European nations unify laws to prevent foreign fighters

The Associated Press: European governments agreed Tuesday to synchronize their laws to bar citizens from going abroad to fight for the Islamic State group and other extremists.

A document signed by foreign ministers from the 47-nation Council of Europe requires countries to outlaw specific actions, including intentionally taking part in terrorist groups, receiving terrorist training or traveling abroad for the purpose of engaging in terrorism.

Analysts say European laws vary, with some countries like France charging people with crimes if they plan to leave to join a violent extremist group, and others, such as in Scandinavia, lacking a legal way to prevent their citizens from becoming foreign fighters.

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Is Marine Le Pen in bed with Putin?

The Daily Beast reports: On May 11, delegates from Europe’s political fringes travelled to Donetsk, the occupied ‘capital’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), for a forum to mark the first anniversary of the proclamation of the Russian-backed separatist entities in Ukraine. This in itself is unsurprising since far-right politicians have been used on several occasions to lend a veneer of legitimacy to Russia’s puppet statelets and sham votes since the invasion of Crimea last year.

The attendance roster for this confab included some familiar pro-Putin faces such as French far-right Member of European Parliament Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, Italian nationalist Alessandro Musolino and German neo-Nazi journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter, who moonlights as Kremlin propaganda channel RT’s German “expert” on the Middle East. But this time there was one surprising name in the bunch: Emmanuel Leroy.

Leroy was billed as representing the French charity, Urgence d’Enfants Ukraine (UEU), led by Alain Fragny, a former member of the extreme-right Bloc Identitaire. UEU is a suspicious organization that promotes pro-Russian and pro-separatist propaganda on its websites and is rather opaque with regards to its structure and operations. Leroy was also named by the official site of the DNR leadership as one of the initiators of the forum back in March this year.

But this infamously reclusive figure on France’s far-right is a far more interesting and important figure than any of the other political outliers to have participated in pro-separatist events.

Leroy is a former member of GRECE (Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne, or the Research and Study Group for European Civilization), an extreme, ethno-nationalist think tank, formed in 1968 and headed by Alain de Benoist, whose name appeared in a leaked list of potentially sympathetic contacts purportedly drafted by the Russian ultra-nationalist, Aleksandr Dugin. GRECE promotes ethnic nationalism as a bulwark against race-mixing, placing great emphasis on pre-Christian Nordic culture, which left the group at odds with the Catholic mainstream of the Front National, France’s increasingly popular far-right party, which last year won two seats in the French senate. [Continue reading…]

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Logging threatens one of Europe’s last virgin forests

Der Spiegel reports: It’s not easy to fight for your cause with pepper spray in your mouth and eyes, but Gabriel Paun tried it anyway in front of the gate of a huge sawmill in the Romanian town of Sebes. On that day last winter, Paun had followed a truck loaded with lumber after the vehicle left the Retezat National Park, located in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains — one of Europe’s most beautiful forested regions — and in the heart of a threatened world.

Paun was wearing a brown vest over a camouflage hoodie. He had a buzzed, military style haircut. Paun, an activist with the Romanian organization Agent Green, followed the truck to the sawmill. He had a suspicion and all he had to do was make one phone call to confirm it.

In Romania there is a hotline to check the origins of lumber transports. The system can use the license plate number to track each truckload of wood. Paun dialed the number and an employee at the Environment Ministry’s wood tracking section picked up the phone. Her answer left no doubt: She said the lumber was “illegal.” Paun followed the truck to the entrance of the sawmill, which belongs to Austria’s Schweighofer Group, and informed security guards working for the company. But instead of taking the wood out of circulation, they put Paun out of commission: first with blows, then with pepper spray, causing Paun to fall to the ground. Everything was captured on shaky video images and uploaded to YouTube.

