Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

After a period of silence, a couple of new pieces, the first for the CTC Sentinel, West Point’s excellent counter-terrorism journal. This one looks at the pernicious influence of al Muhajiroun, Anjem Choudhary and Omar Bakri Mohammed’s group across Europe. It is a subject a lot more could be written about, and the volume of information is simply massive, but at the same time there is only limited space here. The topic will become more relevant again when Anjem and Mizanur’s trial comes about, and maybe around then something else could be done on the topic.

Beyond this, had a few media conversations in the past weeks. Will save the ones around the incident at the weekend on the Thalys train for the next post, but I spoke to the South China Morning Post about the bombing in Bangkok and some Chinese terror arrests, the Telegraph about the death of the last of the Portsmouth cluster of British jihadi’s in Syria/Iraq, the Daily Mail about the plan to use soldiers in cases of emergency on UK streets, the Times about the death of Muhsin al Fadhli in Syria, and the New York Times for a large piece they did about ISIS recruitment in the UK.

Al-Muhajiroun’s European Recruiting Pipeline

August 21, 2015
Author(s): Raffaello Pantucci

On August 5, 2015 Anjem Choudary and Mizanur Rahman appeared in court to be charged and detained without bail. Initially arrested September 24, 2014, the men had been free on bail as investigators dug into their histories.[1] When the decision to formally arrest and charge was made, the Crown Prosecution Service charged the men with inviting ”support for a proscribed terrorist organization, namely ISIL, also known as ISIS or the Islamic State, contrary to section 12 Terrorism Act 2000.”[2] The specific charges seemed to crystallize a reality that was increasingly observable across Europe that the various groups associated with the al-Muhajiroun (ALM) constellation of organizations were at the heart of current European recruitment networks sending radicals to fight in Syria and Iraq.

A long-standing feature of Europe’s extremist landscape, the al-Muhajiroun family of organizations is one that has been linked to a variety of terrorist organizations. One survey of plots linked to the group in the UK concluded that of 51 incidents and plots emanating from the UK from the late 1990s until 2013, 23 were linked to the group.[3] Britain’s first known suicide bomber in Syria, Abdul Waheed Majid, had been a feature at group events since the 1990s.[4] A similar French organization Forsane Alizza was disbanded after Mohammed Merah’s murderous rampage in 2012, while one of their associates Oumar Diaby ended up heading a French brigade in Syria.[5] The group’s tentacles and links reach across the continent and are increasingly showing up at the sharper end of the terrorist threat that Europe is facing.

Al-Muhajiroun’s European History

Al-Muhajiroun (the emigrants) was born in Europe in February 1996 when Omar Bakri Mohammed Fostok (hereon Omar Bakri) was ejected from the organization Hizb ut Tahrir (HuT) in the UK. A long-term HuT activist, Omar Bakri arrived in the United Kingdom in 1984 having fled Saudi Arabia where his activities as an Islamist activist clashed with the state. In the UK he sought political asylum and soon rose to public prominence through his willingness to make provocative statements at any opportunity to any available media outlet.[6] The birth of ALM in 1996 was likely the product of this style of leadership and media management clashing with the traditionally low-key and secretive HuT. The founding of ALM unleashed Omar Bakri, with the group ramping up its provocative actions and organizing an International Islamic Conference on September 8, 1996 to which Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, and many other jihadi leaders were purportedly invited. The event was cancelled at the last minute, though the publicity it generated in terms of media coverage and a documentary about Omar Bakri entitled “Tottenham Ayatollah” likely served the organization’s initial intent to attract attention.[7]

Present in the background of the documentary is Anjem Choudary, at the time a lawyer who was working as Omar Bakri’s assistant. Over time, his role evolved and in the wake of the London bombings of 2005, when Omar Bakri chose to flee the country,[8] Choudary took over as UK leader for the group. A few months prior to Omar Bakri’s departure, the group announced its dissolution in an attempt to get ahead of security services, with a series of sub-groups emerging largely reflecting the same ideology as ALM with Choudary effectively at the helm. In the wake of the attacks, British authorities focused on the group, adding the sub-groups to the proscribed terror list at various points and seeking greater powers to restrict their ability to operate. The group, however, has continued to operate with the leadership remaining fairly constant. This became most prominently visible in around 2009 when the group adopted the name Islam4Uk, which was proscribed a year or so later.

This style of nomenclature was soon seen replicated across Europe with Shariah4Belgium, Shariah4Holland, Shariah4Denmark, Shariah4Italy, Shariah4Finland, and even briefly Shariah4Poland. In France a group called Forsane Alizza (Knights of Pride) emerged as the local clone of the group (sometimes using Shariah4France) and in Germany Millatu Ibrahim (the religious community of Ibrahim, a name drawing on the title of a book by Muhammad al Maqdisi) took on the mantle. Millatu Ibrahim is a name that has since appeared in Norway, Holland, and Denmark as well). In Scandinavia, Profetens Ummah (the Umma of the Prophet) represents the ideology in Norway and Kadet til Islam (Call to Islam) is the lead group in Denmark.

