There is no internationally agreed definition of terrorism. It is the broad applications and diverse methods that make terrorism difficult to define. Attempts have been made since the French Revolution but have always been limited depending on the reasons and location of the terrorist acts, the terrorist organisation, the provider of the definition or other factors. The earliest meaning of terror in the 18th century referred to the actions of French revolutionaries against their opponents. Over time, the meaning of terrorism has evolved from describing crimes committed by the authorities against their domestic opponents to crimes against the state by either domestic or foreign individuals or groups.
Current Estonian law defines terrorism in Section 237 of the Penal Code.35 Subsequent sections in the same division of the Code also define a terrorist organisation36 and the various forms of support for terrorism. An act of terrorism can be a crime against persons or property or other form of crime, an essential element being its purpose – to force a state or an international organisation to act or refrain from acting in a certain way, to seriously interfere with the state as an institution and its population, to spread fear, and/or to cause death or great economic damage. Consequently, Estonian legislation defines an act of terrorism as a crime against the state. Terrorist crimes – the committing and facilitating of acts of terrorism – form a wide spectrum of activities. To provide a more precise legal definition, an amendment to the Penal Code entered into force in 2019, specifying the following types of offence: preparation of and incitement to acts of terrorism (Section 2372), travel for terrorist purposes (Section 2375), and organising, funding and supporting travel for terrorist purposes (Section 2376). The amendment of the Penal Code helps to prevent and investigate crimes more effectively. It also sends a clear signal to individuals whose criminal behaviour was previously not very clearly defined by law despite being aimed at terrorist purposes.
Preventing radicalisation and terrorism in Estonia
In Estonia, KAPO is the leading authority in the fight against terrorism. We mainly focus on prevention, creating defences and deterrents to make Estonia an inconvenient target for terrorists and to limit their potential freedom to act.
The level of terrorist threat in Estonia remains low, which means that the likelihood of an attack is low but not non-existent. Given the methods used and the means available to conduct them, opportunistic terrorist attacks are impossible to rule out completely in any democratic country. There are no terrorist organisations active or based in Estonia. At the same time, Estonia has not escaped the effects of international terrorism. One Estonian individual has gone to fight for a terrorist organisation in Syria and two have been convicted of supporting Islamist terrorism. Estonian have been killed and injured in terrorist attacks abroad. As a supporter of the fight against international terrorism, Estonia is on the radar of terrorist organisations, but not a key target.
It is important to remember that, in terms of a terrorist threat, Estonia’s security is affected not only by local radicalisation but also by radicalised individuals visiting the country. KAPO has identified several dozen individuals living in Estonia or with close ties to the country who, if further radicalised, could become a threat to public order and national security.
At present, the main causes of radicalisation in European countries are considered to be terrorist propaganda spreading over the Internet and purposeful influence activities by followers of radical Islam. Radicalisation taking place in European prisons poses problems. Hundreds of planners and organisers of terrorist acts have been convicted. While in prison, they have generally not given up their beliefs and have instead radicalised other prisoners. When released from prison, they are likely to continue to pose a threat in the future. While we have found some signs of radicalisation in Estonian prisons, this scenario remains a minor concern for the time being.
With the threat of Islamist terrorism, it is important to keep an eye on the converts who have embraced Islam and a particularly strict adherence to an Islamist world view. In their extremism, they interpret Islam in a way that the majority of the adherents of Islam would deeply disagree with, and in this way, they strongly contradict modern lifestyles and values. The process of radicalisation is particular to the individual – while it may take years, there are also cases where a person becomes radicalised and dangerous in a matter of just a few months. Preventing acts of terrorism requires increased awareness of radicalisation as a phenomenon and social problem. Unfortunately, preparations must be made for responding at the level of operational services as well as social services and victim support.