The film snippet is a hit in Romania, where it has become a symbol for the Romanians’ concern for their forests — and for their powerlessness to stop it from disappearing. At stake here is one of the last virgin forests in Europe. These are regions roamed by brown bears, wolves and lynxes, and many of these areas have remained untouched for centuries. [Continue reading…]

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From hip-hop to jihad, how ISIS became a magnet for converts

The Washington Post reports: She was a redheaded rebel, the singer in the family, a trash-talking, tattooed 21-year-old wrapped up in a hip-hop dream of becoming Holland’s Eminem. Then Betsy found Allah.

After her sudden conversion to Islam last summer, Betsy — a name given by her family to protect her identity — began dressing in full Muslim robes. By January, the once-agnostic Dutch woman, raised in a home where the only sign of religion was a dusty Bible on a shelf, began defending homegrown terrorists. A feud with her father over her apparent radicalization prompted her to leave home — turning up days later, her parents and Dutch authorities now say, in Syria, where she would become the bride of an Islamic State fighter.

She also became part of a growing crisis in Europe, where a surging number of young people from non-Muslim homes are flocking to the Middle East to heed the call of violent jihad. It is happening, terror experts say, as converts emerge as some of the most dangerous and fanatical adherents to radical Islam — a fact driven home this week by Elton Simpson, a 30-year-old American convert who joined one other man in opening fire on a Garland, Tex., contest for cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.

“I don’t blame Islam,” said Betsy’s mother, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her daughter. “I blame the people who made her believe in a radical way of life.”

As the Islamic State’s recruiting efforts have grown, concern in the West has largely centered on Europe’s entrenched Muslim communities — communities that have spawned more than 4,000 mostly young and socially isolated Muslims who have left to join Islamist militants fighting in Syria and Iraq. Once there, the new arrivals can transform into what intelligence officials call the most dangerous kind of radical: one with a Western passport.

Yet the Islamic State’s allure is hardly confined to traditional Muslim homes. In fact, as many as 1 in 6 Europeans joining the self-styled caliphate are converts to Islam from non-Muslim faiths including Christianity, as well as nonreligious backgrounds. In some countries, such as France, the ratio of converts among those leaving is significantly higher: about 1 in 4, according to European intelligence officials and terrorism experts. [Continue reading…]

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European Jews have no intention of fleeing their homelands

Anshel Pfeffer reports: ‘The Cossacks aren’t coming’ – a series of dispatches from Jewish communities across Europe – was born from a feeling that the true story of Jewish life in Europe is not being told.

It is obscured in both Israeli and international media due to a, perhaps understandable, focus on terror attacks and perception of a rising tide of anti-Semitism washing over the continent. The narrative which has emerged in recent years, to an increasing degree since last summer’s conflict in Gaza and in the wake of the Paris killings in January, has been one of fearful and endangered Jews on the brink of tragedy – that can only be averted by mass emigration to safer shores.

Much of the reporting on European Jewry in recent months has been tinged with disbelief: Who are these foolhardy Jews that have failed to learn the lesson of the Holocaust and are once again ignoring the coming storm in this cursed continent?

It fails to take into account that for a million and a half Jews across Europe, this is home. They are part of the social fabric and national identity of the countries where they were born and continue choosing to live their lives. While thousands of communities were wiped out in the Holocaust and many others have since drastically dwindled in numbers, Jews still live openly throughout Europe, both carrying on traditions and creatively innovating new and fascinating Jewish experiences.

Very little of this has been reported, and the complex challenges the Jews do face, are routinely reduced to the simplistic formulations of physical threat from the new Islamization and a resurgence of old anti-Semitism. Most of the coverage has also disregarded how in the wider upheaval occurring now in Europe, the Jews are not victims of change, but also have a key role to play in the continent’s future.

