It is undisputable that the ongoing war in Syria has proved a fertile breeding ground attracting from across the world countless jihadists with the idea of “holy war” at the heart of their ideology.
It is stereotypically perceived that members of the numerous al-Qaeda-affiliated groups fighting and infighting in Syria being in addition to Syrians Saudis, Jordanians, Iraqis, Tunisians and Chechens, the ongoing war there is revealing everyday new nationalities of jihadi fighters alongside the rebels from Britain, France, Germany, the U.S. and even Australia.
Shortly after terrorism has been put by President Barack Obama in his recent West Point foreign policy speech as America’s first and foremost threat, the U.S. government has affirmed that the American-born Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha has launched a suicide bombing against Syrian government troops. The 22-year-old man has been classified as the “first” suicide bomber by State Department, probably hinting at the possibility of the existence of other American jihadist-trained fighters in Syria.
Certainly concerned about the increasing number of European jihadists in Syria and fully aware of their future “backfire” threat, French President François Hollande called for increased cooperation and intelligence sharing among G7 members regarding the Western jihadists fighting the war-torn country during an address to the G7 summit held Wednesday in Brussels.
Referring to the movement of Islamist militants in Europe, Hollande said, “we have decided on cooperation to prevent, deter and punish this type of movement, which can jeopardize our own security,” citing the shooting on May 24 at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in which a French national who had gone to Syria was arrested. He also said that 30 French nationals killed in Syria. French authorities have said about 300 young French nationals have gone to Syria and have taken part in the fighting there.
Similar concerns over the rising number of European fighters joining al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria as well as the increasing “jihadist tendency” within Europe have also been raised by the British authorities amid news reports and video footage showing British militants taking part in the ongoing battles in Syria alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist groups.
Reports from Syria
Reports from Syria – which could be gossip as they are not that easy to be authenticate – say that European jihadist fighters enjoy senior posts within Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) while what has been affirmed by European authorities themselves is the existence of recruitment agencies in some European countries employing European Muslims to fight in Syria.
Recently, Austrian authorities have arrested a man suspected of radicalizing Muslims and recruiting them to fight in Syria. Following the announcement of the news by the prosecutors’ office in the Austrian city of Graz, a spokesman for Austria’s interior ministry has been quoted in news agencies as saying that Austria was working with other European countries to strengthen coordination and in particular to target youths in danger of being recruited for such wars with information campaigns. “The phenomenon of recruiting is not limited to Austria. It is a challenge for most European countries,” he said.
News reports said that about 100 Austrians, home to roughly half a million Muslims or six percent of the total population, are estimated to be fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
State of statelessness
The fact that the Europeans need no visas to go to Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon or Jordan and then from there to Syria is certainly a complication, coupled of course with the state of chaos on the Syrian borders or actually the state of statelessness and lawlessness prevailing over Syria.
Europe is not far away from Syria and American interests are everywhere in the region and the entire worldRaed Omari
So, the Europeans’ concerns are justified, and those of the Americans too, but it is more plausible in the case of the former at least for the relative geographical proximity between Syria and Europe.
But in what sense can these jihadists pose a threat to their communities when they return home, or if they return home? The answer is in fact based in al-Qaeda’s ideology.
For al-Qaeda and other similar Islamist groups, jihad or the “holy war” is never confined to a certain time or place. The jihadists, like freedom fighters, should be always on alert, ready to launch “revenge attacks” when asked against whatever and whosever see as evil. For such radical groups, the Europeans and the Americans as well as Arabs may deserved to be punished or should be punished for their insufficient action on Syria.
Europe has previously been the target of terrorist attacks, including the 7/7 suicide bombings targeting three different trains traveling through London Underground stations in 2005 and the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Such bombings in the Western world were attributed to al-Qaeda and its affiliates.
Fertile ground for terror
However, what helped and is helping Syria turn into a fertile ground for terror is the Western inaction itself on the war-torn country although it adopted from the very beginning of the Syrian struggle an anti-Assad attitude. Perhaps except for France, all the Western countries, including the U.S., have been showing an indecisive position on Syria which has its undeniable contribution to extending the war in Syria and thus leaving the door wide open for all probabilities.
The U.S. literally means to transform Syria into a battlefield for the extremists to kill and be killed – and it has become no secret at all. It is a containment policy by the U.S., seeing to confine al-Qaeda’s activities to Syria after a considerable time of being only in Iraq. But, such a policy has proved invalidity taking into consideration the 9/11 attacks that occurred at the time al-Qaeda was thought to only be active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Additionally, jihadists are fully aware of this unannounced U.S. policy but they are now at the stage of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and, once this mutual interest is over, they will go back to their conventional enmity towards America and its allies.
Europe is not far away from Syria and American interests are everywhere in the region and the entire world. The Western policy on Syria needs reconsideration.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2