European countries are rushing to head off what’s being labeled “jihad tourism,” as evidence emerges that radicalized Europeans are traveling to Syria to fight against the Bashar al-Assad regime. Officials are expressing concerns that their citizens will eventually come home as battle-hardened jihadists:
Mounting evidence of a growing number of Britons joining jihadist rebels in Syria has prompted negotiations between the UK and a number of other European countries, amid fears that veterans could return to mount terrorist attacks in Europe. Experts are warning that Ramadan, which begins on Tuesday, will spark an increase in Muslims going to fight in Syria’s brutal civil war, creating a new generation of trained extremists…
However there is growing alarm at the numbers now travelling to Syria, and a British-led European initiative is being launched to counter the threat. Measures being considered include making it illegal to travel to take part in jihad, banning specific organisations, freezing bank accounts, deporting Muslim preachers, and even taking away “social benefits”.
France also fears that scores of its own citizens – many of North African or sub-Saharan origin – will become recruits for Al Qaeda-linked groups. The war in Mali, during which France led forces that rolled back Islamists seeking to take over the country, provided an additional location for disaffected, young European Muslims to target. Months ago Paris police arrested several men alleged to have been seeking to battle French and African forces in the country. Officials also deported non-French imams accused of preaching extremism.
French interior minister Manuel Valls eventually estimated that about 100 French Muslims had gone to Syria to join the rebels. Of these, a “handful” had also been active in the Sahel region of Africa, including northern Mali. Valls told Le Parisien at the time that “we face an external enemy in Mali; we are also facing an enemy within resulting from a process of radicalization. It starts with petty crime through drug trafficking, sometimes in prison, and leads towards conversion to radical Islam and hatred of the West.”
Security forces are also on the alert in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, and the Netherlands. In November Dutch police arrested three Muslims who allegedly wanted to join militant Islamists in Syria. Last month Spanish officials arrested eight members of a network that was recruiting jihadists to fight in Syria.
[Photo: deutschewelleenglish / Youtube]