Ten features cannot provide a broad picture of such a wide range of communities, each facing its own particular set of circumstances and carving out a unique place in wider national identities. It is intended to present a series of snapshots, illustrating how the Jews of Europe are not only responding to tragedy and intimidation, but also busy building a future. In addition to my research in five countries, chosen to give a cross-section of regions and Jewish populations of different size and temperament, the insights are informed by my reporting for Haaretz over the last eight years from all the major Jewish communities in Europe and many of the smaller ones as well.
The Jewish cemetary in Krakow. Photo by Moshe Gilad

It is an attempt at a clear-eyed appraisal of the dangers facing Europe’s Jews but also an optimistic view of their future; which is why my journey began down the road from Auschwitz, at the bright and new Jewish Community Center in Krakow. [Continue reading parts 1-10…]

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European gateways to extremism

Lorenzo Vidino writes: Since the early 2000s, countless theories have sought to analyze radicalization processes among Western Muslims. Studies have dissected the many internal and external factors that, operating concurrently, lead some young European, North American and Australian Muslims to join violent groups like al Qaeda or, more recently, the Islamic State. One relatively understudied aspect is the role of extremist but not directly violent Islamist organizations in this process. Particularly over the last few years, in fact, it has become apparent that in most (but not all) Western countries a large and growing percentage of individuals who engaged in violent jihadist activities have been involved in groups like al Muhajiroun or the Sharia4 global movement before making the leap into violence.

These groups are complex and difficult to categorize entities, epitomizing the heterogeneity of Islamism in the West. They adopt unquestionably radical positions, often engaging in highly controversial rhetoric and actions to attract attention and create tension while straddling the line between legally allowed stunts and illegal behaviors. Yet, despite endorsing the worldview and actions of militant jihadist groups, most of their activities tend to be non-violent or, at worst, entail scuffles with police or intimidation of adversaries. At the same time, the cases of individuals that, with varying degrees of intensity, gravitated around these organizations and subsequently engaged in terrorist activities are plentiful. And, in some recent cases, there are indications that the leadership of some of these organizations have transformed from headline-grabbing agitators (dismissed by most as buffoons) into full-fledged jihadists actively involved in combat in Syria and Iraq.

Given these dynamics, it is not surprising that these organizations have often been at the center of heated debates. One argument—an academic one, but with important practical implications–is related to the role they play in the radicalization process. While some scholars and policymakers consider them as “conveyor belts” facilitating and expediting radicalization towards violence, others have challenged this analysis. A related and equally controversial topic of discussion revolves around the necessity, legal feasibility and practical effectiveness of banning these organizations.

This article seeks to explore these and other aspects. It aims to look at the history, ideology and tactics of various organizations (each of which, to be clear, has its own peculiarities) that have operated in various Western European countries over the last twenty years. It then devotes a particular focus to their complex relationship with violence. Finally, it also looks at how European authorities have dealt with these groups over time. [Continue reading…]

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The Night Wolves — Putin’s biker friends — plan to descend on Berlin

night-wolves

The New York Times reports: Several hundred leather-clad motorcyclists from the Night Wolves, a club closely allied with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, plan to roar from Moscow to Berlin this month for the 70th anniversary of the Soviets’ victory over Nazi Germany.

Like the Red Army before them, the Night Wolves will have several countries to cross on the way, including Poland. And given the current tensions over Ukraine and widespread worries that Mr. Putin may have other aggressive designs on his neighbors, the prospect of hundreds of Russian bikers’ roaring across the Polish countryside — not to mention Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria or Germany — is not being greeted with joy in all quarters.

“I wish they would never come here,” said Monika Trzcinska, the mayor of Braniewo, a small Polish town a stone’s throw from the Russian border, which will be the first stop in Poland for some of the riders on April 25.

A Facebook page opposing the event had 11,000 likes by Wednesday afternoon with a logo featuring a Polish eagle with a lit match chasing a flaming wolf. Meanwhile, a petition calling for the motorcycle rally to be banned had attracted 4,000 signatures, and some Polish lawmakers were calling on their government to find some way to block the event.

Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz called the rally a “provocation” in an interview Tuesday on Polish radio, and said it would be up to Polish border guards to decide whether Russian bikers would be allowed into the country.

Some Polish biker groups said they intended to take to the highways to block the Russians, but others were more welcoming. [Continue reading…]

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As many as 6,000 Europeans believed to be fighting with jihadist groups in Syria

AFP reports: The number of Europeans fighting with jihadist groups in Syria could exceed 6,000, a top EU official told a French newspaper Monday.

“At the European level, we estimate that 5,000-6,000 individuals have left for Syria,” EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jouriva told Le Figaro in an interview, adding the true number was likely to be far higher due to the difficulty of tracking foreign fighters in the conflict.

“At the time of the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, we decided not to allow ourselves to be guided by fear,” she said, referring to January’s twin Islamist attacks in the French capital and the subsequent deadly shootings on a cultural centre in Denmark.

Focusing on those seeking to leave for Syria to wage jihad, or those returning from the conflict, meant intervening “too late”, she said.

Jouriva said the EU instead wanted to promote prevention as a means of curtailing the steady flow of European nationals, looking at the diverse reasons of why people joined jihadist groups beyond simply religion.

British research had identified “a desire for adventure, boredom, dissatisfaction with their situation in life or a lack of prospects,” in those who had opted to leave their families behind and head for Syria, the commissioner said. [Continue reading…]

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A Norway town and its pipeline to jihad in Syria

The New York Times reports: The real trouble started when they stopped causing trouble. Torleif Sanchez Hammer and his friends — all residents of the same small cluster of clapboard houses in southern Norway — had been having run-ins with the police for years but then suddenly halted their marijuana-fueled gatherings in the basement apartment of Mr. Hammer’s widowed mother.

Police officers in this placid Norwegian town had busted their marijuana parties so regularly that “we knew them all on a first-name basis,” recalled Ragnar Foss, head of a local police unit responsible for youth crime. But, two years ago, they cleaned up their act. “We wondered what had happened but were glad when they dropped off our radar,” Mr. Foss said.

One by one over the following months, Mr. Hammer and at least seven other young men who lived on or around just one street, Lislebyveien, made their way to Syria to wage jihad alongside the Islamic State and other militant groups.

As Europe tries to fathom such journeys by its young Muslims, politicians and scholars have variously blamed the influence of the Internet and radical mosques, or sources of despair like discrimination and unemployment. [Continue reading…]

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Jews in Europe are not blind fools

Diana Pinto writes: Europeans, especially European Jews, are used to being treated as museum pieces and historical relics by Americans. We are the object of extensive commentary but rarely regarded as possessing any living voice worth engaging with. I recently had the strange experience of listening to myself and other European Jews talked about as if we were already as silent as a Pompeian plaster cast while reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s article “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” in the April issue of The Atlantic and watching his accompanying video chat with James Bennet and Leon Wieseltier. If a plaster cast may be permitted to speak, I would say that Goldberg and his colleagues aren’t describing my reality; the world I come from isn’t already destroyed; and the story of the Jews in Europe isn’t yet ready to be relegated to museums or to antiquarian sites like Pompeii.

The implicit assumption in Goldberg’s piece, and in many articles going back to at least the end of the Cold War in 1989, is that Europe’s Jews, if they had an iota of common sense and dignity, would not be in Europe. [Continue reading…]

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Right-wing groups find a haven, for a day, in Russia

The New York Times reports: A motley crew of representatives of fringe right-wing political organizations in Europe and the United States used a conference here on Sunday to denounce what they called the degradation of white, Christian traditions in the West. Their hosts used the conference to advance Russia’s effort to lure political allies of any stripe.

Railing against same-sex marriage, immigration, New York financiers, radical Islam and globalization, among other targets, one speaker after another lauded Russia and President Vladimir V. Putin as a pillar of robust, conservative, even manly values.