All of these groups adopted a narrative and approach clearly modeled on ALM, and in many cases this was allegedly the product of direct contact and training by Choudary. For example, in March 2013, he visited Helsinki, Finland where he spoke alongside Awat Hamasalih, a British national of Kurdish origin from Birmingham, at an event organized by Shariah4Finland to celebrate the tenth anniversary of local Iraqi radical leader Mullah Krekar’s incarceration.[9] Choudary reciprocated this generous hosting, inviting Hamasalih to speak when he was back in the UK.[10]

This example of travel is representative of Choudary’s contacts with affiliate groups, and there are reports that he and other key ALM members travelled around Europe to support their events.[11] Similarly, there are reports that key individuals from regional affiliates have come to London. And there are multiple reports of Choudary (and Omar Bakri) preaching to supporters in Europe over PalTalk using web cameras and interactive online messaging.[12] Both Choudary and Mizanur Rahman  have also communicated extensively with supporters over Twitter.[13]

In terms of how Choudary sees his role with these groups, some clarity is provided in his supportive comments towards his Norwegian clone Profetens Ummah:

I have regular contact with Hussain and Ibraheem (two group leaders). There are no administrative links between us, but I am a mentor and adviser for them. There are many people who claim they represent Islam, but I see the Prophet’s Umma as one of the few voices in Europe that speak the truth about Islam without compromise.[14]

Choudary helped Profetens publish videos and develop a style to preach and call people to their radical brand of Islam.[15]

In other contexts people reached out to Choudary having heard about him in the press. Anas el-Abboubi was a young man born in Morocco who moved to Italy when he was young. An up-and-coming rapper, he was featured on MTV Italia as one to watch under his rap nom-de-music MC Khalif. This lifestyle, however, seemed unappealing to him and instead he was drawn to violent Islamist ideas and began an online conversation with Choudary over social media in which he asked for his advice about how he could advance radical ideas in Italy. El-Abboubi also participated in PalTalk sessions led by the group’s creator Omar Bakri and he bought plane tickets to visit the Shariah4Belgium group who he had also connected with online.

Soon after this, el-Abboubi established Shariah4Italy, a short-lived organization that seemed to flourish and shrink with its founder.[16] By October 2013 he fled Italy to join the Islamic State along a route that took him through Albania. The degree of influence that Choudary had over his decision-making process is unclear from the public domain, but it is clear that he and ALM had some influence over the young man, something exemplified by his establishing of Shariah4Italy despite a background in Italy that was largely detached from extremist ideologies and groups.

The Current Picture

There increasingly appears to be a consensus across European security agencies that Choudary’s group plays a role in networks that provide new recruits to fight in Syria and Iraq. In both the 2013 and 2014 TE-SAT Terrorism Situation and Trends report issued by Europol, the agency depicted  “al-Muhajiroun and its latest incarnation the Sharia4 movement” as being a driver for people to go and fight in Syria and Iraq.[17] Watching a pan-European trend, Europol observed:

some salafist individuals and groups in the EU, such as the Sharia4 movement, seem to have heeded the advice of prominent jihadist ideologues to stop their controversial public appearances in Europe….instead, they have been encouraged to participate in what these ideologues describe as a ‘jihad’ against un-Islamic rule in Muslim countries.[18]

There is further evidence of Omar Bakri playing an active role in helping people go fight in Syria. This is evident in the case of Shariah4Belgium,[19] a clone established in 2010 after Fouad Belkacem, a Moroccan-Belgian who had served some time in prison for theft and fraud, came to the UK to learn about how “to start something in Belgium.” Drawn to the bright light of Choudary’s celebrity, Belkacem listened as the established Briton “went through the history of ALM, how we set it up.”[20] The Belgian took the lessons to heart and returned to establish a similarly confrontational organization back home. Choudary and others were occasional visitors and both Choudary and ALM “godfather” Omar Bakri would provide online classes for the group in Belgium.[21]

In 2011, one of Shariah4Belgium’s core members left Belgium to seek out their mentor Omar Bakri in Lebanon. Now formally excluded from the United Kingdom by the Home Secretary, Omar Bakri continued to draw journalists and radicals from across the world. Nabil Kasmi was one of these young men, arriving in Lebanon as the conflict in Syria was catching fire. He returned to Belgium a few months later, but then in March 2012 headed off to the Levant again, this time going through Lebanon to Syria.[22]

At around the same time, another group associated with Shariah4Belgium were intercepted traveling to Yemen on suspicion of trying to join a terrorist group. Nabil Kasmi’s success, however, highlighted the options offered by the conflict in Syria.[23] In August he returned to Europe, only to leave again on August 20, this time followed days later by a cluster of some five members from the group who all ended up fighting with the Islamic State in Syria.[24] Over time, more and more of the group went to Syria, drawing on their Belgian and other European contacts from the broad ALM family of organizations. The exact numbers are unclear, but it is believed that at least 50 Belgian fighters in Syria and Iraq have roots in Shariah4Belgium.[25]

One of the few who failed to travel to Syria or Iraq was Fouad Belkacem, who was instead jailed in February 2015 for 12 years for recruiting and radicalizing people to go fight in Syria and Iraq.[26] On trial with another 47 people (the majority of which failed to appear in court as they were believed to be fighting or dead in the Levant), Belkacem’s trial seemed to be the capstone in the story of ALM’s European links to the battlefield in Syria and Iraq.

European Plotting?

What is not yet completely clear is the degree to which these networks are ones that are producing terrorist plots back in Europe. There are growing numbers of plots being disrupted in Europe with links to the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, though it remains uncertain whether these are being directed by the Islamic State or other groups from their safe haven in Syria and Iraq. Some plots, like that in Verviers, Belgium and at least one of those in the UK, are reported by authorities to show clear evidence of connections to the battlefield, but the nature of these links remains somewhat opaque.[27]

Looking to the ALM-associated networks across Europe, it remains unclear the degree to which they have thus far been credibly associated with attack planning. Reports around the January raid in Verviers, suggested some possible linkages (especially given the timing near Fouad Belkacem’s trial), but they have yet to be confirmed publicly.[28]

What has been seen, however, is the emergence of lone actor-style terrorism on the periphery of the group’s networks. A case in point is that of Brusthom Ziamani in the UK. Ziamani was a troubled teenager who sought out Anjem Choudary and his friends as a surrogate family. Having tried to ingratiate himself with the group and even considering travel to Syria, Ziamani instead decided to emulate his heroes Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale and their murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in 2013. Taking a knife, axe, and Islamist flag, Ziamani was planning on butchering a member of the security forces before police intercepted him.[29] He was convicted of attempted murder and plotting to commit a terrorist act, and sentenced to 27 years incarceration.[30] There is no clear evidence that Ziamani told Choudary what he was going to do, but Ziamani’s case has been championed by ALM-associated Twitter accounts in the UK.[31]

