New terrorism arrests in Germany heighten questions about scale of IS threat

A string of arrests

On September 13, three Syrians were arrested on terror charges in Germany’s northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. According to the Federal Prosecutor, the three men, aged 17 to 26, had arrived in the country in November 2015. While posing as refugees, they had already been tasked by the Islamic State to commit a terrorist attack. The youngest of the three had been given training in weapons and explosives in Syria; and the trio received “higher four-figure sums in American currency” as well as mobile phones while in Germany. However, at the time of their arrest in their respective shelters for asylum seekers, their plans had not yet come close to fruition. ((https://www.generalbundesanwalt.de/de/showpress.php?newsid=628 ))

Raising a potential link to a larger IS network, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière stated that the men had been brought to Europe by the same people smugglers’ ring as the perpetrators of the November 2015 Paris attacks. Moreover, their counterfeit passports appeared to have been produced by the same IS-run workshop in Raqqa that had already produced the ´passports found on the perpetrators of the bombings and shootings in the French capital. ((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/festnahmen-de-maizire-terrorverdaechtige-hatten-bezug-zu-paris-attentaetern-1.3159581 ))

Eight days later, on September 21, a 16-year-old Syrian was arrested in a makeshift housing unit in Cologne, where he had been plotting a bomb attack. He had received extensive guidance from abroad via online messaging services; and the young man’s IS-linked chat partner had given advice about how to build an explosive device and where to plant it. The 16-year old had been in Germany as a refugee with his parents and his sister since January 2015. ((http://www.heute.de/nach-festnahme-in-koeln-junger-syrischer-fluechtling-hat-laut-polizei-sprengstoffanschlag-geplant-45319066.html ))

The spectre of a larger network involving refugees

Against this backdrop, Thomas de Maizière asserted anew that the ‘Islamic State’ was not dependent on the refugee treks to bring its members and sympathisers to Europe. Rather than being an operational necessity, the infltration of these treks in fact constitues a means to discredit refugees and exacerbate simmering social tensions in Europe, or so de Maizière argued. ((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/festnahmen-de-maizire-terrorverdaechtige-hatten-bezug-zu-paris-attentaetern-1.3159581 ))

Whilst this is surely part of the IS’s calculation, a trove of documents from European security services analysed by CNN shows that interior ministries and their intelligence agencies are more concerned about the number of jihadis concealed among the refugees than de Maizière wants to admit. These documents reveal the extent to which the ‘Islamic State’ has systematically relied on the flow of migrants to channel its fighters into Europe, as well as the suspected size of the resulting European IS-controlled network. ((http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/05/politics/isis-suspects-terrorism-europe-documents/index.html ))

At the same time, the precise relationship of other attackers to the IS terror organisation remain more opaque. Of the two recent perpetrators of terror attacks in Germany, the Ansbach suicide bomber appears to have received more detailed instructions from an IS-linked source for a longer period of time. While after his death the IS claimed that it had sent him, the man nevertheless seems not connected to any of the other IS networks in Europe. The young Afghan who attacked the passengers of a regional train near Würzburg seems to have established contact with IS-channels only late in the day, without having been sent to Germany by the organisation. Subsequently he nevertheless received extensive guidance from IS operatives. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-09/islamischer-staat-europa-festnahmen-deutschland-terrorverdacht-syrer )) The IS thus proves itself once more  to be rather flexible in its dealings with potential recruits.

Follow the Money: UK Gov’t to Investigate Foreign Funding of UK Jihadis

The British government’s new Extremism Analysis Unit [EAU] has been ordered by the Prime Minister to investigate the extent of foreign money used to fund extremist groups in the UK.

The call for the inquiry came from the Liberal Democrat party after the House of Commons voted in favor of extending airstrikes in Syria.

“We call on [the government] to conduct an investigation into foreign funding and support of extremist and terrorist groups in the UK,” said Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems.