Mr. Putin has for some time sought international influence by casting Russia as the global guardian of traditional mores. Yet the effort has acquired new urgency, as Moscow seeks to undermine support in Europe for economic sanctions and other policies meant to isolate Moscow over its aggressive actions against Ukraine.

“Putin’s calculation is that Europe should change its attitude toward Ukraine, and it can easily happen when and if internal European problems outweigh Ukrainian events,” said Nikolai Petrov, a political scientist in Moscow.

“They can make friends with everybody who poses a threat to the ruling parties, including radical forces,” he said. “If the radical nationalists are increasing their weight in Europe, they can serve as good allies for the Kremlin.” [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s jihadis in search of identity

Kenan Malik writes: What is striking about the stories of wannabe jihadis is their diversity. There is no “typical” recruit, no single path to jihadism.

Sahra Ali Mehenni is a schoolgirl from a middle-class family in the south of France. Her father, an industrial chemist, is a non-practising Muslim, her mother an atheist. “I never heard her talk about Syria, jihad,” said her mother. One day last March, to the shock of her family, she took not her usual train to school but a flight from Marseilles to Istanbul to join Isis. When she finally phoned home it was to say: “I’ve married Farid, a fighter from Tunisia.”

Kreshnik Berisha, a German born of Kosovan parents, played as a teenager for Makkabi Frankfurt, a Jewish football club and one of Germany’s top amateur teams. He went on to study engineering and in July 2013, boarded a bus to Istanbul and then to Syria. “I didn’t believe it,” said Alon Meyer, Makkabi Frankfurt’s coach. “This was a guy who used to play with Jewish players every week. He was comfortable there and he seemed happy.” Berisha later returned home to become the first German homegrown jihadi to face trial.

There are hundreds of stories such as these, from all over Europe. What they tell us is that, shocking though it may seem, there is nothing unusual in the story of the runaway Tower Hamlets schoolgirls. And that what Emwazi has in common with other European recruits is not so much his harassment as his college education.

The usual clichés about jihadis – that they are poor, uneducated, badly integrated – are rarely true. A survey of British jihadis by researchers at London’s Queen Mary College found no link to “social inequalities or poor education”; most were highly educated young people from comfortable families who spoke English at home. According to Le Monde, a quarter of French jihadis in Syria are from non-Muslim backgrounds.

What draws most wannabe jihadis to Syria is, to begin with, neither politics nor religion. It is a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for “belongingness”, for respect. Insofar as they are alienated, it is not because wannabe jihadis are poorly integrated, in the conventional way we think of integration. Theirs is a much more existential form of alienation.

There is, of course, nothing new in the youthful search for identity and meaning. What is different today is the social context in which this search takes place. We live in a more atomised society than in the past; an age in which many people feel peculiarly disengaged from mainstream social institutions and in which moral lines often seem blurred and identities distorted.

In the past, social disaffection may have led people to join movements for political change, from far-left groups to anti-racist campaigns. Today, such organisations often seem equally out of touch. What gives shape to contemporary disaffection is not progressive politics but the politics of identity.

Identity politics has, over the last three decades, encouraged people to define themselves in increasingly narrow ethnic or cultural terms. A generation ago, “radicalised” Muslims would probably have been far more secular in their outlook and their radicalism would have expressed itself through political organisations. Today, they see themselves as Muslim in an almost tribal sense, and give vent to their disaffection through a stark vision of Islam. [Continue reading…]

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Danish chief rabbi responds to Netanyahu: Terror is not a reason to move to Israel

Haaretz: Denmark’s chief rabbi on Sunday said he was “disappointed” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call on European Jews to immigrate to Israel, following the double shootings in Copenhagen a day earlier, including one on a synagogue that left a young Jewish guard dead.

“Terror is not a reason to move to Israel,” said Rabbi Jair Melchior.

Netanyahu issued his call for immigration hours after the attack, telling ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem: “Jews were killed on European land just because they were Jewish. This wave of attacks will continue. I say to the Jews of Europe – Israel is your home.”