In contrast, on the battlefield, individuals associated with ALM- related organizations appear in a number of both prominent and less high-profile roles. Reflecting their preference for noisy self-promotion and in-your-face dawa (proselytization), many are active on social media. One particularly prominent figure in this regard was Rahin Aziz, who fled to Syria after being sought in conjunction with an assault on a football fan in the UK. In Syria he quickly aligned himself with the Islamic State, and started to actively post across social media platforms. Among images to emerge were ones of him posing with weapons with Denis Cuspert, a prominent member of the German al-Mujahiroun linked group Millatu Ibrahim.[32]

For Aziz, the connection to ALM was instrumental in helping him build his networks in Syria and Iraq, as well as highlighting how interconnected the community across Europe was. In a conversation over Twitter he reported:

when I came to sham the amount of brothers from other countries who recognized me and agreed n even said were by us….what we did with demos etc aided the jihad, global awareness etc which motivated many to go fight jihad.[33]

Prior to going to the Levant, he reported going to:

Belgium many times, delivered lectures and me met from Europe there….many 3-4 times….France twice….Holland where we took part in a conference about khilafah…I knew the brothers from Germany….Their ameer abu usama al Ghareeb contacted me when he came out of prison….he asked me to do some videos for them….met Denmark guys in Belgium even in UK they came to visit us.[34]

It was a network fostered in Europe maturing and re-networking on the battlefield in the Levant.

Others seem to have taken to the battlefield to undertake activities largely similar to those they were carrying out previously in the United Kingdom. For example, Siddartha Dhar, a Hindu convert also known as Abu Rumaysah, was arrested alongside Anjem Choudary in September 2014. However, unlike his teacher, he took his passport and jumped on a bus to Paris with his pregnant wife and family, the first leg in a journey that ended with him living under the Islamic State a month later. In typical ALM style, Dhar decided to alert authorities to his presence through the posting of a photo of himself holding an AK-47 in one hand and his newborn baby in the other. Since then, Dhar has periodically re-emerged on Twitter and other social media, and in May 2015 became prominent once again when a book was published under his kunya (jihadi name) about life under the Islamic State.[35]

These are only a few of the men and women to have gone to join the Islamic State from the ALM networks. Exact numbers are difficult to know, but certainly from the UK alone, more than a dozen prominent individuals from these networks have gone over, while others have attempted to go. What remains worrying is that there continues to be a community of activists associated with these groups who are seeking to go fight in Syria and Iraq, and also that the pool of support in Europe remains fairly constant.

One illustration of this is that in the wake of the reports of Rahin Aziz’s death in a U.S. strike, a sweet shop in East London issued candies celebrating his martyrdom and a vigil was held for him that appeared to show a few dozen people praying in his honor.[36] A few days later, three men were arrested in the Luton area.[37] One was released while the other two (an uncle and nephew) were charged with plotting to carry out a terrorist attack in the UK intended to attack and kill military personnel.[38] Some reports suggested the plot was an attempted beheading of a U.S. serviceperson in revenge for Aziz’s death.[39] Details are unclear, though the men were allegedly also attempting to go to the Islamic State, and the case is working its way through the courts and is likely to come to trial in 2016.[40]

Conclusion

The arrest and charging of Anjem Choudary and his principal acolyte Mizanur Rahman is a significant moment in ALM’s history. The group has developed from its early days when London was a center of jihadist thinking with ALM at its core, drawing in radicals from across Europe and around the world. Since the prominence ALM achieved in the late 2000s, it has now become a net exporter organization around Europe, still drawing people to London, but then also watching as they return home to establish affiliate networks and communities. This European generation of ALM supporters is increasingly proving to be at the heart of Europe’s radical Islamist community connected with Islamic State and the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Given the volumes of plots that have emerged from these networks in the past in the United Kingdom in particular, it seems likely that similar problems are likely to emerge from the European ALM networks.

Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the author of We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists (UK: Hurst/US: Oxford University Press). You can follow him at @raffpantucci.

[1] In March 2014, Choudary and other ALM activists had been identified in a set of protests in London clearly inspired by the Islamic State. Dipesh Gadher, “Preacher Anjem Choudary investigated over ‘road show’ linked to jihadists,” Sunday Times, March 9, 2014 .

[2] Statement by Metropolitan Police, August 5, 2015 .

[3] Dominic Kennedy, “Radical al-Muhajiroun group is behind most UK terror plots,” Times, March 21, 2015.

[4] Morten Storm, Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, Agent Storm: A Spy Inside al-Qaeda, (London: Penguin, March 2015), p. 334.

[5] Olivier Tocser, “Les Secrets d’un Emir,” Le Nouvel Observateur, March 20, 2014.

[6] Memorably on November 12, 1991 he told The Mail on Sunday: “‘John Major [then Prime Minister] is a legitimate target. If anyone gets the opportunity to assassinate him, I don’t think they should save it. It is our Islamic duty and we will celebrate his death.”

[7] The documentary is available online, and was recounted in a chapter in Jon Ronson, Them (London: Picador, 2001). Ronson was also the director of the documentary.

[8] “Cleric Bakri ‘will return’ to UK,” BBC News, August 9, 2005.

[9] Mullah Krekar, the founder of the Ansar al Islam movement that was involved in fighting in Iraq, is an infamous radical preacher with whom Choudary has developed a link. Laura Helminen, “Radical Muslim Preacher Spoke in Helsinki,” Helsingin Sanomat, March 13, March 28, 2013.

[10]. In January 2015, authorities in Finland sought to eject Hamasalih. According to coverage around this time, Hamasalih, in contrast to most Kurds, was not seeking nationhood with his activity, but instead “his goal [was] jihad, an Islamic caliphate, and sharia, the law of Islam”  as the local newspaper said. Anu Nousiainen: “Finland Expelled Radical Extremist From Turku to UK – ‘Serious Threat to Public Security,’” Helsingin Sanomat, January 15, 2015.

