Posts Tagged ‘France’

A longer piece that I wrote a little while ago that is testimony I offered to the British Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, but has only been published now. It explores the threat in relation to the UK and how British interests are affected by what is happening in the evolution of terrorism in North and West Africa. It may re-emerge in parts in a future RUSI piece I have been working on, but for the time being here we go. The title is not of my choosing, but was the one offered by the call for submissions.

The UK’s Response to Extremism and Political instability in North and West Africa

Written evidence from Raffaello Pantucci Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

1. The threat of North African terrorism to UK interests at home and overseas is not new to the British Security and Intelligence Agencies (SIA). Recent events, however, have highlighted how the threat has evolved and in particular how this threat might express itself back to the United Kingdom or as a threat to national interests abroad.

2. As the more general threat from Al-Qa’ida terrorism has disaggregated and diversified, the particular menace from North and West African has developed into a higher profile priority. All of this poses a problem for the SIA who have limited resources that had focused on other parts of the globe.

3. With North Africa in particular, the Prime Minister staked out a particular rhetoric in the wake of the terrorist incident at In Amenas when he told parliament ‘we face a large and existential terrorist threat from a group of extremists based in different parts of the world who want to do the biggest possible amount of damage to our interests and way of life…. those extremists thrive when they have ungoverned spaces in which they can exist, build and plan.’ [1] But what exactly is the threat to the United Kingdom from networks in North Africa that have so far not presented a clear and present danger to British domestic interests? Moreover, how does this feed into the larger picture of the terrorist threat faced by the country?

The Threat Back Home

4. In the years immediately after 11 September 2001, British security forces were less concerned about the threat from South Asia than about Algerian terrorist networks operating or present in the UK in cities like London, Manchester and Birmingham.

5. This concern was premised on an expectation that these networks were closely aligned to Al-Qa’ida ideologically and that individuals from these groups had formative experience and expertise from undertaking jihad in Afghanistan and/or Bosnia. As such, British security services were monitoring a number of North Africans living in the UK, including Amar Makhlulif – also known as Abu Doha – Rachid Ramda and Rabah Kadre. Abu Doha was believed to be a key figure in a network of plots that stretched across Europe, North America and as far as the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan. He was also connected to fellow Algerian Ahmed Ressam who was intercepted on 14 December 1999, headed from Canada to detonate a device at Los AngelesInternationalAirport to mark the millennium. Abu Doha also knew Rachid Ramda and Rabah Kadre, both of whom were extradited to France where they were convicted for their involvement in terror plots in France with links to Algerian networks. [2]

6. All of these men used to frequent the community established by Abu Hamza Al-Masri at the Finsbury Park Mosque in North London. This was a place where Al-Qa’ida-linked recruiters would operate and which Kamel Bourgass used as a postal address and photocopy shop for his poison recipes. Linked to a broader network of Algerians, Bourgass went on to murder DC Stephen Oake and was convicted of plotting to carry out a terrorist incident involving ricin. Whether he was directly connected to Al-Qa’ida remains unclear, though it is evident that he was involved in Algerian networks that had supported fighters from the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) and the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC). Whilst his ultimate targets and aims –and even, possibly, his name – have never been definitely clarified, the plot and the network around him seemed to indicate that the threat to the UK from Al-Qa’ida networks was most likely to emanate from the North African community that gravitated around Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park Mosque.

7. Beyond Algerians, post-2001 the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), another North African group, were certainly part of the UK threat environment as were other Islamist organizations with their roots in Algeria and Tunisia (En Nada for example). However, threats did not appear to materialize from these groups in the same way as from the Algerian community.

8. This profile was turned on its head when just over a year after Stephen Oake’s murder, when a cell known by their police codename ‘Crevice’, was arrested as part of a plot within the UK. They hailed mostly (though not exclusively) from second-generation Southern Asian backgrounds, and had close connections to British extremist groups like Al-Muhajiroun, as well as to Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park Mosque. Operation Crevice and a number of cells connected to it highlighted the way in which elements mostly from Britain’s South Asian community had made connections directly to Al-Qa’ida. While the connection was not exclusively South Asian by any means, they constituted the largest group involved in the networks in the UK and the connection to Afghanistan and Pakistan became an intelligence focus.

Diversification

9. As time has passed the threat has adapted. As Jonathan Evans, the director-general of the Security Service put it last June, ‘whereas a few years ago 75% of the priority casework addressed by my Service had some sort of Pakistan and/or Afghanistan dimension, thanks to our efforts and those of our international partners that figure has reduced and now stands at less than 50%. We appear to be moving from a period of deep and focused threat to one where the threat is less monolithic but wider. Al-Qa’ida affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and the Sahel have become more dangerous as Al-Qa’ida in Pakistan has declined and we see increasing levels of co-operation between Al-Qa’ida groups in various parts of the world.’[3]

10. The nature of these foreign battlefields and their draw to Britons has also changed. The numbers may be small, but the flow of Western individuals drawn to participate in fighting abroad has continued unabated. In the case of North Africa and the Sahel in particular, it is not clear how many British citizens have traveled to the fight there. There is already one reported instance of a young Briton trying to walk across the Sahara from Mauritania to Mali, and it is unlikely that he is the only one. [4] In Libya, a number of British residents and nationals of Libyan descent returned to fight alongside the rebels, though most seemed drawn by a nationalist, rather than a jihadist, narrative. And it is likely that some vestige of the previous connection between Algeria and groups in the UK continues to exist. But so far, none of this has translated into a direct threat of terrorism in the UK.

11. The most prominent international terrorist network in North Africa, Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has singled out the UK for direct punishment in its rhetoric only a few times. These threats have for the most part been connected to Abu Qatada – also known as Omar Mahmoud Othman – the radical cleric currently in British detention facing extradition to Jordan for his alleged role in terrorist plots in the country. [5] On 22 January 2009, for example, an AQIM cell snatched a group of tourists that included British national Edwin Dyer, and while Swiss and German nationals taken with Dyer were eventually released, Dyer was brutally executed in late May 2009 after the group made repeated statements demanding the British government pay a ransom and release Abu Qatada. In April 2012, the group repeated this request when they demanded Britain release the cleric and send him to an ‘Arab Spring’ country in exchange for Stephen Malcolm, a dual British-South African national who was snatched by the group in November 2011.

