Friday, June 20, 2014

20-Jun-14: Does Europe face the most serious terror threat ever? At CNN, they say yes and explain (poorly) why

Moslem protestors outside the Danish Embassy in London,
February 3, 2006 [Image Source: Getty Images]
A lengthy article on the CNN website yesterday looks CNN-style at the threats posed to European countries by returning jihadists who have cut their terror teeth in the carnage of Syria and Iraq. [See "Europe faces 'greatest terror threat ever' from jihadists in Iraq and Syria" | CNN | June 19, 2014]

It starts out focusing on a recent police raid in Cannes on the French Riviera. Their target was the apartment of Ibrahim B., a man of 23, who had returned to France from 18 months of fighting in Syria on behalf of Jabhat al Nusra, an Al Qaeda offshoot, prohibited as a terrorist organization by the United Nations,, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and Turkey. He had been spotted sending online messages that called for "punishing France" which evidently triggered some concern. The police raid on his home turned up a stash of soda cans converted to bombs containing nearly a kilogram of TATP. That's a high-explosive substance used to make detonators in multiple post-9/11 Al Qaeda bomb plots.
The case of Ibrahim B is one of dozens in recent months involving European jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq... gaining combat experience, training and an extremist mindset... A European counter-terrorism official told CNN up to 300 veterans of the Syrian Jihad have already come back to Europe. "The threat of attacks has never been greater -- not at the time of 9/11, not after the war in Iraq -- never," the European counter-terrorism official told CNN. He envisaged a flood of small-scale but effective and chilling attacks.
Being CNN, the article is long on superficial, short on substance. It races through some quasi-research data, without any indication of where it comes from or how accurate it is. For instance:
  • About 2,000 citizens of EU states have traveled to Arab states to join the jihad. 
  • "France, Germany and the UK account for the largest numbers, all with hundreds of citizens fighting in Syria. But in per capita terms more have travelled from Belgium... (which) has sizeable North African and Turkish Muslim populations and active radical groups)... than any other EU country." 
  • An anonymous source says there are 150 Belgian fighters in Syria. "Up to 15 more" go each month.
  • "About 35 are thought to have been killed..." and "60-70 had returned home". 
So much for the data candy. (Some of the numbers seem similar to an earlier article dealing with essentially the same theme, published in the Wall Street Journal on June 2.) Then a faltering attempt at trying to sound more weighty and serious:
  • Quoting an anonymous European official connected to counter-terrorism, the way intelligence-sharing is done in Europe is "woefully inadequate". A central database to serve all of Europe is needed to track the "extremists" (i.e. the jihadists and Islamists) who fly out of Europe take part in the carnage directed at fellow Moslems and Arabs.
  • But some good news: "European governments were beginning to understand the need for better collaboration" - no source for that fatuous line.
  • Much of what is known about eager jihadists comes from looking at Facebook, Twitter and darker corners of the social media. "But scouring social media and jihadist forums is labor-intensive and demands language skills. And the most dangerous militants won't be so transparent about their intentions." That's important to know, right?
  • And then a key observation: "There's huge excitement on online jihadist forums," said the official. "It's a further catalyst for radicalization and could lead to a surge in travel flows."
  • And as for what this might mean in life-and-death terms, "An early indicator of the potential threat came last month when a gunman opened fire at a Jewish museum in the Belgian capital, Brussels, killing four people." Those murders happened in May.
The problem is that, sensationalism aside, there is indeed a great deal about which to be concerned in Europe. 

But focusing on the relative handful of committed European Islamists who actually take up arms (principally, let it be noted, against other Moslems) is to miss a much larger and more meaningful point. And for journalists to portray the callous murders carried out in the Belgian Jewish museum as "an early indicator" of the Islamism-in-Europe problem is absurd. 
  • Could the cold-blooded murders in March 2012 of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France by French-born Islamist Mohamed Merah have been an indicator of the problem?
  • Perhaps the 2007 "Sauerland-Gruppe" bomb plot  in which three men (two of them German converts from Christianity to Islam) were arrested on September 4, 2007 while leaving a rented cottage in Medebach, Germany where they were building car bombs using 700 kg of a hydrogen peroxide-based mixture?
  • Is it warning of things to come when Islamists plan in 2006 to kidnap and kill Jews in Prague, hold them captive in a synagogue, make demands which cannot be met and then blow up the building, killing everybody inside?
  • Would not the 7/7 massacres (52 killed, hundreds injured) carried out by British-born Moslems in London in 2005 qualify as a sign? 
  • How about the Islamist 11-M bombing of the trains in Madrid (death toll: 191, with some 1,800 injured) in March 2004?
  • Or the machine-gun and grenade attack that killed two people and wounded thirty attending a Bar mitzvah service at the Stadttemple in Vienna on August 29, 1981? Was that a warning sign?
  • The August 9, 1982 Chez Jo Goldenberg restaurant attack in Paris: Islamist terrorists threw a grenade into the dining room and fired machine guns on a Jewish restaurant in Paris's Marais district, on 9 August 1982. They killed six people, including two American tourists, and injured 22 others - "the heaviest toll suffered by Jews in France since World War II".
These instances are literally selected at random. The list of Islamism-driven attacks and attempted attacks of a terrorist nature on European targets is lengthy. It's not possible that the people at CNN are seriously suggesting this is a new process with its origins in the last eight weeks.

We think a big part of Europe's problem - apart from a serious case of historical amnesia - is a self-imposed stupidity on this subject. You can see how it works by examining the practices of the BBC, where the very use of the word "terrorism" is made impossible as a result of political-correctness gone mad. [See "16-Aug-11: When the powers at the BBC put this much effort into something, they must really care"; and "10-Jan-13: When terror is ignored by news reporting agencies, the BBC for instance, what can we learn?"]

Will Europe recover in time to address the very real existential challenges it faces? Stay tuned.

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