By EMERSON VERMAAT, PLN European Editor
Dozens of young Muslim jihadists from Holland are currently fighting in Syria and have joined radical jihadist movements there. In recent months, the number of jihadists from the Netherlands who are now fighting in Syria even exceeds the total number of Dutch jihadists who traveled to Syria in the year 2011. This warning was issued by Rob Bertholee, the head of the Netherlands Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD), in the daily TV program “Nieuwsuur.”
Among the organizations that the jihadists from Holland have joined is a movement called Jabath Al-Nusra, recently placed by the U.S. on the international terrorist organizations list. Al-Nusra is believed to be a front organization of the notorious Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) terror group.
The AIVD fears that these Dutch jihadists are now becoming experienced “holy warriors” and religious fanatics who will someday return to the Netherlands and then stage terror attacks there. Most of the jihadists from Holland are second generation Muslim immigrants. Three potential jihadists have already been arrested in the Dutch city of Rotterdam in November 2012. They planned to join the jihad in Syria but their leader suddenly decided to marry a Moroccan woman in Utrecht and stage a terror attack in Belgium instead of going to Syria. A Somali imam in Rotterdam performed the Islamic marriage.
Young radical Muslims from other European countries are also traveling to Syria. A French police source quoted by Radio France Internationale (RFI) recently claimed that “several dozen French nationals had traveled to Syria to fight in the conflict there, sometimes in groups linked to Al-Qaeda.”
Syrian jihadists pose a serious security threat to Europe. They are extremely well organized and capable of forming dangerous terror cells in European countries. Former Syrian president Hafez Al-Assad, the father of the current president Bashar Al-Assad, cracked down on the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s. Many radical Muslims from Syria fled to Europe. One of them was Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas (“Abu Dahdah”) who arrived in Spain in 1986. Yaskas would later join Al-Qaeda and play an important role in the preparations of the 9/11 attacks in the U.S.A. He personally knew Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 “operation.” Before visiting Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan Atta studied in the German city of Hamburg where he met Mohammed Haydar Zammar, another Al-Qaeda operative and a successful recruiter as well. Zammar was born in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have now poured into neighboring countries, and many are on their way to Europe. We don’t know how many potential terrorists there are among them, but even if the percentage would be less than one percent, there would be sufficient reason to worry about it.
Mali and the terrorist threat in France
Muslim immigrants from Mali pose a security threat in France, especially those who are living in the notorious Parisian suburbs. The suburb of Montreuil is now called “the first Malian city in France.” There are well over 120,000 Malian immigrants in France. They often practice Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and polygamy. Overly large polygamous families lead to anti-social behavior among youths who lack a father figure. Men live in apartments with three or four wives, their children often do not go to school and are roaming the streets. Sometimes there are twenty or more children in just one apartment. A Malian immigrant in France with two wives says: “God allows us to do so. We have the right to have three to four wives.” Polygamy is prohibited in France but it very hard to enforce the law among the Muslim immigrant communities in the big cities. The suburbs of Paris en Marseille have partially evolved into real no-go areas controlled by local and extremely well armed African or North African gangs who do not hesitate to kill policemen or attack bus drivers and trains.
Quite recently, the high speed train TVG from Marseille to Nice was attacked by a gang of twenty youths from the highly problematic Marseille suburb of Air Bel where Muslims reportedly set up unofficial checkpoints. The gang failed to enter the train, though, and the police arrived just in time to arrest ten of them. French security officials immediately expressed concern, indicating that such attacks pose a serious security threat. No doubt, the gang’s intention was to rob the passengers of the train. It was not the first time that angry youths from immigrant neighborhoods tried to stop a train near Marseille.