12. In contrast, France has some fifteen nationals currently being held by various groups in the Sahel, [6] alongside an unspecified number of nationals or residents fighting alongside the various Islamist networks operating in the region. On 5 February, French security forces arrested four people on the outskirts of Paris for their association with a network sending fighters to join AQIM. The four were linked to Cedric Lobo, a twenty-seven-year old social worker arrested in Niamey, Niger for trying to join the fighters in Timbuktu. This was merely one in a number of investigations the French are undertaking as they try to get a handle on the connections between North African jihadists and other networks at home.

13. However, while there are networks in North Africa with tentacles back in Europe, it is not currently clear that these groups have either the capacity or intention to use them to launch attacks. In fact, the far more likely impact might continue to revolve around regional incidents in which foreigners are targeted as a means of gaining attention and as reprisals for Western involvement in northern Mali. These are not likely to be on the scale of In Amenas, but more along the lines of kidnappings or the targeting of Western corporate interests. Of particular concern in this regard are Mali’s neighbours Niger and Mauritania. Niger in particular appears to be in the cross-hairs with a number of alarming incidents of late, including the double suicide attack in late May in which bombers targeted a military base in Agadez and a French run (the company Areva) uranium mine in Arlit, killing 21 people. The attack was claimed by the potentially resurrected MokhtarBelmokhtar’s ‘Signed in Blood Battalion’ that was also responsible for the In Amenas incident. [7]

14. Moreover, following the 2011 intervention in Libya, a new area of instability has opened up with a growing menace also posed by training camps in the lawless southern parts of the country. A further threat is apparent in Benghazi, where Western interests have been repeatedly targeted, including the assault on the British ambassador in June 2012 and the death of the American ambassador Christopher Stevens in September 2012. These particular dangers have resulted in the issuance of a number of alerts by the Foreign Office advising against travel to the city by British nationals.

15. But potential regional repercussions may stretch beyond the immediate borders of Mali and the Sahel. There have been reports of Nigerian extremists training at camps in Timbuktu, and Boko Haram leader, AbubakarShekaku, was believed to have been spotted in Gao in mid-January. Reflecting potential concern from this link, in January, France issued an alert to its citizens in northern Nigeria and those living around Abuja fearing potential reprisals for French action in Mali. Again, there is potential evidence that the Boko Haram link may have stretched into Niger with a recent incident at a prison in Niamey allegedly involving Boko Haram prisoners who were trying to escape and had managed to arm themselves with guns. [8]

16. Indeed, the connection between Nigerian Islamists and Sahel-based groups seems to be more than occasional, and in December 2011 a group calling itself ‘Al-Qa’ida in the Land Beyond the Sahel’ – a group that seems likely to have been a precursor of sorts of the Boko Haram splinter group Ansaru – claimed to be holding British national Chris McManus who had been snatched in Birnin-Kebbi, northwest Nigeria. In March 2012, British Special Forces mounted an assault to save Mr McManus and fellow hostage Italian national Franco Lamolinara, an incident that ended with the deaths of numerous captors including the two Europeans. This sort of kidnapping was repeated again in February 2013, when a group of British, Italian, Greek and Lebanese nationals were snatched from a construction site in northwestern Nigeria, and then soon after the seizing of a French family of seven in northern Cameroon. The first incident was believed to be linked to Ansaru, with the group claiming responsibility and who later executed the prisoners on the basis of a claimed visible British support for the government in Nigeria. Responsibility for the second incident remains unclear though appears to fall to elements close to Boko Haram, and the group was ultimately released unharmed in April 2013, two months after their abduction. The danger to such individuals and companies is clearly going to increase in the near future in the broader region, though again, this keeps the threat at a regional, rather than international level.

17. The resolution of these two kidnappings highlights the particular danger, however, from groups that are espousing a globalist jihadist rhetoric. While Boko Haram appears willing to have negotiated the release of the group, Ansaru chose instead to execute its hostages. This poses a serious consideration for governments and companies operating in the region. Hostage negotiations that can be concluded peacefully, involving exchanges of money or something else, are one issue. If on the other hand, as it increasingly seems likely with Ansaru, the group is seeking to make a point – then the insurance costs and willingness of individuals to work in areas where the group is active will increase. Fortunately, thus far incidents of kidnapping by such groups remain relatively few in number, however, this shift in methodology requires close attention given the potential implication to foreign interests investing money and materiel into the region.

Recommendations

18. While the prime minister may have struck a dramatic tone when he spoke of ‘existential’ and ‘generational’ struggle, the underlying problems have long tails. A pragmatic British counter-terrorism response needs to focus on a number of aspects that strike the balance between protecting national interest and political realities at home. The British public – and most other Western publics and governments – will no longer support long-term heavy military engagement in foreign nations from where the direct threat to their country seems opaque. The result must be a light-footprint approach focused on training to develop local capacity and on understanding how the threat is set to develop. In the longer term, this would involve a clear focused on stabilization and development that will help resolve age-old regional disputes, and in turn reduce the space available for Islamist groups to move in. [9]

19. More practically and immediately, such an approach should seek to:

Strengthen and Develop Local Links

The Prime Minister’s visit to Algeria and Libya is an example of how this approach should work in practice: developing strong links to local security forces and bolstering their capacity to address domestic issues through the provision of training and equipment. Going forwards, training future leadership cadres in regional militaries will have the added bonus of allowing for the early development of strong local contacts.

20. Help Foster Stronger Regional Connections and Develop Border Security

The lessons of In Amenas and the subsequent incidents that have been seen across the region is that terrorist networks in this region are highly mobile and adaptable, and are able to slip back and forth across porous borders. Helping foster greater regional co-operation and interaction is therefore essential in countering these groups’ ability to act. Developing regional confidence-building measures and brokering regular interactions between regional security forces will help cross-border governmental relationships develop into effective counter-terrorist tools.

21. Improve British Regional Intelligence Capacity

British foreign intelligence capacity, and in particular defence intelligence, has been shrunk in recent years. This poses a problem when the armed forces are asked to deploy in previously uncovered parts of the world. Developing and maintaining this capacity across the board in at-risk regions will be crucial in identifying future threats, as well as understanding them better when incidents occur. How DIS and other SIA collaborate in sharing intelligence and pre-empting threats is also a point to consider

22. Develop a Deeper Understanding of the Threat These Groups Pose and How They Connect Together

International terrorism is no longer the monolith it was in the period immediately after 11 September 2001. In order to continue to counter it, it is crucial that we understand the various groups and sub-groups involved, their nature and aims, their complexity and how they relate to, and communicate with, each other. By better understanding these relationships, it will also be easier to develop counter-strategies that focus on identifying fissures between groups and ways of pulling them apart.

