Not a new story: The history behind the EU's fears of MENA-trained, home-grown jihadists
Many EU left-wing "extremists" went to the MENA region in the 1970s in solidarity with the "Anti-Imperialist International Struggle" (File Archive/AFP)
For the first time in half a century, the West, mainly Europe, seriously faces a very complicated threat of terrorism. But we have to admit this problem is not necessarily new since it has been looming for sometime in major European capitals.
When one hears of young people, including female teenagers as young as 17 years old getting themselves involved in armed conflicts or civil wars away from home, there must be something going horribly wrong.
Two women appeared in a London court on January 23 charged with “preparing acts of terrorism”, according to Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism section. The two, both 17, were arrested last January just before boarding a flight on their way to Syria with a lot of cash on them. The incident is only a small part of a wider and apparently more dangerous issue, which is obviously showing greater urgency, by the day, all over Europe.
Research centres specialised in terror activities in London, Paris and Brussels have recently released figures of what they believe to be the number of foreign fighters in Syria. They say the number has significantly swelled in the second half of 2013 as a result of Europeans joining in.
It is believed there are currently almost 8,000 people, between 1,900 and 2,000 are from western Europe, mostly France, Britain, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. There are also other Europeans but in smaller numbers, from Denmark and Norway.
British authorities believe those coming from Britain could be a little more than 200 people, while French President, Francois Holland, estimates the French jihadists already in Syria to be around 700.
The vast majority of these would be “no-nonsense” jihadists, who are very young and perhaps more than half of them are still teenagers. Whether they are descendent from Muslim, mostly Asian families that have immigrated to Europe in the second half of last century, or westerners newly converted to Islam, they are all heading to Syria with one powerful dream: martyrdom.
The major and greater worry for Europe is not only how many of those young, and often naive people are heading to conflict zones, but it is when these people return to their countries and societies. The prospect that some of them could, or would, carry out acts of terrorism is very grim indeed.
Therefore, those who think that Europe is far away from being affected by Syria’s conflict, should rethink very hard and quickly. A video clip was recently posted on YouTube showing a teenager Bulge, Brian de Mulder, parading his newly adopted life in one of Syria’s terrorist camps and declaring war against targets back home.
The influx of would-be European terrorists to Syria reminds me of a not dissimilar western pilgrimage of Europeans in late 1960s and early 1970s to the Middle East. Their favourite destinations were Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and to a lesser extent, Iraq.
The European influx in the last century to conflict zones was different in values and aims than the present jihadists’ influx. They were mostly splinter groups from fairly moderate European Communist parties, whether in Italy, West Germany, Japan or France.
Many members of these groups and organisations, representing the European far left renamed themselves as Red Brigades (Italy), Red Army (Japan) or Armed Resistance of Proletariat Revolution (in West Germany), better know as Baader-Meinhof, the surnames of its co-founders.
Most of these groups’ members would regularly head to the radical Palestinian bases of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), for training and in solidarity of the so-called “Anti-Imperialist International Struggle”.
Ulrike Meinhof and her associate Andreas Baader founded their organisation in 1970 and described itself as a “communist and anti-imperialist urban guerrilla.” The organisation carried a number of terroristic operations, including kidnapping and bank robberies before they were eventually captured and sentenced in West Germany. They both killed themselves in prison in 1977.
Also, a well know Japanese female, Fusako Shigenobu, founded the “Japanese Red Army” in early 1971 in Lebanon aided and trained by PFLP. The organisation expanded in number and actions in the Middle East as well as in Japan. One of their most spectacular operations was their attack against the Israeli Lod (Ben Gurion) International Airport in 1972.
The Red Brigade Army of Italy, another well established Marxist-Leninist left wing terrorist group, is famously known for its highly orchestrated and daring operation of kidnapping (and later cold-bloodedly killing) a former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978.
During its long history of political violence, and often randomly, the “Brigate Rosse” as was known in Italian, carried out approximately 14,000 acts of violence of varying degrees. The vast majority of the Cold War European terrorist groups, including “Brigate Rosse” were founded by mostly young students. What we are witnessing today in our region, is an almost similar heart-breaking and sad repetition of yet more alienated and young people drifting along to a dark future.
By Mustapha Karkouti