Disgruntled African young males from the suburbs are sometimes successfully targeted by Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups who operate in local mosques or through the internet. French police have already arrested “youths they suspect of trying to join Islamist extremists in West Africa,” the Washington Post reported recently. “Now France has a massive problem with home-grown Islamic terrorism, rampant crime committed by Muslims and many severe social and security issues,” the Washington Post continues. “In the latest case, authorities detained four people in a Paris suburb who are believed to have links to a Frenchman caught last year in Niger on the border with Mali as radical fighters were expanding their control in the region.” “Those with dual citizenship are of special concern to French authorities, because they can travel freely to and from Africa unnoticed in countries within Europe’s larger border free area.” The paper quoted a French judicial official who said: “Of the four detained Tuesday (February 5) in and around the Paris suburb l’Hay les Roses, three are French citizens – including one with joint Franco-Algerian citizenship – and one is Malian.” The French weekly Le Point reported that several French jihadists traveled to the Sahel zone in recent months. One of them was French-Congolese citizen Cédric Labo Ngoyi Bungenda who was arrested in Niamey, the capital of Niger.
Another jihadist is Mohammed Djouad, a French-Algerian from Montpellier in Southern France. He was arrested in April 2012 just before he wanted to travel to a terrorist training camp in Indonesia. He subsequently planned to join the jihad in Somalia or Yemen. He was befriended with Mohammed Merah, another French-Algerian terrorist who attacked a Jewish school in Toulouse in March 2012, killing a rabbi and three children.
Baba Pascal Camara, a staff member of the Library of Timbuktu in Northern Mali where Al-Qaeda jihadists destroyed many ancient treasures and manuscripts, was interviewed by the Spanish newspaper El País after the town was liberated. He claims that the jihadists were Algerians, Malians and a man “who looked almost white.” According to El País, he may have referred to a French citizen who was a member of Ansar Dine (a Taliban-like movement) and who lashed out against France in a video.
Baba Pascal Camara told El País that the radicals decided that his library consisted of “a collection of Jewish books.”
One of the reasons why French president François Hollande decided to intervene in Mali was the real prospect of Mali becoming another Al-Qaeda safe haven in Africa and a magnet and recruitment center for Muslim jihadists and other radicals from France. The French intervention was just in time.
But the French unwisely announced that they will leave Mali in March this year – far too early, that is. The Muslim radicals have not yet been defeated. Instead, they withdrew to the desert, the mountains or mingled with the local population. They know that the Malian army is no match for them. On February 8, a suicide bomber killed a Malian soldier at a checkpoint in Goa. It was the first suicide bombing in the history of Mali. A few days later there was another attack and there were reports of clashes between insurgents and the military. Many suicide bombings are likely to follow. Look what happened and is still happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The threat from North Africa
It was back in 1998 that a Tunisian man named Moezedinne Garsallaoui traveled to Switzerland– as a refugee. He would become an important Al-Qaeda recruiter of jihadists from Europe who would travel to Afghanistan or Pakistan to receive training in terrorist training camps. He married Malika Aroud, a Moroccan immigrant in Belgium, also known as “the mother of Al-Qaeda in Europe.” Osama bin Laden is her hero. Both Garsallaoui (“Al-Andalusi”) and Al-Aroud were convicted by Belgian and Swiss courts. Garsallaoui fled to Pakistan/Afganistan where he resumed his activities of recruiting and training terrorists and jihadists from Europe. One of his European recruits was Mohammed Merah whom he reportedly trained in Pakistan’s restive tribal areas in September 2011. Garsallaoui was killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan in October 2012. Certainly not all drone strikes are unjustified.
“Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” (AQIM) is the most dangerous terrorist organization in North Africa and they are very well armed. They are involved in kidnapping, drug smuggling and migrant trafficking. An Algerian terrorist named Moktar Belmoktar was a senior figure in AQIM, but he formed his own group in December 2012 calling it Al-Mulathemeen (“The Masked Ones”) of which the “Signatories in Blood” group is believed to be a subgroup. On January 16, 2013, they attacked the Algerian Aménas Gas Project complex close to the Libyan border, taking quite a number of hostages. The Algerian army intervened and killed the hostage takers. Most hostages were then freed. The New York Times reported that holding hostages for ransom taking was not part of the plan. They wanted “turn the forest of pipes and tubes into a giant bomb, and to blow up everything and anyone around. What none of them knew was exactly how, in the endless maze of metal, to do it.”
