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Al Qaeda Linked Terrorists Returning to Western Cities to Attack Citizens!

Interesting Article: "French police arrest four over suspected jihadist links" by RFI, Belgium. Published Monday June 2nd, 2014.

An interesting article mentioned that French police arrested four people suspected of links with jihadist networks on Monday, three days after arresting a man over last week's fatal shootings at a Jewish museum in Brussels. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced the sweep on Europe1 radio but did not specify if the arrests in the Paris region and southern France were linked to the suspect in the Brussels attack, Mehdi Nemmouche. Described as a "lone wolf" by the Paris prosecutor, became radicalized in prison and left for Syria on December 31, 2012, just three weeks after his release from jail.

He is believed to have fought there alongside fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and returned to Europe in March this year.

Would you like to know more?

I have written extensively in previous entries about the threat of Jihadists from Europe, fighting in Syria and returning to their countries of residence, radicalized, with the ideology of the jihadists’ organization and indoctrinated to carry out small but effective terrorist activities throughout the Western world.

From this last attack in Belgium, we see just that type of activity taking place. Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, who was arrested by customs agents on arrival in the southern French city of Marseille, is believed to have recorded and claimed responsibility in a 40-second video found in his possession along with a Kalashnikov and a handgun. The suspect, who arrived in France on a bus from Amsterdam via Brussels, was also carrying a "white cloth" carrying an inscription in Arabic of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - Syria's most extremist group - and the words "Allah is great".

So who are ISIL? Well, The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, abbreviated as ISIL or ISIS an active group in Iraq and Syria. It was established in the early years of the Iraq War, and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004, becoming known as "al-Qaeda in Iraq". The final "s" in the acronym Isis stems from the Arabic word "al-Sham". This can mean the Levant, Syria or even Damascus but in the context of the global jihad it refers to the Levant.

The group’s brutal tactics, including beheadings, floggings and bans on smoking, music and other perceived un-Islamic behaviors, have incurred the wrath of many ordinary Syrians, culminating a month ago in a widespread revolt against ISIS across northern Syria in which the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra has fought ISIS alongside more moderate rebels. Although Jabhat al-Nusra now is the sole al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, ISIS is the group that is more aggressively pursuing the al-Qaeda agenda of establishing an Islamist caliphate by setting up the institutions of state that enable it to administer the areas it controls. The dispute points to the new complexities of the jihadist movement, which has spawned multiple new groups across the region in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.
“You have this wide tapestry of jihadi groups now, like a spider’s web,” Aaron Zelin, who tracks jihadist movements at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said. “All of these groups have the same ideology, they’re part of the jihadi framework, but they might have different focuses.”

ISIS' precise size is unknown (estimates are 850 to several thousand full-time fighters in 2007), but it is thought to include thousands of fighters, including many foreign jihadists. Analysts say non-Syrians constitute a majority of Isis's elite fighter corps and are disproportionately represented in its leadership.

The United States Department of State alleges that the group maintains an extensive logistical network throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Iran, South Asia, and Europe.

Talk to any Syrian you meet on the Syrian-Turkish border these days, and in less than five minutes the conversation is likely to turn to Da’ash—seen as derogatory by the group’s members—the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Since its appearance last April, ISIS has changed the course of the Syrian war. It has forced the mainstream Syrian opposition to fight on two fronts. It has obstructed aid getting into Syria, and news getting out. And by gaining power, it has forced the US government and its European allies to rethink their strategy of intermittent support to the moderate opposition and rhetoric calling for the ouster of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

ISIS’s vision is phenomenally popular with hardline jihadists and their supporters—more so than Jabhat al-Nusra’s—which helps explain why the conflict has managed to attract so many foreign fighters. Fundraising campaigns on Twitter by such figures as the Kuwaiti Sheikh Hajjaj al-Ajmi indicate that significant money is coming to ISIS from private donors in the Gulf.

While Al-Nusra actively calls for the overthrow of the Assad government, ISIS tends to be more focused on establishing its own rule on conquered territory in Syria. The ISIS is far more ruthless in building an Islamic state, carrying out sectarian attacks and imposing sharia law immediately upon taking over a region. But ISIS’s real power comes from the fear it seeks and manages to inspire. The group has shown zero tolerance for political dissent. The group has blown up Shiite shrines, but has also shown few qualms about Sunni civilians getting killed in the process. Beheadings have become common.

Some analysts have argued that ISIS has learned from its experience, therefore in areas of Syria where it has gained control; ISIS has begun increasing outreach to the local communities. It has just launched a newspaper in northern Syria. Videos the have posted on Twitter show tug-of-war events or festivals in village squares after Friday prayers, often packed with enthusiastic-seeming young men. In Raqqa, the group has been handing out stickers for buses telling women how to dress. Children have been a special focus. Purple gift bags have gone to girls in some rebel-held areas near Damascus, an area where the group is gradually expanding. It has ensured a food supply in towns it controls, often pushing out any other providers so as to make the population dependent on it alone.
The group has established a secure haven in Raqqah, a city of about 220,000. Its fighters control the roads in and out. They sell the region’s oil and natural gas resources to finance their operations, supplementing revenues from kidnapping and other criminal activities. U.S. officials believe ISIS is now self-financing and no longer needs donations from wealthy supporters in the Gulf.

