Making Militants

From the 1980s, Islamist ideas became ever more prominent among Middle Eastern radicals. The ascendancy of Islamist radicalism can be dated precisely to the year 1979, with the revolution in Iran and the war in Afghanistan. Iranian events inspired Muslim and particularly Shi'ite groups across the region. Under this impetus, the Shi'ite Lebanese Hizbollah became one of the most determined and effective international terror movements, which carried out devastating bomb attacks in Spain and elsewhere.

The new sense of global jihad also inspired other revolutionary movements that would have a still more direct and more acute effect on Europe, and who often formed tactical alliances with each other. One was the Egyptian-derived Takfir wal Hijra, which is commonly a missing link in discussions of European terrorism and subversion, and the group's members surface repeatedly in militant networks. Part of their appeal lies in their antinomian ideology, their sense that normal moral restrictions can be abandoned for the sake of achieving the greater good of pursuing jihad. This allows Takfiris to work closely with criminal gangs and drug dealers, and to recruit freely among the criminal milieu. The conspirators who carried out the Madrid bombings of 2004 included many with lengthy records of petty crime and drug dealing, to the point that the network used hashish to purchase the explosives used in the attack. Over-using the Qaeda label often prevents us from seeing the activities of distinct Takfiri groups, who would for instance have included Zacarias Moussaoui and several of the September 11 hijackers.

The Algerian war of the 1990s also inspired revolutionary ideas across the Islamic world in Europe and elsewhere while fleeing militants carried the war outside Algeria itself. By the mid-decade, Algerian militants were launching attacks in France, activities that, if not actually undertaken in the name of al-Qaeda, differed little from the post-9-/11 campaigns. In 1995, the Algerian GIA undertook a ferocious series of bombings on French soil, mainly targeting public transportation, railways, and subways, prefiguring the 2004-2005 outrages in Madrid and London. In 1994, hijackers plotted to crash a fully fueled airliner into the Eiffel Tower, as much a symbol of national pride for France as the World Trade Center was for Americans. Critically for later events, the bombings were organized and largely undertaken by French-born Muslims of Algerian stock, including Khaled Khelkal of Lyon, who graduated from a life of crime to open terrorism. When police shot him dead in a 1995 street battle, he became a folk hero in French banlieues. Algerian exiles pooled their expertise and resources into the larger network known as al-Qaeda, which drew together Egyptian, Algerian, and Saudi extremists. In 1998, Qaeda issued its formal declaration of jihad against Jews and Crusaders.3

Other battles raged on the fringes of Europe's immediate neighborhood, and the Bosnian struggle had its wider impact. Sarajevo, after all, is only 250 miles from Vienna or Venice. One Italian Islamist claims that of the volunteers who traveled from his country to Bosnia, "60 percent returned to Italy. The other 40 percent carried on their jihads in Afghanistan or in Chechnya, some others went to Algeria or Palestine." Another predominantly Muslim militant group with Balkan roots is the Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA, which now represents a potent force in organized crime and drug dealing across western Europe. In recent years too, one of Europe's most active terrorist movements has been the GICM, which was founded in 1997 by Moroccan veterans of the jihad training camps in Afghanistan. The group has a solid infrastructure among the millions of Moroccan migrants scattered across western Europe; and like Bosnia or Kosovo, Morocco is on western Europe's doorstep.4

In earlier eras, different causes would have remained distinct and mutually independent, but globalization encourages activists to see linkages between their particular issues. The anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan encouraged militants from widely separated parts of the globe to merge their separate organizations into the new al-Qaeda. More recently, the presence of multiple ethnic constituencies on European soil permits still more intense cross-fertilization, as forms of extremism intersect, as Egyptian and Maghrebi militants cooperate with Saudis and Pakistanis, and often with Muslims born in western Europe itself.

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