The so-called Arab Spring did not meet the expectations of most young people in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Instead, Muslim radicals are gaining ground. Many young women who demonstrated in Cairo’s Tahrir square were subjected to sexual harassment and militant clerics justified such evil practices. In Tunisia, Chokri Belaid, a courageous and outspoken critic of the radicals, was murdered.
Therefore, Europe is likely to face another unwelcome influx of economic and political refugees from North Africa and Egypt. Militant Islamic groups and disgruntled individuals will join the flow of refugees. This is precisely how it happened in the past and it will not be very different now or in the future. Muslim radicals in Europe are invariably part of the immigrant communities.
Somalis are among the most problematic groups of African immigrants. Not only do they often depend on welfare and practice Female Genital Mutilation (a very primitive custom indeed), but also are they, in too many cases at least, susceptible to recruitment by jihadist groups. Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard faced and still faces serious death threats after he drew a cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Mohammed as a terrorist – the so-called “bomb-in-the-turban cartoon.” On January 1, 2008, a Somali Muslim intruder armed with an axe tried to kill him when he was at home. Lars Hedegard, another vocal Islam critic in Denmark, was attacked by a Muslim intruder on February 5, 2013. This intruder tried kill Hedegard with a pistol but misfired and then managed to escape. Hedegard and Westergaard are friends.
Not so few Somali immigrants in the United States returned to Somalia to join jihad with Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabaab. A number of them carried out suicide attacks. More than twenty young Somali Muslim immigrants left the Minneapolis area between December 2007 and December 2009 with a view to joining the violent jihad. Minneapolis is a city with a very large Somali immigrant community. The Netherlands Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) informed the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) in January 2009 that five young American Somali males posed a threat to national security. After their jihadist training in a Somali training camp, they planned to return to the U.S. via the Netherlands. Since early 2009, the Dutch Security Service is increasingly focusing on Africa where “many countries are vulnerable to the terrorist threat and violent coups as well as to the threat posed by criminals who operate on an international scale (drugs) and corruption.”
More recently, the threat from Somalia may have subsided somewhat thanks to the successful military intervention by other African nations. But Al-Shabab’s international terrror network has not yet been eliminated and the movement still poses a threat.
Nieuwsuur (Dutch TV), February 7, 2013 (Rob Bertholee).
Henri Georges Minyem, La Polygamie des Africains en Cause, selon Carrère d’Encausse, Oumma.com, November 21, 2005; Le Monde (Paris) November 17, 2005; l’Express (Paris), August 21, 2006 (“Polygamie: Cet interdit qui a droit de cité”); Trouw (Amsterdam), March 8, 2006 (“Eén man, vier vrouwen: Polygamie”).
Le Figaro (Paris), February 4, 2013, p. 15 (“Un TGV attaqué en plein Marseille”); The Riviera Times, February 4, 2013 (“Youths stage bizarre train-hold up”); Euronews (TV), February 3, 2013.
Washington Post, February 7, 2013 (“France, wary of backlash from their war in Mali, tries to root out would-be jihadists at home”); rfi.fr, February 5, 2013 (“Four arrested near Paris in Africa jihadist probe in France”). Also on Syria.
Le Point (Paris), January 24, 2013, p. 43 (“La ‘guerre sainte’ à la française”).
El País, February 4, 2013, p. 8 (“El chófer que salvó la biblioteca andalusí de Tombuctú”).
L’Express, October 17, 2012 (Moez Garsallaoui, ‘mentor’ présumé de Merah, aurait été tué”).
International Herald Tribune/New York Times, February 4, 2013, p. 1, 5 (“The real goal of insurgents in Algeria: Giant fireball”).
New York Times, July 12, 2009 (“Somalis in America return to join jihad with Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabab”).
Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst (AIVD), Jaarverslag 2009, pp. 13, 32 (The Hague: AIVD, April 2010).