Written by Evgeny Satanovsky; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by GM exclusively for SouthFront
When Islamists become European constituent body
The defeat of jihadi forces in Aleppo and the recapture of Palmyra by the Islamic State (ISIS) put into question the threats that Islamic fundamentalists pose not only in the Middle East, but also to Russia and the EU.
First of all, there is the question of the continuation of the struggle by Islamists receiving support and orders from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey against Moscow. (We leave the hopes for a long term cooperation with Turkey to the “experts” that are trying to substantiate such thesis to the Russian government). Then, one may ask about the flow of jihadists leaving highly dangerous zones – where their lives are threatened – for the European “alternate airfield”. We will discuss the current situation in non-Middle Eastern countries and regions that were touched by radical Islamism by using the article specially written by F.O. Pleshunov and Y. B. Shcheglovin for the Institute of the Middle East.
A labour exchange for mercenaries
The elimination in early December of a terrorist group of natives from Central Asia by Russian security services in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and Samara, was a great success. Uzbek and Tajik Special Services played their role in operative work and, of course, contributed to the gathering of intelligence by inserting their agents among the Uzbek and Tajik diaspora in Russia. Let’s have a closer look at the terrorists’ arsenal: the firearms and components for self-made Improvised explosive devices allow us to have a glimpse into their supply line in Central Asia. Most of the men that were arrested never took part in any terrorist activities beforehand and have no experience of combat. Because of that, we can come to the conclusion that we face a case of paid ordered work [by terrorists].
The members of the group were identified as ISIS supporters. They received their orders and an advance on payment from an ISIS emissary in Turkey. This says a lot about the truthfulness of Ankara when it says that it is ready to cooperate with Russia in its fight against terrorism. We must expect Turkey to cooperate on every level of the search, arrest and extradite of terrorist organizers. If this doesn’t give results, it will at least force terrorists and their allies to temporarily cease their activities. Because of that, the pressure exerted by Moscow on Ankara is important as Turkey is used as an unofficial “market” for organizing terrorist acts on demand, and because a high number of “brokers” come from North-Caucasus and Central Asia.
Let’s focus our attention on the ethnicity of the members of these terrorist groups. Most of them are Tajiks, probably foot soldiers. Even if the downfall of one of their teams (the arrest of a group of ISIS supporters in the vicinities of Moscow) didn’t affect all of their groups, it was nevertheless a hard blow for the entire cell. The backbone of the collective was made of members arrested in Moscow and Samara, as well as terrorists that were liquidated in October in Nizhny Novgorod. These were the only ones who opposed resistance during their arrest. This means that they were mercenaries. Resisting an arrest means being eliminated. Only the most fanatical members – most of the time terrorists from North-Caucasus – follow that path. The terrorist acts in Volgograd and Rostov-on-Don were committed by people coming from Dagestan. Because of an obvious lack of contact with the clandestine world in the region, and because the former commander of the Tajik OMON, G. Khakimov, joined ISIS, people from North-Caucasus are not used by “brokers” anymore. It is probably Khakimov himself that convinced ISIS leaders that a lot of Tajik migrants living in Russia could be used to organize terrorist acts in the country.
This leads us to this question: who are the people behind these operations? It appears clear that these actions were not ordered by ISIS leaders, who currently have other fish to fry and aren’t able to finance or organize such big scale operations in Russia. Only Qatar could do so. It is Qatar that financed the redeployment of ISIS units from Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa to Palmyra. It is Qatar that has a direct influence on ISIS leaders. If taking into account the time for transmitting information, the search for executors, the transportation of components needed for the conception of IED, the weapons, etc, we can say that the order was put at least two or three months ago. The recent purchase of Rosneft actions by a Qatari sovereign fund – which has been said to be motivated by strictly economic reasons – could have been a smokescreen used to publicly show the world the good quality of the bilateral relations between Qatar and Russia.
The German Federal Intelligence Service and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution suspect Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar to finance mosques and religious movements that propagate radical Islam on the German territory. This was reported by the Süddeutsche Zeitung in an article quoting extracts from a German intelligence report. It is taught in Berlin that the “export of Islam” in its fundamentalist version contributes to the rise of salafism in the country. There is approximately 10 thousand salafists in today’s Germany. Quoting the special services, the Süddeutsche Zeitung mentions organisations known for funding the construction of mosques in Germany, with a “long-running strategy to exert influence” on the country. For instance, the article mentions the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, which is based in Kuwait, and the Qatari based Muslim World League.
