SCN Cities take part in U.S. Department of State’s City Pair Initiative

A U.S. delegation from Anaheim and San Diego visited the site of a 2004 terrorist attack in Cologne, which targeted the city’s Turkish community.  (State Department photo)

SCN Members from Southern California pair with counterparts from North Rhine-Westphalia to explore ways to counter terrorist radicalization and recruitment through the U.S. Department of State’s City Pair initiative.

In this short piece by Michael Duffin, Policy Advisor in the Bureau of Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State, he provides an overview of a unique two-way exchange between representatives from North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany and their U.S. counterparts in Southern California.

Michael Duffin | 3 July 2019

Representatives from SCN member cities Anaheim and San Diego, California, travelled to Düsseldorf and other cities in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) to participate in the second part of the City Pair Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Partnership Program, run from 12-17 May. The timing of the bilateral exchange was significant, with the two trips occurring before and immediately after a racially motivated terrorist killed one person and injured three others at a San Diego-area synagogue.

The two-part exchange involving reciprocal study tours connected representatives from local government, law enforcement, and civil society from Southern California and NRW to share good practices and lessons learned on efforts to counter terrorist radicalisation and recruitment. The first part of the exchange took place from 30 March to 5 April when representatives from Bonn, Cologne, and Düsseldorf travelled to Anaheim and San Diego, just three weeks before the Chabad of Poway synagogue attack in San Diego County.

Throughout the exchange, the U.S. delegation heard about Germany’s efforts to document and inform the public about the Holocaust atrocities committed by the National Socialist (Nazi) party. Article 1 of the German Constitution bans symbols that incite hate like the swastika, but during one meeting the U.S. delegation was shown professionally-produced videos openly circulated on the internet by neo-Nazi and Identitarian groups that subtly reference their supremacist views without violating German law. They also heard from a former neo-Nazi who talked about how a sense of belonging was more important for him than the group’s hateful ideology.

Throughout the exchange, the U.S. delegation heard about Germany’s efforts to document and inform the public about the Holocaust atrocities committed by the National Socialist (Nazi) party. Article 1 of the German Constitution bans symbols that incite hate like the swastika, but during one meeting the U.S. delegation was shown professionally-produced videos openly circulated on the internet by neo-Nazi and Identitarian groups that subtly reference their supremacist views without violating German law. They also heard from a former neo-Nazi who talked about how a sense of belonging was more important for him than the group’s hateful ideology.

Düsseldorf: Crime Prevention Board helps the city coordinate engagement with other stakeholders

In Düsseldorf, the U.S. delegation learned about growing anti-Semitism and intolerance towards foreigners – 148,000 of the city’s 642,000 residents are foreign-born. In 1994, Düsseldorf created a Crime Prevention Board (CPB) with 43 members and nine branches, including one branch focused on extremism. The CPB, which is overseen by a commissioner who reports directly to the mayor, coordinates with the state government, NGOs, and community leaders. “Wegweiser” (German for “sign post”), which is one of the German government’s main implementers for early interventions, is one of the NGOs with whom the CPB liaises. Focused on ISIS- and al-Qa’ida-inspired extremism, Wegweiser provides youth exposed to terrorist propaganda and their families with counselling.

Cologne: Delegation visits site of 2004 terrorist attack in Little Istanbul

In Cologne, the U.S. delegation visited Keupstrasse, a busy street filled with Turkish restaurants, pastry shops, and other businesses that is the centre of an ethnic Turkish neighbourhood called Little Istanbul. It was on this block in June 2004 that a bomb packed with hundreds of nails exploded and injured 22 people – it took seven years for a neo-Nazi group to claim credit for the attack. A police officer of Turkish descent who participated in the German delegation to the United States introduced the U.S. delegation to shop owners and others who live and work in the neighbourhood, including many who were working on Keupstrasse when the bomb exploded. After visiting Keupstrasse, the U.S. delegation visited the NGO “180 Degrees Turn,” which provides counselling and assists family and friends with targeted interventions to people on the path to terrorist radicalisation and recruitment.

Exchanges help policy makers and practitioners learn from each other

The City Pair exchange connected local-level policy makers and practitioners from U.S. and German communities that have faced terrorist threats across the ideological spectrum. Delegates on both sides were grateful for the opportunity to take an in-depth look at best practices from another country, and through extensive engagements in the United States and Germany, they were able to develop rapport with their international counterparts. San Diego representatives said the attack on a synagogue a few weeks before leaving for Germany reinforced the need for comprehensive programs to counter all forms of terrorist radicalisation and recruitment. They also said SCN engagement helped them develop an appropriate response to the synagogue attack.

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