The EAU was established in September 2015, making it a legal duty for universities and colleges in the UK to ban extremists from radicalizing students on campuses and support those at risk of radicalization.

The EAU must also examine overseas revenue streams subsidizing jihadi groups in the UK.

However, reports suggest that the government-led investigation could lead to a potential stand-off between the UK and Saudi Arabia — Britain’s biggest ally in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest single market for British arms and the UK government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review recently outlined Britain’s intentions to continue to work with close allies including “vital partners, such as Saud Arabia, in the Middle East.”

However, Saudi Arabia has been publicly accused by German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of funding extremist mosques and groups in the West.

“Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany,” Sigmar Gabriel told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Wahhabism — a fundamental sect of Sunni Islam, practiced in Saudi Arabia — has inspired terrorist groups, including Daesh, also known as Islamic State, as well as al-Qaeda.

Dutch jihadis from Arnhem captured in Turkey

The Dutch Public Prosecutor announced that two men from the Dutch city of Arnhem presumably traveling to the battle zones of Syria of Iraq were captured in Turkey. The pair had gone missing for an extended period of time.

They belong to a group that is being surveilled on account of their supposed radicalization. Nothing was made known about their identity. In the interest of the investigation the Public Prosecutor has announced it will not elaborate on the exact place or circumstances of the arrest. From the city of Arnhem a considerable number of people have already set out for travel.

One of the arrested people is Abdelkarim el A. (29) also known as Muhajiri Shaam. He was assumed to have died in August in the Syrian city of Aleppo. He appeared in the media last year with a video message from Syria in which he called upon Muslims to carry out ‘a firm and strong act’ against the Dutch government if need be because it is supporting America.

His brother Youssef el A. had to appear in front of a judge recently in the Dutch city of Rotterdam because he was supposed to have transferred money to Abdelkarim. According to the Arnhem mayor Herman Kaiser the amount of jihadis traveling from his municipality has been stable over the past months.

British grandfather leaves family and dachsunds to join militants fighting Isil in Iraq

A British granddad has left his family to join militants fighting Isil on the frontline in Iraq claiming he could no longer sit back and do nothing.

Despite having no military experience, Jim Atherton, 53, of Tyne and Wear, has sold his car to buy weapons and has already come under mortar and rocket attacks.

The granddad, who before leaving for Iraq cared for rescued daschunds, said Special Branch had tried to persuade him to come home, but he believed his place was fighting jihadists. “I’m not a young bloke, I had a heart attack in 2007. But it’s something I felt I had to do. I wanted my grandkids to know what I’m really about,” he told The Sun. “Nobody seemed to be doing anything about it, so I decided that I would. “I don’t think I’m Rambo but I believe I’m a good soldier. Of course I miss my family and dogs.”

Mr Atherton said his family had been devastated by his decision to join a Christian militia called Dwekh Nawsha, which means The Sacrificers. He now belongs to a unit which protects the Christian population of Iraqi villages such as al-Qosh.

He raised the £18,000 needed for travel and guns by selling his Sierra Cosworth, two motorbikes and a boat. Mr Atherton, whose younger brother was killed fighting in Afghanistan, came across Dwekh Nawsha on the internet.

Majority of jihadis have mental health problems

More than half of the jihadis travelling to Syria have mental health problems. Often these problems already existed before their traveling and radicalization. In 1/5 of the cases the jihadi suffers from a serious condition, such as schizophrenia.

This is the conclusion of a research on 140 documents. Thereby it is often thought that jihadi’s are intelligent people, but the research concluded that they often received low or now education, have been homeless and come from broken families.

The researcher provides no one-size-fits-all solution. It seems that every individual needs a separate one. More cooperation between police and mental health institutions is preferable.

British White Jihadi is in fact Austrian

A teenager who appeared in Islamic State (IS) propaganda claiming he was ‘Britain’s white Jihadi’ has been identified as a “really bright” Australian teenager called Jake. Jake, described as a quiet youngster but “really bright” student who was especially good at maths, is believed not to have come from a Muslim family but converted to Islam.

