CAIRO: Al-Qaeda is recruiting more fighters of European and American origin into their ranks, some of whom are blue-eyed blonds that don’t fit the group’s typical racial profile, reports indicate.
The fighters, many of whom were arrested after 9/11, are converts who had followed the directives of Al-Qaeda leaders to hit targets within their homelands.
Local press reported in December 2006 that Egypt’s Interior Ministry arrested an American national along with ten Europeans from France and Belgium, in addition to other Arab nationals from Egypt, Syria and Tunisia.
The arrestees were accused of planning terrorist operations in Middle Eastern countries, and were deported to their respective countries for the charges to take affect. They originally entered Egypt to study Arabic and Sharia at Al Azhar University.
“It has never come to my knowledge that Al-Qaeda and other Jihadi groups are capable of recruiting people of European background, wrote Montasser El Zayat, commenting on the incident in Al-Masry Al-Youm. “That’s something I never expected and would refuse to accept until we are able to prove otherwise.
But three years ago, three British nationals were deported after being arrested in Egypt on similar charges. This suggests that Al-Qaeda and other militant groups are after a new type of recruit, whose looks and background do not match the past racial profiling of these organizations – blonds.
The trial of French national Lionel Dumont in early 2006 and American Jose Padilla in 2007, both arrested in connection with Al-Qaeda, are recent examples.
In 1991, at the age of 20, Dumont converted to Islam after a recovering from drug addiction. As a conscript in the French army, he fought in Somalia before he returned to his homeland and volunteered to fight against the Serbs in Bosnia, then in Afghanistan.
The fate of Jose Padilla, a US citizen of Porto Rican descent, will be decided this week as his trial begins in Miami. Padilla is accused of being one of the cell s recruits and completing a form in 2000 to attend an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.
He was initially accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive dirty bomb in the US and was held as an enemy combatant for more than three years.
Evidence found after 9/11 in militant camps in Afghanistan revealed that the number of this new breed of terrorists has dramatically increased.
Among them is American John Walker Lind who was taken captive while fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.
Muriel Degauque, a Belgian, is the first blond female suicide bomber. Degauque detonated the belt of explosives around her waist in front of an American convoy in Iraq.
Then there are French brothers David and Jerome Courtailler. After a history of drug addiction, the Courtaillers converted and were recruited to fight in Afghanistan. Jerome was arrested after a plot to bomb the American embassy in Paris was foiled. David was implicated in the explosion of the American embassy in Nairobi in 1998.
Jamaican-born British resident Germaine Lindsay was one of four suspects involved in the London bomb blasts which took place in July 2005.
But apart from the new Muslim converts, other non-Muslim mercenaries belonging to the former communist camp in Europe have been recruited by Al-Qaeda, a source from the organization told the Arabic weekly Al Majala.
“The alliance of new terrorist groups with the dons of organized crime worldwide is a breakthrough in the history of terrorism. Modern technological development has made it possible for all these groups to communicate, transfer money and exchange expertise in the fields of information and training, said Mukhtar Shueib, a political researcher at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and author of many books on terrorism.
Besides the cash incentives, these mercenaries are keen to bring about the downfall of the West in retaliation of policies that led to the disintegration of communism in Eastern Europe.
When Al-Qaeda was severely hit after 9/11, these recruits were assigned new duties by the network.
With European features and real familiarity with their own countries’ cultures and lifestyles, the Western-looking fighters were unusual suspects in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Europe and the US.
Western analysts have tried to determine whether these converts turned to fanaticism because of their psychological makeup or as a reaction to Western politics antagonistic stance towards Islam, which they felt the need to defend in their capacity as new Muslims.
Many American converts revealed that, besides defending Islam, their struggle is aimed at countering the deepening spiritual vacuum that resulted from a Western lifestyle based on materialism.
“Why rule out that the Americans or Europeans who joined many cults or systems throughout their history could also become part of Islamic fundamentalist groups? said Shueib.
“Over the years, Europe and the US have witnessed several forms of terrorism including the Nazis in Germany, the Basque movement in Spain, the Irish army in Great Britain, the Michigan Militias and the Army of God in the US, all of which have taken on the ruling political regimes, he added.
Shueib explained that “the cases of these fighters would indicate that terrorism has no homeland, religion or nationality. Many a time it has been practiced under the banner of Islam, Christianity, Zionism or any other religion or ideology. On a list of terrorists all nationalities can be found: Arabs, Japanese, Europeans, Americans, etc.
Shueib pointed out that the problem with Al-Qaeda is that it has developed alliances with other terrorist groups in Russia, China, South America and elsewhere.
“If we study similar cases, we would realize that the problem is not in the fighters as much as it is in those who brainwashed them, turning them into extremist Muslims, remarked Shueib.
Magdy Rifaee, a psychiatrist, agreed that in the majority of cases they have been misguided by their preachers, but he also stressed that the social and ideological background of the fighters was equally important.
“They were brought up in a society where there are no boundaries or limits to liberal thought, he explained, “They also mix with a wide range of immigrants who live in their countries who have different and diverse cultures.
“Definitely, they must have been inspired by Islam, which filled a certain vacuum in their lives. But remember they were not born Muslims and once they adopted Islam, it’s difficult to reverse their conviction.
“Unfortunately, theirs has been dominated by the ‘Jihadi’ side of Islam, fuelled by certain grudges they had against their own societies. When both coincided, there was no other option than changing the status quo by force, added Rifaee.
Apart from poverty, persecution and an acute sense of injustice, which mark the turn of Arabs and Muslims to terrorism, some have taken up the cause in spite of their prosperous living conditions. This includes Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda’s mastermind, and his right arm Ayman El Zawahiri.
“This is a critical question for the future of Western societies, said French analyst Paul Landau. “How Europe has become fertile terrain for Jihadis and how to combat the phenomenon are two key issues.
The analyst authored the widely-circulated “Le Sabre et Le Coran (The Sword and the Quran).
“For many observers Islam remains a big enigma.The French police are still convinced that in cases like those of Dumont and Degauque, it is an ideologically-motivated terrorist enterprise.They push their belief to the point of martyrdom. Their identification with their cause is marked by a break from their family’s homeland or host country, Landau explained.
In Islam, he added, they did not find a fleeting wave of spirituality. Instead, they found an ultimate meaning and sense that left no question unanswered.