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Iraq: Britain Seen As Important Link In Iraqi Jihadist Networks

  • Jan Jun

Terrorism experts say Britain appears to be an important link in an international network that is recruiting suicide bombers and jihadists for Iraq. They say the network has links via Damascus to the Iraqi border.

London, 30 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The problem was brought into focus after British police questioned a man detained in the northern city of Manchester recently. The man allegedly provided shelter to 41-year-old Idris Bazis, a French-Algerian who died as a suicide bomber in Iraq in February.

Bazis came to Britain from France one year ago and was allegedly smuggled through Syria to the Iraqi border province of Anbar.

"The security services in a number of different European countries know individuals that may have traveled out. They have disappeared. They have received information they're crossing into specific countries that are launch pads into Iraq," says Magnus Ranstorp, director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "Also, we have investigations from Iraq of individuals, and we can trace back those individuals. They have a sort of potential network in individual countries."

London police have also arrested another man, 32-year-old Racid Belkacem. He is wanted by the Netherlands on charges of terrorist recruitment, possession of firearms, and forgery.

Amer Haykel, a Briton of Lebanese origin, was arrested in Mexico. He is thought to have links to Al-Qaeda and those who plotted the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States.

Ranstorp says the terrorist recruitment process is of great concern to the European Union. He says the bloc is working to prevent the next generation from "joining up to radical jihadist ideology."

"I think that Britain has expended a lot of energy in this area," Ranstorp says. "They are particularly working hard on the issue of terrorism finance. And I think this has been very successful in unearthing a number of different networks that have been engaged in the more logistical area or providing the building blocks for terrorism."

But David Carlton, a senior lecturer in international relations and a specialist in terrorism at the University of Warwick in Britain, takes a more critical view.

"There are considerable numbers of people who regard Britain as a relatively safe place in which to operate," Carlton says. "The French security services are very critical of the British. They speak of Britain as the kind of safe haven for people from North Africa who would not be allowed to move around freely in France."
"There are considerable numbers of people who regard Britain as a relatively safe place in which to operate. The French security services are very critical of the British. They speak of Britain as the kind of safe haven for people from North Africa who would not be allowed to move around freely in France."


Ranstorp points out, however, that several individuals holding French passports have been identified within the insurgent network in Iraq. He also points to Britain's Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, which he says is performing "excellent" coordination among different agencies. The task, however, is not easy.

"I think it's very difficult for them. They're expending resources on all sorts of other different threats that are in the vicinity, not just individuals going to Iraq," Ranstorp says. "They have to worry about elements that may pose a real and present danger to British security."

Also, no one knows exactly how many extremists there are. Ranstorp says their numbers, although small, can only be approximated.

"We should also remember that the European dimension is very, very small in comparison to the real bulk of all the foreign jihadists," Ranstorp says. "And most of them come from Saudi Arabia, and also from the Arabian peninsula, as well as, of course, from Syria and from North Africa."

Carlton says a combination of diplomatic pressure and better border controls could be used to close the European link through Syria. This, however, may not solve Iraq's border infiltration by terrorist networks.

"If for some reason the Syrian conduit were closed, maybe there are other conduits that cannot be easily controlled," Carlton says. "After all, Iraq has quite a significant number of neighbors, few of which are reliably pro-Western."

He says closing the North African link through Europe will be much more difficult.
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