Abu Zaid, a committee member of the Hume Islamic Youth Centre, said: “He was a very quiet guy, he stuck to himself. We weren’t close to him. I didn’t see any of the people [getting] close to him.

During his final year at school, Jake reportedly began communicating with an individual that he believed was a journalist working in Turkey. It is now thought that this “journalist” was in fact a recruiter for IS. Jake – who now calls himself Abdur Raheem or Abu Abdullah – went on to purchase a one-way ticket to Istanbul in Turkey, before he apparently made his way to Syria.

Commotion about research on IS-supporters in the Netherlands

Contact Institution Muslims and Government (CMO) is ‘shocked’ by the results of a research done by Motivaction, according to which 80% of Turkish youth don’t disagree with using jihad-inspired violence against people from a different faith. 300 Turkish and 400 Moroccan youth between 18 and 34 participated in the research.

CMO wants to discuss the results with minister of Social Affairs and Employment and vice premier Asscher. But they also state that the research lacks some nuances.

Politicians have also reacted on the results. Geert Wilders’ Party for the Freedom (PVV) want a debate on integration policies with Asscher. Wilders himself sees his ideas about the huge amount of support among Muslims in the Netherlands for jihadis in Syria confirmed.

According to Pieter Heerma, member of Christian Democratic Appel (CDA) this sympathie for IS and jihadis could be undermining for the (Dutch) rule of law. His party also wants the glorification of violence to be penalized.

Asscher wants to speak with Turkish youth themselves and Turkish organizations.

Mosques should provide support to families of jihadis

According to Contact Institution Muslims and Government (CMO), mosques need to provide more support to families of people going to Syria and Iraq. These people are in need of contact with people going through the same situation and also practical support, which they both don’t get from Islamic communities.

Yassin Elforkani, who is working for CMO, responds to the plan of establishing a support centre for families of jihadis’ (see: ‘Support centre for families of jihadis’), saying that this plan can only be successful when there is a ‘bond of trust’, since parents shouldn’t be afraid that their information will be handed over to the police, for instance.

Support centre for families of jihadis

The National Coordinator counter-Terrorism and Security (NCTV) has plans to establish an independent support centre for families of jihadis and potential jihadis. According to Karima Sahla, who work for ‘Sabr’, an organization in city of The Hague that supports parents of (potential) jihadis, this is needed. Parents are extremely worried about their children and afraid for the phone-call that will tell them there child has become a martyr. It is important that the employees in this centre get trained in how to deal with this specific group, in order to assure quality and an ability to emphasize with the families.

Radical Dawa Changing: The Rise of Islamic Neo-Radicalism in the Netherlands

Special thanks to the Islam in Europe Blog for providing this translation.

The Dutch intelligence service AIVD recently released a report on the development of Islamic neo-radicalism titled “Radical Dawa Changing, The Rise of Islamic Neo-Radicalism in the Netherlands” (Radicale dawa in verandering: De opkomst van islamitisch neoradicalisme in Nederland.). This report follows two previous reports by AIVD, one on the general situation of radicalism in the Netherlands and one specifically on jihadi groups. This is a partial summary:

The phases of Muslim radicalism

Muslim radicalism in the Netherlands has gone through a couple of stages and seems to be now starting off a new phase, which the AIVD calls neo-radicalism. These phases do not cancel each other out and there are still active members of each.

The first phase started off in 1980s, when both foreign jihadi and radical dawa organizations set up shop. Their goal group was the first generation immigrants, especially the Moroccans and they were generally very much connected to Saudi Arabia. The ties between the jihadis and dawa people were quite strong at this stage.

The second stage started with the 9/11 attacks, when foreign organizations were banned or dismantled due to the War on Terrorism. The Dutch groups became more autonomous, also because their followers broke away from their original inspiration and became convinced that Islam was oppressed and threatened in the Netherlands. Radical groups grew, but were also fragmented and amateurish. Youth got radicalized on their own, through the internet, a tool which grew very fast in this period. There were dozens of radical Islamic sites in Dutch alone. The ’coolness’ of the ’radical lifestyle’ attracted people who were not ’true’ radicals.

