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Do insurgents returning from Iraq pose a security threat to European democracies?

ASK THIS | March 13, 2006

Counterterrorism expert Karen Greenberg writes that European law enforcers are worried about their own Muslim citizens going to Iraq, getting trained in terror, then coming home. Are they right to be worried? And what are the lessons to be learned from watching Europe wrestle with the problem of homegrown Islamic terrorism?

By Karen Greenberg
(212) 992-8854

Q. Ask European law-enforcement officials: How many people do they think went from their country to Iraq to join the insurgency?

Q. What do they think those people are doing as part of the insurgency? Are they focused on training or on participating in the insurgency there?

Q. Do officials have any evidence that people are being trained to create terror networks, build bombs, raise and move money?

Q. Do they have any idea of the fatality statistics for the people from their country who went to Iraq?

Q. What have European police done to confront a potential new wave of terrorism from returnees?  What plans are they putting in motion? Is it the threat of violent, trained returnees that is in part driving some countries to intensity their anti-terror laws at this point in time?

Q. How much racial profiling do they do in Europe? What is its effect? Does it further antagonize and radicalize Muslim citizens? How sensitive are Europeans as a whole to the issue of racial profiling? Is there, beyond racial profiling, a national/ethnic profiling? Are European law enforcement officials more concerned about suspected terrorists from the Maghreb or from the Middle East at this point in time?

Q. Are American counterterrorism policymakers paying attention to this? In what ways?

Watching Europe deal with these issues is important for America. For us, radical Islamic insurgency is not yet a local problem – it’s in Iraq. But what happens when democratically oriented societies have to face homegrown Islamic terror?

Europe faces tremendous threats from within. Returnees from Iraq could exacerbate the situation enormously – although there is not hard evidence yet to suggest that the numbers are significant. In fact, there are no publicly available records on individuals who were trained in Iraq coming back to Europe to cause trouble.

But even without returnees, Iraq is having a radicalizing effect on immigrant Muslim communities in Europe, empowering them, giving them an insurgency they can identify with outside the Israeli-Palestinian construct, and fueling their anti-American sentiments.

Law enforcement officials are worried. Legislators are looking for answers. But the fact remains, the solution to the problem will likely rely not just on tougher laws, but on addressing the inequities of life for Muslim communities in Europe.

Bringing Jihad Home to Europe
September 2005 Los Angeles Times article by Sebastian Rotella.

French Anti-Terror Judge Warns of Iraq 'Black Hole'
October 2005 BBC interview.

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