Archive for the ‘European terror threat’ category

A bloodied ISIS staggers on

March 26, 2017

A bloodied ISIS staggers on, Israel Hayom, Prof. Eyal Zisser, March 26, 2017

(According to the first sentence in the article, “Europe is learning the hard way what Israel learned decades ago.” If so, Europe must be an extremely slow learner. More likely, it resembles a terminally ill lung cancer victim who continues to smoke cigarettes and to inhale the smoke in hopes that it will cure him. Please see also, Islam, Not Christianity, is Saturating Europe. — DM)

Europe is learning the hard way what Israel learned decades ago. The war on terror is an ongoing struggle with ups and downs, and always painful failures. This fight requires patience and determination. There is no magic knockout punch, not by a spectacular military operation in the Syrian hinterlands or the assassination of some terrorist cell or another in a Paris or London suburb. A fight such as this can go on for years, as the reality prevalent in Europe is not about to change.

An equally important lesson, which Europe is also about to learn, is that terror constantly changes shape. In the past, al-Qaida spearheaded the waves of terrorist attacks in Europe. Now Islamic State has taken the reigns, and we can assume that if it fades and disappears, another Islamist group will take its place. The name and the headlines will change, to be sure, but the ideology will remain the same; the targets will continue to be innocent civilians across Europe, and the attackers will continue to be the same Muslim youths so enraptured by religious madness. It will be no different than our experience in Israel.

The terrorist attack perpetrated by Islamic State in London came on the heels of stinging defeats in its strongholds in Syria and Iraq. The organization’s dream of establishing an Islamic caliphate is on the verge of falling apart with the approaching fall of its government centers in Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria, which serves as its capital. The organization has already lost nearly half the territory it once held, and the signals being sent by the new administration in Washington point to U.S. President Donald Trump’s willingness and even determination to send American troops into the fray to fight the organization in a decisive manner.

Islamic State’s defeat will apparently induce a monumental battle between the winners — Iran and its allies — on one side, and Turkey and the moderate Arab states on the other. Iran, to be certain, will try filling the void left by Islamic State by establishing a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut. Its adversaries, meanwhile, will try preventing the Islamic republic from achieving its goals. All this, while Russia and the U.S. will watch from the sidelines and perhaps even fan the flames in order to advance their own interests in the region.

What is important to understand, however, is that the defeat of Islamic State and the fall of the country it created in the Middle East will not be the end of the story, not for the organization itself and certainly not for the ideology it espouses. We must keep in mind that Islamic State is first and foremost an extremist ideology, which enjoys support from local populations in the Middle East and from Muslim communities across the globe.

It is also an organization that rallies support from disenfranchised populations in the region — which feel persecuted by their centralized governments — whether these are Sunnis in Iraq or eastern Syria, or Bedouin tribes in the Sinai Peninsula. Thus, even if the state it created in eastern Syria and northern Iraq crumbles, we can assume Islamic State will withdraw deep into the desert from which it came and shift to operating as a ruthless underground organization that still enjoys support from local populations. Case in point, in Sinai the group continues to operate successfully despite being pummeled by Egypt.

Islamic State also has other areas within which it can operate, such as Libya or Yemen, where it has established footholds under the cover of the civil wars persisting there unabated. There has been a great deal of speculation recently over the possibility that the group could transfer its government centers to these places. Finally, sentiment for the organization and its ideas will continue to inspire and compel Muslim youths from across the globe to carry out terrorist attacks. Other radical Islamist organizations, which are more than willing to pick up where Islamic State ends, are also vying for the hearts and minds of these youths.

The waves of terror, therefore, will continue crashing into Europe, despite all the efforts to stop them and despite the military successes against Islamic State’s leaders and commanders in Syria and Iraq. Yet the fight must remain unrelenting, as this is the nature of the war against terror. It is the only way to ensure normal life in Europe. As the Israeli experience teaches, this should be the goal, even with the knowledge that terror has not been completely defeated.

