A video posted online shows the youngster opening fire twice to shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar’. He is so small the gun barrel was supported by a section of road block. The alarming footage was released by a jihadist group fighting in the Syrian civil war as other images emerged showing children aged nine to 15 training at specialist camps in black ski masks. It comes as French president Francois Hollande warned up to 700 British extremists are in the war-ravaged nation, and as vital UN peace talks collapsed.
Shocking: More photos show children as young as nine at a training camp toting guns and wearing ski masks
Europeans are flocking to the war in Syria. What happens when they come home?
Ghaith Omran/AFP/Getty Images – Opposition fighters in Syria prepare for battle north of Hama. As more Europeans flock to Syria to fight with the rebels, officials at home worry that they will return determined to stage attacks.
By Griff Witte, Published: January 29
LONDON — Word spread quickly last autumn in the rapidly gentrifying north London neighborhood where the Sebah brothers were raised: Mohamed and Akram had died in a car crash.
The news was devastating for friends and neighbors who had watched the brothers grow from affable and popular boys into promising young adults.
But the truth, as recently revealed in jihadist Web site postings, was darker still. Mohamed and Akram had been killed in Syria while fighting alongside rebel forces.
The Sebah brothers were part of a growing legion of Britons who have left behind their often comfortable lives here and joined an increasingly radicalized war effort — one that is just a short budget-airline flight away.
Dozens have been killed. Hundreds more remain on the battlefield. But most disconcerting for British security services are the ones — perhaps 50 or more — who are thought to have come home.
British officials have expressed growing alarm in recent days over the possibility that returnees from the Syrian war, hardened and trained by their experiences in battle, will seek to carry out terrorist attacks. The head of Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism command said recently that it is “almost inevitable.”
That concern is matched by a fast-rising tally of arrests, with at least 14 Britons detained on charges related to travel to or from Syria this month, compared to a total of 24 last year.
Security officials say the several hundred Britons who are known to have joined the fight in Syria eclipses the totals for either Afghanistan or Iraq — two other conflicts that attracted radicalized young fighters from the West but that were more difficult to reach. They also acknowledge that there could be many more fighters who have slipped into Syria undetected, given the relative ease of travel by air to Turkey and then over land into the war zone.
The distress among security officials is pervasive in European capitals and in Washington. U.S. intelligence chief James R. Clapper Jr. told a congressional panel Wednesday that the Syrian war had attracted about 7,000 foreign fighters from as many as 50 nations and that at least one of the main jihadist groups in Syria aspires to carry out an attack in the United States.
But Europe is a far closer and more accessible target. The International Center for the Study of Radicalization, or ICSR, estimated last month that nearly 2,000 Western Europeans had traveled to Syria to fight and that the number was rising fast.
French officials say 700 came from France. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls asserted this month that returning fighters represent “the biggest threat that the country faces in the coming years.”
The anxiety has been especially acute in Britain, where memories are still fresh of the July 2005 transit bombings. Those attacks, which claimed 52 lives, were carried out by homegrown radicals, at least two of whom had received training in Pakistan.
“The penny hasn’t dropped. But Syria is a game-changer,” Richard Walton, who leads counterterrorism efforts at Scotland Yard, told the Evening Standard newspaper. “We are seeing it every day. You have hundreds of people going to Syria, and if they don’t get killed they get radicalized.”
Don’t bother coming back
Most of the Europeans who have gone to fight in Syria have joined not the moderate, Western-backed opposition — which is primarily Syrian and fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad — but the extremist, al-Qaeda-affiliated groups that welcome foreigners, according to Shiraz Maher, a senior research fellow at the ICSR.
Maher said that Europeans who sign up for battle in Syria have a variety of motivations, from radical beliefs to humanitarian concern to boredom with life at home. But he said even those in the latter two categories risk being indoctrinated with a virulently anti-Western ideology once they reach the battlefield.
“If you stay on long enough, you imbibe the message,” he said.
And those Britons are not welcome home. Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC over the weekend that Britons should not travel to Syria for any reason and that those who have already gone there to fight should not bother returning if they want to avoid prosecution on terrorism charges.
Margaret Gilmore, a terrorism analyst with the Royal United Services Institute, said British anxiety is compounded by the fact that the government knows so little about what’s going on in Syria, especially compared with what it knew about Iraq and Afghanistan at the height of the wars there.