Unfortunately, Turkey, now a sworn enemy of Damascus, has also done much to allow ISIS to grow by allowing foreign jihadists to cross its border into Syria. A large majority of foreign fighters who have entered Syria come through Turkey, including many Iraqis who share their own border with the country. Since late 2012 houses in Reyhanli, a border town, have been turned into staging posts for foreigners. The Alice Hotel in the same town is known as something of a jihadi hangout. The plane from Istanbul is known as the jihadi express. At points foreign jihadis have been present among other groups manning the border of Bab Hawa. Five minutes in Kilis, a town on the Turkish side of the border north of Aleppo, was enough to spot foreign fighters hailing a taxi to the Syrian border.
Turkey reported that it had kicked out 1,100 European fighters. At points it has seemed upset at the foreign fighters, closing the border this fall when ISIS took over nearby areas. Still, Ankara seems reluctant to clamp down on ISIS in areas where it has battled the Kurdish PYD, whose growing strength is a threat to Turkey. (The PYD has close ties to the PKK, the militant Kurdish group in Turkey which Ankara is now trying to make peace with.) At ISIS and Nusra Front safe houses across southern Turkey, fresh recruits from Europe, Australia and to a lesser extent, the U.S., turn in their Western passports and receive a Syrian I.D. They are issued a nom du guerre and cross the border to Syria's battlefields.

According to U.S. and European intelligence and security officials, scores of jihadist fighters from Europe who streamed to Syria to join Islamic extremist rebels have begun returning home, some are suspected of plotting terror attacks, with this last attack in Belgium being the first effort by one such fighter.

For the U.S. and Western countries, the returning jihadists pose the biggest long-term concern of the Syrian civil war. The total number of fighters from Europe is difficult to track, but officials and academics estimate it at about 1,000 or more, including from Germany, France and the Netherlands. Dozens have traveled to Syria from the U.S. 
The fact is that the recruiting efforts in Europe's mosques aim for Muslim youth with clean records who aren't on the radar of intelligence services. This makes it easier for them to return home later. Sources have found that they create small groups and form a strong sense of group cohesion with a leader in the middle…surrounded by young, aspiring jihadists. Security officials are concerned because, once inside Europe, the returning fighters can move across borders with relative ease. Belgium is just a two-day drive from Syria and from there; an undetected jihadi with a European passport could make his way to the U.S. virtually unimpeded.

According to the breakdown per European country, you can see that if one person was able to create as much terror in Belgium, imagine if the numbers provided below constitute the upcoming level of effort by ISIS in Europe.

-U.K. Officials say they are aware of more than 200 people who have gone to Syria from the U.K., and that the number could be much higher.

-Denmark At least 45 people linked to Denmark have traveled to Syria since the summer of 2012, Danish authorities say.

-France About 110 people from France are believed to be currently fighting in Syria, says the French Interior Ministry. Dozens have returned from combat to France.

-Germany At least 210 suspected Islamic extremists, some as young as 16 years old, carrying German passports have left the country to fight in Syria. At least 50 of them have returned to Germany.

-Netherlands Up to 100 people have joined the war, according to Dutch officials.

-Sweden About 30 or more Swedish nationals have joined al Qaeda-inspired groups in Syria, the Swedish Security Service says.

-At the Daily Beast, Eli Lake is reporting that more than 100 Americans are fighting in Syria.

The biggest issue in all of this is that ISIS has a strategic vision for transnational violence. Unlike most others operating in Syria, ISIS is equally happy to fight other rebel groups. That's because for ISIS, the battle against Assad is only one element of a broader struggle for global power.

Correspondingly, ISIS will almost certainly try to use "tourist" recruits to attack their home countries. As Eli Lake notes, the access that European passports grant – making it easier to enter the United States and launch an attack – is a major concern. It’s a growing fear for EU-US Intelligence services. Not simply for its physical threat, but for the political consequences that would follow. Imagine, for example, that a group of British or French citizens attacked an American target. The fallout would almost certainly involve aggressive unilateral US intelligence operations in Europe, new visa restrictions and further politicization of productive intelligence relationships (too often ignored). In human, economic and political terms, an attack would be disastrous.

Unfortunately, the challenges posed by ISIS only reflect broader trends in Sunni-Islamist terrorism. Pushed by al Qaeda core leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and led by ambitious terrorists, Salafi-Jihadist groups have diversified. Whether it’s ISIS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, or AQAP and al-Wuhayshi, or al-Shabaab and Godane, or Boko Haram and Shekau, we see independent groups that ally where it suits them. This is forcing western Intelligence services to stretch their finite collection and analysis capabilities in hard choices of priority. Things are so bad that we must gamble on whom to monitor and whom to support.

Ultimately, successful Intelligence work is as much the product of luck as anything else. This explains why officials on both sides of the Atlantic are adopting an increasingly alarmist tone. They see the rising storm and they expect mayhem in its wake.

David Ignatius believes the terrorist threat coming out of Syria and Iraq is potentially the most worrying development in the Middle East since the late 1970s. FBI Director James Comey in May 2014 even said that: “All of us with a memory of the 1980s and 1990s saw the line drawn from Afghanistan ... to September 11. We see Syria as that, but an order of magnitude worse” because of the larger number of foreign fighters. 

Taken overall, while the core of Al Qaida has been diminished since Bin Laden’s demise, much of the wider terrorist network remains potent, albeit more focused on local grievances than grander international ambitions. However, danger may be growing from home-grown threats fuelled by battle-hardened, radicalized individuals returning from foreign theatres of war, especially Syria, with greater terrorist resolve and capabilities. We must work to dismantle this organization and fiercely monitor those that enter the United States.



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