2 men arrested near Paris planned terror attack, wanted to join ISIS

Two men who were arrested following the discovery of explosive materials and components at an apartment in a Paris suburb of Villejuif wanted to make a bomb to commit a terrorist attack, Paris’ prosecutor has said.

 

“They had agreed to commit an attack on the [French] territory to take revenge on the coalition but they had not worked out any specific plan to date,” Francois Mollins said at a news conference Sunday.

The prosecutor added that one of the suspects admitted the two considered attacking soldiers who were deployed to locations deemed vulnerable for the terrorist attacks. The plot was uncovered as part of Operation Sentinel that was launched following the November 2015 Paris attacks and is part of the ongoing state of emergency.

Both suspects admitted that they wanted to join Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) and leave for Syria or Iraq as early as in 2015 but they could not because of a “lack contacts and financial means.” The pair added they were planning to carry out an attack in the name of the terrorist group.

One of the suspects identified as Frederique L, 37, was “in direct contact” with Rachid Kassim, a French jihadist, who joined IS and left France to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Kassim, who was killed in a US airstrike in February, is suspected of being the instigator of several terrorist attacks on French soil, including the double murder of police officers in Magnaville in June 2016 and the attack on the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray church in northern France.

On Wednesday, 105 grams of TATP were accidentally discovered in an apartment located in Villejuif along with a liter of sulfuric acid, a liter of hydrochloric acid as well as 8 liters of acetone and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide.

Mollins said “the substances discovered at the scene could be used to produce between three and four kilos of TATP.” Investigators also found components needed to make a detonator, including wires, electric batteries, match heads and bulbs from Christmas wreaths.

A USB device containing videos showing a series of explosives tests on the terrace of the Villejuif apartment raided by the police was also found at the scene. Islamic State propaganda videos on a computer belonging to one of the suspects and leaflets with inscriptions in Arabic were also found in the apartment.

London Bridge Attacker profiles

Three men perpetrated the attack last Saturday night in the London Bridge and Borough Market areas. All three men have been identified by Scotland Yard.

The most recent attacker to be identified is 22-year-old, Moroccan-Italian Youssef Zaghba. Prior to the attack, he had been living in East London and working at a restaurant. Although the Italian police previously prevented him from travelling to Syria via Istanbul to allegedly join ISIS fighting, they did not share this information with British intelligence and Zaghba was not known to British authorities. He was born in Morocco and lived there most of his life.His mother lives in Italy, as she is separated from his father.

One of the other attackers, Khuram Butt, was known to police and MI5 but police had no understanding of this attack. Butt appeared in a Channel 4 TV documentary called, “The Jihadis Next Door” and was banned from his East London mosque for interrupting a sermon. He was born in Pakistan but came to the UK as a young child; he has been living in Barking, East London. He had a baby and a toddler. Butt was athletic and an Arsenal fan. He angered when he saw women cycling in his area. He played with neighbourhood children often. Butt worked for Transport for London and for a fast food restaurant.

Rachid Redouane, 30, is the third terrorist profiled in the article. He identified as Moroccan and Libyan; however, he sometimes also used the name Rachid Elkhdar. At the time of his death, he was carrying an Irish ID card, which may have helped him obtain permission to enter the UK. He lived in Dublin previously for part of 2015 and possibly 2016. He was not known to police. He was a pastry chef. He married Charisse O’Leary in 2012, a British citizen who ever converted to Islam. Recently, the couple split after disagreements over raising their now 17-month-old daughter.

Manchester bomber’s Libyan experiences and radicalisation

Manchester bomber Salman Abedi, 22, may have been radicalised through his connections to Libya. His father fled Libya to escape Ghadafi because Abedi senior was connected to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), which had tried to assassinate Ghadafi. LIFG was prominently represented at the Muslim-Brotherhood-affiliated Didsbury Mosque which the Abedi family attended. After 9/11, the LIFG was declared an Al Qaeda affiliate and its funding was cut off. The Abedi family’s escape of Libya occurred before the birth of Salman Abedi; however, when Salman was 16, Abedi senior returned to Libya after the Arab Spring when the opportunity to finally overthrow Ghadafi presented itself.

As a result, Salman Abedi moved often between war-torn Tripoli and Manchester. At some point, it is suspected that he went with other Libyans to fight in Syria, where he saw American bombs killing Muslim children. He was full of contradictions, as he drank and used drugs but was violent towards women who adhered to Western sexuality norms.

