Tuesday, February 18, 2014

An overview of Islamist and Jihadi activities in selected European countries ( Part II ), by Andreas Banoutsos


The Muslim population of France numbers 3,574,000 people and constitutes 5.7% of the total population.[1]
In September 11, 2006 Al--Qaeda video, serious threats were made towards France when Ayman al-Zawahiri said, ‘Osama Bin Laden has told me to announce to the Muslims that the GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) has joined Al-Qaeda. This should be a source of chagrin, frustration and sadness for the apostates [of the regime in Algeria], the treacherous sons of France [former colonial power]’. Zawahiri urges the group to become ‘a bone in the throat of the American and French crusaders’, meaning to reach the highest level of pain for France and the USA.[2]

The GSPC was founded in 1998 by a splinter group of Algerian rebels lead by Hassan Hattab, the former Armed Islamic Group (GIA) commander. The group left as a means to become independent from the GIA, which killed about 70,000 civilians during the Algerian insurgency from 1993 to 1998. Although several splinter groups emerged from the GIA, such as the ‘Guardian of the Salafi Call’, the ‘Sunni Group for Preaching and Transmission’, and more recently the ‘Free Salafist Group’, the GSPC is the only Algerian group to think globally, thus considered a ‘real’ terrorist threat. Even if the GSPC never successfully or directly attacked France's interests, they can learn from what the GIA once did. In 1994, the GIA planned to crash a hijacked plane into the Eiffel tower, but the French anti-terrorist unit managed to thwart their plan. This resulted in several bombing attempts in Paris, with a successful explosion in the Paris Subway in 1995, resulting in the deaths of seven people, and 91 injured.[3]
Today, the GSPC is considered to be the greatest terror threat in Northwestern Africa and to France as well. Furthermore by merging with Al-Qaeda, the GSPC gained an extensive infrastructure throughout the Middle East and Western Europe.[4]
Additionally, in the words of Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, by allying itself with Al-Qaeda the GSPC would become “one stone in building the coming Islamic nation” and “an inspiration” to the Mujahideen everywhere to overthrow the “disease” of nationalism.[5]
In the fall of 2005, two hundred French cities witnessed urban uprisings, in which about ten thousand cars were burned. Despite mainstream media reports linking the violence to a youth crisis, the signs of Salafi radical clerics were all over the French intifada.[6] The latest incident of Islamist terrorism on French soil was the Toulouse attacks which occurred in March 2012.[7] Mohamed Merah a French born self radicalized jihadist killed seven people during his eight day saga of terrorism including three French soldiers, three Jewish children and their teacher.[8] “Mohammed Merah is the new face of al Qaeda’s operations in Western Europe and North America, self-radicalized jihadists who get training in Pakistan and then go home to carry out small but deadly attacks in their home countries. His attacks in Toulouse, France fit exactly the role model al Qaeda has been urging jihadists to follow both in its public and in secret communications.”[9]


The Muslim population of Italy numbers 1,583,000 people and constitutes 2.6% of the total population of the country.[10]
In October 2001, the international press reported that Italian police had arrested members of the so-called Milan cell, supposedly headed by the Tunisian Sami Ben Khemais. It is alleged that Khemais had trained in Al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, and that he took orders from Al-Qaeda. In October 2002, Italian police arrested five North African militants in Milan suspected of plotting attacks against U.S. representations in The Hague and Brussels, among other targets. Authorities claimed that they belonged to GSPC. Moreover, in October 2002, according to press reports, Italian police arrested three Egyptians in Anzio suspected of planning attacks in Italy. The suspects were in possession of explosives and a map of a U.S. military cemetery. In January 2003, the international press reported that five Moroccans had been arrested in a building in the Northern Italian city of Rovigo. Italian police found 2.2 pounds of C4 explosives (the same explosive that was used in the Bali bombings in 2002), maps with NATO bases in Northern Italy encircled, and maps of central London. Press reports of the event referred to no specific militant Islamic group, but one of the suspects was known as a ‘leader’ and a ‘preacher’ among Islamist extremists in Rovigo. In February 2004, Italian police arrested Tunisian and Moroccan militants suspected of planning attacks against the subway in Milan and a church in the Italian city of Cremona. According to Italian press reports citing police sources and referring to testimonies, the militants had planned attacks on the subway using the explosive C4, an explosive favoured by Al Qaeda operatives. The militants themselves estimated that the attack on the subway would kill approximately 250 civilians, and it would have been followed up by an attack on the church of Cremona. The motive for the attack was according to press reports, PM Silvio Berlusconi’s support for the ‘War on Terrorism’.[11]