“A lot of these areas are a complete no man’s land, and the terrorist groups are able to operate and train to a high degree,” she said.
The radical groups, meanwhile, are using the lack of Western engagement in Syria to their advantage in recruiting Britons.
“The narrative that’s being spun by al-Qaeda-inspired groups is that it’s Muslim fighting Muslim, so the British government isn’t interested,” said Jonathan Russell, political liaison officer with the Quilliam Foundation, a London-based anti-radicalization group. “They say, ‘It’s your duty to look after your brothers and sisters in Syria because your so-called liberal and democratic government isn’t doing it for you.’ ”
‘The Lions of Britain’
It’s not known exactly what motivated the Sebah brothers to join the fight in Syria last summer. On jihadist Web sites, the pair have been lauded as “the Lions of Britain,” alongside a photo taken shortly before their death. In it, Mohamed, 28, and Akram, 24, smile as they clutch assault rifles.
In their exceptionally diverse north London neighborhood, where Somali hookah lounges nestle side by side with organic produce markets, friends and neighbors expressed astonishment that members of such a close-knit Eritrean family would leave to fight in such a distant war.
“They were magnificent guys. Very logical. Family people,” said a friend who declined to give his name because he didn’t want to attract the attention of authorities. “They would translate for people in the community who couldn’t speak English.”
Akram Sebah, the younger brother, had done particularly well — landing a plum job in a local real estate office.
Right around the corner was the Finsbury Park Mosque, which gained a reputation as a hub of Islamic radicalism in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The mosque has been under new leadership for the past decade, and although friends say that Akram Sebah attended prayers there, mosque director Mohammed Kozbar said he didn’t know either of the brothers.
But he said he understands what motivates young men to fight in Syria, even if he discourages them and tries to channel them toward humanitarian efforts.
“Every day they see women and children being massacred by the dictatorial regime of Assad. They feel they have to do something about it. And the fact that the international community has failed to end the suffering, this adds to their frustrations,” Kozbar said. “If you want to prevent these young people from going to Syria, the best way to do that is to stop the war.”
Former Jihadi Warns of Syrian Rebels with ’9/11 Ideology’
French Islamist who fought alongside Al Qaeda-linked group says Western fighters pose a threat: ‘I wouldn’t want them to go back’.
by Ari Soffer First Publish: 12/10/2013, 12:38 PM
A French Islamist who fought as part of a jihadi rebel faction in Syria has said that foreign fighters with a “9/11 ideology” could return to the West, where they would pose a definitive security threat.
In an interview with the BBC the anonymous former rebel fighter told of how he had fought for an unnamed Islamist brigade, before leaving after it pledged its allegiance to Al Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS), saying that he opposed the brutal methods of the group – but not necessarily its vision for Syria.
interview offers an intriguing insight into the mindset, ideology and motivations of the increasingly dominant Islamist rebel movement in Syria, which has eclipsed the more secular Free Syrian Army. It also once again highlights the growing security concerns shared by most Western countries over the increasingly large number of Western-born Islamists fighting in Syria – and the prospect of there return to their countries of birth at some point in the future.
states have recently opened diplomatic channels with the largest such faction – the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF) – in a bid to gain their support for upcoming peace talks in Geneva. The move has also been seen as an attempt to drive a wedge between the non-Al Qaeda-aligned factions fighting under the banner of SIF, and Al Qaeda franchises such as Al Nusra Front and ISIS, with whom they sometimes coordinate operations, particularly in the north of the country.
such efforts are fraught with risks.
As the unnamed fighter, who chose to hide his identity, presumably out of concerns for his safety after publicly declaring his desertion, explained to his interviewer, whilst he and other Islamists in Syria did not support the killing of “blasphemers” or even the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, “the final goal is an Islamic state”.
We are all Al Qaeda in the sense of ideology and mindset,” he declared.
Illustrating his point, he explained how his unit did not view members of the Shia Islamic sect as Muslims, and viewed the conflict through the prism of a religious sectarian war.
Echoing sentiments made by Al Qaeda leaders, he said that the Syrian civil war is “Definitely a fight against the Shia. Shia is not a sect of Islam. The difference between Sunni and Shia are so huge that they are not related to our religion in any way.”
Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is a member of the Alawite sect – an offshoot of Shia Islam whose adherents make up around 10% of the Syrian population. His forces are backed by pro-government Shia and Alawite militias raised from within Syria itself, as well as foreign Shia jihadis from Iraq and Lebanon – most notably Hezbollah.
Shia Iran has provided crucial support to the Assad regime, including sending members of its own armed forces to train and fight alongside regime troops.
Relating how his brigade would treat members of Syria’s tiny Shia minority in the areas they controlled, the former rebel said they found it so “irritating” to hear Shia referring to themselves as “Muslims”, that “in areas we controlled we would force them to stop calling themselves Muslims.”
Neither the interviewer nor the former jihadi revealed which precise brigade he had been fighting with, but given his description and the fact that it is said to have “pledged allegiance” to ISIS it was likely to have been the Nusra Front, which did precisely that back in August of this year. Many within the Nusra Front were unhappy about the decision to effectively merge the two groups at the time, and resisted it – causing some tension between different factions within the group ever since.
He also revealed how many Islamists are motivated to join the conflict and were encouraged on the battlefield itself by a saying – or “Hadith” – attributed to Mohammed, the founder of Islam, in which he declared that “if Islam in the Greater Syria region is corrupted, there will not be any correct Islam anywhere in the world.”
The fact that such fundamentalist religious sentiments are shared by Al Qaeda-linked and independent Islamist rebel groups alike illustrates just how easy the ideological journey into the fold of Al Qaeda would be for many foreign fighters – a trend he claimed is on the increase.
And crucially – despite saying that he himself did not share such beliefs – he warned that “the same people with the same 9/11 ideology” existed among the large contingent of European Muslim extremists currently fighting in Syria. Alarmingly, he claimed that “Europeans” were the third-largest group of foreign jihadis in Syria, after “the Saudis and Chechens”.
“Yes, I think they would be a danger to the West,” he said, “I wouldn’t want them to go back.”
Tunisian Daily: The Arab And Islamic Region Is A Breeding Ground For Terrorism “Due To [Our] Cultural And Ideological Backwardness”
The Tunisian daily Al-Haqaiq’s September 11, 2013 editorial, on the 9/11 attacks, harshly criticized those in the Arab and Islamic world who continue to justify suicide bombings on various pretexts and to claim that 9/11 was a Zionist-American plot against Islam. The piece, written by the daily’s chief editor, Hadi Yahmad, stated that the Arab-Islamic mentality rejects any examination of its own flaws and tends to lay blame on the other, and that the cultural and ideological backwardness of the Arabs and Muslims is a breeding ground for the growth of Arab and Islamic terrorism.
The following are excerpts from the editorial:
“Following 9/11, We All Became Potential Terrorists – Because A Small Minority Among Us Thought They Would Meet The Virgins Of Paradise By Murdering Those They Consider Infidels”
“…September 11 has become a global phenomenon tied to a certain ethnicity – Arabs – and to a certain religion – Islam… The day after the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York were blown up, the world, or at least the part that has the hegemony, became convinced that there was a problem called the Arabs and a religion called Islam. The Arabs and the Muslims became a phenomenon called terrorism.
“In the Western mentality, September 11 is tied to Islamic terrorism. In the world
capitals, they began to see us [all] as potential terrorists. It is enough for your name to be Muhammad or ‘Ali, or for your skin tone to be North African or Middle Eastern, for them to thoroughly search you and monitor your every move or lack thereof.
“Following 9/11, we all became potential terrorists, because a small minority among us thought they would meet the virgins of Paradise by murdering those they consider infidels who fight the religion of Allah… Even [now, when] the second decade [since the attacks has begun], some of us are still convinced that they were a preplanned global Zionist or Masonic plot – or, at the very least were perpetrated by conspirators in the right-wing conservative George Bush administration. Those who are more realistic [among us] acknowledge that Muslim extremists carried out [the attacks], but justify them by citing the occupation of Palestine and Afghanistan, and add the excuse of the occupation of Iraq. In the Arab-Islamic mentality, 9/11 was carried out by the other, or was the response of a small minority among us to the oppression, the injustice, and the occupation inflicted upon this ummah. When the mentality of denial combines with [the thought] that this event [9/11] was imported from without [i.e. carried out by the other], then it [i.e. the mentality of denial] sees it as a plot against Islam and the Muslims!”
