Across Europe there is widespread fear of terrorist attacks but is Lithuania a possible target for terrorists?
Soldiers patrolling Brussels streets after attacks
© AFP/Scanpix

British terrorism expert Tasnime Akunjee, speaking on LRT, said Lithuania is a small and unappealing target to individuals who wish to influence international politics by terrorist acts for a variety of reasons, and that there are no indications that terrorist attacks are likely in Lithuania.

You said that the likelihood of terrorist attacks in Lithuania is nil. Why?

The last time a terrorist attack occurred in Lithuania was probably the 1998 bombing at an “Iki” store, I believe in Kaunas. This is the only incident that could be related to terrorist attacks, one committed by an unknown culprit.

In 2002 the Lithuanian government set aside, I believe, 7 million litas for the work of state institutions working toward state security and terrorism prevention. From that point onward there have been no terrorist related attacks and there are no indications of any such attacks being likely.

There is a reason for this. Let us look at Lithuanian history: no colonies, no negative attitudes toward any Muslim states, a Tatar population successfully and fairly peacefully living here for over 700 years.

Of course it is not just domestic political circumstances or history that decides whether a state can be seen as part of the terrorist attack risk zone. Attacking Lithuania, however, would be problematic.

Why? Because on a global scale Lithuania is a very small player. If a terrorist organisation chose Lithuania as a target, it would show it is weak itself by choosing such a weak target. Thus they focus their attention on the big players – the U.S., the U.K., France.

Thus targets are picked also because of historical motives – perceived injustices and damage inflicted and experienced through a colonial past. On the other hand, specific states are selected because they are bigger targets.

Terrorists seek large targets that create large newspaper headings and then the terrorist acts themselves seem larger than they actually are.

So you believe that being a vulnerable target is an advantage for Lithuanians?

I wouldn’t call Lithuania a weak target. The state has strong security forces, mostly reinforced by the potential threat of Russia in the region, but of course Lithuania is a smaller target, not a global player. I wouldn’t say a weak one though.

We hear often that the main aim of terrorists is to spread fear and using it to seek control. It is obvious that the terrorists achieve these objectives when they carry out successful terrorist attacks. How do you distinguish between the rational and irrational fears of terrorism that exist in society?

Typically, the core aim of terrorism is political. Spreading fear is not a goal in itself. This is the mechanism, the tool by which terrorists use it to their political advantage, although there are exceptions.

We as a state cannot control the actions of terrorists. We can try to limit their ability to take certain actions, but we cannot control them. The essence of terrorism is to look for weaknesses and exploit them. So our security services, the police are always a step behind.

And our irrational fear is associated with how we react to and control our reactions to what is happening. So, when we see that a certain group of people, of a given origin, with certain ideologies and certain political goals, attacking us, our reaction is irrational as the blame for the actions of a small group of people are attributed to the vast group of people.

A specific example is the "Charlie Hebdo" attack with some European countries tending to assign blame for the attacks on all Muslims.

Not knowing what will happen is perhaps also related to this growing fear. It is after all human to fear the unknown?

This is exactly the issue and it is where irrational fears can take root – because there is a fear of the unknown. As long as we keep interpreting them as unknowable and while the media chases sensations and keeps focusing on them, we will have disproportionate levels of fear; especially in a country such as Lithuania where there is a fear of terrorism, with hardly any indicators of a terrorist threat existing. And this isn’t just my personal opinion, this is data from the state security department threat analysis which is published regularly.

The fact that the officers responsible for state security are not heard by society is a failure of communication. They know there is very little likelihood of a threat if any while the rest of society sees a far larger threat than is potentially possible.

Why is it that Europeans get involved in terrorist activities?

It is interesting that the media pays special attention to such stories, when a group of people or individuals of European origin choose to join ISIS, but there is a category of people who also go to Syria and fight there on the other side. These are young people who decide to join the YPG, the Kurdish political parties in the military wing of partial protection of people, or PKK, as well as the Kurdish military organization, or, for example, retireed British troops go to Syria and fight against ISIS.

In fact, the motivation of these people (both those who are fighting against the ISIS and those who get involved in the activities of ISIS) is mainly to experience adventure, and fulfilling the need to do something. People who join ISIS, tend to focus on the fact that Bashar al-Assad is basically killing his own people, and they see the outside world is doing little to prevent it continuing, so they see this as the only way to stop it.

So the motivation of these people, in particular, is empathy - to do something for those people. Unfortunately, the main political players in the region, with the power are now considered to be terrorist. Thus, in order to operate there, it means essentially in the absence of other opportunities to join one of the terrorist groups and fight against, frankly, another terrorist, Bashar al-Assad.

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