Salman Abedi was radicalised into a different form of violence than his father. While his father abhorred ISIS, Abedi embraced it after his experiences with cultural clash and violence in Syria. This led to the tragic events last week.

“The Jihad wears Prada, an Analysis of Jihadist Conversions in Europe”

In his French-written study, published in the Cahiers de l’Institut Religioscope in August 2016, Olivier Moos looks at home grown jihadism in Europe and the reasons why some young Muslim Europeans join ISIS.

The diversity of itineraries

A historian at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) and at the Ecole des Hautes etudes en sciences sociales (France) , Olivier Moos, points out the diversity of itineraries and the impossibility to find any decisive variable to explain the enrollment in jihadi groups. Particularly in terms of social background, since many profiles challenge our most common preconceptions. For example, many jihadis do not belong to the most economically marginalized fringes of their society; not all of them have a previous criminal experience; 20 to 30 % of jihadis (depending on the country) are converts, thus have not been raised in Muslim-practicing families, etc .

No “chemical formula”, but some trends

However, and to quote Olivier Moos: “If it is impossible to know in a exhaustive manner, like for a chemical formula, what drives an individual to embrace an extremist thought or to carry on a terrorist action, it is however possible and necessary to circumscribe a certain number of aspects of this phenomenon”.

Thus for the author, some tendencies can be identified. More than politics and ideology, young Muslims that turn to jihadism are above all motivated by a research of status and identity. This process is more emotional than rational.

Moos pays special attention to the “branding” of the Islamic state – which explains the reference to “Prada” in the study’s title.. – and shows how the propaganda of the so-called “Islamic state” functions as a counterculture par excellence. If ISIS is so seductive for its targets, it is also because its propaganda and the urban/”ghetto” subculture share an aesthetics of violence and of transgression.

 By Farida Belkacem

Source :

Olivier Moos, « Le djihad s’habille en Prada », Cahiers de l’Institut Religioscope, n°14, August 2016 : http://www.religion.info/pdf/2016_08_Moos.pdf

Minneapolis Muslims protest ‘sharia’ vigilante in Cedar-Riverside area

A man trying to impose what he calls “the civil part of the sharia law” in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis has sparked anger among local residents and Muslim leaders.

Minneapolis police received reports in February from concerned residents who saw Rashid in a dark green uniform that said “Muslim Defense Force” and “Religious Police” and had two flags associated with ISIS and other terrorist groups.

“We’ve had conversations with community members that live over there,” said Officer Corey Schmidt, a police spokesman. “Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to deal with it, but it’s something we’ve been monitoring.”

The many faces of violent extremism in Finland

Whereas violent attacks motivated by religious terrorism have over and over again targeted several European countries in the recent years, Finland has factually remained safe and secure. However, in a news article on national security that was published shortly after the most recent attack on civilians in Stockholm, a representative of Finnish Security Intelligence Service (SUPO) noted that factors that used to safeguard Finland are breaking down.

The change can be observed affecting the general public. A recent survey conducted by the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE says that a fear of a danger of violence and terrorism has increased among Finnish people, and that this change in attitudes is particular since in early April a radicalized asylum seeker crashed a truck into the entrance of a shopping mall in Sweden’s capital, a heinous act that was very similar to previous attacks in Nice and Berlin in 2016. According to the survey’s results, Finnish perception of potential threats to the country due to growing strength of global extremist movements and due to terror have bypassed the threat image of economic downturn when compared to perceptions before the Stockholm attack.

Finnish media’s recent reports on jihadist networks in the country and the on-going discussions on the central mosque project’s possible effects in spreading radical Islamic preaching have certainly not put the public discourse at ease in terms of Islam’s role in the country. In their recent article for the online magazine of international politics The Ulkopolitist researchers Otso Iho and Juha Saarinen analyzed the nature of ISIS propaganda that targets Finnish speaking audiences. Their research shows that up until January 2017 one of the blogs operated by ISIS had translated into Finnish 15 publications that mainly focus on theological issues. The nation-wide newspaper Helsingin Sanomat had as well followed a Finnish Telegram-channel used by ISIS followers, and reported in a news article how the Finnish propaganda content found on the channel incites to attacks against civilians, “even if they were just on their way home from a walk”. The image of homegrown terrorism is strengthened by the analysis of Iho and Saarinen about the high quality of the translations; it indicates that the writers are either native Finnish speakers or individuals who have grown up in the country and learned the language and possibly have also received higher education.