One Year After Paris, What The West Still Needs To Learn About Islamic Terror

November 25, 2016

One Year After Paris, What The West Still Needs To Learn About Islamic Terror, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Abigail R. Esman

(Please see also, Europe: Let’s Self-destruct! — DM)

1892

In fact, many European counter-terrorism experts expect that savagery to worsen as growing numbers of European Muslims now living in the so-called “Islamic State” start making their way back home. Many are disillusioned by what they found there. But their hatred of the West is as deep as it was when they first left, if not deeper – and now they are trained in warfare. Meanwhile, the potential collapse of the Caliphate is likely to add to their fury and desire to take revenge on Western targets.

**********************

On Nov. 13, one year after Islamist terrorists killed 130 people and injured 368 others in a series of attacks across Paris, music legend Sting performed at the city’s Bataclan theater. It was at this popular haunt that three gunmen opened fire during an Eagles of Death Metal concert that fateful night.  Sting’s appearance, which coincided with the theater’s reopening, was meant not only to memorialize the 90 lives lost there, but to mark a new beginning, a return to life.

Yet just six days later, in the hours between Nov. 19-20, police across France apprehended seven men said to be plotting yet another attack. The suspects, said to be French, Moroccan, and Afghan, may be connected to others arrested just prior to the European Cup games in June. Their capture brings to 418 the number of terror-related arrests made so far this year, 43 of them in November alone.

France has suffered a disproportionate and disturbing number of terror attacks in the past two years, from the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket massacres in January 2015, to the November Paris attacks and the 87 killed while enjoying Bastille Day festivities in Nice on July 14. There also have been smaller attacks, including when militants in Normandy forced 85-year-old priest Jacques Hamel to kneel before slitting his throat in front of his parishioners in July.

But with over 400 would-be terrorists off the streets, is France at least safer than it was a year ago?

In many ways, yes. It would have to be. Along with those arrests, French authorities have seized 600 firearms and closed down dozens of illegal Muslim prayer halls, Europe1 reported. Soldiers patrol Paris’ streets and transportation centers, and an ongoing state of emergency has allowed the government to increase its levels of surveillance.

But few experts feel that this is really ameliorating the threat. After all, those expanded surveillance regulations were in effect when Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhel plowed his truck through the crowds along the Nice Promenade.

The fact is, the number of arrests is dwarfed by the numbers on the other side of the fight. Somewhere between 900 and 1,500 French citizens are believed to have joined ISIS, according to International Centre for Counterterrorism reports.  In September, Prime Minister Manuel Valls noted that, while plots are being foiled “every day,” 15,000 French Muslim youth are still radicalizing.  Consequently, France’s national police spokesman Christophe Crépin  told Time, “We have the means now, but it is not sure that [there] won’t be further attacks. There is a savagery that is very, very strong now.”

In fact, many European counter-terrorism experts expect that savagery to worsen as growing numbers of European Muslims now living in the so-called “Islamic State” start making their way back home. Many are disillusioned by what they found there. But their hatred of the West is as deep as it was when they first left, if not deeper – and now they are trained in warfare. Meanwhile, the potential collapse of the Caliphate is likely to add to their fury and desire to take revenge on Western targets.

What this means is that Europe – and especially France – can expect the return of several hundred trained jihadists, all part of a wider international network. Some will be arrested at the borders. But others will slip in, unnoticed as security agencies already are overtaxed.

Moreover, France also must rely on the counterterrorism measures and border protection of its neighbors, especially Belgium, which was home to many of the Nov 13 attackers. Yet Belgium is still stumbling in its own counter-terrorism efforts, despite two attacks there this year.

Meantime, there are those 15,000 out there already radicalizing within France, many of whom spend time communicating on social media with soldiers still living in the Caliphate. European intelligence officials agree that as ISIS loses ground at home, it is increasing its call to radicalized Muslims still living in the West to execute attacks in their own cities and towns.

In the face of this, France is now putting much of its hope into controversial de-radicalization programs, aiming to enroll 3,600 Muslim youth in such systems in two years, according to a France Local report.

But even if such programs work – and it isn’t yet clear they do, they remain part of an ongoing game of cat-and-mouse, unsustainable over the long-term. Should the Islamic State fall, other groups will inevitably rise up in its place. The ideologies that drive radical Islam have endured for centuries. And the revolutionary methods adopted by ISIS leaders, particularly with social media, continue to pose challenges to the West.

