Seminar in Algiers examines the role of the prosecution in terrorist cases
The third in a series of seminars organized by the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) and tailored for prosecutors with experience in handling terrorist cases took place in Algiers from 5 to 7 June 2012. Close to 40 prosecutors and judges from different regions came together with representatives of international, regional and sub-regional organizations to examine their role in bringing terrorists to justice.
Keynote speakers included Mr. Kamal Razzak Bara, the Algerian President’s Advisor for Counter-Terrorism; Mr. Francisco Madeira, Director of the African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism; and Mr. Mike Smith, Executive Director of CTED.
“Despite facing numerous challenges, prosecutors have been instrumental in preventing and combating terrorism around the world,” said Mike Smith. “Their success is due in part to the progress States have made to strengthen national coordination and international cooperation to fight terrorism.”
The United Nations recommends States develop national counter-terrorism strategies that respond to the terrorist threat in a comprehensive manner. Effective strategies encourage, for example, the exchange of intelligence, information and expertise between national agencies and across borders.
In its resolution 1373 (2001) the Security Council requires Member States to assist each other in connection with criminal investigations or proceedings. They should also cooperate to prevent and suppress terrorist attacks and take action against perpetrators of such acts. Throughout the process, States must comply with all their obligations under international human rights, refugee, and humanitarian law.
Participants in the Algiers seminar shared their views on whether the need to prevent terrorist attacks influences the approach they take in building and prosecuting cases. They considered situations in which the prosecutor was investigating terrorism cases from the onset and cases in which ordinary crime investigations revealed a terrorist plot. Suspects might be charged with money-laundering or identity theft, yet the crime might have been part of a bigger plan to carry out an act of terrorism. Although good practices exist in this area, prosecutors said that identifying possible connections between ordinary crimes and terrorism continues to be a challenge.
Prosecutors stressed the importance of making arrests and charging suspects at the right time. The earlier the plot is uncovered, the less evidence there is for court proceedings. However, any delay may result in an attack. Prosecutors referred to a number of strategies that enable investigations to proceed as far as possible without endangering public safety.
Another aspect of prevention involves the prosecution of preventive offences, such as conspiracy, incitement or material support to terrorism. The extensive use of the Internet and other technologies to recruit and train terrorist and glorify terrorist acts often complicates investigations. Prosecutors discussed how they have used such charges to investigate specific terrorist conduct and the challenges involved in gathering sufficient evidence.
Looking forward, participants expressed their interest in facilitating information access and exchange at the national level. Information should flow in both directions from the local to the federal level, where applicable, and from specialized to non-specialized prosecutors. Another goal is to build stronger relationships between prosecutors and other agencies responsible for preventing terrorism, including the police, customs and financial intelligence units.