23. Recognising the role of local communities

The growing priority and focus placed upon North and West Africa in counter-terrorism terms requires a parallel push in Prevent terms. Prevent – the forward looking aspect of counter-terrorism that seeks to stop people from adopting radical narratives – policy will play a key role in ensuring that Britain’s North and West African communities understand British foreign policy in the region and feel that their views in turn are being heard and understood. If engaged with positively, they can play a key role in protecting Britain’s interests. Without robust counter-narrative work and effective CT-informed community policing, there is a risk that the issue of the ‘home grown’ South Asian terrorism of 2005 onwards will be witnessed again in the North and West African community.

24. Yet all of this presents a further potential long-term problem: that of how the UK should balance a strategy of encouraging local people to deal with local problems whilst guaranteeing that human rights and due process are observed (support for which governments might undermine efforts at engaging with local communities in the UK). The foreign secretary highlighted this problem during a speech at RUSI on 14 February 2013, observing that alliances of convenience based on a common threat perception can lead to political backlash that can also inflame the very narrative they seek to address. The answer to this is unclear, and is likely to be found in a pragmatic approach that ensures that certain red lines are not crossed by British authorities, while also recognising that allies using methods that Britain may disapprove of may end up turning up information that helps to address the threat. As such, efforts should be made to train local authorities in improving their methods and agencies should be proactive in advancing this perspective; simply cutting off contact is not a workable response.

Conclusion

25. The time in which threats abroad could be seen as detached from threats at home has passed. Terrorist networks in North Africa may have difficulty reaching Britain’s streets, but the potential for such groups to threaten British nationals and interests overseas is high, and the intent to strike in the UK continues to lurk in the background of their rhetoric. The region is rich in energy and other commodities that make it a key target for a range of groups. Regional instability is set to result in upward pressure on energy prices and other commodities sourced from the region, something that will have a direct economic impact on the UK.

26. The British government’s current response focuses on intelligence co-operation and local capacity-building as a means of countering the threat posed by such groups. However, countries in the region have very different abilities to address such problems at present. The reality is that groups like AQIM, Ansar Dine, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Signed in Blood Battalion,Ansaru and Boko Haram operate in a territory that is almost the size of Europe. Groups in northern Mali in particular have strong smuggling and nomadic traditions, making them adept at slipping back and forth across porous desert borders. None of this is new to foreign security services, which have increasingly come to view AQIM as a criminal-terrorist network focused on drugs and smuggling rather than on perpetrating international terrorist attacks.

27. Furthermore, nations in the Sahel in particular lack the capacity to implement long-term strategies to counter the underlying issues that facilitate recruitment into terrorist groups. Establishing ‘Prevent’ and ‘Combating Violent Extremism’-style programmes in these countries will be important, but is something that is currently hard to envisage. The focus at present is on countering immediate threats, and clamping down on emerging crises, rather than on a long-term vision for dealing with national issues whose roots are deep.

28. The threat to the UK remains offshore. However, it is not impossible, for example, to imagine a group or individual deciding, without direction, to launch an attack within British borders, or elsewhere within Europe with links to the region. Fed off a diet of grim images from Mali, radical messages online and a perception that the British government is complicit in the deaths of Muslims abroad, a group or individual might decide to launch a lone actor-style operation. But there are many potential sources of motivation for such an incident, and this would not necessarily have to be linked to North Africa.

29. Additional to this, the danger exists that British jihadists may start to see the region as an alternate battlefield where they can receive training. There is already some evidence of this shift at least in notional terms. In a plot disrupted in April 2012 in Luton – a group who later pled guilty to plotting to carry out a terrorist attack and training – spoke in January 2011 of potentially going to join al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) as an alternative to going to Pakistan. The group were ultimately able to make some connections in Pakistan, but had they not, the Sahel may have been an alternative for them. While Syria currently offers a more tempting and active battlefield for aspirant British jihadists, given the ongoing British connections to Libya and opportunities offered in the broader Sahel, it is possible that more individuals may choose this path.

30. It is also possible that groups in North Africa decide to launch an incident themselves, or that their networks come to be directed by individuals with a more aggressively anti-Western agenda. Again, both scenarios are possible, but the absence, so far, of any evidence of plotting, or indeed of anything more than rhetorical intent against the West, suggests that, at present, this threat seems distant. This might abruptly change in the future, but the tipping point is hard to judge in every case.

31. If the dynamics of conflict and instability continues, flow of refugees from the area also may provide AQIM or other groups with an opportunity to send operatives to Europe and the UK.

32. More likely, trouble will continue to brew in North Africa, with the periodic targeting of foreign interests continuing to be used as a means to attract attention, as well as to punish the West for its involvement in Mali and elsewhere. That the problem remains regional does not preclude the need for a response, however, as simply ignoring it will not make it go away and indeed will simply store up problems that will need to be confronted later. The current impasse faced by Europe is the direct result both of years of neglect of the problem, and of the fall of a number of authoritarian regimes in North Africa. To step back from North and West Africa now could provide an opportunity for Al-Qa’ida affiliates to establish themselves in a region closer to Europe than ever before.

NOTES


[1] David Cameron to parliament, 18 January 2013, < http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130118/debtext/130118-0001.htm >, accessed 26 February 2013.

[2] These men were not the only ones; others included DjamelBeghal and KamelDaoudi , a pair who belonged to London’s Algerian community before they were extradited to France (from Dubai and London respectively), where they were convicted for their roles in planning an attack on the American Embassy in Paris.

[3] Jonathan Evans, Address at the Lord Mayor’s Annual Defence and Security Lecture, Mansion House, City of London , 25 June 2012.

[4]

[5] Within this context it is worth noting that Abu Qatada used to boast to British intelligence services of his hold over Britain ’s radical Algerian community. He claimed to be able to rein in any potentially negative repercussions that might occur as a result of the extradition of Rashid Ramda . See Special Immigration Appeals Commission, AQ v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Open judgment before the Honorable Mr Justice Collins, [2004] UKSIAC 15/2002, 8 March 2004.

