Al-Qaida will take decades to eradicate, thinktank says

By Mark Tran Al-Qaida has retained the ability to plan and coordinate large-scale attacks in the west, a leading thinktank warned today. The terrorist group has proved adaptable and resilient, the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in London said in its annual survey, six years after the group became a household word with its attacks on America’s World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. “The United States and its allies have failed to deal a deathblow to al-Qaida; the organisation’s ideology appears to have taken root to such a degree that it will require decades to eradicate,” IISS said in its 2007 strategic survey.

Finding partners in Islam

(by Lorenzo Vidino, an analyst at the Investigative Project and the Jebsen Center at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, is author of “Al Qaeda in Europe.”) As the United States battles insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan while fearing the next terrorist attack on our shores, it has become apparent that the solution to the struggle against radical Islam is neither military nor diplomatic, but rather, ideological. Only by tackling the ideology that motivates potential jihadis from Baghdad to London can the United States hope to win what will undoubtedly be a generational conflict. During the Cold War the West supported various pro-democracy and anti-Communist voices throughout the world, and the same can be done today. Why not empower moderates within the Muslim world? Why not intervene in what is often defined as a civil war for the soul of Islam in support of those who espouse positions that are compatible with our national interest? A recent report published by the RAND Corporation suggests that is the strategy we should adopt. The report states that Saudi financial support has promoted “the growth of religious extremism throughout the Muslim world,” and that more moderate voices have been often overshadowed given their relative lack of financial backing. Only by correcting this resource imbalance can we defeat extremists. And even though they have been often overlooked, the potential partners throughout the world abound. In some cases the ideal solution is to revamp traditional forms of Islam that over the last few decades have suffered the aggressive competition of Saudi-sponsored Wahhabism. From Central Asia to Morocco, from Indonesia to Somalia, Sufi Islam has traditionally influenced hundreds of millions of Muslims with its mystical, moderate, and tolerant message. Today various organizations such as the Carolina-based Libforall Foundation or the Michigan-based Islamic Supreme Council of America are helping spread the thought of progressive Sufi thinkers through a network that reaches many countries in the Muslim world. But also within Sunni Islam many progressive voices can be heard. Naser Khader, a Syrian-born member of the Danish Parliament, has become one of Europe’s best known Muslim leaders, thanks to his organization’s pro-integration message and grassroots activism. In the wake of the cartoon crisis, Khader created the Democratic Muslims Network, which aims to combat radicalization among young Danish Muslims with concrete efforts. Last year, he organized a job fair through which hundreds of young Muslims were hired by Danish companies, a remarkable achievement considering the levels of unemployment – and consequent disenfranchisement – that plague European Muslims. At the same time, his organization attempts to overcome various difficulties, including constant death threats, and spread its pro-democracy message, which is epitomized in the “Ten Commandments of Democracy,” a document all members must sign. Khader, who has the word “democracy” in Arabic tattooed on his arm, considers the first of the commandments the most important: “We must all separate politics and religion, and we must never place religion above the laws of democracy.” The push for change is not limited to staunch secularists like Khader. There are also more traditionalist voices calling for a modern and moderate interpretation of Islam. Soheib Bencheikh is a Saudi-born cleric who studied Islamic theology at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo and then moved to France, where he became the mufti of Marseilles. Bencheikh, whose religious credentials dwarf those of most Islamists, calls for a reinterpretation of Islamic texts that is loyal to their letter but is in line with today’s world. “Religious teachings were developed and formulated between the eighth and 12th centuries, and have not undergone any reform or updating since that time,” says Bencheikh, “[Muslims today] experience a dangerous discrepancy between their status as citizens and their status as believers.” Throughout the Muslim world many courageous intellectuals, clerics, and activists are struggling to make their message heard, campaigning for the diffusion of the values of tolerance and democracy within Islamic societies and among Muslims in the West. They preach a reformation through which Muslims, while remaining loyal to its key tenets, would be able to reconcile Islam with modern life. Yet moderate voices, while still representing the majority of the Muslim world, are often overshadowed by aggressive and well-organized radicals. It is in the West’s best interest to support these voices of reason, as they represent the best antidote to the radical ideology that is generating most of the terrorism and violence throughout the world.