[11] See Ben Taub, “Journey to Jihad,” New Yorker, June 1, 2015.

[12] Shortly prior to their arrest, Rahman and Choudary (alongside others), made a PalTalk video in which they answered questions from an American audience. Similar videos have been made for European audiences.

[13] There has been no comprehensive mapping of ALM’s online links and contacts, but almost all of the prominent members (in Syria and Iraq or back in Europe) have accounts and numerous others who aspire to be involved in these groups’ proselytization create accounts that are very similar. The best sense of outreach and effectiveness of this online contact is suggested in the fact that Choudary has 32.9K followers on Twitter, while Rahman has 29K. Of course, number of followers does not equate to contact and influence, but both are very active online and respond to people’s questions and contacts.

[14] Andreas Bakke Foss, “British Extremist Calls Himself a Mentor for Norwegian Islamists,” Aftenposten, March 3, 2013.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Lorenzo Vidino, Home-Grown Jihadism in Italy: Birth, Development and Radicalization Dynamics, (Milan: Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, 2015), pp. 63-67.

[17] European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2014, (The Hague: Europol, 2014), p. 21.

[18] Ibid, p.23.

[19] Paul Cruickshank, “A View from the CT Foxhole: Interview with Alain Grignard,”  CTC Sentinel,  8:8 (August, 2015).

[20] Taub.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] J. La. Avec Belga, “Sharia4Belgium qualifie de groupe terroriste, 12 ans de prison pour Fouad Belkacem,” La Libre, February 11, 2015.

[27] Paul Cruickshank, Steve Almasy, and Deborah Feyerick, “Source: Belgium terror cell has links to ISIS, some members still at large,” CNN, January 17, 2015.

[28] “Aantal radicalen in Wallonie wordt onderschat,” Het Laatste Nieuws, January 16, 2015.

[29] Tom Whitehead, “Brusthom Ziamani: the former Jehovah’s Witness who was radicalised within weeks,” Telegraph, February 19, 2015; Prosecution Opening Note, Regina vs. Brusthom Ziamani, Central Criminal Court, February 9. 2015.

[30] Regina vs Brusthom Ziamani, Sentencing Remarks of HHJ Pontius, Central Criminal Court, March 20, 2015.

[31] Tweet from @muslimprisoners, January 5, 2015 3:06pm

[32] Also known as Deso Dogg or Abu Talha al-Almani, Cuspert was a prominent German former rap star turned jihadi and activist for German ALM equivalent Millatu Ibrahim. He was one of several Miltatu Ibrahim figures to travel Syria. The Austrian founder of the group Mohammed Mahmoud was one of Cuspert’s close contacts. Mahhmoud left home aged 17 in 2002 to train in an Ansar al-Islam camp in Iraq. After his return to Europe he played a major role in the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), a source for non-Arabic language translations of jihadi material. In 2007 he was arrested by authorities, leading to a four year jail sentence. On his release he moved to Berlin and founded Millatu Ibrahim, which rapidly became the center of Germany’s Salafi scene. In 2012 he fled to Egypt before becoming a senior figure in the insurgency in Syria. He  is now considered one of the most senior figures in the German and European foreign fighter contingent, helping produce the Islamic State propaganda magazine Dabiq and al-Hayat media center releases. He is believed to continue to draw on his ALM-linked European contacts to recruit. See “In Search of ‘True’ Islam: Salafists Abandon Germany for Egypt,” Der Spiegel, August 13, 2002; Souad Mekhennet, “Austrian Returns, Unrepentant, to Online Jihad,” New York Times, November 15, 2011; Petra Ramsauer, “Mohamed Mahmoud: A Holy Warrior’s Book,” Profil, August 17, 2015.

[33] Author archive: Twitter conversation between Secunder Kermani and Rahin Aziz.

[34] Author archive: Twitter conversation between Secunder Kermani and Rahin Aziz.

[35] “New Brit propaganda guide by Brit sells ‘Costa’ caliphate,” Channel 4, May 19, 2015.

[36] Tweet with pictures by @TawheedNetwrk July 8, 2015 4:41pm

[37] “Three in terror-related arrests in Luton and Letchworth,” BBC News, July 14, 2015.

[38] “Man charged with US military terrorist plot,” Sky News, July 21, 2015.

[39] Mike Sullivan, “Foiled: British terror attacks in days,” Sun, July 14, 2015.

[40] “Man charged with US military terrorist plot,” Sky News, July 21, 2015.

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.

At last this long-awaited (at least in my mind) paper lands. It provides what I hope is a useful initial scoping exercise into the phenomenon of Lone Wolf terrorism that with further support could be developed into a framework for better understanding and countering this problem – both in its Islamist incarnation, but also in others. I have written bits on this in the past, but this is my first large article on the topic and I hope it generates some feedback and sparks some useful conversations. My hope is to locate support to undertake a longer investigation into this, and any thoughts in this direction are warmly welcomed. A final note to thank Lorenzo and Tim for very useful comments on earlier drafts – and of course thanks to the ICSR team for publishing and organizing the event.

Here is the blurb off the ICSR website, and see below for a link to the paper.

A Typology of Lone Wolves: Preliminary Analysis of Lone Islamist Terrorists

In the latest paper in the series of Developments in Radicalisation and Political Violence, ICSR Associate Fellow, Raffaello Pantucci explores the lone wolf phenomenon.

As Al-Qaeda rethinks its strategy in the West, seen by a lessening capacity to stage large-scale attacks, there has been a rise in the recruitment of self-starters who are often radicalised through the internet. Almost impossible to detect, these ‘lone wolves’ pose new and unique challenges to the authorities and security services in the West.