All of which suggests that France24 journalist Wassim Nasr, speaking to the Huffington Post, had it right when he observed, “There is much to be done; it’s a long run.”

What is clear is that if the West – and France especially – is going to protect itself from Islamic jihad in the future, it will have to find new ways to approach its Muslim youth before they radicalize, not after.

But so far, no one seems even to be trying.

Europe: Let’s Self-destruct!

November 25, 2016

Europe: Let’s Self-destruct!, Gatestone InstituteJudith Bergman, November 25, 2016

A reasonable question that many Europeans might ask would be whether it is not perhaps time to review priorities?

Perhaps the time has come to look at whether it remains worth it, in terms of the potential loss of human life, to remain party to the 1961 Convention, which would prohibit a country from stripping a returning ISIS fighter of his citizenship in order to prevent him from entering the country?

The terrorist as poor, traumatized victim who needs help seems to be a recurring theme among European politicians. But what about the rights of the poor, traumatized citizens who elected these politicians?

 

Roughly 30,000 foreign and European Islamic State fighters from around 100 different countries, who have gone to Syria, Iraq and Libya, could spread across the continent once the terror group is crushed in its Iraqi stronghold, warned Karin von Hippel, director-general of the UK military think tank, Royal United Services Institute, speaking to the Express on October 26:

“I think once they lose territory in Iraq and Syria and probably Libya… they will likely go back to a more insurgent style operation versus a terrorist group that wants to try and hold onto territory… There has been about 30,000 foreign fighters that have gone in from about 100 countries to join. Not all of them have joined ISIS, some have joined al-Qaeda, Kurds, and other groups, but the vast majority have gone to join ISIS. These people will disperse. Some of them have already been captured or killed but many will disperse and they’ll go to European countries…They may not go back to where they came from and that is definitely keeping security forces up at night in many, many countries”.

Perhaps these scenarios are really keeping security forces up at night in many countries. Judging by the continued influx of predominantly young, male migrants of fighting age into Europe, however, one might be excused for thinking that European politicians themselves are not losing any sleep over potential new terrorist attacks.

According to a report by Radio Sweden, for example:

“Around 140 Swedes have so far returned after having joined the violent groups in Syria and Iraq. Now several municipalities are preparing to work with those who want to defect. This could include offering practical support to defectors.”

The municipality of Lund has dealt with this issue, and Malmö, Borlänge and Örebro have similar views. As Radio Sweden reports:

“Lund’s conclusion is that defectors from violent extremist groups should be handled like defectors from other environments, such as organized crime. After an investigation of the person’s needs, the municipality can help with housing, employment or livelihood.”

According to Sweden’s “national coordinator against violent extremism,” Christoffer Carlsson:

“…You need to be able to reintegrate into the job market, you may need a driver’s license, debt settlement and shelter. When people leave, they want to leave for something else, but they do not have the resources for it, so it is difficult for them to realize their plan. If they do not receive support, the risk is great that they will be unable to leave the extremist environment, but instead fall back into it.”

Anna Sjöstrand, Lund’s municipal coordinator against violent extremism, says that people who have served their penalty should all have support. Last year, the Municipality of Örebro received criticism for offering an internship to a young man who returned after having been in Syria.

“There may be such criticism, but for me it is difficult to think along those lines. They get the same help as others who seek help from us. We cannot say that because you made a wrong choice, you have no right to come back and live in our society,” says Anna Sjöstrand.

According to Sweden Radio, several of the municipalities stress that people who commit crimes should be sentenced and serve their penalties before they can receive support. According to Amir Rostami, who works with the national coordinator against violent extremism:

“If you are suspected of a crime, the investigation of the crime always comes first. But as long as there is no suspicion of a crime, then it is in our own interest to help those that come out of this extremist environment. The consequences for society are quite large if you do not.”

