(06 June 2005) When the jihadists return -- One year after the Madrid bombings, little has improved in the European Union in terms of practical cooperation in combating terrorism. EU governments are reluctant to share sensitive intelligence and recently decided to restrict the role of Eurojust, the judicial cooperation agency, in the fight against terrorism.
This failure by the EU to coordinate investigations into terrorist crimes is ominous, since the global jihadist movement - including its most prominent component, Al Qaeda - is demonstrably active throughout Europe. The Sept. 11 attacks were planned in Hamburg. After the train bombs in Madrid that killed nearly 200 people, strings of terrorist cells were unraveled from Spain to Scandinavia.
One such organization is Ansar al-Islam, responsible for hundreds of attacks against civilians in Iraq. Ansar al-Islam helped Abu Musab al-Zarqawi establish an underground railroad, for bringing radicals to Iraq through Europe, Turkey and Syria. Even peaceful Scandinavia, hardly a primary target for international terrorist attacks, has been used as a staging ground for political violence. The Nordic countries have individually sought to grapple with terrorist activists residing within their borders, with varying degrees of success.
In May, a Stockholm court sentenced two Ansar members to prison sentences of six and seven years for preparing terrorist crimes. The prosecutor maintained that they were active participants in the Ansar al-Islam network and guilty of sending $148,000 to fund an attack that killed more than 100 people in Erbil in northern Iraq. The court also decided to expel them for life after their terms.
Ansar's founder, Mullah Krekar, has lived for years as a refugee in Norway, where he has been charged with several terrorism-related crimes but subsequently acquitted.
The radical fundamentalist organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, banned as a terrorist group in Germany, has sunk roots in Denmark, where it reportedly recruits among young immigrant teens and distributes violent anti-Semitic leaflets.
In Sweden, the global terrorist threat and the discovery of radical Islamic organizations have prompted the largest overhaul of civil-military relations since the 1930s. Remarkably, the Swedish military would at present not be allowed by law to respond to terrorist attackers, while the police simply lack adequate resources to withstand a large attack.
This curious state of affairs - a total ban on the military's use of force in the domestic arena - dates from 1931, when soldiers shot and killed five political protesters in Adalen, a town in northern Sweden. The deaths had a powerful impact on the national consciousness; so powerful, in fact, that modern Sweden was left without a credible defense against terrorist attacks. This is bound to change: Sweden's defense minister declared in January that the military will have a role to play in fighting terrorism, without specifying under what circumstances.
Looking ahead, we need to consider what will happen when jihadist fighters return to Europe from Iraq. The U.S. State Department has warned that foreign fighters are transforming the insurgency in Iraq into a training ground and an indoctrination center for jihadists from around the world. In the months and years ahead, a large number of young men who went to Iraq as volunteers could return to Europe as full-fledged guerilla fighters with experience in urban terrorist operations.
Counterterrorism authorities across Europe have started to note an increase in both the number of recruits, as well as in the number of people returning home to develop networks and patiently plan for attacks, according to Magnus Norell of the Swedish defense research agency. Only time will tell if individual European governments and the EU have done enough to ward off the blight of international terrorism within Europe's borders.
Cecilia Wikstrom -- International Herald Tribune
Cecilia Wikstrom is a Swedish member of Parliament and the Swedish Liberal Party's spokeswoman on Middle East affairs.