Q: In what ways do you protect your citizens against potential terrorist attacks?
Claudia, United States
A: Iceland has an elite counter-terrorism unit specializing in various types of armed and unarmed infantry combat.
A recent report issued by the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police describes the threat of a terrorist attack in Iceland as average compared to the rest of northern Europe, meaning that “it is generally believed that the threat of terrorist attacks cannot be eliminated due to the state of domestic and/or international politics.
While Iceland’s small population, geographic isolation and the absence of significant historical ties to warfare or colonialism, are noted, the report states that those factors are countered by advances in information technology, ready access to weapons, and the potential that Iceland might be targeted as a Western, NATO-member country with a minimal degree of defense and security preparedness.
Terrorists acting in the name of ISIS are particularly mentioned as a potential security threat, although the report stresses that “most Muslims are not Islamists and most Islamists are opposed to using of violence to attain political objectives.” Rather it focuses on the importance of creating societal unity and preventing disenfranchisement, especially among populations likely to be attracted to any sort of terror groups or extremist agendas.
Risk factors include chronic unemployment, lack of education, having a criminal background, and being socially isolated, all of which can contribute to problems relating to identity and belonging. Right-wing extremist groups in Europe such as German PEGIDA (Patriotsche Europäer gene die Islamisierung des Abendlandes), Norwegian right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik’s attack on a summer camp in Utøya in 2011, petrol bombings of mosques in Sweden, and several motiveless school shootings perpetrated by teenagers in Finland are also mentioned in this context.
The report recommends improved response-training for both police officers and members of special forces, and improving access to resources for those most likely to be marginalized in society, and thus more susceptible to the rhetoric of terrorist groups, such as recent immigrants. Similarly it asks for a greater focus on improved policies relating to the integration of immigrants and refugees, and on promoting greater social and material equality.