However, public discourse on terrorism is sometimes misleading and causes essentialized images, as has been argued by Leena Malkki, who is a researcher of terrorism at the University of Helsinki. According to Malkki, coffee table talk is at times very generalizing, as in the discourse anyone who has left to Syria or Iraq can be stigmatized as a terrorist. Similarly, Tarja Mankkinen from the Ministry of the Interior commented on a news article on returning foreign fighters that not all of the individuals coming back to Finland bring with them jihadist views and thus pose a threat as they might have well abandoned the ideology.  Therefore, it can be said, that in order to maintain a rather balanced and unloaded public discourse, media’s careful use of terms related to terrorism is crucial.

Coming back to the survey on security perceptions, it has to be mentioned, that the results on threat images of extremist movements cannot be taken as a clear-cut indication of increasing fear towards jihadist violence. Namely, the survey did not specify the type of the extremist movements, and thus other sorts of extremist violence have to be considered in the current socio-political context of the country as well. In the recent years, especially the Finnish chapter of the Nordic Resistance Movement has been in the news headlines for their violent behavior. Also security officials have noticed the increase of such Neo-Nazi violence, as can be inspected from the 2016 Yearbook of the Finnish Security Intelligence Service (SUPO) and the situation report of the Ministry of the Interior (February 2017). While the report states that the presence of so called “new right-wing extremism” with Muslims and Islam as a particular target is still minimal in Finland, the right-wing extremist movements’ violence against individuals opposing their ideology is a concrete threat according to the Ministry of the Interior. Whereas Finland has not yet witnessed any violent attack by jihadists, members in the Finnish chapter of the Nordic Resistance Movement have shown violent behavior towards civilians and in September 2016, a young man died after having been physically assaulted by a participant in the movement’s demonstration.

Defusing the lure of militant Islam, despite death threats

These days, Dounia Bouzar doesn’t go anywhere without her three bodyguards. The French Muslim anthropologist has received death threats for unveiling the tactics of Islamist recruiters. I meet her in a cafe along Paris’ Boulevard St. Germain, where Bouzar is enjoying an ice cream sundae in the back while her security contingent, provided by the French government, sits at a table out front, eyes on the entrance.

Bouzar’s book, Defusing Radical Islam, was published in 2014, a year before the rest of the country woke up to the threat of homegrown radicalization. That moment came in January 2015, when radical Islamist gunmen attacked the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, killing 17 people.

“When it was published, hundreds of parents of radicalized kids came looking for me,” says Bouzar. “Because they recognized themselves and their children in my book.”

After the book came out, Bouzar began working with 300 parents to develop ways to deal with the problem. One of the fathers was a policeman and showed the others how to bug their kids’ phones and computers. Bouzar says they were then able to witness how the recruiters worked.

“They set out to break every emotional, social and historical tie in the kids’ lives,” says Bouzar. “The recruiters had them drop their friends, who [they said] were complicit with a corrupt society; their teachers, who [they said] were being paid to indoctrinate them; and eventually, even break from their parents, who [they said] were nonbelievers even if they were Muslim,” she says.

Bouzar says the young people also stopped taking part in sports and music. And when they were stripped of their identity and there was nothing left, ISIS took them over and they became part of the group.

In early 2015, Bouzar’s organization, the Center for the Prevention of Sectarian Excesses Linked to Islam, won a government contract to help parents who had called a national anti-radicalization hotline that had recently been put in place. Bouzar traveled the country training teams of psychologists, police and other experts to deal with the phenomenon of radicalization and parents’ concerns.

One of the parents who reached out to Bouzar for help was Celine, a mother from a small Normandy town whose 19-year-old son had converted to Islam. Celine doesn’t want to give her last name because of fears for her family.

She says it wasn’t her son’s conversion to Islam that bothered her, but the way he began to cut himself off from the world. “All of a sudden, he refused to eat pork or listen to music,” she says. “And his grades plummeted. He had an empty look in his eyes and it was like he didn’t think for himself anymore. He became sort of like a robot. And he was always, always on the phone.”

Celine discovered her son had opened a second Facebook account — and on it, he was discussing going to Syria.

According to the French Interior Ministry, more young people from France have radicalized and gone to war zones in Syria and Iraq than from any other European country. About 1,500 French citizens have gone or tried to go. Approximately 700 are still there. Celine wanted to make sure her son would not be among them.

Bouzar says that ISIS, unlike al-Qaida, tailors its radicalization tactics to individual profiles. For example, girls are particularly attracted to the idea of taking care of children hurt by the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad or finding a God-fearing and faithful Muslim husband. Recruiters play to these desires. They even have different videos geared to speak to the different motivations for wanting to join ISIS.