The German special services are certain that these organisations are “closely linked to state organisations of the country they are based in”. The Revival of Islamic Heritage Society used to work in Russia in the 90s, and was shut down by the Ministry of Justice and added on the list of forbidden organisations, although its actions towards the propagation of salafism and radical Islam were not as important as the ones done by Saudi funds. The work done by the Russian security organs showed that a fund from Kuwait was having a negative influence on the Ummah in Russia, and on some Russian imams. It has also been shown that it was involved in forbidden activities. Besides, following the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the special services’ orders to close the fund, Kuwait launched a campaign in order to convince its Russian counterpart to backpedal. But the actions of Kuwait were not as problematic as what Saudi Arabia and Qatar did – as both of these countries are officially Wahhabi.
Nevertheless, Doha didn’t implement any of its structures in Russia. Because of that, we don’t have much to say about the organisation Muslim World League which is active in Germany. It is most probably a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and not a salafi organisation. This movement is used by Qatar to oppose Saudi Arabia and is considered as its main tool to extend its influence beyond the borders of the Islamic world. The actions of the Qatari fund in Germany intend to influence the Muslim society in the whole EU. Because of the migration processes, it is taught that Muslims in Germany will represent an important demographic and electoral force, and they will then be able to influence Berlin’s policy.
This is the real objective of these funds. They do not intend to organise terrorist cells. These are created by special emissaries who are there for a specific mission on a specific place. Funds have an ideological mission: they are meant to form and recruit personnel and, by doing philanthropy and funding social projects, they intend to win Muslims hearts. The long work of the German special services will allow government to know what books and scriptures are speared by these funds among to believers. There will be information that the Muslim schools that are managed by these funds propagate extremism views. It will be proven that these funds give money to the communities in order finance social projects or schools. With these arguments, the special services will be able to go to court, but they will be only able to prove that the funds do philanthropy, and the extremist education will only be said to be a fantasy of some parents.
How can we collect evidence that Islamic funds are responsible for illegal actions? We first have to infiltrate them. This should be made easier by the high number of people involved in these structures, but it will also be more complicated because of their well-made security systems. New participants to the funds will evolve under long term surveillance. The infiltration of such structures would take more than a year, but it would provide proof usable during a trial. Intelligence should provide a monitoring of the financial actions of these funds. They steal, they do illegal monetisation, they defraud and they fabricate counterfeit receipts. Although they would quickly revive under another name, an infiltration would allow closing some of these funds. The most important remains the detailed study of their documents in order to show that they contribute to interethnic and interconfessional conflicts. It will take time, but it will allow putting these funds on the blacklist of the Ministry of Justice.
The French rooster doesn’t feel concerned
After the resonant terrorist act committed in Paris the 13 of November 2015 by ISIS fighters, the EU state started to liquidate extremist groups of diverse forms. The 15 of November 2016, a special operation against the salafist organisation “the True Religion” (Die wahre Religion) was established in 10 German federal Länder, including Berlin and the western part of the country. More than 200 buildings were searched and the German Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, took the decision to make “the True Religion” illegal because of its unconstitutional actions. But these actions weren’t the results of well tough and coordinated strategy. In May of 2016 in the commune of Molenbeek in Brussels, an underground coranic school was closed due to an infringement to… “the law on urbanism”.
In France, the terrorist act committed the 14th of July – the day of the storming of the Bastille – by a Tunisia national, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, where 86 people were killed (308 injured) showed that the emergency regime established by the government was not efficient. More than 6 months after the Paris terror attacks, nothing was done by the government to show that it was actually fighting against extremism. In the country, the positions of the media and the civil society toward terrorism make the struggle with extremism more complicated than in other European countries. For instance, publications from the French news agency “France Press” call “terrorist” or “islamist” people from all ethnic origins, except for Palestinians committing terrorist acts in Israel. The AFP calls these suicide bombers “activists”, “fighters” or “attackers”. In France, the Jewish communities (schools, shops, etc.) are attacked by religious extremists (Mohamed Merah, Amedy Coulibaly) in connivance with the French establishment.
For the special services, the best way to unmask a potential terrorist is to check if he receives any social insurance. This wasn’t done in Belgium, where Salah Abdeslam and his fellow terrorists received more than 50 thousand euros from the government. The government “sponsored” terrorism all along until the Paris attacks; Abdelsam himself received more than 21 thousand euros, when the attacks in Paris and Brussels together didn’t cost the Islamists more than 33 thousand euros. As long as the European societies (and the French society in the first place) legitimize terror, the efforts of the security organs in the war against terrorism won’t be effective enough, and the terrorists will still be able to hide in our societies.
The «moles» get into action
With the beginning of the active phases of the Arab springs (which included the activation of extremist groups in the Middle East and in Northern Africa), the civil war in Syria and the struggle of regional states against ISIS, which was made of thousands of European Islamists that came in the region in order to satisfy their sadistic inclinations. Among these people were professional fighters that highly contributed to ISIS’s success before the Western and Russian involvement in the conflict. Today, an important part of these Islamists fighters are coming back to Europe where they are given social insurances, protection for their fundamental rights and rest before their new operation.
