The European Commission is worried about the spread of radicalism among Muslims in Europe. Recent intelligence reports in Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands have frightened political authorities.
Last Sunday, The Sunday Times referred to a confidential British government report which states that al-Qaeda is secretly recruiting terrorists among the Muslims at universities in Britain. The report says “extremist recruiters” are especially targeting people with engineering and IT degrees. The report also says that the number of British Muslims actively engaged in terrorist activity is “estimated at less than 1%.” The Sunday Times pointed out that this amounts to some 16,000 potential terrorists and supporters out of a Muslim population of almost 1.6m.
Yesterday, however, The Financial Times wrote that “security sources strongly dispute suggestions that as many as 10,000 to 15,000 of the 2 million Muslims living in the UK are supporters of al-Qaeda.” According to the intelligence services only about 300 British nationals have gone through al-Qaeda camps and are under surveillance, and perhaps 30 unidentified people, either UK nationals or recent arrivals from abroad, are involved in terrorist activities.
In Belgium, Het Laatste Nieuws wrote yesterday that there are about 20,000 muslim fundamentalists in the country. Of this group 600 are considered “dangerous” because they might engage in terrorist activities. Many of them are said to be young people, including minors, who have actively been recruited by al-Qaeda.
The French secret services, the Direction Centrale des Renseignements Généraux (DCRG), also worry about the number of converts to radical Islam. Piotr Smolar reports in today’s Le Monde that the total number of French converts to fundamentalist Islam is unknown. Last June, however, the DCRG presented a report to Nicolas Sarkozy, the Interior Minister, about 1,610 recent converts who had drawn the attention of the secret services through their radicalism. Their average age is 32 and they are overwhelmingly male (83%). They are mostly found in the urban areas of France, but there are notably fewer of them in the east of the country. The Muslim immigrants in the east are mostly Turkish, while in the rest of France they are mostly North African. It would seem that Turks are not as easily influenced by the proselitism of Islamic fundamentalists or the recruiting methods of al-Qaeda.
According to the DCRG report, most of the French converts to radical Islam are lower class youngsters who are born and bred in France and have one or two North African parents. Many have no employment, but those who do often work “in the security sector or at airports in highly sensitive areas.” (!) A number of the converts are small businessmen. The report says that 13% of them “converted for socio-economic reasons, i.e. out of opportunism,” thereby indicating “the emergence of the [radical] Muslim community as an important group of consumers.” It is extremely worrying that the French army is also affected by the phenomenon of radical Islamic converts. The DCRG states that 3.5% of the military, including high-ranking officers, have converted, mostly upon marrying or while on assignment abroad.
The Dutch secret service Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst (AIVD) has also noted the growing number of young Muslims who, though born in the Netherlands, feel attracted to radical Islam. According to the AIVD, it are not the poor and unemployed who are most easily recruited for al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups but “intelligent teenagers with a bright future.” They are seeking their own identity and rebel against their parents whom they accuse of being too accommodating to Western values and customs.
The AIVD does not know how many possible al-Qaeda recruits there are in The Netherlands. It fears, however, that there might be “many thousands.” According to the AIVD, al-Qaeda does not necessarily need recruiters because youngsters are also prone to “self-radicalisation:” they surf the internet where they find propaganda calling for Jihad. “These young people infect each other, without the involvement of any Muslim authority or cleric.”