“For girls, there’s a kind of myth of a Daesh-[ISIS-]land utopia where no one will be cold or hungry and everything runs on divine law,” says Bouzar. “The recruiters make them believe they can become a nurse and be running a hospital wing in just a couple of months.”

One of Bouzar’s methods for treating young people seduced by ISIS involves re-establishing links between radicalized individuals and their former lives. She counsels parents to try to bring them back in touch with their childhood — through old pictures and videos or food.

Celine tried this with her son and had little success at first, but she persevered.

“I made all his favorite meals that he loved as a child,” she says. “And I took him to places he liked when he was young. I did everything to reconnect him with his childhood.” Eventually, she noticed he was becoming more open to discussion. He took an interest in school again. The empty look vanished from his eyes.

Bouzar says a person can only be brought back with the help of someone close, like a parent or other family member — or by a reformed jihadist himself.

She has used allegedly reformed jihadists in counseling sessions to try to break through to some of the young people who are radicalizing. “We get them together without the young person realizing who this person is,” says Bouzar. “But then they begin to recognize their own story out of the mouth of the reformed jihadist, because he was lured for some of the same reasons. And slowly, doubt begins to set in.”

Bouzar says there is no such thing as a radicalized youth who wants to be de-radicalized. “He thinks he’s been picked by God and he sees things no one else does, because [everybody else is] indoctrinated,” she says.

Bouzar’s methods have been controversial. Some say her use of allegedly reformed jihadists is dangerous. (In some cases, it can be challenging to ascertain whether they’ve really reformed or are pretending.) Others accuse her of self-promotion. Many more say treating radicalization as purely brainwashing is to underestimate geopolitical and social factors, and the role that radical Islam plays.

Benjamin Erbibou, who works with an organization called Entr’Autres (Among Others), a group that works with radicalization issues in the southern city of Nice, thinks only a small percentage of radicalization cases are linked to brainwashing.

“Mostly,” he says, “it’s linked to a complete rupture and rejection of French society and Western values.”

But Marik Fetouh, deputy mayor of Bordeaux and head of the city’s de-radicalization center, says it’s easy to criticize efforts to deal with radicalization because it’s a poorly understood new phenomenon.

“Bouzar came forward with real ideas to fight this complex phenomenon when pretty much no one else had a clue what to do,” he says.

Although her contract with the French government is over, Bouzar’s association still counsels families affected by radicalization. Bouzar and her teams have counseled more than 1,000 young people and their parents — from Muslim, Catholic and atheist backgrounds.

Normandy mother Celine credits Bouzar’s methods with saving her son’s life. She says he’s still a Muslim, but now he’s begun to think for himself. And most important, she says, he no longer wants to go to Syria.

She became the nation’s first Somali American lawmaker. A month later, she was harassed in a D.C. cab for being Muslim.

Less than one month after being elected, Ilhan Omar visited the nation’s capital for policy training at the White House, her historic role didn’t stop a cab driver from targeting her for her religion. Riding in a taxi en route to her hotel Tuesday, after having spent the afternoon at the White House, she “became subjected to the most hateful, derogatory, islamophobic, sexist taunts and threats” she had ever experienced, she wrote in a post on social media.

“The cab driver called me ISIS and threatened to remove my hijab,” she wrote. “I wasn’t really sure how this encounter would end as I attempted to rush out of his cab and retrieve my belongs.”

As European authorities target Salafism, the word needs parsing

What exactly is Salafism? In continental Europe, the word is now used as a catchall for extreme and violent interpretations of Islam. This week for example, authorities in the German state of Hesse raided five premises including a mosque; it was the latest move in a crackdown on ultra-militant forms of Islam all over Germany which began last week. “Extremist propaganda is the foundation for Islamic radicalisation and ultimately for violence,” said the interior minister of Hesse, Peter Beuth, by way of explaining the latest raids. “The Salafist ideology is a force not to be underestimated,” he added.

On November 15th, German federal authorities banned what they described as a Salafi organisation known as “True Religion” or “Read!” whose notional purpose was to distribute copies of the Koran. On the same day, police swept through 200 offices and other buildings across the country. Ralf Jäger, interior minister of the populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), reportedly gave this reason for the ban: “Every fifth Salafist who has travelled out from NRW under the aegis of so-called Islamic State in order to join a terror cell had previous contact with ‘Read!’”