[6] Lori Hinnant , ‘Why Are So Many French Held by al- Qaida?’ , Associated Press , 21 February 2013.

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-22654584

[8] http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/niger-official-boko-haram-prisoners-tried-to-escape-from-niamey-jail-killed-2-guards/2013/06/02/6b25b6b8-cb78-11e2-8573-3baeea6a2647_story.html

[9] This is apart from the Prime Minister’s recent statements about increasing the volume of DfID’s budget that is used for peace and stability operations.

It has been an eventful weekend as the Algerian crisis appears to have finally wrapped up. I have been doing various bits of media, including a short interview that was used in this piece in the Sunday Telegraph, focusing in particular on the Algerian connection to the UK. As it becomes clearer what was the nationality the alleged ‘perfect English speakers’ was, this aspect will doubtless become more of a focus. For the time being, here is my latest for CNN on what the incident might mean for broader terrorism issues globally. Per CNN’s format, I have only posted the first bit of text, please follow links to read the whole thing.

Algeria hostage crisis may be future of terrorism

EDITOR’S NOTE: Raffaello Pantucci is a Senior Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the author of the forthcoming ‘We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen’ (Hurst/Columbia University Press).

By Raffaello Pantucci, Special for CNN

ALGERIA-MALI-CONFLICT

At this still inconclusive stage it is difficult to know exactly what the aim of the groups involved in the attack on the gas installation in Algeria was. Did they truly want to ransom the hostages they took or massacre them, and was money or punishment to the Algerian or French government’s the driving motivation? What is clear is that the incident has immediately captured international attention, highlighting again how terrorism continues to be a tool that can be used by groups to bring focus to their causes. The deadly operation itself further highlights the direction that we are likely to see Islamist terrorism continue to go in over the next few years.

What seems clear is that the operation was conducted by a group of jihadist fighters under the command of Moktar Belmokhtar, a longtime fighter-criminal who had recently broken away from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to form a separate unit that was aligned with the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA). Reports seem to suggest that Belmokhtar is likely somewhere in the region of Gao, a city in eastern Mali that has recently been targeted by French forces as they seek to reclaim the country from Islamist extremists.

More

An article for the website of my new employer, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), where I have been appointed a Senior Research Fellow. I just started and events in north Africa precipitated quite quickly resulting in the below article for the website, though this piece initially was more focused on the French decision to go into Mali. In the spike in media interest around events in Algeria, I did a short interview for ITN which was subsequently picked up by the PBS Newshour.

France Confronts Terror Threat in Africa, Risks Attack at Home

RUSI Analysis, 17 Jan 2013

By Raffaello Pantucci, Senior Research Fellow

The French assault on militant jihadists in Mali reflects a recognition in Paris that the long-brewing Islamist trouble in North Africa is something that has started to spiral out of control, and has potential to have a direct impact within France.

Mali Insurgents

France’s decision to deploy forces to Mali comes in the wake of a failed attempt to rescue a French operative captured by Somali group al Shabaab. This regional French show of strength has been treated as something of a surprise, but reflects a recognition in Paris that the long-brewing Islamist trouble in North Africa is something that has started to spiral out of control and has the potential to have a direct impact within France.

The Nature of the Threat

Islamist groups currently operating in northern Mali (and  wider North Africa) have, broadly speaking, evolved out of the chaos of Algeria in the 1990s. Following their expulsion from Pakistan, former Algerian mujahedeen fighters from Afghanistan returned home to a government that voided the election victory of the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS).

Mali Azawad

Amongst the violent groups to emerge was the Groupe Islamique Armée (GIA) that took up arms against the Algerian state as well as launching a campaign of attacks within France. As the decade wore on, the group’s brutality escalated leading to a splintering of factions. The GIA transformed into le Group Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat (GSPC), that then rebranded itself in January 2007 to become Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) following a video from September 2006 in which Al-Qa’ida number two Ayman al Zawahiri proclaimed a ‘blessed union’ between the two groups. This did not result, however, in a spate of international attacks as the group came under heavy pressure regionally and became more known for kidnapping foreigners for ransom rather than international terrorism.

Exploiting the Post-Arab Spring Weakness

The ‘Arab Spring’ seems to have revived the group. In particular the collapse of the Gadhafi regime in Libya gave Islamist and separatist networks across the region sudden access to a flood of high grade weaponry. Tuareg rebels in northern Mali seized the opportunity to take over increasingly substantial portions of territory. Sensing an opening, elements from AQIM profited from the situation to co-opt the rebellion, leading to the collapse of local military capacity as the rebels took ever-larger pieces of territory.

This result from the ‘Arab Spring’ was somewhat counterintuitive to the prevailing narrative at the time: that the largely secular mobs that took to the streets to chase Zine el Abidine Ben Ali from power in Tunis and ultimately depose Hosni Mubarak in Egypt were a sign of the lowering of the power of Islamist ideas in the region. In fact, the war in Libya provided militant groups with a place to practice their fighting skills, while the failure of secular groups to seize power sucked some of the ideological optimism from the ‘Arab Spring’.

As time has gone on, AQIM splintered and absorbed various illicit networks across the region to create groups Ansar Dine and Movement for Tawheed and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) – all of whom are now engaged in countering the French-led assault. These groups have been heavily armed with equipment taken from Libyan and Malian armories, with defenses built using earth moving equipment abandoned by foreign companies chased out of the area and money from ransoms provided to release foreign hostages. As a result, the groups have steadily transformed northern Mali into an ungoverned space where they can impose shariah law and work to establish an independent Islamic emirate.

This success has been noted by the international jihadist community, exemplified by the fact that he area has become one of the new battlefields drawing in excitable young foreigners seeking adventure and jihad. France, the former colonial power with a substantial Malian population resident at home, has been a particular source of such individuals, with reports varying as to the amount of French citizens being drawn to join in the fighting in Mali. French citizens have been apprehended in Niger, Mali and Mauritania believed to be on their way to join the fighting. Additionally, the FBI intercepted two Alabama natives allegedly heading to Morocco en route to Mali, and Mauritanian authorities captured a Briton trying to walk across the border through the Sahara desert. One Reuters reporter in Gao claimed to have seen at least three ‘white westerners’ amongst the Islamist fighters spotted there.

