Monday, January 17, 2005

Recruiting in Europe for Hiraba (not Jihad)

Thanks to The Counterterrorism Blog:
Michael Taarnby, a social anthropologist and researcher in Denmark, has just completed his final 57-page report on "Recruitment of Islamist Terrorists in Europe: Trends and Perspectives" for the Danish Ministry of Justice and the Police Intelligence Agency (PET). Taarnby concludes that the threat of Al-Qaida-linked fundamentalist terrorism in Europe has not been significantly diminished in the last three years--and that, in fact, it has become more challenging to identify and uproot.
Get Taarnby's Report here.

Want to be tantalized before you read the whole report? OK.

Recruitment in Europe before 9/11
Before 11 September 2001, Europe was considered a tolerant area by militant Islamists because it was possible to advertise a connection to the Jihad. Prospective Mujaheddin only had to ask somebody with a public appearance to arrange for training and recruitment, most often through the Afghan camps. The tolerant attitude of governments and the indifference of the population in general resulted in a systematic effort by radical clerics to preach the virtues of Jihad from Mosques in Europe. The best known of these Mosques is the one located in Finsbury Park in London, led since 1996 by the charismatic Abu Hamza Al-Masri, himself a former Mujaheddin. Radical Islamist propaganda was sold at the Mosque, including audiotapes and videos with graphic combat footage, all in line with the Salafist leanings of the Imam. Abu Hamza appears to have been a vital link in sending young Muslims off to train for Jihad.

Recruitment was conducted fairly openly and candidates were channelled through fringe extremist Salafist Mosques. This traffic was to a certain extent known by the authorities, who deliberately ignored it on the assumption that the Holy Warriors would not conduct operations on European soil. In several instances, complaints by local Muslims infuriated by the behaviour of the Islamists were considered as domestic disputes. This approach has been labelled an expression of political correctness and it is difficult to come up with a more plausible interpretation. The fear of provoking Muslim communities without reason created a climate in which the Islamists felt quite secure. Over the years the most important destination by far was Afghanistan, although the reason for going there changed dramatically.
Recruitment in Europe Post 9/11
Efforts to prevent terrorist recruitment in Europe increased dramatically after 11 September 2001 but with limited results. The sudden change in the attitude of the governments meant that the recruiters were prohibited to speak as openly as they had done right up until the attacks on America. Europe is gradually, but surely, rivalling the Middle East and Afghanistan as a recruiting hub of Islamist terrorists. Terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda and the GSPC are very well entrenched in Western Europe, where they have established clandestine networks and terrorist cells. During the 1990s, these networks managed to stay clear of counter-terrorist investigations and only a few were uncovered. It is not possible to come up with a realistic estimate of the number of terrorists presently located in Europe, but it is a question of quality rather than quantity. Despite the efforts to track down Islamist terrorists, Europe has remained an active centre for terrrorist support activity such as propaganda, recruitment, fundraising and procurement (Gunaratna 2004). There is still a terrorist presence in Europe organised according to mutual ideologies and personal friendships. The significance of a shared ideology is crucial and has allowed militant Islamists to gain entry into an otherwise closed community of Holy Warriors.
The NEW Version of Al Quaeda

The ‘Real Al Qaeda’

The Al Qaeda that masterminded 11 September 2001 and created a terrorist infrastructure during the 1990s has suffered serious setbacks and heavy losses. This particular network has been significantly weakened in the global war on terror. The initiative has shifted to a new and younger generation of Islamist terrorists who are much less linked to the original core of Al Qaeda. The new generation is not affiliated with the companionship of the Afghan war, the following civil war, or the environment of the training camps. Possessing weak organisational links to the original Al Qaeda members, they have chosen instead to align themselves with the broader aims of the Global Jihad. The current networks and the associated cells are autonomous to a high degree, and the operatives do not share the organisational history of the old core, but rather display greater independence and a looser structure. There has even been speculation that the new generation sees the old Al Qaeda as an anachronism, and they are very committed to carrying the torch further

