The demographics of Islamic terrorism in Europe
European authorities said the trait patterns of those arrested on terrorism charges are constantly shifting. In the Netherlands, officials said they are seeing an increase in the number of young teenagers and people of Turkish descent, two groups that used to be low on their radar. Among the key players in the Hofstad group, a cell of Islamic radicals that targeted Dutch politicians and cultural figures, was Jason Walters, the teenage son of a U.S. soldier.
In neighboring Belgium, people are still perplexed over what drove Muriel Degauque, 38, a blond, white Catholic, to convert to Islam and travel to Iraq to blow herself up in November 2005. Nizar Trabelsi, convicted two years earlier of plotting to bomb a NATO base in Belgium, had been a European soccer star before going to Afghanistan to attend al-Qaeda training camps.
In Britain, three of the suspects arrested in last summer's alleged transatlantic airline hijacking plot were religious converts who grew up in north London's affluent suburbs. One was the well-to-do English son of a Conservative Party activist; he worked in a bar and loved the movie "Team America."
A recently completed Dutch study of 242 Islamic radicals convicted or accused of planning terrorist attacks in Europe from 2001 to 2006 found that most were men of Arab descent who had been born and raised in Europe and came from lower or middle-class backgrounds. They ranged in age from 16 to 59 at the time of their arrests; the average was 27. About one in four had a criminal record.
The author of the study, Edwin Bakker, a researcher at the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, tried to examine almost 20 variables concerning the suspects' social and economic backgrounds. In general, he determined that no reliable profile existed -- their traits were merely an accurate reflection of the overall Muslim immigrant population in Europe. "There is no standard jihadi terrorist in Europe," the study concluded.
In an interview, Bakker said that many local police agencies have been slow to abandon profiling, but that most European intelligence agencies have concluded it is an unreliable tool for spotting potential terrorists. "How can you single them out? You can't," he said. "For the secret services, it doesn't give them a clue. We should focus more on suspicious behavior and not profiling."
Bakker and other analysts said more attention should be devoted to understanding the personal experiences that motivate people to become radicals. For example, Dutch researchers said they suspect one reason why more young women are becoming involved in radical networks in the Netherlands is that they come under the influence of "Moroccan lover boys." Authorities use the phrase to describe charismatic Romeos who manipulate emotionally needy women into committing criminal acts. "These are really down-to-earth things that we should not underestimate," Bakker said.
Indeed, there are clear signs that al-Qaeda cells and affiliates are intentionally recruiting supporters from nontraditional backgrounds as a way to avoid detection, according to European intelligence officials and analysts.
In London, eight male al-Qaeda suspects are currently on trial for an alleged plot to blow up unspecified targets in Britain with bombs made of ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient in fertilizers. According to testimony at the trial, which began in March 2006, the defendants persuaded a Canadian woman, whom they had met on the Internet, to wire money on their behalf because she was less likely to attract suspicion.
Zenab Armend Pisheh, a student at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., said a member of the cell asked her to wire more than $5,000 so the defendants could go to Pakistan in 2003 to attend an al-Qaeda training camp. "He said it had to be a woman because sisters don't get caught -- brothers get caught if they send money," Pisheh said in a statement to British investigators.
According to trial testimony last fall, Pisheh met one of the defendants, Anthony Garcia, of east London, in an Internet chat room and quickly fell in love; they became engaged without ever meeting face to face. He introduced her to other accused conspirators, including the man who asked her to wire the cash.
Garcia is of Algerian descent, but testified in September that he legally changed his name from Rahman Adam to further his ambitions as a fashion model and because the Latin-sounding name "had a better ring to it." British investigators, however, believe he was trying to conceal his Muslim and Arab background from police.
John Horgan, a senior research fellow at the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said terrorist groups are constantly trying to catch law enforcement officials off guard.
"One guiding principle for terrorist groups is to always maintain the psychological edge and the upper hand by doing things that are surprising to the enemy," he said. "So you'll see the use of a child, the use of a woman."
What is the one thing that all Islamic terrorists have in common? ISLAM! The sooner Europeans come to grips with the reality that ANY Muslim can be a potential terrorist the better.
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