Europe under attack: How does a terrorist mind tick?

Several major or minor motives have been ascribed to terrorists, who have carried out recent attacks across Europe. It is averred that their major motive is the desire to exact revenge from states and communities “that oppose the Muslim ‘Ummah’ and Muslims.” Although terror attacks in Europe are usually claimed by the ISIS, many security agencies differ over the extent to which this terror group has links with the lone wolves conducting these attacks.

What thought drives the ISIS or the teenagers to kill civilians? It’s clear that they do not think like ordinary people. Therefore, we must understand the nuances of their religious extremism and the brutality it incites toward people in areas under their control.

A radical, whose orientation leaned towards al-Nusra Front once told me: “You must be harsh. You must not leave anything to chance while you build the new Muslim society following this prolonged period of corruption!” However, European societies are not the main targets of the terrorists. To begin with, terrorist groups want to recruit youths to carry out attacks in Muslim countries, i.e. in “Dar al-Islam” itself.

When this goal becomes difficult to achieve, they revert to the original aim established by Bin Laden, which is “to harm the infidels as much as possible.” Youths who may not be able to go to ar-Raqqah or Mosul can now find their so-called martrydom in European countries by inflicting harm and exacting their so-called retribution.

Outside Iraq and Syria, ISIS network has become highly independent and the central command may not always be aware of the operations

Radwan al-Sayed

Direct link to attacks questionable

It is clear that these decisions are no longer taken in Syria or Iraq, either because Baghdadi has already been killed or because circumstances have changed. Outside Iraq and Syria, the ISIS network has become highly independent and the central command may not always be aware of the operations and at times may come to know of them after they happen.

In fact, there is now more space for the emergence of even lone wolves, local commanders and sleeper cells, like the Barcelona, Belgium and Istanbul cells have exemplified.

German officials who work in the Federal Ministry of Interior once told me that in Germany terrorists fall under three categories: radical Islamists, neo-Nazis and Left-wing extremists. Experience shows that neo-Nazis are the earliest to repent and mend their ways. Islamists are next to give up their radical path, while Left-wing extremists have been found to be the most difficult to reclaim.

Discussing the ideological triggers of radical Islamists – is it social marginalization, reaction to Western foreign policies and culture, or the ongoing wars raging in the Arab world – former officers from the ministry claimed that it is usually new converts to Islam or older people who want to take part in so-called ‘jihad’ out of a misplaced sense of guilt.

Initially, they prefer to take part in acts of violence outside Europe but they are not averse to carrying out terrorist actions in the continent itself. Those who carry out violent attacks in cities plan it for a long time. Many of them are not driven by any misplaced religious reason but are lone wolves who merely want to be known for their infamy or to become leaders of a local ring, like the Barcelona case illustrates.

Alarm bells against Islam

The general attitude of Germans towards Arabs and Muslims has recently undergone a very negative change. I was told that various civil and non-governmental organizations have started distributing leaflets to families and are using media outlets to raise alarm against any change in the behaviour of young boys or girls in any household due to their introduction to Islam.

These campaigns ask people questions like: Has your daughter or son converted to Islam and have they begun to read the Quran? Have they started to isolate themselves and are they choosing new friends? Is your son going to certain mosques or has he started growing a beard?

After issuing such warning signs, the campaigners advise the families to better inform about the matter to civil or religious institutions so that they talk with the son or daughter to ascertain whether they are harbouring any violent ideas.

It is also being told that as parents or the person involved may feel hesitant to approach security agencies in this regard, it would be better for them to contact civil institutions as the latter will not divulge the details to the police.

In response, I asked the question: “Are other European cities adopting such measures?” The officials said: “No, life has a faster pace there.”

This article is also available in Arabic.
Radwan al Sayed is a Lebanese thinker and writer who attained a bachelor degree from the Faculty of Theology at al-Azhar University and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Tübingen in Germany. He has been a scholar of Islamic studies for decades and is the former editor-in-chief of the quarterly al-Ijtihad magazine. Radwan is also the author of many books and has written for Arab dailies such as al-Ittihad, al-Hayat and ash-Sharq al-Awsat.

Last Update: Tuesday, 29 August 2017 KSA 10:50 - GMT 07:50
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.

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Europe under attack: How does a terrorist mind tick?
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