But it is not only foreign fighters alarming authorities. In late December last year, Tunisian authorities arrested some sixteen individuals suspected of being connected with AQIM who had established a camp and were training using weapons from Libyan armouries. In Libya, foreign consulates have come under repeated assault – in particular in Benghazi the American ambassador and three others were killed on the anniversary of the 11 September  attacks last year, and both the British and Italian Consul’s convoys have come under attack. And now in eastern Algeria on the border with Libya, an unknown group of foreign nationals working for oil companies seems to have been snatched by an armed group that claims to be linked to AQIM in Mali. Islamist insurgent networks across North Africa have had a new life breathed into them, something most prominently on display in northern Mali where they have managed to move beyond sporadic actions to hold large pieces of territory.

Just across the Mediterranean in Europe, the potential of this menace is clear, leading to France’s response and the willingness of other European powers to provide some support. The question, however, is whether this response comes too late. The potential for events to shift in this direction has been abundantly clear for a long time, with the news from northern Mali pointing to groups increasingly confident in their abilities and eager to consolidate control over territory and impose a hardline version of Sharia law. As the groups pushed southward towards the capital there were increasingly frantic calls by local authorities for outside intervention. As the power with closest links, France heeded this call, sending somewhere in the region of 2,500 soldiers to stem the Islamists advance in the south while using airpower to pound entrenched positions deeper in the Islamist controlled territory.

The War Could Come to France

At home, France has stepped up its security posture, with authorities alert to the potential for networks helping individuals to go and join AQIM or other groups in north Africa to attempt to carry out retaliatory attacks within France, as was done by a previous Islamist incarnation in the 1990s. Islamists in France have in the past year demonstrated an increasing level of violence, with Mohammed Merah – an terrorist trained in Pakistan who is likely to have had connections with north African networks – killing 3 off-duty soldiers, 3 Jewish children and a rabbi in Toulouse; a firebombing in November at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a newspaper that published cartoons of Mohammed; and a grenade attack in September on a Jewish supermarket in a Paris suburb.

Police launched a massive operation in the wake of this last assault, killing one of the two men suspected of carrying out the grenade attack when he resisted arrest. Another eleven individuals were arrested, weapons seized, extremist literature found as well as a list of other potential Israeli targets in Paris.

Whilst none of these operations has been directly linked with events in Mali, the increasing aggressiveness of such groups in Europe is no doubt fuelled by the perceived success of groups in North Africa, something that will be further accelerated now that France has taken such an active role in quashing the insurgency. The French government is alive to the potential for retaliatory attacks at home, though it seems more likely in the short-term that we are going to see more incidents like the alleged kidnapping in Algeria with Islamist networks looking for targets of opportunity closer to home.

French authorities have been keen to emphasise their deployment would be short-term and is merely a stopgap while African forces are mustered. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared French involvement would last ‘a matter of weeks.’ Unfortunately, this seems an optimistic perspective, and it is likely that France will have to contend with a situation that will take months rather than weeks.

The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.

A slightly delayed piece for CNN on a topic I have covered repeatedly, the subject of Lone Wolves and specifically the case of Mohammed Merah in France. It has also been a quiet period of late as I am travelling in a rather far-flung place, but more on that later.

In France, a new type of Lone Wolf Threat

Editor’s note: Raffaello Pantucci is an associate fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) and the author of the forthcoming “We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Mujahedeen” (Hurst/Columbia University Press).

Analysis from Raffaello Pantucci, Special to CNN

Mohammed Merah’s death has done little to clarify what motivated him to carry out his terrorist act.

The assassination of a series of North African French soldiers, followed by the cold-blooded shooting of Jewish children as they went to school, all show evidence of a mind twisted by hate that was motivated by Islamist ideas:  The soldiers had the audacity to be members of an army fighting against Islam while the children had the misfortune of being born into the wrong religious family.

But what is most disquieting about this is that it is unclear that anyone told him to carry out his specific act. While it now seems clear that he was living within a radical milieu and had tried to go and fight jihad abroad, he seems to have chosen to carry out his act by himself.  This is the action of a terrorist operating by himself, a lone wolf; one who has so firmly imbued his ideology that he no longer feels the need to receive orders to act upon, but is able to self-activate. Screaming about being linked to al Qaeda as he battled police, Merah clearly thought of himself as a mujahedeen for their cause.

What we do know of Merah so far is that he was in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region twice. Which group he sought out specifically is unclear.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed to have trained numerous Frenchmen, while Jund-al-Khalifah, a primarily Kazakh terror group, made a somewhat dubious claim of responsibility. He had possibly also fought in Iraq – at least one family member was involved in running a network sending fighters to the country. Back in France, he appears to have visited other radicals in prison and existed on the fringes of French radical group Forsane Alizza. But it is not clear that any of these organizations actively directed him into action.

This is not the first time that we have seen individuals of this sort on the European jihadist scene. Back in the early morning of January 1, 2010, Mohamed Geele came crashing through the front door of cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s house in Aarhus, Denmark.  He had shaved and perfumed himself in the manner of a fighter expecting to die in the course of his action and used Google Earth to find the cartoonist’s home. Westergaard was able to hide before Geele got to him, and Danish police swiftly arrived and apprehended him after a brief shootout.

He was later identified as being a key member of a Scandinavian support network that was helping send money and fighters to Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab (“the youth”) and was spotted alongside another Somali-Dane who blew himself up in Mogadishu.  A few months before carrying out his attack, Geele had been repatriated after he was apprehended by Kenyan police on suspicion of being part of a plot to attack visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

But while Geele was clearly connected to the group, there is no particular evidence that it told him to act. When subsequently asked about the attack, Al-Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Ali Mahmud Raage said, “We appreciate the incident in which a Muslim Somali boy attacked the devil who abused our prophet” before going on to seemingly admit they knew of Geele, saying, “there could be some people who might say that boy was related to Shabaab.”  From information released during his trial, it seemed as though Geele was a radicalized young man who, once back in Denmark, fell back into his old ideologies and decided that it was his duty to punish the cartoonist.

While the whole story about Merah has not yet been told, there is a pattern like Geele’s that is possible to identify: Young men enraptured by the lure of jihad become involved in international terrorism, and then find themselves adrift and decide to act by themselves, following the outlines of what they considered to be a correct targeting package.  Like Geele, Merah seems to have been known within a community of radicals and was a known entity to local intelligence agencies.  Unlike Geele (who in court claimed it would be easy for him to get a gun), Merah seems to have been able to accumulate quite an arsenal.  And also unlike his Danish predecessor, he was able to carry out grim killings before he was caught. He was also planning on broadcasting his act posthumously, having created a video that he had sent to news organizations – though it is unclear whether Merah or someone else sent it.