So, in Sjöstrand’s words, travelling to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, a bestial Islamic terrorist organization with its sexual enslavement of women and children, rapes, brutal murders of Christians, Yazidis, and other Muslims is just “a wrong choice.” You know, similar to embezzling money or getting into a drunken brawl at a bar, just ordinary garden-variety crime, which should not intervene with your “right to come back and live in our society”. In other words, it seems to support the standard European idea that the terrorist is the victim, not the innocent people he is out to maim, rape, and kill.

According to the Swedish view, burning Christians and Yazidis alive, gang-raping and murdering women and children, and other such “wrong choices” should not get into the way of one’s “rights.” It also seems to ignore the rights of members of the peaceful society who are vulnerable to being attacked. It would be logical to posit that traveling for the express purpose of joining a terrorist organization such as ISIS, which has as its explicit goal the destruction of Western nations such as Sweden, should actually lead to the forfeiture of the “right to come back and live in our society” — especially as those former ISIS fighters evidently do not consider Swedish society “their society.”

Another word that comes to mind is treason. But not for Sweden, such logical moral and political choices. Better to have another go at politically correct policies, doomed to failure, at the expense of the security (and taxpayer money) of law-abiding Swedish citizens, whose rights to live without fear of violent assault, rape and terrorism clearly ceased to matter to Swedish authorities a long time ago.

This hapless attitude towards ISIS increasingly resembles criminal negligence on the part of Swedish authorities. It was recently reported that Swedish police received a complaint of incitement to racial hatred, after an unnamed Syrian-born 23-year-old used a picture of the ISIS flag as a profile picture on social media. Prosecutor Gisela Sjövall decided not to pursue legal action against the man. The reason, according to Sjövall?

“IS expresses every kind of disrespect; it is against everyone except those who belong to IS itself. There is the dilemma, it [offends] too big a group… You could say that merely waving a flag of IS in the current situation cannot be considered hate speech. It is not an expression of disrespect towards any [particular] ethnic group. It has been said there could possibly be some form of incitement, that IS urges others to commit criminal acts such as murder, but that is not the case.”

Since ISIS hates absolutely everybody, according to Swedish law they can apparently engage in as much hate speech as their hearts desire. The terrorists, who are vying for a world-dominating caliphate, must be laughing their heads off.

Sjövall added that because the Nazi swastika is intrinsically linked to inciting anti-Semitism, this contravenes Swedish laws, and that maybe the ISIS flag would be considered as contravening Swedish law in 10 years.

At the rate that Swedish society is self-destructing, there may not even be much of Sweden to speak of 10 years from now.

1752On June 7, 2016, it was reported that British citizen Grace “Khadija” Dare had brought her 4-year-old son, Isa Dare, to live in Sweden, in order to benefit from free health care. In February, the boy was featured in an ISIS video, blowing up four prisoners in a car (pictured above). The boy’s father, a jihadist with Swedish citizenship, was killed fighting for ISIS.

In neighboring Denmark, in March 2015, a Danish MP for the Social Democrats, Trine Bramsen, said about returning ISIS fighters:

“Some constitute a danger or can become dangerous. Others need help. We have actually seen that many of those who come home have experienced such horrors that they need psychological help”.

The terrorist as poor, traumatized victim who needs help seems to be a recurring theme among European politicians. But what about the rights of the poor, traumatized citizens who elected these politicians?

Denmark happens to be the European country with the most ISIS fighters returning from Syria, according to a report released in April by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague. The report shows that 50% of the people who left Denmark to fight with ISIS in Syria have returned to Denmark. The UK is second, with 48%, and then come Germany (33%), Sweden (29%), France (27%), and Austria (26%).

In Denmark, four Syrian ISIS fighters were arrested in April when they returned from Syria.

The head of the Strategic Institute of the Defense Academy in Denmark, Anja Dalgaard-Nielsen, told a Danish newspaper in April that there are not enough resources to monitor all returning ISIS fighters and thereby ensure their arrest, adding:

“But then again, not all [ISIS fighters] are identical. Some will come home and be a threat to society, whereas others will return disillusioned. If we treat everyone in the same manner, we risk pushing some of those who are in doubt even further in. If someone returns and it cannot be proven that he has committed crimes and if he, besides that, is disillusioned, then he should get help to get out.”