The current and very diffuse network of Al Qaeda-inspired or related groups is extremely adaptive and dynamic. Instead of being structured and organised in a traditional organisational sense, the mutual support and coordination between members of the network is on an ad hoc basis and primarily based on a shared vision of a common enemy. Adding to the complexity is the existence of multiple, simultaneously operating networks largely independent from each other. They function like layered networks, so taking one down does not affect the others. This change in structure from a former core to a new generation of Al Qaeda operatives leads to the term of the Real Al Qaeda, which implies that it is the ideological influence of Bin Laden that matters, not the actual operational control, and this corresponds exactly with the strategic vision of Al Qaeda as it was formulated years ago.
Who Does Al Quaeda Try to Recruit?
[I]t is worthwhile to turn to the terrorists themselves to learn more about their perspectives on recruitment. Studying the publications and manuals of the terrorist organisations that are actively recruiting in Europe for the global Jihad eliminates speculation. An excellent source is the Al Qaeda manual recovered in a search in Manchester in May 2000. The voluminous computer file covered many aspects of the global Jihad, and of particular interest to this study is the ’Second Lesson: Necessary Qualifications and Characteristics for the Organization’s Members’ (USDOJ 2004). According to the manual, the member, in reality the terrorist operative, should display no less than fourteen different traits.

The primary, indispensable qualification is faith in Islam. Complementing strong religious belief, the member must be fully committed to the ideology of the organisation to free them from conceptual problems. He must be a mature and responsible person, yet willing to make sacrifices when called upon, even his own life if necessary. He must be able to listen to and accept the authority of senior members and never disclose information entrusted to him. Furthermore, he should be in good health, of a tranquil nature and intelligent. In his actions he must demonstrate caution and prudence and the ability to observe and analyze.
Which Muslims are Being Recruited?
That the recruitment process focuses on young Muslim men is indisputable, but there are invisible yet very real divisions that are unbridgeable in Muslim Europe. An example of the inherent limitations in recruitment is the exclusion of Shi’a Muslims. They are considered heretics by the proponents of militant Islamism, and this religious fault line prevents any form of allegiance. That a Shi’a movement like Hezbollah has its sympathisers and fundraisers in Europe only adds to the confusion. The Shi’a Islamists inhabit a different environment separate from the Salafi or Wahabi activists. Another example would be the absence of any significant component of Turks in the terrorist networks despite the millions of Turks residing in Europe. European radical Turks certainly exist; however, they seem to prefer other venues for expressing discontent. In short, they are not the ones who become Salafist bomb makers. From these simple but important observations it can be deducted that the global Jihad only appeals to a certain segment of European Muslims.
The Mind of the Likely Recruit
Striking among the European Islamists who have embraced terrorism is their newfound spirituality. In rejecting the superficiality and emptiness of secular modernity, where they do not fit in, they logically become attracted to a religious ideology that promises to fill the vacuum. The Islamist ideologues only promise an uphill struggle towards personal fulfilment, but this does not seem to discourage their followers: on the contrary, they are more than ready for a challenge as long as it also involves a higher meaning. In resorting to a ’traditional religion’ which is anything but traditional, they have exposed their concerns not for the fate of mankind, Islamic civilization or Islamic communities, but for themselves. As Robert S. Leiken emphasises in a comparative study, the alienated Muslim communities in Europe would appear to be a much more fertile ground for recruitment for radical groups than Muslim communities in the US.
What about Converts? Clearly, if a large number of terrorists who don't look like your average young Muslim man enter the fray, it will be bad news.
Individuals who have converted to Islam represent a miniscule minority in the ranks of the militant Islamists; however, they are potentially highly deployable for Jihad. While it is difficult to create a general impression the convert’s background it would appear that they also come from the margins of society, with a few exceptions that prove there is no single profile.

The complete break with the society and culture of origin has not been examined properly and many questions remain unanswered. However, I do suspect that Olivier Roy is on the right track when he claims that the core issue is not linked to theology but to post-modernism. Those converts of interest to this study embraced Islam vigorously and proceeded to militant Islam. They entered mainstream Islam just as quickly as they deviated, thus raising some fundamental questions about their spiritual bearings. Converts who adopt Jihad as a lifestyle apparently do not possess the cultural or religious grounding necessary to asses the tenets of Islamism independently. It is considerably easier to convince a convert about the religious obligation of Jihad.