In addition, there were other groups that used Islam to excuse nihilism, escapism, vandalism and criminality.

The 9/11 attacks and the Murder of Theo van Gogh and the political discussion that ensued forced the dawa groups to come out against violence and to distance themselves from the Jihadi groups. The Jihadis, on their side, saw the dawa movements as ’giving in’ to the infidels. The dawa groups did not call for going on jihad abroad, but did not condemn it either.

In this second stage, radical preachers appeared who were more involved with the local state of affairs.

Now a third stage is apparently starting, with new Muslim radicals coming up on the scene and questioning the way things had been done in the past. These radicals want to work in a more organized manner and they reject the individualization of the past, where everybody did whatever they wanted. Their main goal is to slowly build up a broad base for radical Islam and with that build up their movement. In order to build a powerful movement they do not turn only to those who feel alienated and frustrated but to other groups as well, and to each they come with an appropriate message.

The internet is now the most widely used tool, as well as charismatic preachers. However, these groups are still very much fragmented and do not come with a unified dawa message.

They reject terroristic violence, as that will hurt their long term goals, but they do not rule out, for example, street violence without loss of life.

Other groups

When turning the general Muslim population they face competition from groups that call for combining strict adherence to Islam with taking part in Western society (eg. Egyptian TV preacher Amr Khaled). Groups elsewhere in Europe also affect Dutch Muslims. These groups include those striving to publicly express Muslim identity (eg. Tariq Ramadan) and for political emancipation (local Muslim parties taking part in elections).

Other competition are Muslim groups who are secularly oriented and the ex-Muslim associations. There are also groups who reject Western society but do not attempt to change it.

The radical dawa groups set themselves up as the representatives of true Islam. Muslim interest groups led by such radicals are then approached to solve problems in the Muslim community, even if they do not really have many followers. Muslims who do not support them fear coming out against them openly as they are then labeled infidels and enemies of the Muslim community.

The dawa groups deal with the competition in two ways. Through “intolerant isolationism” which means building up spaces of Muslim enclaves (both physical and in the media/internet and education) run by the laws of Sharia. A second method is “anti-democratic Muslim activism”, which aims to remove the ’reprehensible’ democratic order from the public sphere.

Though the radical groups reject terrorist violence, they are checking out other public and secret undemocratic and democracy-hindering tactics. These tactics have been used by radical Muslim groups in Muslim countries for quite some time. Some of these tactics have already been practiced in the Netherlands on a small scale, such as intimidating people in the Muslim community not to take part in the democratic society and to show loyalty to Islam. Some tactics have been considered such as taking over political organization, disturbing social harmony by spreading conspiracy theories and false rumors or setting up their own law system in their neighborhoods through intimidation.

Radical dawa in the Netherlands is led by political Salafists, but there are other active movements such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, Tablighi Jamaat and Muslim Brothers.

The estimates of the AIVD and other intelligence services is that about 5% of religiously oriented Muslims are susceptible to radicalism, and of those 10% actually radicalize and then they tend to go for the jihadi movements. The dawa groups aim for the original 5%.

The report then goes into a more in-depth analysis of the history of both Salafist and non-Salafist groups in the Netherlands. I might summarize this in the future, depending on if there’s interest in it.

Security risks

What kind of security risks do these groups pose?

The AIVD explains that a democratic order is built in two dimensions. The first is the vertical dimension (citizen-government) meaning a democratic constitutional state that includes things such as the separation of powers and freedom of opinion and religion. The second dimension is the horizontal dimension (citizen-citizen) meaning a public society that includes social cohesion, stability, active citizenship and respect for plurality.

The Dutch government sees security in the broad sense, not only to provide physical security but to also provide social trust, a social atmosphere in which citizens can live together peacefully, regardless of religious, ethic or political differences.