After Striking “The Infidels In Their Bastions In New York, Madrid, London, And Moscow” – The “Global Terrorism Mill… Began Harvesting The Heads Of Thousands Of Muslims”
“The absurd thing is that the global terrorism mill, which had struck what it calls infidels in their bastions in New York, Madrid, London, and Moscow, later began harvesting the heads of thousands of Muslims in the mosques and markets of Iraq, in the villages and cities of Syria, and in the south and north of Yemen.
“The first paradox is that the number of [Muslims and Arabs] killed by Al-Qaeda in Arab and Islamic countries is three times greater than [the number of people] that it considers fighters against Islam in infidel countries! The daily death toll in suicide operations in Iraq, in Syria today, or in Yemen has undercut and collapsed all the excuses that are made for the terrorists… [that is, that terrorism] is a reaction to oppression and injustice.
“The second paradox is that the only organization that declares its official and ideological connection to Al-Qaeda situated itself in the Sinai on the border of occupied Palestine – and [then] aimed its weapons to slaughter Egyptian troops and declared jihad against the Egyptian military. This, without daring to open a jihad front against Israel…!
“Everything that happened after [9/11], and what we are experiencing today, which has earned the name ‘Arab Spring,’ as well as the flourishing of terrorist organizations in almost all the Arab regions, reveal the scope of the flaw in our curricula and in the religious culture that we inherited and have not criticized or reassessed for decades. We must acknowledge without shame that we in the Arab and Islamic region have become a breeding ground for terrorists… due to [our] cultural and ideological backwardness.
“[How] many of us have never asked themselves why these horrors, massacres, and cold-blooded murders take place on our lands?! Must we always lay the blame on others, so that we can [continue] to deny [reality], to forget [it] and to wreak vengeance?!…”
 Al-Haqaiq (Tunisia), September 11, 2013.
Sunday 8 December 2013
Mass murder in the Middle East is funded by our friends the Saudis
World View: Everyone knows where al-Qa’ida gets its money, but while the violence is sectarian, the West does nothing
Donors in Saudi Arabia have notoriously played a pivotal role in creating and maintaining Sunni jihadist groups over the past 30 years. But, for all the supposed determination of the United States and its allies since 9/11 to fight “the war on terror”, they have showed astonishing restraint when it comes to pressuring Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies to turn off the financial tap that keeps the jihadists in business.
Compare two US pronouncements stressing the significance of these donations and basing their conclusions on the best intelligence available to the US government. The first is in the 9/11 Commission Report which found that Osama bin Laden did not fund al-Qa’ida because from 1994 he had little money of his own but relied on his ties to wealthy Saudi individuals established during the Afghan war in the 1980s. Quoting, among other sources, a CIA analytic report dated 14 November 2002, the commission concluded that “al-Qa’ida appears to have relied on a core group of financial facilitators who raised money from a variety of donors and other fund-raisers primarily in the Gulf countries and particularly in Saudi Arabia”.
Seven years pass after the CIA report was written during which the US invades Iraq fighting, among others, the newly established Iraq franchise of al-Qa’ida, and becomes engaged in a bloody war in Afghanistan with the resurgent Taliban. American drones are fired at supposed al-Qa’ida-linked targets located everywhere from Waziristan in north-west Pakistan to the hill villages of Yemen. But during this time Washington can manage no more than a few gentle reproofs to Saudi Arabia on its promotion of fanatical and sectarian Sunni militancy outside its own borders.
Evidence for this is a fascinating telegram on “terrorist finance” from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to US embassies, dated 30 December 2009 and released by WikiLeaks the following year. She says firmly that “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide”. Eight years after 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, Mrs Clinton reiterates in the same message that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan] and other terrorist groups”. Saudi Arabia was most important in sustaining these groups, but it was not quite alone since “al-Qa’ida and other groups continue to exploit Kuwait both as a source of funds and as a key transit point”.