Merah is also clearly quite distinct from some others who have been called lone wolf Islamist terrorists recently.  He is different from British student Roshonara Choudhry, who tried to stab an member of Parliament for his support of the Iraq War.  He is also different from Arid Uka, the 21-year-old Kosovar living in Germany who shot two American servicemen as they waited at Frankfurt Airport in revenge for what he believed American soldiers were doing in Afghanistan.  In both of those cases, the individuals involved were not particularly connected to any radical group (except through the Internet), but chose to carry out their acts of political violence by themselves, aiming at targets they thought would be justified.

Merah is clearly a more dangerous proposition; not only since he was more successful, but also because to some degree he seems to have been able to operate using effective operational security.  Clearly, French intelligence will have some explaining to do about how someone it was attentive to was able to accumulate such an arsenal, and also about how he was able to stay on the loose.  Whether this is the product of a more trained or a more dedicated mind is unclear, but what it does show is that intelligence services need to be more attentive to people who they may have considered peripheral figures on terrorist networks.  Previously, they would have been able to focus on the core, and leave the more fragmentary elements of the network on a looser leash.  But with the growing instance of individuals like Merah and Geele, and their increasing lethality, it will have to be reconsidered which individuals are of concern.

The question becomes how such individuals can be effectively focused on and how intelligence services can distinguish them from the large community of individuals that exist on the periphery of known terrorist networks but who never move into action.  While much has been made of the French tendency toward human rather than electronic intelligence as a potential reason why Merah was able to seemingly accumulate his armory and was able to stay below the radar for so long, it is unclear that greater electronic information would have necessarily uncovered him.

Within the United States, where electronic intelligence is the foundation of counter-terrorism work, individuals have managed to proceed quite far staying beneath the eyes of electronic watchers. Whatever the case, the key lesson is that it is increasingly becoming the norm that individuals less central to terrorist networks are going to move to the heart of terrorist operations. Figuring out how to distinguish them from the noise surrounding them is going to be a challenge for the next few years.

A new journal article for Studies in Conflict and Terrorism with Peter and Ryan looking at the community of “middle managers” in al Qaeda. It got a write-up on Bloomberg that appears to have been picked up in a couple of places. Took a while to emerge, but explores some ideas and a community that we thought was a bit under-explored in the counter-terrorism research.

Here is the abstract:

This article claims that the ongoing debate about the structure and dynamics of Al Qaeda has failed to appreciate the importance of an organizational layer that is situated between the top leadership and the grass-roots. Rather than being “leaderless,” it is the group’s middle management that holds Al Qaeda together. In Clausewitzian terms, Al Qaeda’s middle managers represent a center of gravity—a “hub of … power and movement”—that facilitates the grass-roots’ integration into the organization and provides the top leadership with the global reach it needs in order to carry out its terrorist campaign, especially in Europe and North America. They are, in other words, the connective tissue that makes Al Qaeda work. The article substantiates this hypothesis by providing a number of case studies of Al Qaeda middle managers, which illustrate the critical role they have played in integrating the grass-roots with the top leadership. The policy implications are both obvious and important. If neither the top leadership nor the grass-roots alone can provide Al Qaeda with strategic momentum, it will be essential to identify and neutralize the middle managers, and—in doing so—“cause the network to collapse on itself.”

Unfortunately, as it is a Routledge journal, it is behind a firewall and can be found here for those with access. However, I might be able to help point you in the direction of a copy if you get in touch.

As I mentioned previously, I was recently in Bucharest for a session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. As part of this, they have published my comments online. They can now be found here. As you will see, the presentation touches upon the terrorist threat to Europe and the western alliance more broadly – it draws on a lot of points that I go into detail about here, but I also expand a bit on some of the future threats that Europe may face.

A longer paper on the current state of the Islamist terrorist threat to Europe ten years on from 9/11 for Chatham House. It was written and presented prior to news of Awlaki’s death, so that is not included, but I do not think it alters a huge amount the thrust of the piece, except to shift the threat a bit from AQAP. I have a feeling his death will have an impact on western radicalisation, as I do think individual religious leaders like himself are important in getting young European’s excited. Will explore that in another longer piece I have forthcoming, but in the meantime here is the paper:

http://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/Research/International%20Security/010811wr_terrorism.pdf

And a link to the event: http://www.chathamhouse.org/events/view/176017#node-176017 – it was part of the European Security and Defence Forum series that Chatham House run, and thanks to Benoit and Claire for the invitation to attend and the efforts with the paper!

A new piece for Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, looking at the phenomenon of converts going to fight jihad in AfPak. I have looked at this a couple of times before, and keep considering a longer piece on it but haven’t quite figured it out yet. I know others are also looking at this, and I would welcome any ideas or thoughts on the subject.

The White Man’s Jihad

BY RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI, MAY 13, 2011| Friday, May 13, 2011 – 2:59PM

Up in the north of England, a trial is being heard against a group of men allegedly at the core of a cell recruiting and radicalizing individuals to fight in Afghanistan. The group, part of an ongoing trickle of people from the U.K. attracted to fighting in South Asia, is notable because it counts amongst its ranks a white convert, the latest in a long line of such individuals who have been drawn to militancy in South Asia. These reports of white converts in the region are naturally of particular concern to Western security services: their capacity to blend effortlessly back into the West makes them highly attractive weapons for groups seeking to launch terrorist attacks.

Back in mid-2009, an older moderate Muslim convert in London told me that his theory behind converts in terrorist cells was that they played a key role as catalysts. The presence of a convert, usually a zealous individual who had moved from a troubled past as drug addict or petty criminal to Islamist extremist, would reinforce the group’s internal dialogue and help push them deeper into their militant ideologies.

The group who bombed London’s public transport system on July 7, 2005 is the archetypal example of this. Convert Germaine Lindsay, originally of Jamaican descent, was the most overtly violent and radical of the group and may have played a role stirring the others on. According to information released during the recent Coroner’s Inquest into the bombings, he was likely involved in a gun crime incident prior to the bombing, he was reported to have been active in promoting radical groups in Luton. Additionally, he was a close student of the radical preacher Abdullah el Faisal. His presence amongst the otherwise Pakistani-Beeston group would have been as an outsider, but one who was brought into the closest of confidence, suggesting an outsized influence.