In Germany, Harder Line Looms; Bavarian Probes Into Muslim Groups May Foretell Deeper Scrutiny

MUNICH, Germany — Local officials have started taking steps against one of the historic centers of Islamism in the West, after years of tolerating and even supporting it. At the center of attention is the Islamic Community of Germany, which has its headquarters in a Munich mosque that also has been a key base for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was founded in 1920s Egypt as a reform movement to Islamicize society but since then has spawned a host of radical organizations. Now, attorneys in the state of Bavaria have launched two separate investigations. One is aimed at determining whether the Islamic Community of Germany misappropriated state funds, a move that could force the group to pay back more than _700,000 ($868,070) to the state. Prosecutors also are investigating an allegedly related organization that runs a nearby school. Officials denied an education license to the school just as the school year was about to start, a move confirmed by courts last week. The actions in Bavaria could signal that Germany will take a harder line nationally against Islamist organizations. One of the driving figures behind the moves is G_nther Beckstein, the Bavarian interior minister who is widely expected to become Germany’s interior minister after national elections on Sept. 18. Mr. Beckstein believes that the Islamic Community of Germany’s allegedly ideological links with the Muslim Brotherhood make it an undemocratic force. Taking Aim “The Islamic Community of Germany is a group that is against the constitution,” Mr. Beckstein said in an interview. “It is justified that the state not support such organizations.” For decades, the Munich mosque and its related organizations have been cornerstones of the Muslim Brotherhood network that gradually spanned Europe. In early July, The Wall Street Journal published a front-page article detailing the history of the Islamic Center of Munich, which was founded in the late 1950s by a group of ex-German World War II soldiers and exiled leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. The center’s legal successor is the Islamic Community of Germany, which is still based in the mosque although most of its operations have moved to Cologne. For almost a decade, domestic intelligence had observed and published warnings about the group’s allegedly radical ideology. Public officials, however, continued to deal with the organization, financing its private school with _340,000 a year. The organization maintained nonprofit status, which allowed donors to write off their contributions. “It was always a thorn in our side that extremist organizations were obtaining public money,” said Michael Feiler, spokesman for the Bavarian branch of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a domestic intelligence agency that tracks groups believed to threaten Germany’s democratic order. In the late 1990s, the Islamic Community of Germany began to attract unwanted attention: A man sentenced for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center had been a regular at the Munich mosque and, later, a high-ranking al Qaeda suspect who had contact with mosque members was arrested nearby. In 1998, the group was put on the domestic intelligence agency’s watch list. The next year, the Islamic Community of Germany lost its nonprofit status because of sloppy bookkeeping, Bavarian state officials say. Although the matter is still in court, donations to the group are no longer tax-deductible. That led to the current investigation. Officials say the Islamic Community of Germany deliberately misled state education officials by failing to tell them about its loss of nonprofit status. From 1999 onward, the Islamic Community continued to receive roughly _340,000 a year to run the school, which last year had seven teachers and 111 pupils. Officials say the group may have to pay back some of the money it received from 1999, when it lost nonprofit status, to 2003, when a new organization took over the school. Ibrahim El-Zayat, the head of the Islamic Community of Germany, didn’t respond to requests for comment. In a previous interview, Mr. El-Zayat denied bookkeeping irregularities at his organization. The Islamic Community of Germany’s direct involvement with the school ended in 2003, when a group called the German-Islamic Educational Enterprise was founded to run the school. It obtained nonprofit status and received roughly the same amount of state support to run the school, officials say. Now, state prosecutors are investigating whether the new group may have forged the signatures of members who weren’t present at its founding. German-Islamic Educational Enterprise couldn’t be reached for comment. Local officials denied the school a license for the current school year because they say it is a dummy organization set up to disguise links to the Islamic Community of Germany. “We are afraid that the group running the school, which belongs to the Islamic Community of Germany, is using the school to spread Islamist ideology,” said Thomas Huber, spokesman for the district government of Upper Bavaria. He said the district hadn’t analyzed the school’s textbooks but that the alleged links to the Islamic Community of Germany were enough to deny the school its license. The group running the school has denied a direct link to the Islamic Community of Germany. Its members couldn’t be reached for comment but have said in local media reports that any links were informal. Sealed registration documents reviewed by the Journal show that most of the school group’s founding members had been members of organizations allied with the Islamic Community of Germany or are active in its mosques. Parents say the maneuvering between the government and the organization is hurting their children. Hisham Awwad, spokesman for the German-Islamic School Parent Committee, said the school wasn’t spreading Islamist ideology. “I don’t know anything about links to the Islamic Community of Germany,” said Mr. Awwad, a German citizen who emigrated from Egypt. “All we parents want is a way for our children to learn some of our Arabic heritage. We have no interest in radicalism, and I never noticed anything radical.” Mr. Awwad and other parents say they want to form their own nonprofit organization to run the school. Last Tuesday, a court denied the parents’ attempts to prevent implementation of the decision denying the school a license. Although the parents have other legal channels, their children will attend other schools this year.

