In the days after 9/11, shocked American intelligence authorities quickly surmised that Islamic terrorist networks in Europe — particularly Britain — need to be tackled head on. The fingerprints of Europe were all over the attacks on the Twin Towers: Zacarias Moussaoui, the only terrorist to be convicted for 9/11, was a Frenchman radicalised in a British university.
Ten years on, Europe — home to 15 million Muslims — remains a continent on the edge. If Britain is widely considered to be the epicenter of European Islamic terrorism, it is because of its large Pakistani-origin population — more than a million and growing, including 431,000 born in Pakistan.
A massive security review in 2005 led ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown to repeatedly declare that 75% of all terrorist incidents in Britain had their origins in Pakistan. According to MI5 chief Jonathan Evans, that figure has now come down to 50% but he adds: “This does not mean that the overall threat has reduced but that it has diversified (to Somalia and other countries).”
Indeed, Britain is now home to 2,000 terrorist suspects and 200 Al Qaeda operatives who are under constant surveillance. Terror networks in Britain are both an internal and global threat.
“A number of British Muslims have been convicted in foreign courts or have fought for terrorist or extreme Islamist groups abroad,” says the Centre for Social Cohesion, Britain’s first thinktank to study Islamic extremism.
It says the CIA claims that America’s most likely terrorist scenario comes from a British-born extremist entering the US under the visa waiver programme and 40% of CIA operations aimed at disrupting terrorism plots against the US are conducted against targets in Britain. Not just Britain, ghettoes and mosques in countries across the European Union are all witnessing the disturbing trend of disaffected, alienated and often-jobless young Muslims volunteer to kill and die for the jihad.
“Islamist terrorist groups are changing in composition and leadership. Terrorist groups are becoming multi-national, command and control from outside the EU is decreasing and more lone actors with EU citizenship are involved in terrorist activities,” said Europol in its 2011 ‘Terrorism Situation and Trend’ report. In 2010, there was a 50% rise in arrests in Europe for offences linked to Islamist terrorism, and there was a massive increase in the proportion of those arrested for planning attacks in the EU.
The threat of “any sort of attack”: Evans says a senior Yemen-based Al Qaida associate has urged followers in the West not to feel the need to emulate spectacular terrorism such as 9/11.
Terrorists returning from conflict zones: armed with specific contacts and skills they are intent upon executing attacks in Europe.
The Arab Spring: The current situation could lead to a setback for the Al Qaeda, but if expectations fall short then Islamists will step in, resulting in “more powerful terrorist organizations impacting the EU,” says Europol.
North African immigration: terrorists could easily slip in to Europe in the curren turmoil.