Why did the US and its European allies treat Saudi Arabia with such restraint when the kingdom was so central to al-Qa’ida and other even more sectarian Sunni jihadist organisations? An obvious explanation is that the US, Britain and others did not want to offend a close ally and that the Saudi royal family had judiciously used its money to buy its way into the international ruling class. Unconvincing attempts were made to link Iran and Iraq to al-Qa’ida when the real culprits were in plain sight.
But there is another compelling reason why the Western powers have been so laggard in denouncing Saudi Arabia and the Sunni rulers of the Gulf for spreading bigotry and religious hate. Al-Qa’ida members or al-Qa’ida-influenced groups have always held two very different views about who is their main opponent. For Osama bin Laden the chief enemy was the Americans, but for the great majority of Sunni jihadists, including the al-Qa’ida franchises in Iraq and Syria, the target is the Shia. It is the Shia who have been dying in their thousands in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and even in countries where there are few of them to kill, such as Egypt.
Pakistani papers no longer pay much attention to hundreds of Shia butchered from Quetta to Lahore. In Iraq, most of the 7,000 or more people killed this year are Shia civilians killed by the bombs of al-Qa’ida in Iraq, part of an umbrella organisation called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), which also encompasses Syria. In overwhelmingly Sunni Libya, militants in the eastern town of Derna killed an Iraqi professor who admitted on video to being a Shia before being executed by his captors.
Suppose a hundredth part of this merciless onslaught had been directed against Western targets rather than against Shia Muslims, would the Americans and the British be so accommodating to the Saudis, Kuwaitis and Emiratis? It is this that gives a sense of phoniness to boasts by the vastly expanded security bureaucracies in Washington and London about their success in combating terror justifying vast budgets for themselves and restricted civil liberties for everybody else. All the drones in the world fired into Pashtun villages in Pakistan or their counterparts in Yemen or Somalia are not going to make much difference if the Sunni jihadists in Iraq and Syria ever decide – as Osama bin Laden did before them – that their main enemies are to be found not among the Shia but in the United States and Britain.
Instead of the fumbling amateur efforts of the shoe and underpants bombers, security services would have to face jihadist movements in Iraq, Syria and Libya fielding hundreds of bomb-makers and suicide bombers. Only gradually this year, videos from Syria of non-Sunnis being decapitated for sectarian motives alone have begun to shake the basic indifference of the Western powers to Sunni jihadism so long as it is not directed against themselves.
Saudi Arabia as a government for a long time took a back seat to Qatar in funding rebels in Syria, and it is only since this summer that they have taken over the file. They wish to marginalise the al-Qa’ida franchisees such as Isil and the al-Nusra Front while buying up and arming enough Sunni war-bands to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
The directors of Saudi policy in Syria – the Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, the head of the Saudi intelligence agency Prince Bandar bin Sultan and the Deputy Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan – plan to spend billions raising a militant Sunni army some 40,000 to 50,000 strong. Already local warlords are uniting to share in Saudi largesse for which their enthusiasm is probably greater than their willingness to fight.
The Saudi initiative is partly fuelled by rage in Riyadh at President Obama’s decision not to go to war with Syria after Assad used chemical weapons on 21 August. Nothing but an all-out air attack by the US similar to that of Nato in Libya in 2011 would overthrow Assad, so the US has essentially decided he will stay for the moment. Saudi anger has been further exacerbated by the successful US-led negotiations on an interim deal with Iran over its nuclear programme.
By stepping out of the shadows in Syria, the Saudis are probably making a mistake. Their money will only buy them so much. The artificial unity of rebel groups with their hands out for Saudi money is not going to last. They will be discredited in the eyes of more fanatical jihadis as well as Syrians in general as pawns of Saudi and other intelligence services.
A divided opposition will be even more fragmented. Jordan may accommodate the Saudis and a multitude of foreign intelligence services, but it will not want to be the rallying point for an anti-Assad army.
The Saudi plan looks doomed from the start, though it could get a lot more Syrians killed before it fails. Yazid Sayegh of the Carnegie Middle East Centre highlights succinctly the risks involved in the venture: “Saudi Arabia could find itself replicating its experience in Afghanistan, where it built up disparate mujahedin groups that lacked a unifying political framework. The forces were left unable to govern Kabul once they took it, paving the way for the Taliban to take over. Al-Qa’ida followed, and the blowback subsequently reached Saudi Arabia.”