U.K. Muslims At Forefront Of Terror Fight

By BRIAN MURPHY A packed mosque, an influential cleric and powerful denunciations against violence in the name of Islam: The scene was exactly what British authorities want to see. “We must save Islam from the dark forces of hate,” shouted the preacher to more than 2,000 men and boys in the grand Gamkol Sharif mosque. But this new kind of jihad will test the faith like no other, warned Mufti Muhammad Gul Rehman Qadri, who heads Britain’s largest Sunni Muslim coalition. This holy war is Muslim vs. Muslim. “Be strong,” said Qadri, thumping his cane into the crimson carpet. He then read the first major fatwa, or religious edict, condemning suicide bombings and the July 7 attacks against the London Underground that killed at least 56 people. The gathering last week is at the heart of a broad – and closely watched – British strategy that seeks to reach directly into Islam’s angry fringe. Mainstream Muslim leaders are being pushed hard to lead the way. The idea is to rouse Islam’s moderate majority, using its moral and spiritual clout to crush extremist ideology in one of the faith’s most important outposts in western Europe, where some forecasts say the Muslim population could double to nearly 30 million, or close to 8 percent of the population, within the decade. At the same time, Muslim envoys and clerics are being drawn into uncomfortable watchdog roles – asked to assist authorities in ways much sharper and stronger than after the attacks in Spain last year or even in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. And they must do it in the world’s most diverse Muslim community: about 1.6 million strong with roots in every corner of the Islamic world. This week’s developments can only ratchet up the pressure: Another attempt on Thursday by attackers to blow up three subway trains and a bus – an eerie if failed replay of the deadly July 7 strikes – followed by the anti-terror shooting of a man in an underground station. The long-range hope of the Muslim policing effort is that anti-Western preachers and factions around Britain will eventually wither under internal pressure. Success in Britain, the theory goes, could spark an intellectual assault against Islamic radicalism around the world. But it’s a mission with many serious complications. Not the least of which: How to open debate and dialogue with radical groups that are being driven further underground by police measures. “Moderate Muslims have been given a giant task,” said Ali Ansari, a professor of Islamic studies at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. “The world is watching how they respond.” On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with top Muslim envoys and told them to “confront this evil ideology.” “Take it on,” Blair said, “and defeat it by the force of reason.” Yet relying on such Western-style arguments is another weak point of the effort. The strains of Islam that see violence as a legitimate tool have deep roots with their own logic and perspectives – often developed as a rejection to what they consider flaws in modern Islam. One of the most pervasive is an Egyptian-born movement called el-Takfir wa el-Hirja, which has provided underpinnings for groups including al-Qaida and professes to shun anyone perceived as against “pure” Islam or “corrupted” by Western ways. This would include clerics working alongside British officials. Also, radicals often draw strength in their distance from the mainstream, portraying themselves as the shepherds for struggling Muslims in Britain and champions for broader Muslim causes such as the Palestinian self-determination, opposition to the Iraqi war and battlefronts in Chechnya and Kashmir. Sheik Omar Bakri, a hardline cleric who has described suicide bombings as an acceptable weapon by Iraqi insurgents, claimed Britain is seeking to “divide and rule” Muslims. “So we’re left with moderate Muslims preaching to moderate Muslims. That gets us nowhere,” said Lord Nazir Ahmed, a Muslim member of Britain’s House of Lords who has supported the deportation of extremist preachers. “We have to get in there and smash this violent ideology. It is a cult, not a part of real Islam. Words aren’t enough.” The gathering in Birmingham showed the limitations. Inside the mosque – which towers over a mostly Muslim district – Britain’s largest Sunni Muslim coalition denounced radicals from all angles. Clerics called any violence a sin and terrorism “an ideology alien to Islam’s core values.” The fatwa went further: “The attacks in London have no Islamic justification, are totally condemned and we equally condemn those who have been behind the masterminding of these acts” – which claimed at least 56 lives and, like 9/11, has entered the British lexicon as 7/7. A few blocks away, however, another kind of meeting was taking place. Four young men sat in an Islamic bookstore to finish hand-drawn fliers to protest the “crimes against Muslims” – a list including the occupation of Iraq, Palestinian struggles and the perception of a permanent underclass status for Britain’s Muslims. They titled the missives: “The two sides of 7/7.” “No one