative responses and brings us a step closer to sustainable solutions on raising awareness on radicalization and reintegration. It is a great opportunity to emphasize the need for us to share responsibility, trust each other, and work together."
The exercise, co-sponsored by the Partnership for Peace Consortium (PfPC) Combating Terrorism Working Group (CTWG) and the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE), and the Office of the Prime Minister of Albania, featured a diverse cross section from government, academia, law enforcement, business, religious, civic society, and NGO communities, and features role playing to several realistic foreign fighter scenarios.
During the exercise, participants role-played various government and civil society characters in multiple foreign fighter scenarios, each revealing different motivations, backgrounds, and triggers to radicalization. Students from Albanian institutions, and the London School of Economics participated in the event, some of whom played the role of "youth leaders" in an effort to provide perspective that reflects the demographics of the current FTF phenomenon.
The CTWG is Co-Chaired by Mr. Richard Prosen, U.S. Department of State; and Dr. Peter Forster, The Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Sajjan Gohel of the Asia Pacific Foundation is Senior Advisor to the working group. The CTWG will continue conducting TTX's in partner countries, and is in the process of summarizing the Durres exercise's key recommendations which will be made available to the general public in the coming weeks. For more information on the Partnership for Peace Consortium and the Combating Terrorism Working Group, visit http://www.pfp-consortium.org.