In France, too, the word Salafi or Salafist is often used as a generic term for forms of Islam which are too extreme for any government policy to parley with or accommodate. Manuel Valls, the Socialist prime minister, has reported with alarm that the Salafis, although a tiny minority among French Muslims, may be winning an ideological war in France because their voice is louder and more efficiently disseminated than any other. François Fillon, a centre-right politician who is likely to make the run-off in next year’s presidential election, is a strong advocate of cracking down both on Salafism and on the groups linked to the global Muslim Brotherhood.

In the very loosest of senses, all Muslims are Salafi. The word literally describes those who emulate and revere both the prophet Muhammad and the earliest generations of Muslims, the first three generations in particular. There is no Muslim who does not do that. But in practice the word Salafist is most often used to describe a purist, back-to-basics form of Islam that emerged on the Arabian peninsula in the 19th century.

But even Saudi Salafism, despite appearances, is no monolith, according to H.A. Hellyer, a British scholar who studies Muslim communities across the world. Several different tendencies can be detected among the kingdom’s religious scholars, who underpin the monarchy.

In Egypt, too, the word Salafi is used as though it had a simple meaning, but again that is misleading, according to Mr Hellyer. On the face of things, the Egyptian Salafis are represented by a political party, Al Nour, which emerged as a powerful player after the 2011 uprising, and favours extreme conservatism in matters of dress, gender roles and personal behaviour. This is contrasted with the more tactical and pragmatic form of Islamism represented by the Muslim Brotherhood, which emerged in Egypt in the early 20th century and now wields influence through ideological allies all over the world, including Europe.

Here is another source of confusion: in the broad sense, the Brotherhood too is partially Salafi in inspiration. It shares the ideal of going back to the very first generations of Muslims; that was part of the thinking of Hassan al-Banna, the Brotherhood’s founder.

Do the politicians of France and Germany, who use the word Salafi/Salafist as though it were virtually a synonym for terrorist, need to know all this? Yes they do, because the safety of Europe’s streets is at stake. In Britain, for example, there are Salafi mosques whose preachers are theologically conservative but are far from terrorists; and there have been terrorists who have had nothing to do with the mainstream of Salafism. It’s important to understand that of the various forms of Salafism described, there is one, the unreconstructed kind, which can (though does not always) morph into terrorism. Labels can be a helpful pointer through a maze of complexity, but in the end the labyrinth has to be negotiated carefully.

Justin Welby: It’s time to stop saying Isil has ‘nothing to do with Islam’

Claims that the atrocities of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have “nothing to do with Islam” are harming efforts to confront and combat extremism, the Archbishop of Canterbury has insisted.

Religious leaders of all varieties must “stand up and take responsibility” for the actions of extremists who profess to follow their faith, the Most Rev Justin Welby said.

He argued that unless people recognise and attempt to understand the motivation of terrorists they will never be able to combat their ideology effectively.

The Archbishop said that it was essential to recognise extremists’ religious motivation in order to get to grips with the problem.

He also said it was time for countries across Europe to recognise and rediscover the “Judaeo Christian” roots of their culture to find solutions to the mass disenchantment which led to the Brexit vote in the UK and the rise of anti-establishment leaders in the continent and beyond.

His comments came during a lecture at the Catholic Institute of Paris, as he was awarded an honorary doctorate.

Although the Archbishop voted for the UK to remain in the European Union, his lecture contained a scathing critique of “centralisation, corruption and bureaucracy” in Brussels which he said had handed its opponents “easy ammunition”.

He said millions of people in Greece in particular were suffering because of the actions of European decision-makers who had urged it to join the Euro on a “false prospectus” and ultimately turned the entire country into the “biggest debtor’s prison in European history”.

Europe, he added, appeared to have lost its original vision of how economics could improve people’s lives rather than “economic structures enslaving human beings”.

“In order to understand, religious people in Europe must regain the ability to share our religious vocabulary with the rest of the continent,” he continued.

“If we treat religiously-motivated violence solely as a security issue, or a political issue, then it will be incredibly difficult – probably impossible – to overcome it.

“A theological voice needs to be part of the response, and we should not be bashful in offering that.

“This requires a move away from the argument that has become increasingly popular, which is to say that Isis is ‘nothing to do with Islam’, or that Christian militia in the Central African Republic are nothing to do with Christianity, or Hindu nationalist persecution of Christians in South India is nothing to do with Hinduism.

“Until religious leaders stand up and take responsibility for the actions of those who do things in the name of their religion, we will see no resolution.”