can condone the attacks in London,” said one of the men, who gave his name only as Munir. “But you also can’t ignore the feelings of Muslims and the pain they sense. We have to look a lot deeper than just condemning violence.” Some question if the moderate Muslim leadership in Britain is willing to go in that direction. It moves them toward some awkward choices – making distinctions between terrorism and what’s considered legitimate Islamic struggles. “It gets awfully messy when you try to rank violence,” said Gholam Rabbani, who leads a mosque in Walthamstow, east of central London. “We can’t say a suicide attack by Palestinians is acceptable, but one in London or Madrid are not. We have to say it’s always wrong.” But this is where radical Islam often finds its footing. London-based clerics such as Abu Hamza al-Masri quickly gained a wide following by praising attacks against Israel and U.S.-led forces in Iraq. Al-Masri, who is awaiting trial on charges of incitement to murder, has been linked to terror suspects, including Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States with crimes related to the Sept. 11 attacks, and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. A reported associate of Al-Masri also is being sought in connection with the London blasts. At the request of British officials, authorities in Pakistan are searching for Haroon Rashid Aswat, who reportedly had been in close contact with the suicide bombers. Aswat, 31, is of Indian origin and his whereabouts are unknown. “Young people have drifted away (from the mainstream) either because they were banned to discuss controversial issues in the mosque or found nothing inspiring on offer there,” said Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, a leading London-based Muslim activist. A report last week by two respected British institutions – the Royal Institute of International Affairs and Economic and Social Research Council – concluded that the situation in Iraq had given “a boost to the al-Qaida network’s propaganda, recruitment and fund-raising” and provided a training ground for al-Qaida-linked terrorists. On Tuesday, the group that claimed responsibility for the London bombings threatened to continue “a bloody war” on Denmark, Britain, Italy and other European countries unless their troops are removed from Iraq within a month. The authenticity of the statement by the Abu Hafs al Masri Brigades could not be verified. But the Blair government has repeatedly rejected the widely held opinion that Iraq played a role in the bombings. The stance was seen by some as another blow to the credibility of the moderate Muslim leaders working closely with authorities. “They are not speaking the language of the people; the language of the streets, the language of the youth,” said Hanif Malik, a Muslim community leader in Leeds – the northern city that was home to three of the four suicide bombers. “We’re afraid they will miss a chance to reach the Muslims who are at the most risk of following the misguided call of violence.” Even if moderate leaders’ outreach efforts were more successful,
they still might not be enough, said Peter Singer, who studies Western policy outreach to the Islamic world at the Brookings Institution in Washington. What’s needed is a strategy similar to fighting an insurgency, which requires an overall shift in laws and attitudes aimed at choking off Islamic extremists. “Britain has to decide whether it’s trying to influence the individual or influence the environment that has allowed this radicalism to exist,” said Singer. “The key to success is changing the environment to make radical Islam completely unacceptable. … It’s not just draining the swamp. You have to poison the sea.” Part of this attempt could be new laws to target hate speech and other forms of religious extremism. Proposals for the bill, which could enter parliament as early as September, include regulations demanding self-policing among Muslim groups such as requiring background checks on imams and closer scrutiny of financial records. “The Muslim community has to act,” said a government statement. “You have to harness the energies of the moderate Muslim community.” But there’s also potential risks in asking Muslims to pick sides. “You could set up an ideological war within Britain’s Muslims,” said Carl Ernst, a specialist in Islamic affairs at the University of North Carolina. “You’ll have people going into mosques to see who is a `good’ Muslim and who is a `bad’ Muslim. This could be even more dangerous and terribly divisive.” It also raises the chance of “group punishment” if moderate Muslims are seen as failing the difficult task of reining in radicals, said Ernst. It’s a worry that hasn’t been lost on Muslim leaders calling for a groundswell against violence. “This time the British society has given you the benefit of the doubt,” said Sunni Council spokesman Sardar Ahmed Qadri in a speech at the Birmingham mosque. “If you don’t stand up now, the next time it could be different. Our mosques could be targeted. Our institutions could be targeted. Our communities could be targeted. I beg you: stand up and speak out.”