With this paper Pantucci creates some sort of typology to define this new group and offers some deeper understanding to this ever frequent and increasing threat faced by the West.

The paper can be downloaded here: http://icsr.info/publications/papers/1302002992ICSRPaper_ATypologyofLoneWolves_Pantucci.pdf

For a summary of the launch event which we did in London around it (with charming photo), please look here.

A new piece for HS Today, this one looking in some greater detail at the alleged Mumbai-style attack that had agencies in a great worry. Unsure this one is all over yet, and the information might ultimately have come out for just this reason. Am also going to try to do some more digging on the British end of it, which I think might be more precarious than this might suggest.

Europe in the Crosshairs

by Raff Pantucci

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Plots aimed at Mumbai styled assaults in Europe.

And the beat goes on…

Weeks have passed since Europe’s threat tempo was ratcheted up as security forces across the continent went into full alert in expectation of a possible terrorist attack. While nothing has actually happened from that particular threat with attention focused on the parcels out of Yemen, information has slowly started to leak out about the specific threat on the minds of security planners. Hatched in Pakistan’s badlands, the alleged plot (or plots) aimed to conduct a Mumbai-style assault on a European city (or cities) in which a team of terrorists would wage open war on the streets killing in the name of God.

It is not entirely clear where the thread that unravelled this series of plots came from – an obfuscation in part no doubt due to security concerns about terrorists figuring out how their networks have been penetrated – but it seems as though France, Germany and the UK were all being targeted. The actual potential plots appear to have been on a variety of trajectories, but most had an address which could be tracked back to Pakistan’s badlands. This came as the head of Britain’s Security Service MI5 recently highlighted that half of the plots his service was watching were “linked to Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where Al Qaeda senior leadership is still based.” While down on previous statements that stated that three quarters of the plots targeting the UK had links to Pakistan, Evans emphasized that “this does not mean that the overall threat has reduced, but that it has diversified.”

For the UK, the specifics of the latest threat appear to focus around a British-Pakistani militant from the Jhelum province of Punjab named Abdul Jabbar. Allegedly killed during a drone strike in Waziristan which also killed top Al Qaeda leader Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, Jabbar had apparently been put forwards in July as the leader of a group dubbed “Islamic Army of Great Britain” that was tasked with planning a Mumbai-style attack in the United Kingdom. While British officials were keen to downplay the state of readiness of the plot (and some Pakistani officials rubbished Jabbar’s existence), the BBC’s flagship Newsnight program claimed that “senior security sources” in Pakistan had revealed to them that Jabbar was a long-time jihadist who had featured in previous investigations.

Jabbar, according to the BBC, was named in a document provided to security sources by Mohammed Junaid Babar, the American-Pakistani “supergrass” who was arrested in April 2004 and who provided detailed testimony about a broad network of British plotters. Babar’s testimony revealed that Jabbar was from East London and that around the time of September 11, 2001, he and his brother had gone to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban. Following the fall of Kabul, the two men moved to Pakistan where they connected with infamous British jihadist Omar Saeed Sheikh who helped them get to training camps in Kashmir. Sheikh is currently on Pakistani death row having been found guilty of the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Jabbar was also believed to be close to Omar Khyam, the leader of a cell of British Muslims who were convicted for plotting to carry out a large explosion using a fertilizer based bomb. This is the second time in recent months that this cell has been in the news: in July, following the discovery of an Al Qaeda connected cell in Oslo, recent passport photographs were discovered of Adam Ibrahim, the brother of another of the men convicted for the fertilizer bomb plot. Another associate of this cell, Kazi Rahman, is currently incarcerated having attempted to buy Uzi submachine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers off undercover agents in the UK.

It is not entirely clear, however, that this is the same Jabbar. While Babar’s testimony indicates that Jabbar is from East London, reports in the Times newspaper suggested that he was in fact from northwest England. Another report from a Pakistani official cited in the Guardian newspaper suggested that Jabbar had only arrived in Waziristan in 2009 with his brother and was being monitored by British sigint intelligence agency GCHQ. Details remain unclear, but nevertheless, there has been a noticeable increase in training and preparation in the UK for the eventuality of an armed assault on a British city. British police have taken to training alongside the Special Air Service (SAS), the UK’s elite commando unit, and are being given heavier weaponry. The threat, as former Security Minister Lord West put it to the BBC, is that “these people like the Mumbai terrorists are a bit like soldiers, they do fire and support, move forward, all they want to do is kill as many people as possible.”

Britons are not the only European’s of concern who are running around Waziristan. German security services continue to monitor regular flows of individuals back and forth from Pakistan, with a recent senior security source stating that in the past 10 months some 40-50 individuals have gone to train, and overall at least 70 fighters had done this for sure. Approximately a third of this (25 or so) were currently back in Germany part of a larger pool of some 1,000 individuals of concern. The current threat appears to have emanated from a cell linked to a group of some 11 young men and women from Hamburg who used to frequent the now-closed Taiba Mosque – previously the spiritual home to some of the September 11 plotters. In early 2009, something appears to have driven the community from talk into action and in various groups they started to make their way to Waziristan.

Not all of them made it, and some were amongst the 26 “potentially violent Islamists” that German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) head Jörg Ziercke stated his forces had prevented from leaving the country to fight since early 2009. Others instead ended up being killed by Predator strikes, likely in part as a result of information obtained from captured members Rami Makanesi and Ahmed Sidiqui. A German-Syrian in his late 30s, Makanesi was captured by Pakistani forces while attempting to reach a hospital dressed in a burka. He is apparently now back in Germany providing information in exchange for a lightened sentence. Ahmed Sidiqui, a German-Afghan, was instead caught in July by American forces in Kabul who have been quizzing him in detention.

