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Like the Euro, Terrorism Trending Upward in Europe

BY RUSS WELLEN
03.02.2006 | BOOKS

Al Qaeda in Europe: The New Battleground of International Jihad
by Lorenzo Vidino
Prometheus Books, 2006
403 pages, $27.00

Choose your poison: death in one fell swoop or by a thousand cuts. Islamic terrorists treated the US to a sneak preview of doomsday on 9/11; Europe, meanwhile, they're slashing and hacking to bits.

Lorenzo Vidino is a terrorism expert at Steven Emerson's data-gathering center for Islamic terrorism, the Investigative Project. As he explains in Al Qaeda in Europe, every terrorist strike outside the Middle East either germinated or was cultivated on the Continent. For example, a charity-front based in Dublin supplied false documents to the American embassy bombers in Africa, and it's common knowledge that plans for 9/11 were finalized in Hamburg.

Post 9/11, the US attacked Afghanistan and decimated al Qaeda's base (thus transforming its name, "the base" in Arabic, from the literal to the symbolic). Suddenly Europe's importance to al Qaeda -- as an offshore to which it outsourced its R & D -- mushroomed.

Ironically, European countries paved the way for this kind of globalization. They not only granted fanatical Islamists admission, including political asylum to Afghan, Bosnian, and Chechnyan war veterans, but provided them with generous benefits.

Congregating during the 1980s at notorious mosques like Milan's Islamic Cultural Institute and England's Finbury Park, they not only proceeded with their plans to overthrow Middle-Eastern governments from afar, but hatched a vision of global jihad. They raised and laundered money, operated Web sites, and procured weapons and false documents. Thus was the foundation laid for what Vidino calls the "security disaster that is Europe over the past thirty years."

Because recruitment for a foreign terrorist organization is a crime in few European states, authorities lacked the tools to shut down these networks. Also, laws in most European countries precluded the apprehension of those who joined terrorist groups outside their borders. Besides, the amount of evidence required to press charges often constrained authorities from charging suspected terrorists unless caught in the final stages of preparing an attack.

While finding sufficient probable cause for spying was less of an issue, even fanatical Islamists' recorded wishes to "die as martyrs" or "kill the infidels" didn't warrant a warrant. Until a specific target was mentioned or weapons surfaced, authorities could only keep a close watch on them.

Mohammed Siddique Khan, the alleged ringleader of the July 7, 2005 London bus bombing, is a case in point. While but a person of interest to Britain's M15, he not only recruited other bombers, but received two grants from the European Union to open gyms for immigrants. Likewise, until they were apprehended or killed, the four would-be bombers of the failed attack two weeks later used multiple identities to collect 500,000 pounds in state benefits.

The Algerians were the first to smuggle terrorism into Europe, and constituted what Vidino calls bin Laden's "main franchise" in Europe in the 1990s. It was they who stole Europe's innocence, when on January 5, 2003, British police raided five apartments in London and found ricin. Then, in a subsequent raid on other suspects in the same plot, a British policeman, typically unarmed, became the first killed by Islamic terrorists on British soil.

Next Vidino examines the recruitment campaign al Qaeda has mounted throughout Europe to fill its ranks in Iraq. Actually recruitment is too strong a word since, according to a former CIA official, it was more like, "applying to Harvard." Al Qaeda's problem wasn't finding bodies but narrowing the search to those deemed sufficiently dedicated and suitable skilled.

Finally, Vidino introduces us to the Moroccans, who threw their lot in with al Qaeda and Abu Musab al Zarqawi, as well as drug traffickers. Morphing into the "new face of al Qaeda in Europe," they carried out the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004. In an aside damning to western intelligence, the sheer number of people in on the Madrid attacks was exceeded only by those who knew about 9/11.

As Vidino explains, the seeds of terrorism in Europe were planted by the "imported threat." The most serious threats now though are those who were "home-brewed" (immigrants who were radicalized in Europe) and "homegrown" (European-born Muslims and converts -- including Christian Europeans).

Besides the ricin plot and the Madrid bombings, Al Qaeda in Europe features blow-by-blow accounts of other investigations and raids like the brazen murder of Theo van Gogh. Vidino makes it abundantly clear that, as a target of terrorists, Europe has become the equal of Israel and the US. In response, France has closed legislative loopholes through which terrorists sneak. Other European nations, however, have failed to react -- thus do bleeding hearts stay bloody.

Vidino is owed a debt of gratitude for revealing the depth and breadth of fanatical Islamist terrorism in Europe. Now, armed with this information, Europe's finest legal minds need to apply themselves to the task of balancing civil liberties with security concerns. (Note to jurists: Don't look to American ham-handedness for an example.)

Meanwhile, there might be a natural tendency on the part of Americans to view Europe's vulnerability to terrorism as a safety valve siphoning off future attacks on US. But, as Vidino points out, never mind phantoms walking through Mex-Tex terror tunnels or stowing away in a shipping container, the cutting edge of terrorism -- the white European who converts to Islam -- can hop on a plane without much fear of interdiction and fly to America.

About the Author
Russ Wellen is an editor at Freezerbox who specializes in foreign affairs and nuclear deproliferation.
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