In characterizing the risks there are two issues: the good functioning (even to some citizens) and the continued existence of the democratic order.

Do the radical groups have the power to effect such changes, and what opposition do they face?

The radical dawa groups do not currently threaten to topple the democratic order, but it is legitimate to say that they currently pose a risk to the system’s functioning for some citizens, especially Muslims who do not adhere to the Salafist philosophy.

The risk of adverse affects are as follows:

(a) contributing to undermining support for a democratic order by some Muslims (especially pertaining to the horizontal dimension)

(b) contributing to the polarization of society by preaching against homos, Jews, Shiites, secular Muslims and the ’enemies of Islam’ (ie, most of Dutch society)??

(c) preventing Muslims who think otherwise from exercising civil rights – by calling them apostates either directly or indirectly. A website of the as-Soenah mosque, for example, called Ehasan Jami an incestuous weasel who is furious at Islam for not allowing him sexual contact with his mother and sisters.

(d) preventing non-Muslims from exercising civil rights – by using a very intimidating and threatening tone against those considered “enemies” of Islam.

(e) preventing women from exercising civil rights – by preaching for protecting and even saving women’s honor and for limiting women’s activities, and by practicing that in their own circles.

(f) preventing homosexuals from exercising civil rights

(g) enforcing their own legal system in an informal and secret manner – for example, trying to enforce Sharia personal law. For example, some Salafist mosques have contracted Muslim marriages without registering them. This can also lead to practical legitimizing of polygamy.

(h) checking out ways of secretly opposing and upsetting the democratic order – for example, by saying Muslims in the 2006 elementary elections may exceptionally vote, for specific people, in order to thwart the ’enemies of Islam’.

(i) secretly influencing government policy and entering the social middle field – for example, dawa organizations are active in advising municipalities on how to fight crime and dropouts among immigrant youth, or guiding immigrant women. In some cases organizations (secretly) related to Salafist mosques got government subsidies for guiding criminal youth back to society. The aim of the government was achieved in the sense that these youth left crime and improved their school scores, etc, but they also took on an anti-democratic Salafist way of thinking. Radical dawa organizations pose as the representatives of the Muslim community and try to control contact between the authorities and the community. Another such influencing was seen in the case of a Tilbug female teacher who was fired for not willing to shake hands. The woman was ’sent’ by the Tilburg Salafist mosque, which can be seen here trying to introduce ultra-orthodox Islamic rules

(j) breeding ground for radicalizing to violence – for practical reasons, radical dawa rejects violence in the West, but it is not possible to make a clear distinction between jihad and radical dawa, especially not for the individual:

– Radical dawa has an intolerant, isolationist, anti-democratic and anti-Western message that can lead to violence.

– Dutch Muslim terrorists regularly visited Salafist mosques, though they were radicalized further in other ways.

– Radical dawa repeatedly claims that the West is attacking Islam, which leads to see the West as an enemy.

– They reject violence now, but it’s unclear how that would continue if tensions rise, for example by violence against Muslims or a terror attack, since they do justify violence.

– It’s unclear how much the rejection of violence is not done out of pragmatic reasons. Much like in Muslim countries, radical dawa organizations may have splinter groups who do openly support violence.

The continued growth of dawa groups

The continued growth of radical dawa depend on the following:

(a) the continuation of professionalizing and whether they would manage to prevent breaking up due to ideological, ethnic and personal differences. The important questions are who will lead the movements, what their status will be within the Muslim community and how much charisma they would have.

(b) opposition in the Muslim community – though moderate Muslims have trouble today voicing their opposition, opposition may grow by people who realize the radical dawa message is asking too much sacrifice and does not make life better. Leaders who do not follow their preachings might also bring about opposition.

(c) internalizing the radical dawa doctrine

(d) availability of competing non-radical doctrines

(e) polarization between Muslims and non-Muslims – the more conflict, the more both groups are likely to “toe the line” and support the ’group interest’.