It is from these men that it is believed much of the information about the current Mumbai-style attack has come. According to reports in the press, Ahmed Sidiqui claimed that during a “fireside chat” with top Al Qaeda commander Ilyas Kashmiri, the Al Qaeda leader boasted of already having advance cells in place in Britain and Germany. Other reports suggested it was in fact al-Quso who was talking about this plot. Supplementing its own information with details garnered from the captured Germans and sigint from Britain’s GCHQ, the U.S. launched a sustained series of Predator strikes in September and early October this year which appear to have staved on any imminent attack.

British and German authorities have remained calm in reaction to this elevated threat level – something that stands in contrast to their French counterparts who have repeatedly spoken of their concerns on public airwaves. In early September both the Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux, and domestic intelligence head, Bernard Squarcini, separately spoke of the “all the red lights” flashing. The threat was believed to be coming from North Africa with intelligence passed along from Algerian sources that a female suicide bomber was apparently on her way to Paris. She never materialized, but at the same time, French forces asked their Italian counterparts to pick up Ryad Hannouni, a 28 year-old French-Algerian veteran of the Afghan conflict believed to be involved in a network sending fighters to South Asia and whom they had heard was returning to Europe via Italy.

Assessing he was not an immediate threat, Italian security followed Hannouni for a few days before arresting him in Naples on September 3rd. Once arrested, they discovered a kit to make explosives, as well as an address book and mobile phone. This wealth of information led, a month later, to a series of twelve arrests in Marseille and Avignon in France which turned up ammunition, an AK-47 machine gun and a pump action shotgun. Hannouni is currently awaiting extradition to France.

Even with these arrests, however, the immediate threat to France does not seem to have gone away. On October 18th, Interior Minister Hortefeux went on the airwaves to announce that “a few hours, a few days ago, [we received] a new message, from the Saudi [intelligence] services, indicating to us that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was certainly active.” The threat was apparently directed at “the European continent and France in particular.” It seems likely that this information came from the same source that provided the Saudi’s with detailed knowledge of the parcel bombs en route to Chicago from Yemen.

Ten days after Hortefeux launched this alert, a new recording emerged on the forums and Al Jazeera in which Osama bin Laden threatened France in particular, highlighting France’s involvement in Afghanistan and criticizing the decision to ban the veil in public places. As he put it, “If you deemed it right to ban women from wearing the hijab, then should it not be our right to expel your invading men by striking their necks?” He also seemed to provide a direct link between France’s actions and the move by North African affiliate Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to kidnap a group of French citizens in Niger. All of which highlighted the very real threat from France’s former colonial backyard that continues to be high on the list of threat for French policymakers.

The drumbeat of terror in Europe goes on: while in the United States, Ashburn, VA citizen Farooque Ahmed was casing metrorail stations in the Washington area for individuals he believed to be Al Qaeda, the actual network continues to keep Europe firmly in its crosshairs.

 

A new post for HSToday, a bit delayed as I have been traveling somewhere even more remote than usual. My computer has also come crashing down which has set me up with some serious problems. More on this plot to come.

Europe on High Alert

by Raffaello Pantucci

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Recent string of incidents have elevated level of concern across the European continent

Across Europe there has been a noticeable up-tick in threat tempo. From a series of intelligence-led operations across the continent, to high level statements by the French Interior Minister and US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano – those paid to protect us are very concerned about something.

It is unclear at which point this specific set of alarm bells went off, but they have been ringing for some time. In the United Kingdom, in the wake of a series of arrests back in July in Oslo it was revealed that a British jihadist who had disappeared off radars for a few years had re-emerged in the form of a series of passport photographs found in the possession of the alleged leader of a cell of plotters that was planning an unspecified campaign at the orders of possibly dead Al Qaeda leader Saleh al Somali. The pictures showed the British-Algerian Ibrahim Adam in a variety of different haircuts and had apparently been obtained by the cell leader, Uighur-Norwegian Mikael Davud, from a contact in Turkey in September 2009. The discovery caused a spike in concern for British counter-terrorists, leading them to suspect that Adam, whose brother Anthony Garcia (the family all changed their names to integrate better) was incarcerated as part of the Al Qaeda directed plot to explode a large fertilizer bomb at a British mall, may be on his way back to Europe to conduct operations.

Nothing materialized, until, concurrent with the first day of the Pope’s visit to the United Kingdom on September 16th; police raided a series of properties in London arresting a group of six men working for a city garbage disposal company. One of the men was described as being “of North African appearance” and the BBC has since revealed that at least five of them were “thought to be Algerian.” The men were questioned by police but ultimately released as it was revealed that the intelligence that had led to the arrest had been only picked up recently and was not part of a long-term operation. Unconfirmed reports suggested that the intelligence had been garnered by the police from someone who had overheard the men talking in a staff canteen.

However, the police reaction to the threat showed the elevated concern around the current threat level. The day before the arrests, the head of the Security Service (MI5) had warned that “the main effort for the Security Service remains international terrorism, particularly from Al Qaeda, its affiliates and those inspired by its ideology.” He highlighted the particular growth in the threat from Somalia, stating “there are a significant number of UK residents training in Al Shabaab camps” and highlighting that the threat from the tribal areas of Pakistan now only accounted for about 50% of the “priority plots and leads” coming into the Service.

The evening before the men supposedly behind the threat to the Pope were released, British intelligence passed on information to their Dutch counterparts about an individual on a flight from Liverpool transiting through Amsterdam on his way to Entebbe, Uganda. The man, described by a Dutch spokesman as “a British man of Somali origin,” was pulled off a KLM plane which was about to depart on suspicion of “possible involvement in a terrorist organization.” He was also released a few days later cleared of any charges and it is unclear where he has since gone. This was the second time in less than a month that individuals going through Schipol airport had been picked up as a result of terrorist concerns. At the end of August two Yemeni men were pulled off a flight landing in the airport from Chicago after a tip-off from U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This also did not result in any charges being made.

