Western Agencies Grope in the Dark without Databases or Technology

At their June 5 meeting in Luxembourg, European Union interior ministers picked up the hot potato of the thousands of their young men who volunteer to fight in Syria with Islamist militias – and return home fired up for jihad.
New statistics assign Paris the dubious distinction of being the “terror capital of Europe,” the target of 63 of the 152 terrorist attacks launched on the continent in the course of 2013.
The ministers were advised to focus their discussions on a paper drawn up by EU Counter Terrorism Coordinator Gilles De Kerchove, which covers work on nationals returning from foreign Islamist battlefields and advances constructive proposals for dealing with the threat, including preventive measures.
DEBKA Weekly's counterterrorism sources say the cautious bureaucratic language used to discuss the issue could not gloss over the striking imbalance between the terrorists freedom to operate in Europe with impunity and the governments, counterterrorism and intelligence agencies which lag way behind them in the skills and tools of pre-emption.
According to authoritative estimates, 11,000-12,000 of the 60,000 fighters fighting in Syria for Al Qaeda’s Syrian and Iraqi branches are Muslims from non-Arab countries. Jabhat al Nusra (Al Qaeda in Syria) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) draw the largest number of European Islamist fighters of any other militias of this ilk.

No dossiers, watch lists or databases

More than half of this number (some 5-6,000) – from US, Canada, Russia, China, France, Britain, Holland, Germany, Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia – do not figure on any files or watch lists of Western intelligence agencies. Neither do they appear on any terrorist databases.
It must therefore be presumed that hundreds of Islamists, highly trained for combat on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, are on the loose in North America and Europe. They may not strike any time soon, but the possibility of an unknown number being ticking bombs primed for violence against major US and European cities cannot be overlooked.
In grappling with the shadowy menace of native European jihadis, counterterrorism organizations face six major hurdles:
1. Al Qaeda’s recruitment levels are at their highest since the mid-1990s, and thousands of new foot soldiers are crisscrossing the globe under the radar screens of every intelligence agency. Al Qaeda and other extreme Islamist organizations have managed to create a global strategic reserve that is in constant motion, ready to move at a moment’s notice.
2. By staying constantly on the move, they are able to throw intelligence and counterterrorism trackers agencies – and their targets – off the scent. A terrorist may board a plane in Paris, fly to Turkey, travel on to Kuala Lampur and then head to Amsterdam without committing an attack – just to dodge a tail. These terrorists may not know their own routes in advance, receiving their destination, tickets, and sometimes money and identification documents from incognito operatives.
3. A further complicating factor is that no single hand appears to be moving the chess pieces on the board, or controlling their migration patterns.
Whether or not the Islamist movement has a true controlling master is unclear. The best counterterrorism agencies can do is to pick up the recruiting agents that haunt mosques and Muslim community centers and enlist fervent young men to fight in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Young Caucasians don’t raise airport security flags

Often, the recruiters don’t know for whom they are working. They say they are signing up volunteers for Muslim aid, medical and educational societies with international bases. The funding for this enlistment drive comes from Saudi sources and wealthy Gulf families.
4. Just two weeks ago, we uncovered established jihadist routes through Sweden, Turkey and Morocco. (DEBKA Weekly. 636 of May 23, “New US Database for Foreign Islamists in Syria: Al Qaeda Flummoxes Belated Western Efforts to Track Jihadis Entering and Exiting Syria.”)
These pathways have already changed. Fighters are now directed to Holland, Belgium, and Iraqi Kurdistan. While we can’t confirm the rationale behind the frequent route changes, we believe that it is easier to move around and obtain forged passports in quantity in those places.
5. A new generation of Islamists, dubbed by intelligence agencies the “blond Muslims,” is proving especially exasperating. The young (sometimes aged only 16) children or grandchildren of American and European converts to Islam are chomping at the bit to fight in Syria, Iraq, or Yemen, and later come back to attack the West.
Young Caucasian men with genuine European passports and nondescript names pass easily from country to country without raising airport security flags or arousing the interest of intelligence bodies.

Some jihadis are self-driven, others moved by mystery controller

In the past few weeks, Holland, Belgium and France have tried and failed to build an up-to-date list of suspects with links to terrorist organizations, DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources report. Intelligence experts were unable to create any sort of database, which would have separated Muslim and non-Muslim persons of interest.
European and North African interior ministers who met recently in Brussels were given this disappointing news.
6. Intelligence agencies have strained all their resources to try and nail the brain or authority manipulating the new generation of jihadis. They have concluded that the neo-al Qaeda movement has no single controller and its individual devotees may to some extent be self-driven.
Radicalized individuals eager to sacrifice themselves in the name of jihad may undertake the entire operation from first to last – pick a target, perform reconnaissance, obtain weapons, map escape routes and find safe houses.
French intelligence assigned this pattern of conduct to 24-year-old Mohamed Merah, who in March 2012 shot dead three French soldiers and four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse before French police shot him dead.

Technology and tools urgently needed to prevent next attack

But the vast terrorist networks causing European intelligence agencies sleepless nights also confound French investigators: Merah made more than 1,800 calls to 180 contacts in 20 countries before committing his crimes. He made most calls on disposable mobile phones that were later destroyed.
This week, the French and Belgian investigators looking into the May 24 attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, which left four people dead, faced similar obstacles when interrogating their suspect, 29-year-old Mehdi Nenmouche from northern France.
They know he was active in radical Islamist circles and likely fought in Syria in 2013. He was caught with guns and a video camera containing an audio clip, in which he claims responsibility for the attack. But he himself refuses to say a word. His lawyers say he stole the murder weapon from a parked car in Brussels.
Until a database is created that can identify the thousands of terrorists, along with software to pin down their shifting identities and track their travel patterns, DEBKA Weekly’s sources say there is no way to stave off future catastrophes in the US or Europe.

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