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charlie hebdo
The terrorists that attacked Charlie Hebdo

The attractiveness of the ISIS is in the subliminal and messianic message that invites the Muslims to fight and kill in the name of Allah. An appeal that finds an audience in those people who are led to believe they are an instrument of the will of their God and that, at the same time, live a life lacking any real opportunities. For those living in Arab or Muslim countries, the frustration and the resentment are directed towards those corrupt and authoritarian regimes that don't guarantee any social justice or freedom. For those, however, that inhabit different social contexts, as is the case in Europe, generally the motivation for animosity is marginalization, a sense of isolation resulting from belonging to a religious minority that is viewed by many with suspicion. The ISIS fights its battle for the survival of the caliphate in the Muslim lands with the first group of sympathizers, while the latter are employed to strike with terrorist attacks in the lands of the infidels.

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi knows that the suicide bomber who kills civilians in a club, in a crowd or in a metro serves a specific function that goes well beyond the mere "military" action. An attack in Europe scares the population, gives them a sense of insecurity and, at the same time, magnifies the "force" of the ISIS, its ability to strike out of its Middle Eastern geographical center, accredits the movement with an international role and dimension.

Candidates to martyrdom

The manpower to conduct these types of terrorist attacks is not difficult to find, especially in Europe, where there are more than 20 million Muslim citizens. They are mainly part of an immigrant population that moved to Europe in search of better living conditions and is therefore placed on the lower end of the social ladder, with usually low educational levels. Apart from the immigration flows, there are European Muslims; in Albania over 80% of the people are Islamic, in Bosnia-Herzegovina the Muslims represent 40% of the population, and then there is the Sandzak region in Serbia.

The countries of origin and the impact of Islamic immigrants varies from country to country. Muslims in France are mainly of North African origin, they represent about 10% of the population (6 million), in Spain they are little more than 2% and mainly Moroccans, in the UK there are over 2.5 million Muslims (4%), the same goes for Germany (over 3.5 million and mostly Kurds and Turks), in Belgium they are more than 6% of the population, 5% in the Netherlands and about 4% in Denmark, Austria and Switzerland. Among the Scandinavian countries, Sweden has the highest incidence, with about 6% of Muslims. These official figures don't take into account the illegal portion of Muslim immigrants; they are generally much more employable in terrorist acts. This is the case of Italy, whose official figure reports a 2% of Islamic presence, a number that doubles if you consider illegal immigration in a country that is the first point of access for migrants coming from Africa.

Until now, the influx of illegal immigrants coming from Libya on boats has not been used for the transit of terrorists. There are, however, a few cases of people that have come via the route in the Balkans. In other words, the Islamic terrorist is not likely to risk sinking in the Mediterranean in order to carry out its subversive plans. There are several reasons for this, but, basically, the ISIS has such financial resources and a widespread network of accomplices in Europe that it has no need to risk its life in the trip to reach its targets. It's much better to immolate oneself on the target than in the process of getting there.

This picture of the phenomenon could soon change if the military luck of the caliphate turns for the worst in Syria and Iraq. In this case, with the exception of the leaders of the group who would not have the possibility to enter or return to Europe and would possibly reposition themselves in other crisis zones, a mass of escapees that have flown below the radar of the various national security services could exploit this window and take along with them the rancor of a failed military experience, the religious acrimony fueled by a conflict with strong sectarian connotations, and the technical expertise to conduct a well-planned terrorist act.

The truck used in the Nice, France, attack

Recent lessons

A number of individuals that have managed to get to and from the caliphate have been responsible for the hitherto terrorist acts conducted in Europe. They were able to infiltrate the mass of refugees sparked by the war in Syria. Thanks to often relaxed border controls, the terrorists from the ISIS used passports printed using machinery that once belonged to Syrian authorities. Fake ID cards are difficult to verify in the absence of a counterpart.

However, the main contributors to the terrorist manpower came from Muslim immigrants, most of them bearing from the second generation, born or residing for years with their families in Europe. The appeal of al-Baghdadi, the influence of his propaganda machine and the emotional impact of the sermons from European extremist imams all fueled the desire for revenge and exploited the social marginalization of the new generations of European Muslims. It is no coincidence that the attacks in France and Belgium were conceived in the suburbs of these capitals, where the sense of exclusion and frustration prevail. And it is perhaps because of the absence of such ghettos that this has not happened in Italy or elsewhere.

The methodology of the ISIS is to convince the individuals that their biological family, unless this is where the first forms of radicalization take place, is less important than the Muslim community at large. The fighter severs all emotional bonds, is convinced that his earthly journey is instrumental to a religious purpose and this inevitably leads to martyrdom. A one-way road with no going back. The ISIS offers a religious justification to its military and social project.