Verdonk Zet Drie Imams Het Land Uit Van Onze Redactie Politiek

THE HAGUE – Three radical imams from Al-Fourkaan Mosque in Eindhoven have been declared undesirable aliens. Minister Verdonk van Vreemdelingenzaken wants them to leave the country because they incite hatred and permit jihadists to operate in their mosque. It has not been determined whether more imams will be declared undesirable. The General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) has been watching ten radical mosques. Just like in the Al-Fourkaan mosque the ideology of Salafism is promoted, a strict movement in Islam that fights against Western society. Verdonk decided yesterday after consultation with minister Remkes (home affairs) to withdraw the residence permits of the two imams. They have rejected the application for lengthening of the permit of a third imam. The imams will be declared undesirable aliens, because they pose a danger to public safety and/or national security. {(continued below in Dutch)} Volgens de Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst (AIVD) laten de imams duidelijk hun afkeuring blijken over de westerse samenleving en dragen ze bij aan de radicalisering van moslims in Nederland. Daarmee zetten ze moslims ertoe aan om zich van de Nederlandse samenleving te isoleren. Een van de imams is afkomstig uit Bosni_, een ander uit Kenia en de derde persoon zou uit Egypte komen. De Tweede-Kamerfracties van VVD, CDA, en LPF zijn opgetogen over het ongewenst verklaren van de imams. ,,Dit is goed nieuws, hier zaten we na 2 november (de moord op Theo van Gogh, red.), op te wachten”, aldus LPF-Kamerlid Joost Eerdmans. ,,Dit is uitstekend”, reageert CDA’er Van Fessem. ,,Eindelijk laat het kabinet zijn tanden zien”, stelt VVD-woordvoerster Griffith. Burgemeester A. Sakkers is ,,verrast” door het voornemen van Verdonk. Tot nu toe heeft hij geen enkel signaal van mogelijk gevaar ontvangen. ,,De uitzetting en afwijzing moeten op stevige feiten berusten, wil de minister voor deze maatregel kiezen”, aldus Sakkers. ,,Kloppen de feiten inderdaad, dan is het in het belang van de moskeegemeenschap in Eindhoven dat deze maatregel genomen wordt.’