(f) expansion of the radical dawa community – will youth attracted to radicalism continue on with it in adulthood and will there be a second generation that grows up with the radical dogma.

Possible risk-developments

Possible developments for risks on the long term: the radical dawa organizations currently have an adverse effect especially on Muslims who think differently. However, they do pose a danger to the democratic order.

In the vertical dimension, they can bring about a growing number of Muslims who do not follow the authority of the Dutch government. An ’ethnic counter-response’ might also be dangerous to the democratic order. In the horizontal dimension, inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations may worsen due to the activities of groups and the reactions to it. The cohesion and solidarity of society can lead to growing suspicions between parts of society and even to violence between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Counter-strategies

Strategies against Islamic neo-radicalism:

As long as dawa groups do not incite to violence, they are protected by freedom of religion and expression. this causes the democratic paradox – using democratic means to bring about the fall of democracy. However, the democratic order is more than ’majority rule’ and also includes inalienable civil rights. From this point of view, democracy can protect itself. The European Court of Human Rights has already decided that governments may act against group who use democratic means to undermine democracy, if there’s an acute threat.

Judicial action against non-violent intolerant and anti-democratic groups has been done in the Netherlands only in extreme cases and it is generally seen as better to use non-judicial means.

Isolationism in itself does not threaten the democratic order, but intolerant isolationism does pose a threat. This means: exclusivity (discrimination and incitement) and parallelism (having your own laws above state laws). The authorities can work against exclusivity and paralleism, but the dawa organizations spread it sneakily and secretly and the current preaching is protected by civil rights.

The governments policy focuses on prevention and repression. Repression means preventing the growth of dawa organizations by preventing subsidies etc. It is generally agreed that this can be effective if it’s used in a restricted manner, as otherwise it brings about feelings of discrimination and encourages radicalization.

The security threat of Muslim radicalism has gone through both absolutism and relativism. Until recently headlines of Muslim radicalization were seen as a stage in the emancipation of Dutch Muslims. Now such headlines are seen as an immediate threat from all Muslims. This absolutism was caused both by Muslim propaganda, but also by Dutch politicians and leaders who spread doomsday scenarios. Both Muslims and non-Muslims have less trust in the government, with each side feeling that the authorities are not doing enough against the other side (Islamic radical, or anti-Islamists).

Conditions for effective strategies against neo-radicalism:

(a) keep things in proportion – do not subordinate the democratic order to the effectiveness of the approach.

(b) keep in mind the diversity of the Muslim community – see Muslims as individuals and citizens, pay attention to other movements in Islam, realize that about 1/3 to 1/2 of Muslims in the Netherlands do not act from a religious agenda.

(c) prevent polarization by developing government policy – Differentiate between ’hard core’ radicals and ’hangers-on’. Avoid doomsday scenarios (Muslim radicals often overestimate their power). Do not paint the other party as ’the enemy’ as that helps them mobilize forces, direct action only against the ’hard core’. Work away from the limelight. Break away from polarizing slogans.

(d) limit accommodating dawa groups – realize that most Muslims are moderate and are bothered by the dawa groups. Refrain from seeking advice from these groups. Prevent one group or person from taking over contact with the government, seek diversity and keep in mind that some religious representatives might have double agendas. Refrain from (financially) supporting projects which discriminate between sexes etc. Do not support any initiatives or project which exclude other groups.

(e) start dialog with as many Muslim groups as possible – involve not only with liberal but also non-radcial, orthodox Muslims in the debate about social activities and the values of society, democracy and pluralistic society. Be alert that dawa groups often use ’facade-politics’ and do not support any project related to radical dawa mosques or centers.

(f) try to reinforce trust in the democratic order – support initiatives within the Muslim community that serve as a moderate counterweight to radicalism. Try to build up renewed public trust in the buoyancy of the democratic state and open society.

“More radical Dutch Muslims: report”