A lot of the terrorists that committed actions during 2015 and 2016 in Paris, Brussels or Germany, did fight in the Middle East along with ISIS and other groups of the same obedience. Or they at least did receive military training there. Although the EU awaits the return of the Islamists, it can be said that the danger also come from the European special services themselves. For instance, after the terrorist acts in Brussels and Paris, we witnessed the incompetence of the security organs of these countries. Theories about the Islamists having moles infiltrated among the western security services appeared. This was confirmed in Germany, who suffered from an attack this summer. From the three countries mentioned here, only German special services managed to unmask double agents. The 29th of November, The Telegraph, citing Der Spiegel and the German government, reported the arrest of an employee of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. He was suspected to prepare a terrorist act in the headquarters of the organisation in Cologne and for recruiting Islamists to this end on the internet.
The name of the suspect wasn’t revealed, but it is known that he worked for the special services at least from the beginning of 2016, and was in charge of collecting information on extremists. On different chat services, the suspect, under different names, called upon attacks against non-believers “in the name of Allah” and revealed confidential information. German security organs’ representatives stated that this officer was already suspected: he embraced Islam two years beforehand without having his family to know about it and his radical positions. During the investigation, it was made clear that this officer did swear allegiance to Mohamed Mahmoud, the leader of the Austrian cell of ISIS.
During an interview given to Reuters in 2016, Hans-Georg Maassen, the director of the German special services stated that there were approximately 40 thousand Islamists living in Germany. Among them, more than 8 thousand were thought to be radical salafists. The special services try to deal with this threat (not only abroad, but also on the national territory). A statement was made on the 8th of November about the custody of 5 suspected ISIS terrorists. Their leader was an Iraqi – Abu Valaa (real name – Ahmed Abdelaziz) – the head of the local ISIS cell. The discovery of a mole in the German security organs led to the reinforcement of the actions of state’s agencies against extremism in Germany.
As the German special services officers secretly fight against terrorist ideologies, the hunt for Islamists in the country is made more difficult by the fact that they now hide among the quickly increasing communities of refugees, migrants and ethno-religious minorities. It becomes impossible for them to have a clear insight on the situation. The journal Der Spiegel reports areas where groups of migrants – for instance Lebanese clans in Duisburg or Kurds in Gelsenkirchen – taking controls of some streets or districts, intimidating or reducing local residents to silence. Female police officers are also reported to be subjects of aggressions, as reported five years ago by Rainer Wendt, the president of the German police trade union.
The last local elections in 2016, which have seen the political party “Alternative for Germany” become a serious player in the political arena, have shown that Germans do not agree with of their government’s current policy. The legislative elections of 2017 will show us the real ratio of power in today’s Germany. There are fewer chances, nevertheless, that it will be the same in Belgium and Germany, notwithstanding the coming elections in these countries in 2 years. In Belgium, the regional divisions that more than once led the country to anarchy will clearly be centre stage; before any other question and before it’s too late. As mentioned before, the French society and establishment, by thinking that terrorism can be Iraqi, Syrian, North African, but not Palestinian, keep allow Islamist extremism to have a form of legitimization.
Depending on the countries, the problem of dealing with this form of extremism is dealt with differently. Some, like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Pakistan, cooperate with the radicals and try to use them in their own interest, to fight against opposition. Others, like the US, Great Britain and France, indirectly use them throughout regional actors. Some others supply and train them – like Germany does in Syria – or support them with their own military in order to overthrow an authoritarian regime – like Italy did in Libya. There are also countries, like Denmark, Australia, New Zealand and other members of the US-led “counterterrorist” coalitions in Iraq or Afghanistan, that “don’t notice” what’s going on right under their nose. And some, like Jordan, have to tolerate the presence of radicals on their soil as long as they fight and destroy elected governments in their neighbourhood, if they are their enemies. Finally, there are countries that are used as rear operating bases and that hope that, because they are used as a safe and confortable haven by the radicals, they won’t be blown up by them.
The past has shown that playing with Jihadists inevitably leads to a conflict with them. This has already happened in Turkey, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. Because of its modest size and the colossal assets used to buy its own safety, Qatar has until now been spared by terrorism. For bigger countries, this isn’t possible. This can’t be denied. Although the situation in the Middle East and the EU shows that there are still attempts made to use or ignore extremists. For now, the only example of a successful opposition against them in the international arena was done by the Russian Air Force in Syria. The fact that Moscow is leading this campaign successfully is for now the biggest hope for the rest of the world.
President of the Institute of the Middle East