Al Qaeda Builds a Euro Army

Warnings of al Qaeda’s continuing threat came Tuesday, February 24, from Washington and London as well as one of its top leaders. Addressing the Senate intelligence committee, CIA director George Tenet spoke of the spread of al Qaeda’s radical agenda to local groups who now threaten the United States and are capable of 9/11 scale attacks.
British interior secretary David Blunkett, announcing new stringent measures to combat terror, said a terrorist attack on Britain was “inevitable.”
Pointing up these statements, Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri gave not one but two signs that his group was still after “Crusader” blood. Two recorded audiotapes reached the rival Arab TV stations, al Jazeera and al Arabiya. In one he threatened the United States with fresh attacks; the other condemned the French for banning the headscarf for Muslim schoolgirls. The Egyptian terrorist chief declared that the claim by US president George W. Bush that two-thirds of al Qaeda’s leadership has been crushed was untrue.
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His assertion had been confirmed previously by the preliminary findings of a joint defense department-CIA inquiry ordered by the US President.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources in Washington, al Qaeda’s backbone and that of its partner, al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad are intact and fully operational. The Egyptian half of al Qaeda in particular has led a charmed existence. Since America`s 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, only two senior Jihad operatives have been killed and not a single active member captured. The team found this discovery alarming enough to rush to Bush and warn him: “We have a gap in our intelligence the size of a big black hole.”
Even more disquietingly, al Qaeda is discovered to be recruiting manpower in Europe at a brisk pace in a push into the continent personally advocated by Osama bin Laden. The Saudi-born terrorist has thus gained the upper hand in a debate within his organization’s top leadership over its next focal arena. Bin Laden urged fostering the war on the “far enemy” (Europe) as against concentrating the movement’s fury on the “near enemy” (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, South Asia).
The European arena, often neglected by American counter-terrorism agencies, is showing a dangerous dynamism. Data assembled for a preliminary assessment show al Qaeda in the process of evolving from terrorist networks and cells into a professional fighting force with military features.
According to French counter-intelligence, al Qaeda has recruited in France alone between 35,000 and 45,000 men and is organizing them into military-style units. They meet regularly for training in the use of weapons and explosives, combat tactics and indoctrination and are controlled from local and district command centers under the organization’s national French command.
In Germany, Al Qaeda has recruited 25,000 to 30,000 men. The British domestic intelligence agency MI5 estimates 10,000 faithful have joined up in Britain, providing Blunkett with more than ample cause for concern.
Al Qaeda is a lot less active in Italy where counter-terrorist agencies hunt its cells to earth relentlessly. Moreover, al Qaeda does not need an important foothold in Italy because it already maintains a thriving presence next door in the Balkan countries of Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, from which weapons, money and false documents are easily secreted to its European bases.
But unknown numbers are enlisting in Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, Sweden and Norway.
Recruitment across Europe continues apace and in greater secrecy than ever as a result of a switch to new recruiting techniques and appeal to fresh target-populations for building the Euro army. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terrorism sources, the authors of the interim report found that al Qaeda, intent on beating surveillance and penetration by intelligence services, no longer selects combatants at its usual hunting grounds in mosques, Islamic culture centers and Muslim immigrant neighborhoods. Instead, native Europeans freshly converted to Islam are targeted.
The new campaign is styled “the white recruitment drive” or “coffee shop conscription”. Operational cells and recruiting agents patronize ordinary cafes on the high streets of Europe’s major cities where they blend into the crowds. The new conscripts defy identification by European intelligence services because their Islamic lives are lived completely underground. There is therefore no way of finding their addresses telephone numbers. Unit-level meetings or training sessions, attended by 30 or 40 men, may take place under cover of social activity such as a holiday camp in a remote part of Europe. Tracking them down is getting harder as bin Laden’s new Euro army expands at the rate of tens of thousands and when “white” recruits may already form some 25 percent of the total.

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