Austria and Switzerland

Austria’s Muslim population numbers 475,000 people and constitutes 5.7% of the total population. Switzerland’s Muslim population numbers 433,000 people and constitutes 5.7% as well of the total population.[12]
Across these Alpine nations the Jihadists have attempted to create cells. Despite more restrictions on immigration and citizenship than the rest of Western Europe, the two countries nevertheless are not immune to Islamists. In 2007, three third-generation Muslim youths, were arrested before they could undertake Jihadi activities.[13] Another group, the Global Islamist Media Front, operates between Germany and Austria.[14] Switzerland has also been infiltrated, not only by immigrants turned Jihadists, but also by Swiss citizens converted to Jihadism.[15] The way is to convert Swiss-born citizens to Islam in the first stage, then indoctrinate them to Islamism in a second stage. Interestingly, according to experts, Switzerland has attracted not only militants, but also Islamist intellectuals.[16] Finally a long term Jihadi objective in Switzerland is to impact the banking system at some point and using the country for military purchase transactions.[17]


The estimated Muslim population in Belgium is up to 638,000 and constitutes 6% of the total population.[18]
Although Islam has been recognized since 1974, the Muslim community has had no formal representation with the state until 1998, due to a lack of agreement between various ethnic and sectarian groups in the society on a common leadership. Discord between the Moroccan and Turkish communities is especially prominent. The state’s desire to avoid having Islamists in the assembly made the situation even more complicated. The Islamic Centre of Brussels, financed by Saudi Arabia, used to play the role of interlocutor to the state.[19] 
Islamists are very active in Belgium. In 2011, Sharia4Belgium, a Muslim organisation that wants to implement Islamic Shariah law throughout Belgium, has become increasing belligerent in its appeals to fellow Muslims to overthrow the democratic order in the country. The latest instalment of Islamist propaganda comes in the form of a video in which the Belgian Islamist Sheik Abu Imran declares that the black flag of Islamic Jihad will ‘soon be flying on top of all the palaces in Europe.[20]
This video came just days after a mob of extremists belonging to Sharia4Belgium stormed a debate in Amsterdam that was featuring two Muslim liberals: the Canadian writer and Muslim feminist Irshad Manji and the Dutch-Moroccan Green Left MP Tofik Dibi. Waving an Islamist jihadist flag, the Islamists yelled ‘Allahu Akbar!’ and threatened to break Manji's neck. They then demanded that both Manji and Dibi be executed for apostasy. The December 8, 2011 debate on how liberal Muslims can prevent Islam from being hijacked by Muslim extremists was held at the De Baile venue in downtown Amsterdam, and was sponsored by the Brussels-based European Foundation for Democracy. The event resumed after police arrested several of the Islamists.[21]
In September, Sharia4Belgium established Belgium's first Islamic Shariah law court in Antwerp, the second-largest city in the country. Leaders of the group reported that the purpose of the court is to create a parallel Islamic legal system in Belgium in order to challenge the state's authority as the enforcer of the civil law protections guaranteed by the Belgian constitution. “The self-appointed Muslim judges running the Islamic Shariah court apply Islamic law, rather than the secular Belgian Family Law system, to resolve disputes involving questions of marriage and divorce, child custody and child support, as well as all inheritance-related matters. Unlike Belgian civil law, Islamic Shariah law does not guarantee equal rights for men and women; critics of the Shariah court say it will undermine the rights of Muslim women in marriage and education. Sharia4Belgium says the court in Antwerp will eventually expand its remit and handle criminal cases as well. But Sharia4Belgium also expects non-Muslims to submit to Shariah law.”[22] 


