Counter-Terrorism: Leaving Home


March 13, 2015: Western (especially European) efforts to prevent their Moslem citizens from going to Syria to join ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) are working. Turkey reports fewer are showing up trying to cross the border into Syria and the electronic “chatter” among Western Moslems is full of stories about young Moslem men (and women) who have been unable to get out of the country. The chatter also includes a lot of advice, some of it effective, on how to get around all the restrictions. This has cost ISIL hundreds of recruits so far in 2014. ISIL has not really felt this loss because most of their foreign recruits came from the Middle East or Central Asia and they have to face fewer obstacles to leaving.

In addition to watch lists for border guards in their home countries and Turkey the European governments have issued useful advice to parents of young men and women who seem to have been recruited. Parents are told to keep passports of underage (under 18) children locked up and to le the police know if their children might have been recruited. Parents long resisted reporting such matters to the police but this reluctance has been gradually overcome and the word is getting around that the police will be discreet in these matters. On the downside the police now have many more young Moslems who have been recruited to commit violent acts in the name of Islam and are unable to leave the country to do so. That means police have more potential terrorists they have to monitor and move on if an imminent threat is detected.

In late 2014 Turkey and the European nations stopped months of feuding over who was responsible for preventing European Moslems from illegally (according to European laws) going to Syria to fight (usually for Islamic terrorist rebels) and agreed to cooperate. The main cause of the dispute was the Turkish practice, after the Syrian rebellion began in 2011, of allowing anyone seeking to cross the Syrian border to join the rebels to do so. Western nations, unlike Islamic ones, did not believe that supporting Islamic terrorists, even if they were fighting for the Syrian rebels, was a wise move. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Arab Gulf states disagreed and the Arabs armed and financed the Islamic terrorist rebels while Turkey looked the other way as young Moslem men travelled via Turkey to reach the Islamic terrorist rebels in Syria and took refuge in Turkey when they needed it. That attitude persisted until 2013.

The Western argument was that their intel showed many of these Islamic terrorist rebels considered the overthrow of the Shia Syrian dictator as only the first of many conquests. Next on the list was Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia and, eventually Turkey and Israel. Then the most extreme of these groups, ISIL, began fighting with the other Syrian rebels in early 2014 and then launched a major offensive in western Iraq. This led to the fall of the Iraqi city of Mosul in June and suddenly the more radical members of non-ISIL Islamic terrorist groups began deserting to join ISIL. Since then ISIL has appeared to be unstoppable and all the Moslems nations on the ISIL target list realized the Europeans were right and ISIL was a threat to everyone.

Turkey tried to tighten security on its Syrian border. Only three of the 13 official border crossings were kept open and those coming and going were carefully scrutinized. There were more air and ground patrols in areas where smugglers were known to operate. Turkey maintained a list of some 5,000 European Moslems European governments have requested be barred from crossing into Syria. From late 2013 to late 2014 Turkey caught over a thousand of these people and sent them back to Europe. Despite these efforts European governments believe that many of their Moslems still made it into Syria via Turkey. In response the Turks pointed out that they handle over 30 million tourists entering each year plus millions of people coming on business. Turkey reminded their European critics that the European Moslems have European passports, as do the bulk of the non-Moslem tourists coming to Turkey. These passports are not scrutinized as closely as those from nations where passports can easily be bought. The Turks told the Europeans they should simply bar suspected Islamic radicals from leaving in the first place. Europe resisted that for years but now agrees it is the way to go. This is made easier by the fact that more frequently European police are warned (usually by the parents) that a young European Moslem is planning to go to Syria to fight.

The Turks also point out if they make it more difficult to keep European Moslems from crossing legally the wannabe terrorists can pay a smuggler to get them across. Despite more aggressive patrolling of the smuggler routes many of these European Moslems can still get into Syria. So the Turks keep pressuring the European nations to deal with the problem at its source and not pressure Turkey to fix European mistakes. 

The cause of all this angst was European nations facing a growing problem with young Moslem men being recruited by radical Islamic clergy to go fight alongside (and often against) the Syrian rebels. European intelligence officials believe over 3,000 European Moslems (including at least 500 from Britain) have gone to Syria by late 2014 and about ten percent were killed. More than ten percent returned and these jihad veterans often seek out new recruits. These jihadis are very effective at attracting new volunteers, although so far only about 10 per 100,000 Moslems have been persuaded to go. As small as that portion is, a far larger percentage (over ten percent) of European Moslems will admit to admiring the goals and methods of Islamic terrorists. Most of those who did go to Syria are now more radicalized than when they left and police fear they may contribute to more Islamic terrorism in Europe. You can’t do much to these men in Europe unless they actually commit a crime in Europe although in a growing number of countries it is possible to prosecute them for belonging to for an Islamic terrorist organization. But you have to prove it in court and that is often difficult. Nevertheless such prosecutions are underway and most countries monitor returning jihadis, ready to make arrests if any local laws are broken. Europeans are now changing their laws to make it illegal to have any contact or sympathies for groups like ISIL.

This Islamic terrorist threat to the West is relatively recent. For centuries the non-Moslem world ignored Islamic terrorism, at least as long as it remained a dispute just among Moslems. But in the 1970s a new idea arose among radical clergy who believed that blaming the West for all the backwardness, bad government and general misery in Moslem nations was the way to go. That’s when al Qaeda decided to take the war to the infidels (non-Moslems). This produced growing violence against Western targets in the 1990s and culminated in the September 11, 2001 attacks. The carnage of those attacks was immensely popular among Moslems although most Moslem governments condemned it. That was in part because these attacks against infidels were an indirect effort to overthrow Moslem governments that radicals did not believe were Moslem enough. That struggle continues, as it has for over a thousand years.





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