There is also a correlation between the military fortunes of the Islamic State and the growth of international terrorism. Islamic fighters need a boost to their morale when, as is presently happening, they lose their battles on the field and any attack at the heart of the enemy has this intoxicating effect. In the mind of an Islamic fighter who believes he is pursuing a divine design, defeat does not exist. There is only victory with Allah and if this does not happen, there is a short circuit in his religious beliefs. Everything falls apart, the religious utopia, the reasons that justify the martyrdom. And, ultimately, the fighter's disaffection is the ISIS's worst enemy.

The types of threats

The terrorist threats in Europe mainly come from two sources:

- The so-called "lone wolves". Young individuals who generally come from families of immigrants, they are usually part of the second generation of Muslims who, for various reasons, are attracted by the radical ideas of the ISIS and tune their feelings to the caliphate's subliminal messages and to their propaganda spread via social networks or in the mosques by some extremist imams. At the end of a journey of psychological brainwashing, the lone wolf strikes independently. Most of the times he is not instructed by Mohammed Adnani in Raqqa, but acts out of his own individual choice.

- The foreign fighters who have left Europe to fight with al-Baghdadi are the second menace. There are about 5-6,000 Europeans among the 30 thousand that have joined the caliph. If 10/15% have died in combat, according to intelligence estimates around 20-30% of survivors have tried to return to their country of residence. They are definitely the most dangerous and are also an active part of a terrorist plan led and conceived by the ISIS. They are in contact with each other, they know how and where to hit. They also know how to hide. They are the most motivated and are also those who meditate revenge. What is most worrying is that 30% of these individuals, approximately 1,500 men, is not known to enforcement agencies and is therefore well positioned to evade security checks. This figure is the result of poor collaboration between the various European intelligence agencies and the failure of police channels under the coordination of Europol and will soon have consequences on the ground.

Unlike lone wolves, the European foreign fighters don't have common traits that can help police identify them. They have different educational level, can be a convert or come from a Muslim family, be a man or a woman (at least 200 French women have joined the Islamic State), be married or single, with or without children, be well off economically and not necessarily unemployed, with or without a criminal record. It 's like looking for a needle in a haystack.

The countries with a large Muslim community that is perhaps not sufficiently integrated are also those who have contributed the most to the transhumance of foreign fighters to the Middle East and are therefore at greater risk of an attack by the returnees. France leads the pack with about 1,500 fighters, followed by Germany and the UK (about 6/700 each), Belgium (450), Sweden (350), Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands (150/200), Spain (100), Italy (80/90), Finland (70) and Ireland (30). To these figures we must add another 900 jihadists that came from the Balkans.

If we calculate the ratio over the entire population, Belgium leaps at the top with about 45 jihadists per million inhabitants. The attacks in Brussels confirm that the poor integration of foreign communities forced to live in ghettoes and the flaws of a divided and parceled security system have both contributed to the facility with which the terrorists acted and struck, both at home and in nearby Paris.

The aftermath of the Bataclan shooting

The enemies within

According to some recent surveys, at its maximum splendor the ISIS was receiving the support of about 13% of European Muslims; today, following the defeats on the ground, we are around 6%. The data, collected from a young population, shows a direct correlation between victories/defeats and sympathy/disaffection. It's easy to switch from emulation to aversion depending on where the wind blows.

What is more worrying is that in the UK 27% of Muslim respondents approved the massacres at the Bataclan in Paris, 16% of French Muslims sympathize with the caliph, while as many as 72% of Dutch Muslims are supportive of the ISIS. Among European Muslims the same is true for martyrdom: 35% of Muslims approve of it in the UK, 42% in France and 22% in Germany.

One wonders where all this support for a movement which has become associated with cruelty and senseless massacres comes from. Let's try to attempt some answers: Islam is humiliated in the West, Muslims live in a society that does not comply with their culture, they are hence in a struggle against the infidels.

Be it endogenous or exogenous, is there a way to eliminate this religiously motivated terrorism? There is no chance the risk can be reduced to zero, especially when an attack is conceived and conducted by a "lone wolf". What about attacks organized and conducted by individuals bound organically to the ISIS? In theory, if the preventive actions of the Security Services are effective, it would be possible to avoid or oppose such attacks. A document recently discovered in the hands of some jihadists provides a clue to ​​how well organized the movement led by al-Baghdadi is: terrorist cells are separated so that if one falls, the entire structure still stands; they use middle men/intermediaries for their communications; an emir is placed at the top of each cell; he works with a deputy, a group dedicated to logistics, one to the reconnaissance of the targets, and one that eventually carries out the attach. The central command of the ISIS is the one that plans the strategy and defines the goals. An extremely well planned structure that conceals its existence to better strike the enemy.

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