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Europe can no longer play the ostrich


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March 23, 2004 -- A NONDESCRIPT apartment bloc in Tangiers has been transformed into a must-see spot in that sleepy Moroccan outpost.

The reason for the interest in the semi-derelict bloc is that the family of Jamal Zougam are thought to live there. Zougam is believed to have masterminded the 3/11 terrorist attacks. Within days, the Spanish authorities had arrested 11 people, all but two of them, Moroccans.

Terrorism experts have known of the existence of "the Moroccan connection" for years. Most suspects arrested in Europe since 2001 for al Qaeda links have been North African nationals, with Moroccans representing the largest number.

Mauritanians, Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians and Libyans were drawn into terrorism in the context of the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were recruited to fight alongside the mujahedeen in exchange for monthly stipends of up to $100, a fortune in impoverished North Africa.

Many were killed, but enough survived to move to the former Yugoslavia and Chechnya to pursue their jihad. By the early '90s, Algeria, then in the grip of a bloody terrorist war, became a magnet for the North African veterans of Afghanistan.

Morocco was rather pleased to see its neighbor and rival Algeria sink in the quagmire of terrorism. The Moroccan authorities turned a blind eye to the comings and goings of the jihadists.

Sometime in the 1990s, the Moroccan militant groups decided on a strategy of "permeation." The idea was that while in Algeria there was no choice but war to overthrow an "impious" regime, in Morocco it was possible to Islamicize society through co-optation, cajoling and, when necessary, intimidation.

The image of Russian Matrushka dolls may help illustrate how all this works:

* The largest doll represents a broad religious movement knows as al-Salafiyah. This is based on the claim that there was a time when Muslims were "true Muslims" as opposed to fake ones now. The Salafi movement has thus tried to create a parallel society. It has organized its own economic and financial networks. Salafis also build and manage their own mosques.

* Inside this large doll is a smaller one: A network of Koranic schools, especially in the poorer neighborhoods of the larger cities, often financed by donors from the oil-rich Arab states of the Persian Gulf. By some estimates these school attract some 3.2 million pupils throughout Morocco.

* Next we find a smaller doll: The zukaa (the clever ones) within the Koranic school network. They receive extra training and are deployed as preachers, teachers and, in the past few years, political propagandists and trade-union organizers.

In the last Moroccan general election the various Islamist groups, all of them linked to the Salafis in one way or another, won nearly a third of the seats in the parliament and emerged as the single biggest political bloc.

* A fourth smaller doll consists of an unknown number of muqatelin (combatants) who fight for the faith wherever necessary. Many act under the broad label of The Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat. A squad of this group carried out the attacks in Casablanca last May, killing 45.

* The smallest, but the deadliest, doll represents a few dozen "volunteers for martyrdom" who are as ready to die as they are to kill to ensure the triumph of their brand of Islam. No one knows how many of these have been transferred to Europe to act as human time-bombs that can affect the politics of the Western democracies, as in the Spanish election.

Until the 9/11 attacks, most Western powers regarded the Salafi movement with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. The nature of the threat to the West became apparent when the first suspect to be arrested in connection with 9/11 was Zacharias Moussaoui, a French national of Moroccan origin and a veteran of the Salafi movement.

It soon became clear that the 9/11 attacks had been planned in Europe, especially Spain and Germany. Then came the attack on the synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, where more than two dozen people were killed. All those involved were Moroccans and Tunisians with bases in France. In December 2002, the British police smashed another North African, mainly Moroccan, ring, in London, before a ricin attack.

Until a year ago the many militant groups, often labeled collectively as al Qaeda, used Europe as a logistics hub, planning center and safe haven. They benefited from Europe's financial facilities to collect and circulate money, and procure arms and explosives. Hundreds also obtained European passports.

The strategy of leaving Europe alone changed after the Iraq war. As the attempted attack in London and the Madrid carnage show, the Salafis, using their North African - especially Moroccan - sleepers in Europe, are determined to impose their views on Western electorates through spectacular acts of terror.

Europe can no longer play the ostrich. This peril in the heart of the old continent will not simply fade as the Spanish voters seemed to hope when they voted Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar out of office.

E-mail: amirtaheri@benadorassociates.com

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