In France in the meantime, the Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux joined the head of the domestic intelligence agency, Bernard Squarcini, in highlighting the level of threat the country faced. On September 16th, visiting the Eiffel Tower after the latest in a number of bomb scares on the site had further stepped up the security presence, Mr. Hortefeux said, “these last days and hours, a number of events have reminded us that we find ourselves in a period which calls for an elevated level of attention in the particular face of terrorist threats.” This echoed earlier statements the week before by Mr. Squarcini who said that the “all the red lights were flashing” and a story that surfaced in the French press which revealed that, “a female suicide bomber was plotting to commit a terrorist act in a busy part of Paris.” The information was allegedly passed on from Algerian intelligence and resulted in mobile anti-terror units being mobilized across the city searching for the woman. This comes in the wake of a series of kidnappings in Niger of French citizens by the group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the North African Al Qaeda affiliate.

French authorities have apparently attempted to reach out to the group in North Africa to get their citizens back, but little more is known about the alleged female bomber. The threat echoes an alert from earlier in the year published by British newspaper the Daily Telegraph which suggested that security services were concerned that a team of female suicide bombers were being dispatched by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) targeting the United States. In that case too, nothing ultimately emerged but it set the tone for a year which has been plagued with repeated alerts.

But amidst this sea of unrealized threats, on the eve of the anniversary of September 11, Danish police leapt into action when a bomb went off in a hotel toilet in central Copenhagen. The responsible individual was rapidly caught in a nearby park, but refused to provide his identity leaving Danish police with a puzzle to establish who the one-legged multi-lingual individual was. He was eventually identified as a Chechen former boxer who for unspecified reasons was apparently trying to send a bomb to the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (infamous for publishing the Muhammad cartoons in 2006). Picked up with a gun, a very rudimentary explosive and a number of false identities, the initial fear was that Lors Dukayev, who maintained his anonymity for some time while under arrest and was only identified after someone saw his picture in the press, was possibly more than he initially seemed. Currently, however, he appears to have been a “Lone Wolf” with no connections.

And then on the morning of September 21st, Italian police intercepted a container-load of explosives at the port of Goia Tauro. Hidden amongst powdered milk were 7 tons of military grade RDX explosive, a massive amount which resulted in the Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini calling his American counterpart Hilary Clinton to discuss the matter directly. Believed to be en route from Iran to Syria, the cargo had in transit when Italian forces acted on intelligence believed to have been passed on by Israel.

The year has already seen a number of plots dispatched by Al Qaeda affiliates or fellow travelers reach fairly advanced stages (Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Faisal Shahzad to name but two), showing the capacity exists for such attack planning. Whether this new wave of concern from Europe’s services is going to translate into a similar attack remains to be seen, but it seems as though intelligence services across the continent are operating at full tilt.

Raffaello Pantucci is Homeland Security Today’s London correspondent.

 

A new post over at Free Rad!cals, which is in the middle of a relaunch. Lets hope it goes well! In the meantime, the piece looks at two films I recently saw about terrorism in the West – both worth watching. One thing I would add is that I provide a link in it to my earlier Studies in Conflict and Terrorism piece, which is behind a firewall. There are a few pieces on this site like that – apologies, but if you want to read them, use the contact form to drop me a note and I can see what I can do.

Filed under: Afghanistan, Bin Laden, ICSR, Radicalisation, UK

I have recently indulged in watching a couple of films which in different ways handle contemporary terrorism. One is serious and one is less so, but both did inspire me to think about issues around some of the questions they raise. While my aim is not to provide a substantive critique on the films themselves, undoubtedly some opinion will slip in.

First up (in alphabetical order) is Four Lions, British satirist Chris Morris’s take on Islamist terrorism in the UK. In true Morris style it is a mordant comedy which pulls no punches in highlighting the sheer stupidity and inadequacy of the majority of young men who become involved in jihadist terrorism in the UK. The men are religiously illiterate and lead meaningless lives which are focused around whatever banal things fill the average middle Englander’s day.

Clueless: Three of the Four Lions

Morris claims much of the material he has used came from amongst the reams of research into court documents and interviews he has done with people who have become involved in Islamist terrorism in the UK. I have no doubt that this is true – I have spoken to a number of security professionals who have at various points in my endless questioning about various plots and plotters highlighted to me what morons these chaps actually are. And in some cases, you really have to wonder. Omar Khyam, the leader of the Crevice plot, was busted after he forgot the bomb-making recipe he had learned and emailed his friend in Pakistan a rather blatant note inquiring about the specific volumes. Eventual “super-grass” Mohammed Junaid Babar was so discrete that he thought it would be a good idea to go straight to the hotel where all the foreign journalists were staying in Lahore and announce that he had radical ideas and was willing to do interviews about it. This landed him a prime-time slot on international TV and arrest as soon as he stepped back onto U.S. soil. Rangzieb Ahmed, the first man to be jailed in the UK for being an “Al Qaeda director,” was unclear what exactly a bidet was and thought it might be a bath for small people. And the list goes on. One case which Morris highlighted in interviews is of a plotter who snorted some TATP thinking it was cocaine – I have been unable to pin down exactly who this was and would appreciate any pointers.

But for me, the fact that they are idiots is not all that relevant. Some of them may not be all that smart, but they are nonetheless playing with dangerous toys which can lead to innocent deaths. That they have no idea what they are doing, are religiously illiterate and are buffoons is somewhat tangential if they are able to actually follow through on what they are attempting to do, albeit in their half-baked way. Morris hints at this towards the end, but it is an important point to remember when considering these people as idiots. People treated Abu Hamza like a clown who had been delivered by central casting to act as a real-life Captain Hook until it became clear exactly what he was facilitating. This is not to exaggerate the menace, but neither is it a good idea to completely dismiss it – the real point is that hopefully such satire will help demystify these groups a bit.