The Muslim population in the Netherlands is estimated to be 914,000 constituting 5.5% of the total population.[23] During the last decade a process of Islamist radicalisation in Dutch society has been made visible. In the Netherlands, authorities were well aware of the existence of an important cell connected to the Moroccan network. Dutch intelligence which had been monitoring the activities of groups of radical Islamists in various cities for years had noticed that some of them mostly Moroccan immigrants had united in a large group called the “Hofstad”. Although most of its members grew up in the Netherlands, the Hofstad group had extensive contacts with militants in other countries. Dutch authorities received information on these contacts from Morocco after the Casablanca bombings (May 2003), but more specific intelligence came after the Madrid bombings. The information provided by Madrid and Rabat on the radical Islamists operating in Holland caused Dutch authorities to step up the surveillance of the Hofstad group. In October 2003, five militants with Hofstad connections were arrested “because there were serious reasons to believe that the group was involved in the preparation of an imminent terrorist attack.” However, the Dutch legal system’s strict rules of evidence prevented authorities from putting together a solid case and the suspects were soon released.[24] On November 2, 2004, Dutch columnist and filmmaker Theo van Gogh was shot and stabbed to death as he biked to work on an Amsterdam street. The killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, insisted that Islam "compels me to chop off the head of anyone who insults Allah and the prophet." He targeted the anti-Islam van Gogh because of his movie Submission, which graphically highlights Koranic verses often used to justify the mistreatment of women.[25] The murder showed that Jihadism in the Netherlands and Europe in general is connected to deeper agendas. The Jihadist outlook envisions a forceful transformation of Europe’s political culture and violent attacks on the fundamental freedoms of secularism in Europe.[26]
Thesubstantial” danger coming from Islamist radicalisation was indeed confirmed by the arrest of about 8 Islamic suspects in the immigrant neighbourhood of the city of The Hague, who were ostensibly making preparations for future terrorist activities in about October 2005.[27]



There are approximately 226,000 Muslims[28] living in Denmark out of a total population 5.3 million consisting 4.1% of the population, with those of Turkish origin being the largest group at 36,000.[29]  “In an audio message disseminated by Al Jazeera on April 23, 2006, Osama bin Laden had said that ‘a Zionist-crusader war on Islam’, was shown most explicitly by the Danish cartoons depicting the Holy Prophet Mohammed, which were published by a Danish journal the year before. He added that the cartoon controversy was ‘too serious for an apology’ and was the most serious aspect of the alleged war against Islam. He called for the extradition of those responsible for drawing and publishing the cartoons to be tried by Al Qaeda, just as, he said, the US and the UN had demanded he be turned over after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US. ‘We demand that their governments hand them over to us to be judged by the law of Allah’, he said. He quoted various Islamic lessons, known as Hadiths, to make it clear that he believed that anyone involved in creating and publishing the cartoons should be put to death. He said a boycott of Danish products should be extended to include the United States and Western Europe, but that should not be seen as a substitute for punishing those responsible.
Subsequently, one Abu Yahya al Libi, believed to be identical with Mohammad Hassan, a Libyan member of Al-Qaeda, in a video recording posted on a web site suspected to be close to Al-Qaeda, urged Muslims to launch attacks in Europe as revenge for the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. He called upon Muslims to "send rivers of blood" down the streets of Denmark, Norway and France for publishing the cartoons. Mohammad Hassan, along with three other Al-Qaeda terrorists, had escaped from the Bagram Air Base detention camp in Afghanistan last year.
His statement said: “Believers, don't let your Prophet down and don't let our response to this grave insult just be protests and forums. Denmark, Norway and France, you enemies of Islam, you have committed a grave offence against God and his Prophet. Muslims, let's not be slack about this ... hone your swords and shake the ground beneath their feet so they can feel our pain, let's send rivers of blood down their streets.”[30]


The estimated Muslim population (as for 2010) in Norway according to Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is up to 144,000 and constitutes approximately 3% of the total population.[31] Muslim immigrants, mainly from Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey, first began arriving in Norway in the late 1960s and early 1970s in search of employment. During the 1990s, Norway welcomed a large influx of Muslim refugees from various conflicts, including the Gulf War and the struggle in the Balkans that followed. The Muslims in Norway are highly diverse, hailing from a wide range of geographical and religious backgrounds. Norwegian Muslims seem to have integrated more effectively and in less time than Muslims in other Western European countries.[32] Islamists pose the greatest threat to Norwegian security according to a report published by the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) in January 2012.[33]The number of Islamist extremists in Norway remains small, but their ranks could expand and they have become ever more operational, according to PST, pointing to a growing trend of extremist youths going to training camps in conflict areas before returning to the Scandinavian country.”[34]
In 2005, a Norwegian court declared Mullah Krekar a 55-year-old Islamist who came to Norway as a refugee in 1991 a national security threat and ordered him deported, but later postponed the move because of concerns he could face execution or torture in Iraq. In June 2010, Krekar said at a news conference organized by the foreign press club in Oslo that if he were deported to Iraq and killed, Norwegian officials would ‘pay with their lives’, according to a transcript included in the indictment presented in court (February 2012).‘If I die it will be the beginning of killings’, he said, according to the transcript. Prosecutor Marit Bakkevig said Krekar had violated Norwegian terror laws by ‘threatening to commit murder for the purpose of creating fear in the society’, which carries a maximum 12-year sentence. ‘The statements appear as persistent threats’, she told the court.[35] Mullah Krekar founder of the radical Islamic group Ansar al Islam has finally been sentenced to 5 years in jail in March 2012.[36]