A surprising number of converts foundered in drugs and pretty crime before turning to Islam, and quite a few were recruited while serving a prison sentence (Smith 2004). Jerome and David Courtallier, French brothers who converted and turned to Jihad, followed this pattern and they later went to Afghanistan to train (Camus 2004). Some converted abroad, and perhaps there is a parallel to the recent immigrants. Lionel Dumont converted while doing military service in Africa and Jerome Courtallier in Leicester under the strong influence of Beghal.

The ... types of young European Muslims who are susceptible to recruitment originate from a very diverse range of individual backgrounds, yet they all embraced militant Islam unconditionally. Marginalisation was present in one form or another before they accepted violent activism. The sequence of marginalisation preceding religious revival confirms the view that although Islam is an important aspect in understanding Islamist terrorism, the data available strongly suggests that social conditions serve as the foundation.
Where is this recruitment taking place?
Before 11 September 2001 European Islamists would usually operate more or less openly through certain Mosques, Islamic information centres, Islamic schools and charities. Open as well as covert support was extended to the Mujaheddin in Chechnya and Afghanistan to the apparent indifference of the authorities. Examples of radical Mosques that became prominent in the process of affiliation with the Jihad are Finsbury Park Mosque in London, the Islamic Cultural Centre in Milan, the Abu Bakr Mosque in Madrid, and the Al-Quds Mosque in Hamburg. Throughout the 1990s these localities served as the gateway to the global Jihad and dispatched militant young Muslims to training sites in Afghanistan or to the frontlines in Bosnia and Chechnya.


Recruitment is still taking place although it has undergone some noticeable changes and the role of the radical clerics has changed. They are no longer able to recruit openly because of intense scrutiny by the authorities. Instead they have embarked on a massive propaganda effort extolling the virtues of Jihad and the Mujaheddin, carefully avoiding any direct involvement. The ill-reputed radical institutions have been replaced by underground Mosques often located in the very same cities as the former ones. This is due to what could be termed a sustainable environment, meaning a situation where there are sufficient Islamists, former Mujaheddin and people with the necessary connections to sustain an alternative environment. Years ago it was places like London, Hamburg, Milan and Madrid that featured prominently on a map of the European Jihad, much like they do today. Having carved out a territory for themselves the Islamists in these cities have contributed disproportionately to the global Jihad. In contrast, similar prominent cities like Berlin, Rome or Barcelona have not experienced the same level of militant Islamist presence. It would appear that Islamists residing in these cities lacked the contacts needed to enter a wider European network (Sageman 2004).
Is there a center of this?


Islamic terrorist organizations still consider London as the launching pad for enlisting new recruits. This conviction is supported by a thorough understanding of immigration laws, adherence to the individual’s right to privacy, and the constraints and limitations of the British security services (Fighel 2003).
For years the Finsbury Park Mosque was the hub of European terrorists and its role and function deserves to be mentioned in this context.

Abu Hamza al-Masri founded the Supporters of the Sharia (SOS), which used the North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park as its base, and the attendees of the late 1990s were a virtual who’s-who in European Jihadist circles. In 1998 worshippers began to notice groups of young men staying overnight at the Mosque. Many where Algerians and were recruited by Djamel Beghal, who had been assigned the task of setting up cells in Europe by senior Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan. Beghal arrived from France in 1997 and quickly became known as an engaging figure who circulated among the drifters and asylum seekers steered towards Finsbury Park by other militants, inviting them to linger after Friday prayers and join study groups. By the spring of 1998 Beghal had three would-be suicide bombers staying with him at the Mosque: Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard Reid and Nizar Trabelsi (Shameen 2002). Feroz Abbasi, a young Briton, later incarcerated on charges of terrorism at the US prisoner holding facility on Guantanamo, revealed that it was people from Finsbury Park who helped him organize his terrorist training in Afghanistan. Abu Hamza was singled out as his mentor. Among other people who visited the Mosque were Ahmed Ressam, Anas Al-Liby, Abu Doha, Earnest James Ujaama and several of the Britons held in Guantanamo (Leiken 2004). Beghal was arrested in Dubai in 2001 and was about to initiate a series of attacks on American targets in Europe after a year-long stay in Afghanistan where he worked closely with Abu Zubeida. His recruits from London were central operatives to the plans (Bright 2001).
Tantalized enough? Read the whole thing.

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