Syrian rebels 370.
(photo credit: Abdalghne Karoof/Reuters)
European intelligence agencies are worried that European Muslims fighting in
Syria will return to carry out terrorist attacks because of their contacts built
with al-Qaida, the BBC reported on Wednesday.
The UK, Ireland and France
are the Western countries believed to have the most fighters in Syria, according
to the report, which quotes EU anti-terror chief Gilles de Kerchove as saying
that about 500 Muslims from Europe are fighting with the rebels.
according to Soeren Kern, a senior fellow for the New York-based Gatestone
Institute, and a longtime observer of Islam in Europe, more than 1,000 European
Muslims are fighting in Syria. In an article for Gatestone in March titled “European Jihadists: The Latest Export,” he wrote that
Syria “has replaced Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia as the main destination
for militant Islamists seeking to obtain immediate combat experience with little
or no official scrutiny.”
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post
Wednesday, Kern related to the debate: “Although there is no consensus among
analysts on the exact number of European jihadists fighting in Syria, I believe
the number 1,000 is about right based on a compilation of intelligence estimates
and media reports from across Europe.”
He added that “it is relatively
easy for Europeans to travel to Turkey and then cross over the border into Syria
undetected, making it difficult to determine the true number, which could
presumably be even higher than 1,000.”
Kern finds the figure of 500
mentioned by the EU to be too low and believes that it “may be an effort not to
alarm the public.”
He said that the recent estimate by the London-based
International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence
(ICSR), at between 140 and 600, is also low.
“The ICSR report attempts to
downplay the extent of the problem,” Kern said. “Perhaps if the ICSR had
released its report after [and not before] the bombings in Boston, their
conclusions may have been somewhat different.”
Since the large terrorist
attacks in Madrid, in March 2004, and London, in July 2005, there has been an
effort by some groups to downplay the threat of radical Islam, and “Boston was a
crude reminder that radical Islam still does pose a threat to the West,” he
Another issue for European countries is that many of the fighters
are returning and they cannot be arrested because most of them have not broken
Asked about the concerns of European governments, Kern noted
that they are very worried about returning jihadists and “the threat of
home-grown terrorism similar to the bombings in London and Madrid,” he said.
“These concerns have certainly been increased following the attacks in
In his article, Kern describes in detail the evidence of this
phenomenon for various European countries. For example, there are an estimated
100 Dutch Muslims active in Syria, with most having joined the al- Qaida-linked
Nusra Front, according to a Dutch public broadcasting system NOS television
report last month cited by Kern.
There are at least 70 members of the
outlawed Sharia4Belgium Islamist group active in Syria, the Belgium daily De
reported in March.
The British Independent reported last month
that UK authorities believe more than 100 British Muslims are fighting in Syria
with the Sunni rebels hoping to overthrow President Bashar Assad’s regime and
replace it with an Islamic state.
Asked if Europeans show any worry about
this issue, Kern states, “Ordinary Europeans are increasingly concerned about
the growing presence of Muslims in their countries.” He said that polls
demonstrate this and that there is a sense that “multiculturalism has gone too
“As for me personally, I am rather pessimistic about the future of