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The anti-Islamic far-right is spreading in Europe — and going mainstream

Kabir Chibber: In recent months, a street movement called Pegida — Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident — has emerged from nowhere in Germany, seeking to “protect Judeo-Christian culture” and halt to what it calls the spread of Islam. Though it denies being xenophobic or racist, its leader quit after being pictured dressed as Hitler. Pegida’s rallies have attracted tens of thousands of people in Germany.

And now the group is spreading abroad. Pegida held its first march in Vienna and is to hold its first British rally in the city of Newcastle on Feb. 28, with more planned in the UK. Britain already has anti-Islamic groups such as the English Defence League, a small but vocal force. Only this weekend, the EDL attracted as many as 1,000 people to a march against the building of a mosque.

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Auschwitz remembered

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The Holocaust’s forgotten victims: The 5 million non-Jewish people killed by the Nazis

The Huffington Post reports: Six million Jewish people were murdered during the genocide in Europe in the years leading up to 1945, and the Jews are rightly remembered as the group that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party most savagely persecuted during the Holocaust.

But the Nazis targeted many other groups: for their race, beliefs or what they did.

Historians estimate the total number of deaths to be 11 million, with the victims encompassing gay people, priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters. [Continue reading…]

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Don’t restart Europe’s wars of religion

Pankaj Mishra writes: On Jan. 7, the day jihadists attacked the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in France, I was in a small village in Anatolia, Turkey. I had barely registered the horrifying news when a friend forwarded me a tweet from New York Times columnist Roger Cohen. “The entire free world,” it read, “should respond, ruthlessly.”

For a few seconds I was pulled back into the Cold War when Turkey, a NATO member, was technically part of the “free world.” Even back then the category was porous: Ronald Reagan included in it the jihadists fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

The words seem more anachronistic a quarter century later. Our complex and often bewildering political landscape is only superficially similar to the world we knew then. Devout Anatolian masses rising from poverty have transformed Turkey politically and economically. I did not dare show Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons to the local villagers who pass my house several times every day en route to the mosque next door, let alone argue that the magazine had the right to publish them.

There is no disagreement, except from fanatics, about the viciousness of the murderers, and the need to bring their associates to justice. But the aftermath of the attacks revealed strikingly different ways of looking at the broader issues around them: Our views on free speech, secularism, and the nature of religious hurt turn out to be shaped by particular historical and socioeconomic circumstances. [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s ‘Minority Report’ raids on future terrorists

Christopher Dickey reports: In a stunning wave of arrests, the security forces of France, Belgium, and Germany are rounding up suspected jihadis all over the map, especially those who have returned from the Syrian and Iraqi war zones.

In one case, in the small Belgian town of Verviers near the German border, two alleged jihadis were shot dead and one was wounded in a Thursday night firefight.

A spokesperson for the Belgian prosecutor’s office, Eric van der Sypt, said Friday that the Verviers suspects were believed to be on the verge of launching an attack. Four Kalashnikov automatic rifles were found in their possession along with bomb-making materials. Tellingly, they also had police uniforms. Phone taps of conversations among the suspects reportedly indicated the assault was only hours away.

“They had the intention to kill police, targeting them in the streets and at their offices,” van der Sypt said in Brussels on Friday. “We had been following the cell for a while but decided to intervene because the threat seemed imminent.”

He said this was a strictly Belgian cell, but all of this is taking place in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris last week, when known jihadis who had been under surveillance in the past somehow slipped the attention of law enforcement, acquired weapons of war (reportedly in Belgium), and launched a killing spree that took the lives of 17 victims, including journalists at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, police, and Jewish shoppers at a kosher grocery.

What is clear is that the authorities in Europe now believe it is too dangerous to let potential terrorists who have fought and trained abroad continue to roam the streets. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, in the aftermath of last week’s attacks, said flatly that his nation is in a state of war. [Continue reading…]

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