The estimated Muslim population in Sweden is up to 451,000 and constitutes 4.9% of the total population.[37]Out of these, the Swedish Commission for state Grants to Religious Communities (SST) estimate 110.000 to be practising Muslims. In their big survey Islam and Muslims in Sweden – A Contextual Study, Larsson and Sander (2007) believes this estimation to be to low, and the result of SST’s “conservative and exclusive” definition, “only counting individuals who belong to congregations that are ‘recognized’ by itself.” According to their estimation the number of practising Muslims is closer to 150.000 individuals.”[38] In September 25, 2009 the daily newspaper Sydsvenska dagbladet knew to tell at least nine Swedish citizens were jailed around the world, suspected or convicted of crimes related to terrorism.[39] Since 2009 there have been many reports about members from the Somali Islamist network al-Shabaab recruiting in Sweden. According to Swedish Secret Police (SAPO) ten to twenty Swedish-Somalis have been recruited and about ten persons have gone to Mogadishu to partake in battle.[40]
In December 2010, Sweden became the latest country in Western Europe to suffer from radical Islamist terrorism. As reported by Swedish papers, Iraqi-born Taimur Abdulwahab Al-Abdaly, aged 28, who blew up a car and then himself in downtown Stockholm, had been granted Swedish citizenship in 1992. But he then went to Britain to study, and UK media say he was radicalized over the last decade in the town of Luton, north of London.[41]
In January 2010 the Swedish government asked the Swedish Secret Police (SAPO) for a report on radical Islam in Sweden. “There are indications coming from SAPO”, said Minister of Integration Nyamko Sabuni, “that violent, radical Islamists are recruiting in Sweden. Even if this is not a big problem, it can have grave consequences for some individuals.” The report was published December 15 2010. In the report “violence inclined Islamist extremism” is defined as “activities threatening security which are Islamistically motivated, and which aim at changing the society in a non-democratic direction by the use of violence or threat of violence.”[42]

[3] Ibid
[4] Nomikos J. and Burweila A., Another Frontier to Fight: International Terrorism and Islamic Fundamentalism in North Africa. London: International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol.22, Issue 1, March 2009
[5] The Salafist Group for call and Combat(GSPC) in Algeria Joins Al-Qaeda, SITE Institute, 14 September 2006
[6] Phares W. (2008)  The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad, New York: Palgrave MacMillan
[9] Ibid
[11] Nesser P.(2008) Chronology of Jihadism in Western Europe 1994-2007: Planned, Prepared and Executed Terrorist attacks, Studies in Conflict &Terrorism, Vol. 31, Issue 10
[13] Phares W. (2008)  The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad, New York: Palgrave MacMillan
[14] Marschall I.(2007) Homegrown Austrian Terrorism—The End of a Safe Era?  EUX TV, September 2007
[15] Guitta O. (2007)  Cuckoo Clocks and Jihadists: What Switzerland is Now Producing, Weekly Standard, July 16, 2007
[16] Phares W. (2008)  The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad, New York: Palgrave MacMillan
[17] Whitlock C.(2006) Neutral Switzerland, a Rising Radicalism: Islamic Extremists Newly seen as Threat. Washington Post, July 20, 2006
[19] Available at: http://www.euro-islam.info/country-profiles/belgium [Accessed 5 February 2012]
[20] Available at:  http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/2682/belgium-islamist-state [Accessed 3 February 2012]
[21] Ibid
[22] Ibid
[24] Vidino L.(2006) Al-Qaeda in Europe. The new Battleground of International Jihad. New York: Prometheus Books
[26] Phares W.(2008)  The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad, New York: Palgrave MacMillan
[27] Podhoretz, N.(2007) World War IV. The Long Struggle against Islamofascism, New York: Doubleday
[30] Ibid
[34] Ibid
[36] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-17515202 [Accessed 30 March 2012]
[38] Available at: http://www.euro-islam.info/2010/02/24/islam-in-sweden/ [Accessed 4 February 2012]
[39] Ibid
[40] Ibid
[42] Available at: http://www.euro-islam.info/2010/02/24/islam-in-sweden/ [Accessed 4 February 2012]