The ever growing threat of jihadist movements to the civilized world has recently been stressed by a wide array of media outlets and politicians in Europe. As noted in a recent UN report, more than 25,000 foreigners from a total of 100 countries have joined militant Islamist terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIL). In Syria and Iraq, there’s more than 22,000 foreign fighters, while some 6,500 are operating in Afghanistan. The total number of foreign radicals in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia remains unknown.
Late last year, the EU Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove underlined the fact that a total of 3,000 people from different European countries joined the ranks of ISIL. According to this European official, at least eleven EU countries have registered the departure of their citizens to Iraq and Syria with the sole purpose of becoming jihadists. The flow of Europeans into ISIL ranks has increased once the creation of the “Islamic Caliphate” was announced, said Gilles de Kerchove. According to a report that was published by an independent research center, the “Institute for Strategic Dialogue,” at least 550 women from Western European countries have also joined ISIL.
Thus, as it was confirmed by the head of the Swedish Security Police (Säpo) Anders Thornberg, some 250-300 Swedes fled the country in 2014 to join the fight of the Islamic State in the Middle East. Out of them 40 were reported as killed in action, others returned to Europe, while a total of 100 Swedes continue their fight for religious causes in Iraq and Syria. Yet, a local military expert Linus Gustafsson believes that more often than not young people are heading to the Middle East because of their inability to find employment in Sweden while others maybe after cheap thrills of military adventure while facing an identity crisis back home. Swedish terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp said that the average age of Swedish ISIL militants is 21 years, but some of them are extremely young, barely 18 or 19 years of age. “We are witnessing a growing number of young Swedes traveling to Syria, where they are trained in training camps, learning to be terrorists, while becoming proficient explosives and small weapons,” – said the head of the Swedish Security Police (Säpo) Anders Thornberg.
As it was relayed to the journalists of the Norwegian broadcasting corporation NRK (Norsk Rikskringkasting) by a former ISIL fighter, jihadists have opened a number of underground recruitment centers in Sweden that are now working overtime to find fresh blood for the Islamic State. Säpo press spokesman Fredrik Milder told news agency TT that the advance of Islamic extremism is not just a local problem, it has already reached a European level. As it was reported by the Swedish evening paper Expressen, the recruitment of locals into jihadist ranks has been carried out until recently by employees of the Swedish Agency for Safety and Health at Work, this fact is confirmed by Säpo which has launched an investigation into this case. In addition, according to Swedish authorities, up to 10 million Swedish crowns, which amounts to more than one million dollars, is annually sent from Sweden to extremist groups in the Middle East.
According to Finnish Security Police SUPO, some 50 Finnish citizens have lately joined the ranks of the ISIL, 20 of them are ethnic Finns, a total of 10 Finns have been killed in action while 20 returned from Syria to Finland for various reasons. The conflict in Syria and Iraq had been attracting mostly young men from Finland, but in recent months there has been an increase in interest in radicalism among young Islamic women. It was noted by the head of SUPO Antti Pelttari that there’s a phenomenon of Finns starting to convert to Islam only to go fight wars in the Middle East.
According to the President of the Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maaßen, to date more than 550 German citizens have left home for Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State, more than 60 of them have already been killed in action, while nine are known to have become suicide bombers. However, some 180 jihadists have already returned home to Germany.
It should also be noted that according to the largest German daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the German language is commonly used by the executioners in the prisons of the Islamic State, therefore the Federal Attorney General suspects that Germans may be participating in atrocities carried out in the prisons of ISIL. There’s a strong probability that those murderers were employed to torture and decapitation US, UK and Japanese citizens. German prosecutors have identified the famous German Islamist radical Philip Bergner among ISIL’s ranks, the latter had previously been employed as a pizza delivery man in Germany before leaving home in 2013 to fight in Syria.
It should come as no surprise that there’s a growing number of calls for the creation of an “Islamic State” in Europe, now being published in social networks and coming from all across the world and from Germany in particular. A former German rapper Deso Dogg (his real name is Dennis Cuspert, and after converting to Islam he is called Abu Talha al-Almani) in his last “song” urges compatriots to massacre “infidels” and establish “Shariah law.”
There’s a growing number of those sympathetic to the Islamic State in Great Britain as well. British authorities have already reported that more that 600 UK citizens have traveled to Syria to join the ranks of ISIL. Among these people, there are a lot of boys who are dreaming of becoming radical militants, while girls are leaving to become “brides of jihadists.” As confirmed by the Daily Telegraph via the first UK Muslim prosecutor Nazir Afzal, British teenagers are at risk of radicalization because they perceive terrorists as a kind of “pop idol”.
In March, when it became clear that the gunman nicknamed ‘Jihadi John’, who was filmed decapitating a number of Western hostages was a former student of the University of Westminster – Mohammed Emwazi — the British government finally has become concerned about the radicalization of young Muslims across the UK.
A recent report from the French Ministry of Internal Affairs shows that a total of 1,200 local residents in recent months have prepared to go to war in the Middle East or have already left the country. Among these one can find some 100 French women and about 10 minors. One in five who went to wage Jihad, has been recently converted to Islam. Some 60 French were killed in action, while a total of 234 former volunteers have already returned back home from Syria.
However, according to Radio France Internationale, former French military officers are fighting alongside the Islamic State’s jihadists in Syria and Iraq – one of them has recently become an emir of the Deir Ezzor region, where he is in command of a unit formed from his former compatriots. These facts can be even more disturbing against the backdrop of a poll organized by ICM Research, according to which 15% of the French population approve of the Islamic State and armed jihadism in Iraq and Syria.
Under these conditions, no increase in military budgets across European countries can make a difference. Instead the most avid attention should be paid to the strengthening of European law enforcement services, preventive measures and attempts to explain to the European population the danger of Islamic jihadism. It is clear that the threat of radical Islam, advertised by the Islamic State, has not been fully recognized by European states, therefore some in the West are still using it in the fight against the sitting legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria in order to achieve their own self-serving goals. Europeans have already failed to recognize the threat of fascism, that was used just like the Islamic State, to fight a “common enemy.”
It’s imperative to remember the lessons that history teaches us on the eve of all the 70th anniversary of victory over fascism, when the United States, Western Europe and the Soviet Union fought together against a common threat to save humanity.
Vladimir Odintsov, political commentator, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.