How do you determine with certainty that someone is “disillusioned,” when he could in fact be a ticking bomb waiting to commit terror?

In Denmark, the authorities decided on a prohibition to travel to Syria to join ISIS. That, however, does not solve the problem of what to do with the returning ISIS fighters. It also does not do much to prevent those potential ISIS fighters who have been frustrated in their efforts to join ISIS, from unleashing their terror on European soil instead — as ISIS has in fact commanded them to do.

Several countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia, have considered revoking the citizenship of returning ISIS fighters, thereby preventing them from returning. This is certainly feasible in those cases where the person in question has dual citizenship. Political obstacles aside, however, one of the main legal obstacles to countries taking this path is the 1961 UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which prohibits governments from revoking a person’s nationality if it leaves them stateless.

A reasonable question that many Europeans might ask would be whether it is not perhaps time to review priorities? Perhaps the time has come to look at whether it remains worth it, in terms of the potential loss of human life, to remain party to the 1961 Convention, which would prohibit a country from stripping a returning ISIS fighter of his citizenship in order to prevent him from entering the country?

Presumably, the European people care more about staying alive than the intricacies of international law. When will European leaders mobilize the political will to act?

Europe’s Terror Challenges: The Returnee Threat

October 19, 2016

Europe’s Terror Challenges: The Returnee Threat, Investigative Project on Terrorism, Abigail R. Esman, October 19, 2016

(Please see also, Sweden: Returning Islamic State jihadis to get free housing, driver’s license, tax benefits. — DM)

1469-1

Another week, another barrage of headlines illustrating the depth of Europe’s terror threat. The following examples came during a 24 hour window earlier this month: “Schiphol Airport Was Possibly A Target Of Terror Cell That Attacked Paris;” “Police In Brussels Stabbed In Possible Terror Attack;” and “MI5 Missed Chance To Foil Paris And Brussels Attacks.”

It is news to no one that Islamic terrorism is everywhere now, and principally in Northern and Central Europe. But the three news stories, and the Schiphol and MI5 revelations in particular, demonstrate the enormity of the challenges now facing European counterterrorism officials.

Intelligence and law enforcement continue to fumble in handling the threat, often through no real fault of their own. The perpetrators are slippery and elusive. Sometimes they travel under false names. Some slip in as refugees, using false passports and false histories. Others are returnees from Syria whose activities and encrypted Telegram communications slide beneath the radar, even as they are being watched. And overtaxed law enforcement agencies have made any number of mistakes, overlooking suspicious behavior or releasing suspects without adequate investigation – in part a consequence of political pressures and the fear of being accused of “Islamophobia” by politicians and the press.

As it turned out, the suspect in the Brussels knife attack was a former Belgian military officer already known to the police for his connections to fighters in Syria. To date, officials have not determined whether he has been to Syria or ISIS territory in Iraq.

But the contact with ISIS and other terror groups in the self-declared caliphate is a common link, not only among the known perpetrators of last November’s Paris attacks and the March attacks in Brussels, but among their alleged colleagues planning to attack Schiphol airport. Those two men, identified as the Tunisian Sofien Ayari and Syrian-Swedish Ossama Krayem, traveled by bus from Brussels to Amsterdam on Nov. 13, the day of the Paris massacre. Both used false IDs. They returned, still undetected, the following day.

Four months later, police raided a safe house used by the terror cell in Schaarbeek, a Brussels neighborhood, and retrieved a laptop computer containing files labeled “13 November.” Included in those files were documents referring not only to “Stade de France” and “Bataclan” – both targets in the Paris killings – but also to a “Schiphol group.”

It is not clear why Ayari and Krayem returned to Brussels without executing an attack on the Dutch airport, and the Dutch National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security (NCTV) office will not comment on the case, leaving information sketchy.

But there may be clues: Ossama Krayem was also spotted on CCTV at the Brussels Metro station that was bombed on March 22; his lawyers maintain that he decided against detonating his backpack. Did he panic and back out of the Schiphol attack, as well?

