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Study shows that Islamic State terror cells in Europe are led by former al-Qaida terrorists

A recent study conducted by the Henry Jackson Society shows that the former Al-Qaida terrorists are training Islamic State cells in europe

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ISIS. Wikimedia Commons
  • Henry Jackson Society, a London-based research institution, looked at the al-Qaida-linked terror networks in Europe and compared them to current networks linked to Islamic State
  • Many of the elder members of former al-Qaida networks had traveled to fight in Afghanistan the previous decade, and passed on their knowledge
  • Former al-Qaida operatives also passed on expertise in how to evade detection on their return to Europe

There are direct links between the al-Qaida terror networks of the last decade, and the Islamic State-linked terror cells in Europe that have carried out a series of attacks in recent months, according to a new report.

The study by the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based research institution, looked at the al-Qaida-linked terror networks in Europe in the early 2000s, around the time of the NATO-led invasion of Afghanistan, and the current networks linked to Islamic State that were responsible for the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels. Time and again, the same names appeared.

‘Training and grooming’

“The recidivism of those individuals who had originally been convicted of al-Qaida activism, almost training and grooming those individuals who would go on to be involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks,” said Rupert Sutton, co-author of the report.

Those individuals included Abdelhamid Abaaoud, chief coordinator of the Paris attacks in November 2015, and Najeem Laachraoui, one of the network’s chief bomb makers, who detonated a suicide bomb at Brussels airport in March.

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“They were connected to a number of individuals with previous convictions for al-Qaida activity, and to a cleric called Khalid Zerkani, who acted almost as a father figure to a number of these individuals. He was actually known as ‘Papa Noel’ [Father Christmas] because he used the proceeds of his petty crime to shower them with gifts and look after them at the same time as radicalizing them,” Sutton said.

Many of the elder members of former al-Qaida networks had traveled to fight in Afghanistan the previous decade, and passed on their knowledge to embryonic terror cells in Europe as the Syrian civil war became a rallying call for jihadist fighters.

“Providing them with expertise on bomb-making or network formation, but also providing them with advice on perhaps how to travel to a conflict zone to gain training, how to gain combat experience and how to use those conflict zones as areas in which you can formulate your own ideas and formulate your own attacks,” Sutton said.

Combat experience

He added combat experience appears key, as the most serious Islamic State-linked terror plots in Europe have been planned by European citizens returning from the Syrian frontline, however, those individuals are often beneath intelligence radars.

“Often these individuals perhaps haven’t come into contact with the authorities in the past. So whilst there are direct connections between the two networks, the individuals that are recruited by those veterans perhaps have only come into contact with the police through a record of petty crime,” he said.

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Sutton said former al-Qaida operatives also passed on expertise in how to evade detection on their return to Europe. “Perhaps one of the most worrying factors is that a number of these individuals were stopped by police on their returns, showed fake identities and gave fake names, and were able to continue on their journey.”

The report’s authors say the links show the need to improve efforts to challenge radicalization in prisons and develop better ways of preventing offenders from being drawn into terrorism. (VOA)

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Islamic State Using Women, Children as Human Shields to Postpone Defeat

In the meantime, U.S. officials have been talking with other members of the coalition about increasing their help as U.S. troops prepare to leave.

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Islamic State
FILE - U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters sit atop a hill in the desert outside the village of Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

Fighters and families with the Islamic State terror group are clinging to one last sliver of land next to the Euphrates River in Syria, using women, children and possible hostages as human shields in an effort to postpone defeat.

Human rights observers and officials with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces say IS followers have been pushed out of the eastern Syrian village of Baghuz and taken refuge in what they describe as a collection of tents. Various officials have described the size of the camps as covering less than one square kilometer.

But efforts by the SDF to deal a final defeat to the terror group’s self-declared caliphate have been slowed due to the presence of the civilians, and efforts to negotiate a surrender have also gone nowhere.

Islamic State, Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House, Feb. 15, 2019. VOA

Speaking at the White House on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that’ll be announced over the next 24 hours and many other things.”

In Munich, the top U.S. defense official offered a cautious assessment.

“We have eliminated the group’s hold on over 99 percent of the territory it once claimed as part of its so-called caliphate,” acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said during a Friday news conference with his German counterpart at the Munich Security Conference.

“We have ensured ISIS no longer holds the innocent people of Syria or Iraq in their murderous, iron fist,” he said, using an acronym for the terror group. “We have destroyed its ability to mass forces, and we have eliminated most of its leadership and significantly diminished its resources.”

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FILE – Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan holds a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

‘Despicable and ghastly acts’

Coalition officials Thursday described SDF efforts in and around Baghuz as “clearance operations,” warning that IS fighters had become so desperate that they were shooting at their wives and children as they sought to flee.

“These utterly despicable and ghastly acts further illustrate their barbaric nature and desperation,” Operation Inherent Resolve Deputy Commander, British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, said in a statement.

“The end of the physical caliphate is at hand,” he added.

Some IS followers appear to have given up.

Monitors with the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said about 240 IS fighters surrendered this past week. The U.S.-led coalition and an SDF commander contacted by VOA could not confirm the claim.

They said the SDF also evacuated about 700 people, mostly women and children, from the terror group’s refuge outside Baghuz on Thursday, taking them by cars and trucks to secured areas away from the front.

Islamic State, Syria
FILE – Women and children fleeing from the last Islamic State group’s tiny pocket in Syria sit in the back of a truck near Baghuz, eastern Syria, Feb. 11, 2019. VOA

The SDF itself says over the past several weeks, tens of thousands of civilians have fled from IS.

But they say about 300 hardened IS fighters, many of them foreign, still remain, willing to fight to the death. And some SDF commanders say more civilians are being brought to the tent city, apparently from underground tunnels.

Observers late Thursday reported a resumption of shelling by the SDF and coalition forces, saying it appeared to be another attempt to convince the remaining IS holdouts to give up.

IS threat to remain

Still, even once the last pocket of IS-held territory is taken, U.S. and coalition officials warn the fight will not be over.

Top U.S. military officials have warned the terror group still has 20,000 to 30,000 followers, including fighters, spread across Syria and Iraq. And they worry about the ability of their Syrian partners, in particular, to keep IS in check once U.S. troops withdraw under plans announced by Trump.

The commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East, Central Command Commander Gen. Joseph Votel, told CNN on Friday he disagreed with Trump’s decision to call for U.S. forces to leave.

 

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FILE – U.S. Gen. Joseph Votel, top U.S. commander in the Middle East, speaks to reporters during an unannounced visit to a military outpost in southern Syria, Oct. 22, 2018. VOA

“It would not have been my military advice at that particular time. … I would not have made that suggestion, frankly,” he said. “[The caliphate] still has leaders, still has fighters, it still has facilitators, it still has resources, so our continued military pressure is necessary to continue to go after that network.”

In the meantime, U.S. officials have been talking with other members of the coalition about increasing their help as U.S. troops prepare to leave. But so far, other coalition members, many of whom have no troops on the ground in Syria, have been unwilling to make any specific commitments.

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“I think there’s a tremendous desire to have a security arrangement or mechanism that doesn’t result in a security vacuum. What that is … is still being developed,” a senior defense official said Friday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

“We’ve been pretty clear that this is going to be a deliberate withdrawal,” the official added. “There’s a timeline associated with that that’s conditions-based. We’ve said publicly on a number of occasions that it will be here in months, not weeks and not years.” (VOA)