The Global Counterterrorism Forum: A Multilateral Approach to Address Terrorism

4 minutes read time
A view of the Global Counterterrorism Forum on September 20 during the UN General Assembly in New York.
A view of the Global Counterterrorism Forum on September 20 during the UN General Assembly in New York.

The Global Counterterrorism Forum: A Multilateral Approach to Address Terrorism

Throughout the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the United States has engaged with foreign partners to build political support for American counterterrorism objectives and policies. We are focusing on whole-of-government efforts to defeat ISIS, al-Qa’ida, and other global terrorist groups.

The Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) was established in 2011 to strengthen the international civilian architecture for addressing 21st century terrorist threats. With a primary focus on strengthening criminal justice and other rule of law institutions that confront terrorism, the GCTF aims to diminish terrorist recruitment and increase countries’ capabilities for dealing with terrorist threats within their borders and regions. The United States was a founding co-chair of the GCTF with Turkey; the GCTF is currently chaired by Morocco and the Netherlands.

As an example of its important work, the GCTF spent the past year developing a set of good practices for protecting soft targets. Terrorists increasingly are attacking soft targets like restaurants, cultural sites, and stadiums where people gather to shop, dine, and conduct business. These public spaces are designed to be open and inviting. That makes them attractive to visitors, but it can also make them vulnerable to a terrorist attack. Over the past few years, we’ve seen this deadly trend in places like Bamako, Barcelona, Berlin, Brussels, Istanbul, Jakarta, London, Nice, and Ouagadougou. We’ve also seen it here at home, in Orlando and San Bernardino. 

Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Tom Bossert, head of the U.S. delegation at GCTF, delivers remarks at the Forum.

This week in New York, on the margins of the UNGA, the United States and other members of the GCTF endorsed the Antalya Memorandum on Good Practices on the Protection of Soft Targets in a Counterterrorism Context. This document guides governments and private industry alike as they work together to develop polices, practices, and programs to protect potential soft targets from terrorist attacks. 

GCTF members also endorsed the Zurich-London Recommendations on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism and Terrorism Online. These internationally recognized, non-binding recommendations include good practices for content-based responses, while respecting freedom of speech and upholding the rule of law, and communications-based responses, including counter-messaging.  

In the coming year, the United States will continue to work with international partners by joining Jordan as the co-chairs of the GCTF’s Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF) working group. Under the auspices of the FTF working group, the United States announced the following new initiatives in New York:

  • The Initiative on Addressing the Challenge of Returning Families of Foreign Terrorist Fighters: The Netherlands and the United States will lead a new initiative focusing on the families of foreign terrorist fighters who have come home from the war zone in Iraq and Syria. The initiative has a number of basic objectives. We want to be able to effectively assess the motivations and sympathies of returning family members. We want to tailor existing tools so we can mitigate the threat of radicalized returnees. And we want to develop a set of non-binding good practices that will serve as the basis for international engagement, assistance, and training. 
  • The Initiative to Address Homegrown Terrorists: Morocco and the United States will launch a new initiative on addressing the growing threat posed by homegrown terrorists -- terrorists who aren’t members of organizations like ISIS and al Qa’ida but who are inspired by them. This initiative will explore the factors that drive people to become homegrown terrorists, and how to identify them before they can strike. It also will look at how the radicalization process for homegrown terrorists may differ from that of foreign terrorist fighters. And it will develop a new set of good practices that governments and the private sector can use to address this threat effectively.

The enemy we face is an adaptive one. Terrorists are constantly learning from their failures and probing for new vulnerabilities, so it is incumbent upon us to adapt too. Along with our allies and partners, the United States will continue to lead the way in confronting this threat across the globe. 

About the Author: Nathan A. Sales is Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.

For more information: