The rise of a new generation of Islamic terrorism in Europe
SOON after British police arrested 23 people suspected of plotting to blow up as many as 10 transAtlantic flights, police in Germany and Lebanon last month arrested two Lebanese students, Jihad Hamad and Youssef el Hajdid.
The two young men had allegedly placed suitcases containing homemade bombs on crowded trains at Cologne station. Ordinary electric alarm clocks were primed to detonate the devices. But for a mistake in the bombers' preparation - they chose the wrong gas - police say it would have been the most deadly terrorist attack in German history.
The arrests triggered a sequence of events now familiar across Europe. The security services said they appeared to be acting alone, with no links to known terrorist networks. The bomb-making instructions police said they found on one of the men's computers had been downloaded from the internet.
Meanwhile, German students who knew el Hajdid at his university near Hamburg said he was religious but quiet, "a normal guy". Hamad's parents in Lebanon seemed stunned. His father said he would kill himself if his son turned out to be a terrorist. "He cannot possibly be an extremist," his sobbing mother told the magazine Der Spiegel.
Five years since the September 11 attacks the shape of the new global extremism has emerged across Europe. They are almost always young men, often students. They plan in small groups and, until they act, are often invisible to security services. Not even their parents, let alone the Muslim communities from which they come, seem to know about their radicalisation.
Critically - and here the two alleged Lebanese terrorists do not fit the picture - many extremists are born among Europe's 15 million Muslims. Disconnected from the traditional Islam of their law-abiding immigrant parents, they rarely go to established mosques, but are recruited in clubs or gyms or by "heretic preachers", as Lord Carlile, Britain's independent reviewer of counter-terrorism laws, calls them.
They are especially influenced by the internet and its torrent of conspiracy theories about the West's war on Islam. Whereas the 19 men who hijacked four aircraft on September 11 were foreigners with direct links to Osama bin Laden, Europe's home-grown militants have turned al-Qaeda from an organisation into an idea.
How many of them exist? Perhaps very few. Yet with the destructiveness of the technology they can use, their ability to slip under the radar and the vulnerability of an open society, the threat they represent has transformed Europe.
From the collapse of the twin towers, the dominoes fell across the Atlantic. First came the Iraq war, creating still unresolved bitterness between the US and Britain on one hand and France and Germany on the other, and destroying the dream that Europe could be a world power by speaking with one voice.
Then the Madrid and London bombings, the murder by a Muslim extremist of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, the cartoon wars and a string of alleged terrorist plots all added to rising alarm. "One consequence of 9/11 is the main issue in Europe in the past five years has become European Muslims," says the French political scientist Olivier Roy, the author of the influential 2004 book Globalised Islam.
While Roy believes September 11 was less of a turning point in European opinion than the Iraq war, the 2001 events exposed the crisis of European models of integration. Britain is rethinking multiculturalism. Its live-and-let-live approach, widely applauded for years, is now seen as having produced areas of virtual segregation, especially among Pakistani communities in England's north.
Last month, the British Government launched a Commission on Integration and Cohesion. The commission would seek ways to "reduce ethnic tensions" and "separateness" said the Communities Secretary, Ruth Kelly. It was a frank admission that the era of unchallenged multiculturalism was over.
Last year's riots battered France's assimilationist ideal: that newcomers, in return for shedding their differences and becoming French, can win the rights of other citizens. But the transformation may have been greatest in the Netherlands. Before September 11, the populist politician Pim Fortuyn raged against "the Islamisation of Dutch society and everybody laughed", says Paul Scheffer, a Dutch writer on multiculturalism.
Fortuyn's star soared after the attacks, as the fact the Netherlands had a million Muslims in a population of 16 million became a huge issue. He might have been elected prime minister had he not been killed, by an animal rights activist, in May 2002.
A new conservative government slashed immigration to virtually zero, expelled asylum seekers and introduced programs to teach migrants how to be Dutch. In a short time, policy towards immigrants moved from being the most generous in Europe to one of the harshest. Scheffer says: "It is difficult to see how all the changes to Dutch society could have happened without September 11."
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