The second film, which is probably less well-known outside a specialist audience, is called “La Prima Linea” (translation: the first line – it was the name of the group). It is an Italian film which looks at a terrorist group that existed in Italy during the Anni di Piombo (years of lead) during which left and right wing terror groups shot and blasted their way around the country. The group was second only to the more notorious Brigate Rosse (red brigades) in number of activities and members. Based on the memoirs of one of the group’s commanders, the film does for the group much the same as “The Baader Meinhof Complex” did for the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Fraction).

Unlike Four Lions, this film takes its subject matter very seriously, and is told from the perspective of one of the leading members who relates his story from prison. It shows how the group evolved from small-time protesters, to murder and beyond. In many ways it is a story telling a piece of Italian history – but in the same way as something can be learned from examining old groups which is applicable today, the group dynamics highlighted in the film offer some lessons which seem relevant to our time

In the film we see how the group launches a massive assault on a prison to release their comrades. A rather foolhardy act in many ways, but nonetheless it does provide evidence of how strong the bonds are between the members of the group – a dynamic which is part of Marc Sageman’s “bunch of guys” theory. Much is made of the emotional bond between the individuals in the group (in true Italian style, two fall in love), and the fact that over time, the political content of what they are doing starts to lose its power and not wanting to let down your comrades takes over as a driving motivation. Early on we also see how, though they don’t think that they are necessarily going to achieve their goals, they are certain that something should be done and a vanguard needs to lead the way with action.

In an earlier post looking at the RAF, I (in a highly caveated fashion) pointed out some of the similarities between these leftist groups and current Islamist groups. This film adds some depth to this discussion in showing how the dynamics of the relationships in such groups might work – though it is unclear that current groups are necessarily structured in as hierarchical a fashion.

More for Free Rad!cals, this time returning to my previous theme of Lone Wolves in Italy. It covers a bit more ground around the theme, and the trials will be worth watching as they go forwards as they present a possible irritant that security services will be having to watch for a while. It has also given me some more thoughts for a longer piece I continue to trudge through on the theme.

Italian Lone Wolf Cells

Filed under: Europe, Radicalisation

My first substantive post to this blog was on the topic of terrorism in Italy and the attempt by Mohammed Game to blow himself up at a barracks in Milan. Fortunately, no-one was killed in Game’s attempt and he remains in custody along with two alleged accomplices – the three are going on trial (in two separate cases) May 12 and June 26.

While undoubtedly more information will come out during the trials, it would appear from what is already in the public domain as though Game and his contacts were a relatively free-standing “Lone Wolf” terror cell. A phenomenon which appears to be increasingly common in Italy, where details have just been revealed about the reasons behind the expulsion of a couple of Moroccan students from Perugia University towards the end of April. The two students, now apparently living freely in Rabat, were thrown out of Italy following an assessment that they were a threat to public safety.

It has now been revealed that Mohammed Hlal, 27, was overheard saying that he wanted to kill the Pope in order to guarantee himself a place in paradise, part of a regular digest of anger apparently directed at the Catholic Church. It is unclear what role his accomplice 22-year old Ahmed Errahmouni had in the plot, though a wide array of images of famous Italian locations were found in their possession, alongside numerous maps, and an instruction manual on how to build bombs. No actual weapons or explosives were located, though apparently confiscated computers had encryption programs installed.

Italian services had been alerted to the two in October of last year, following unspecified leads about concerns being expressed of radical views heard amongst some Moroccan students in Perugia. An investigation was launched, and in late April a series of arrests were made, allegedly because the group was becoming more isolated and radical and there were concerns that some action might be on the horizon. In the initial sweep another four Moroccans, a Tunisian and a Palestinian with an Israeli passport were also picked up: the group apparently used to attend the same mosque in Perugia.

Reporting to have emerged from the cell appears to point to the fact that it was a largely self-contained group who self-radicalized – much like the narrative being painted around Mohammed Game and his cell. This is a phenomenon which Italian investigators are seeing an increasing amount, including in the case further north of Abdelkader Ghafir, 44, and Rachid Ilhami, 31, two Moroccan laborers accused by security head Bruno Megale of being in a cell like Game’s atlthough in an earlier phase (two others stand charged of immigration offences alongside them). Those men’s trial is currently ongoing. And Game’s cell has been repeatedly referred to in the context of the Perugia cell that threatened the Pope.

In all cases, the groups appear to be self-contained and have (according to reporting) no connections to Al Qaeda core or a regional affiliate. The individuals involved appear to be mostly of North African extraction (like most Muslim migrants in Italy) and male, but aside from this they tend to defy uniform classification. Their radicalization appears for the most part to be self-generated, though they appear to also operate on the fringes of known networks. In the case with the Game group who were also linked to the radical Viale Jenner mosque in Milan, a former Imam of which was incarcerated last month, while Ghafir and Ilhami were also apparently helping run a local Islamic center. According to the press, the other students involved in the Perugia sweep are being looked into for connections.

In my earlier post on Game I described the group as a Lone Wolf Pack – something I have been exploring in greater detail in a longer paper that I am currently working on. The phenomenon is not in fact isolated to Italy, both the Fort Dix group in the United States from 2007 and Jihad Hamad and Youssef el Hajdib, who in July 2006 left a set of suitcase bombs on a Cologne train, have elements similar to the Italian groups. What is interesting, however, is the apparent high instance of these sorts of groups in Italy – I have yet to see any analysis as to exactly why this is (of course, it has to be said that all of these Italian groups are being tried or are on trial (or have not been tried and simply ejected from the country) – so they are in fact still innocent until proven guilty. Only Game would appear to be conclusively guilty of something).

What is not clear is to me yet is whether these sorts of groups coming together is something which needs to be analyzed within the context of Al Qaeda plots or if it should be analyzed within the context of trying to understand the impact of the internet as an accelerant of the ideology. Or maybe it is something which is a social phenomenon which needs to be understood using the sort of social network analysis that Marc Sageman deploys. Whichever is the case, it would not surprise me if this sort of phenomenon in one way or another becomes an increasingly important element of counter-terrorism in the West that will require deeper understanding and research.