In a separate case in East London, Mohammed Hamid, also known as “Osama bin London,” was a “revert” who found his religion after a life of drugs and became a key figure in a radicalizing network training, amongst others, the July 21 team who tried to bomb London two weeks after the successful July 7 cell. And there are other examples. Looking at other failed plots linked to Waziristan, the 2006 plot to bomb airlines concurrently on transatlantic routes counted a couple of converts amongst plotters, and the 2007 plot to attack a U.S. airbase in Germany was conducted by a group of mostly Caucasian German converts.

On the battlefields of Afghanistan and Pakistan, however, these light-skinned converts face a high degree of skepticism: for example, Rahman Adam, aka Anthony Garcia, one of the plotters involved in the 2004 plot to blow up a British mall using a fertilizer based explosive, was initially turned away from training camps for being “too white.” Adam was in fact of Algerian origin and a born Muslim; he was just very pale skinned.

Prior to al-Qaeda’s attacks of September 11, 2001, the route for converts to training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan was much easier to tread. James McLintock, nicknamed the “Tartan Taliban,” first joined the jihad against the Soviet Union in the late 1980s after, by his account, he met a group of young Saudi hotheads on a flight to Pakistan as he made his way to visit a University friend. Enjoying this first taste of jihad, McLintock became a feature of the European jihadi scene, joining the fighting again in Bosnia and returning regularly to Afghanistan. Back in the U.K. alongside fellow convert and jihadi traveler Martin “Abdullah” McDaid, McLintock began running study circles at the Iqra bookshop in Beeston, northern England and training camps in the nearby Lake District that were attended by some of the July 7, 2005 cell.

And in the years immediately before September 11, there was a stream of converts who showed up and were accorded quite high levels of trust by al-Qaeda. In 1997, having converted a few years earlier in Orange County, California, Adam Gadahn made his way to Pakistan and then to Afghanistan. Using contacts he had made in the U.S., he arrived and seems to have been able to fill a vital early role as translator of Arabic material into English. By 1999 converts seemed to be arriving into South Asia from all directions. Sometime in the middle of the year Christian Ganczarski, a German-Polish convert who used the same network to get to Afghanistan as theHamburg Cell that produced Mohammed Atta, a leader of the 9/11 group, arrived in Quetta, Pakistan and after a trip back to Germany to fetch his family, moved into Osama bin Laden’s compound in Afghanistan, where he acted as the I.T. guy. At around the same time, itinerant Australian jihadist David Hicks showed up and trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba near Lahore — he tried to go and fight in Kashmir, but ended up going to train at the Al Farouq camp near Kandahar the next year, where he met a bunch of fellow peripatetic westerners including British convert Richard “shoe bomber” Reid. Early 2000, Jack Roche, a burly Australian-Brit who had converted and joined the Indonesian al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah, showed up on the recommendation of Hambali, the operations chief for the Indonesian group, to train and learn explosives and got to sit down and eat with Osama bin Laden.

Post-9/11 converts have continued to play a role in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but few appear to have continued to rise into senior roles as they had before. According to British security sources, one of the most senior was British-born Hindu convert Dhiren Barot, who was incarcerated in November 2006 in the U.K. after a long career as a jihadist foot soldier. Starting with fighting with Lashkar-e-Taiba in Kashmir in 1995, an experience he wrote about in his 1999 magnum opus “The Army of Madinah in Kashmir,” Barot went on to help 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with his global jihadist planning.

Since 9/11 instead white converts in Afghanistan and Pakistan have mostly been foot soldiers, with the militant groups there more skeptical of converts as potential Western intelligence agents. The Caucasian-seeming Rahman Adam was unable to go and train until he had connected with established jihadist Omar Khyam. An exception to this seems to have been Bryant Neal Vinas, a Queens, New York-born kid who converted to Islam, who made his way to training camps in Pakistan in September 2007 seemingly using networks from the U.S. to establish contact with radicals. It took him a bit longer to establish his bona fides, but eventually he got to meet with an array of high- and mid-ranking al-Qaeda fighters who immediately saw his potential as an operative who could easily blend back into the West.

The Waziristan-based Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) seems to have recognized this potential in a group of German converts who showed up to fight alongside them in the mid-2000s. Having trained a group of them, they sent a cell led by converts Fritz Gelowicz and Daniel Schneider to target the U.S. base in Ramstein, Germany. Other converts linked to the group instead fell in battle, includingEric Breininger who in April 2010 died in Pakistan, while the group was initially motivated by the death in Chechnya of fellow convert Thomas Fischer in late 2003. Another just disrupted allegedGerman network included another convert and helping funnel fighters to South Asia.

And the trickle goes on. In July 2010, Khalid Kelly, infamous Irish convert and former member of British extremist group Al Muhajiroun, returned home to Ireland having claimed he tried to join jihadists in Pakistan (although he was interviewed in the Times in November 2009 saying he was training to go to and fight in Afghanistan). In Kelly’s own words, however, “as a white convert, I stuck out like a sore thumb,” so he returned to Ireland instead. Others met with messier ends: according to Pakistani intelligence reports two white British converts were killed in a drone strike inDatta Khel in December 2010.

The pre-9/11 days of converts showing up and getting to meet al-Qaeda leaders are over, but these light-skinned jihadis remain a key potential threat that militant groups will attempt to actively recruit. They both help show off the group’s ongoing international appeal while also acting as excellent weapons to strike deep in the West. And until the overall threat has been eliminated, they will continue to be a feature of it.

Raffaello Pantucci is an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR). 

A new piece for Jamestown about the latest Europol annual terrorism report, focusing on the elements linked to North Africa and specifically Libya. There are a whole raft of issues in here that I really only touch on. The tensions this is causing within Schengen are fascinating to me. I wonder if retrospectively Libya is going to prove to be a major turning point for European foreign policy – the shift to coalitions of the willing outside, while internally a receding of free movement.

Europol Identifies Security Threat to Europe from North Africa’s “Arab Spring”

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 19
May 12, 2011 05:19 PM Age: 4 hrs

Libyan migrants wait in line at the port in Benghazi, Libya.