Following a worldwide manhunt, Belgian police arrested Salah Abdeslam, one of the few surviving organizers of the Paris attacks, on March 18 in the Brussels district of Molenbeek. Little notice was given at the time to the other man arrested with him: Sofien Ayari. Three weeks later, after the March 22 attack on Zaventem airport and Brussels’ Maalbeek metro station, police also captured Mohamed Abrini, frequently referred to as “the man in the hat” and a key player in the Zaventem bombing. Also arrested, though also little noted at the time, was Ossama Krayem. All four remain in detention.

While it has likely been known for some time by French prosecutors, the connection to the Schiphol airport plot was only released publicly earlier this month.

Indeed, the latest disclosures show that the Paris-Brussels cell reached as far as Amsterdam and the UK, as members traveled back and forth among all four countries. No one even noticed. Worse, UK officials put a stop to an undercover investigation of a British group with connections to Abrini months before the attacks, citing insufficient evidence. Had that probe continued, it may have led them to Abrini – who frequently visited the British group under orders from Syria-based leaders, experts believe.

Why would that have mattered? Because Abrini was allegedly receiving orders from Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the Paris attacks and of “at least four” foiled terror plots across the country, according to French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. And Abaaoud, said to be one of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s right-hand men, was regularly going back and forth between Syria and France. According to CNN, Abaaoud allegedly bragged in ISIS’s online magazine, Dabiq, “I was able to leave and come to Sham (Syria) despite being chased after by so many intelligence agencies. My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary.”

Experts agree that returnees like Abaaoud form the greatest terror threat right now. It isn’t simply a matter of their ability to bring the lessons of the battlefield – bomb-building, sharp-shooting, and an emotional resistance against killing – to Europe’s villages and cities. It is their ability to recruit new “soldiers for ISIS,” some of whom will follow the returnees back to Syria, and others who will be ordered to remain and carry out attacks at home. And while most European countries have severe penalties for those found guilty of aiding terrorist groups, many returnees, like Abaaoud, simply don’t get caught.

Moreover, because there is rarely hard evidence available of violence or terrorist acts in Syria, convicting returning ISIS fighters for their actions there is more difficult than it might seem. Smart-phone data from some returnees, however, has occasionally offered up photographs, videos, and other material that can be used as evidence. Consequently, their sentences can be comparatively light, less than 10 years in Germany and the UK, and usually lower for those who cooperate with authorities.

Others may not face prison at all. A report by the Dutch intelligence service AIVD points out that many returnees come home disappointed by the realities they encountered. Those who were not seen as fit to fight were reduced to menial jobs like housekeeping, and cannot be said to have engaged in terrorist activity, and so, cannot be convicted.

At the same time, often “even those who did not fight continue to be involved in jihadist circles” when they come home, the AIVD reports. Others, according to a separate report published by the NCTV, join criminal groups, possibly as a way to raise money to send back to Syria and Iraq. And while many appear to retreat, having little social interaction, the NCTV says, this does not mean that they have given up their jihadist visions. Quite likely they are encouraging others through social media, in mosques, and in small groups.

And so the cycle continues.

There is some good news. Through new initiatives, European intelligence bureaus aresharing more information, making it less likely that someone like Abaaoud would be able to cross borders undetected. Such alerts would also bring attention to those returnees and other suspected jihadists might meet with, even in a foreign country (as Abrini met with British jihadists before the Paris strike).

More important are de-radicalization programs, which aim to change either the behavior (known as “disengagement”) or the mindsets of jihadists, essentially challenging and discrediting their radical Islamist ideas. How well these programs work is still uncertain, though experts increasingly agree that altering violent behavior alone is not enough.

Because jihadists work by spreading an ideology, it is that ideology that needs to be attacked. And because prisons are often precisely where radical Islamic ideologies are preached and spread, counterterrorist experts are starting to say that sending jihadists to prison is not sufficient.

“We’ve seen in many other countries that when you arrest one, you create three other extremists,” German deradicalization expert David Kohler told Frontline. “It helps to spread the idea, and proves to the movement that they are right, that they are under attack.”

Granted, this is hardly a short-term strategy. But as the number of people returning from Syria to the West grows, and as their reach into the hearts and minds of Western Muslims deepens, it may be the one chance that we have to bring the cycle of Islamist terror to an end.