Without food, employment or security, thousands of sub-Saharan Africans are taking to the sea in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats in desperate attempts to escape the violence in Libya. They are joining some 25,000 Tunisians who have already fled to the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Linosa in hopes of gaining a foothold in Europe. Many boats have been lost in the Mediterranean crossing, at the cost of hundreds of lives (AP, May 9; EU Observer, May 3).

Last year, Mu’ammar Qaddafi struck a €50 billion deal with the European Union to regulate its borders as a “transit country” for refugees and economic migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this payoff, Qaddafi has not hesitated to use it against Europe, threatening to “turn Europe black” if various demands are not satisfied (Der Spiegel, February 24). The French minister of foreign affairs, Laurent Wauquiez, has warned: “Libya is the funnel of Africa. Flows of illegal immigrants from countries such as Liberia, Somalia and Eritrea pass through Libya… We must defend our frontiers on a European level. What we’re talking about isn’t a few tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who could arrive in Europe; it’s a potential 200,000 to 300,000 this year” (Radio France Internationale, March 2).

Taking a quite traditional view on events in North Africa, the recently published annual Europol (European Law Enforcement Agency) report on terrorist and counter-terrorist activity in Europe concludes early on that “in the short term, the absence of terrorist organizations amongst the mass Arab protests across the region has left al-Qaeda struggling for a response.” For Europol, however, there is a danger in the longer term that if the expectations of those on the streets are not met, “it could result in more powerful terrorist organizations impacting the European Union.” [1] Paired with the current tensions between Italy and France over boatloads of North African migrants who arrived in Europe via Italy and then headed immediately for their linguistic homeland in France only to be stopped by police at the French border – something infringing the free movement of even those possessing only temporary papers within the Schengen zone in Europe – the threat posed by a potential overspill of the Arab Spring into Europe becomes evident. The report mentions this potential threat early on, highlighting that “the current and future flow of immigrants originating from North Africa could have an influence on the EU’s security situation” by offering an easy way for terrorists to slip onto the continent.

Events in North Africa are not, however, the only focus of the overall report and the main conclusions are, as usual, that separatist and left-wing terrorists are the most active in Europe. In total the report covers 249 attacks, with 160 considered separatist, 45 left-wing, three Islamist and one “single-issue.” Forty of the attacks were for “unspecified reasons” – all of these coming from the UK, which does not specify the ideological driver of British-based terrorist attacks.

The numbers in the annual Europol report are notoriously unreliable given the different ways in which member states classify terrorism and the growing variety of criminal legislation under which terrorists suspects are charged. Nonetheless, the report opens its key judgments with a statement that “the threat of attacks by Islamist terrorists in the EU remains high and diverse,” a blunt declaration that shows the priority European police forces continue to place on Islamist terrorism. [2]

In fact, based on the numbers in the report, it is far more likely that European citizens are going to come into contact with separatist terrorists – 349 suspects are reported to have been arrested in the past year. In the UK in particular, this has become increasingly obvious as Irish dissident groups become ever more deadly – in April, a car bomb in Omagh, Northern Ireland killed Roman Catholic policeman Ronan Kerr, an act believed to have been carried out by the Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH – Volunteers/Soldiers of Ireland), a splinter group of the Real IRA (Telegraph [London], April 3; BBC, April 3). ONH operatives are reported to have been under surveillance recently by the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) while scouting potential targets believed to be related to the 2010 London Olympics (Belfast Telegraph, April 21).  Dissident Republican factions have returned to violence to protest the recruitment of growing numbers of Roman Catholics to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the replacement for the formerly Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary.

A few days after Kerr’s murder, a 500 lb truck bomb was found in Londonderry, and in the week before the royal wedding, the Real IRA paraded in a show of force through a cemetery in Londonderry.  They concluded by delivering a speech in which they threatened police officers “regardless of their religion, cultural background or motivation,” as well as announcing that “the Queen of England is wanted for war crimes in Ireland and is not wanted on Irish soil” (BBC, April 25).

But even within the resurgent Irish militancy in the UK there are hints of the threat from North Africa. Those with a keen sense of history will recall that Colonel Qaddafi gave Irish dissidents large quantities of Semtex explosives and it was being investigated whether some of this might have been used to kill Constable Kerr. Defecting Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa is believed to have played a major role in supplying Republican terrorists with Semtex. Conservative MP Robert Halfon said:  “If this is true then we must take every step to indict Mr. Koussa in the international war crimes courts or in the British courts for allegedly supplying the IRA with weapons which appear to have killed a policeman on Saturday” (Telegraph, April 3, 2011).

The EUROPOL report also touches upon the bigger strategic question that has been bothering experts about what the Arab Spring means for al-Qaeda’s global narrative. As the report puts it, developments in Tunisia and Egypt show that “peaceful demonstrations by ordinary people may be more effective than terrorist attacks” in effecting political change. However, the resulting “democratic space” could provide room for groups to “expand their activities,” using the “instability of state security forces” as an opportunity to launch attacks. The report notes the “clear contradiction to what al-Qaeda has insisted is the only means of defeating entrenched regimes is likely to result in a notable setback for terrorist organizations in terms of support and recruitment.” [3] So a short-term gain for terrorist groups may be overshadowed by a long-term loss.

This conclusion, however, is based on data prior to the descent of chaos on Libya.  It is unclear to what degree that state might become a new jihadist battlefield that spills back into Europe like Algeria or Bosnia did in the 1990s, or like Iraq and Afghanistan more recently. The overriding nationalist flavor of the fighters in Libya and the continuing presence of the rich target of Qaddafi and his clique is likely to keep fighters busy for the immediate future, but in the longer term it is unclear what the implications of this might be for European security. The report highlights “ongoing concern” about “the number of predominantly young EU nationals travelling to conflict areas that include Afghan/Pakistani border, Somalia and Yemen with the intent to take part in armed combat,” it remains to be seen if Libya will soon need to also be added to this list.

Notes:

1. “TE-SAT 2011 – EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report,” Europol, April 19, 2011:www.europol.europa.eu/publications/EU_Terrorism_Situation_and_Trend_Report_TE-SAT/TE-SAT2011.pdf.
2. Europol Report, p.6.
3. Europol Report, p.7.

Another podcast for ECFR, again looking at China and recent events in North Africa. This time focused on Libya, but in a slightly less coherent way than my last one. No matter – enjoy!