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Radical Islam Passing through Greece

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Greece is an E.U., NATO and Eurozone country that has traditionally strong links with the Islamic world due to the geographical proximity with the Middle East and North Africa and the Ottoman rule that lasted four centuries, along with numerous historical encounters with Islam since the Middle Ages.

Currently the country faces a debt crisis that, apart from its obvious disastrous financial consequences both in a domestic and in a global scale, also raises security concerns related to terrorist networks of Islamist origin.
Recent upheavals in Maghreb and the Middle East pertain to Greek and European security as well.
Presently, the country hosts a Muslim minority that is a remnant of the Ottoman Empire, but also an expanding Islamic population from the Arab countries and Pakistan that enter Greece in significant number as illegal immigrants. Corporations in the country, such as banking institutions, tourist companies and real estate firms are in control of Islamic funds, whereas countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Libya can be considered significant trade partners of Greece.
The wider picture
In Athens, Greece, the Iranian Saderat bank is hosted, which is a U.S black-listed institution due to alleged links with Hezbollah. Iran covers 25 percent of Greece’s oil needs per annum and segments of its natural gas needs. There are indications that Hezbollah groups are operating in a logistical-support basis in Athens by gathering funds through tobacco contraband over the past years, as a 2007 report by American collective security research outlined.
In a broad sense, Greece, due to a mixture of its geographical placement, history and business links, is considered a gateway for the Islamic element in close proximity to the European Union and the Balkans, and over the past 10 years it has become one of the main transit territories for Islamic-originating illegal immigration to Europe.
Until now Greece does not seem to have a particular issue of Islamic fundamentalism. Nevertheless, as aptly described in a 2009 U.S. State Department report on terrorism, “Greece is increasingly an E.U. entry point for illegal immigrants coming from the Middle East and South Asia, and there was concern that it could be used as a transit route for terrorists travelling to Europe and the United States. The number of illegal immigrants entering Greece, especially through the Aegean Sea, increased dramatically in 2008 and 2009, with more than 100,000 illegal immigrants, nearly half of whom originated from North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, arrested each year.”
Presently in Greece, there seems to be activity within radical Islamic elements as well as gradual projection of Islamic political entities through the use of Greek nationals.
A revelation by the infamous WikiLeaks telegrams showed that the ex-U.S. ambassador in Athens, Daniel Speckhard, has noted the danger of the nexus between Greek domestic terrorist groups and Islamic groups, including those from Iran, as he was informed by the then-Greek minister of public Order, Michalis Chrysohoidis. The leaked telegram was presented by the Greek weekly paper To Vima along with further analysis that points out that the fears expressed are of valid nature.
In 2007 a rocket launch attack with an RPG against the American Embassy in Athens was carried out by the Greek group Revolutionary Struggle, which stated in its proclamation note support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. In 2009 the Greek weekly To Proto Thema reported that Greek leftist terrorists seem to have been trained in Lebanon in paramilitary camps operated by Islamists.
In a special report by the French daily Le Figaro, on December 21, 2010, the case of the route of Islamic terrorists from Lebanon to Europe was noted with significant details. The Lebanese Army Cornell Mahmoud Issa noted to the French journalists that since November 2010, some 20 extremists managed to escape from a camp where they were kept in Lebanon and found their way to the European Union. He stated that already the authorities had been notified on an international level, although he admitted that this is a difficult task. The French security authorities believe that this is the case of a new jihad mission heading towards European metropolises.
In classified documents that were in possession of radical groups in Lebanon, it was noted that three men managed to leave the camp through Syria and Turkey and up to Greece and Bulgaria with the assistance of illegal immigrant transport networks managed by Turks. They managed to acquire fake IDs and were finally caught by a common operation of the Bulgarian and Greek authorities. That case was closely monitored by British and French intelligence due to the fact that these two countries were the ultimate destination of the Lebanese group. Mahmoud Issa stated that more cases are to be found that evade the authorities so far.
Incidents of interest
 
According to the pre-9/11 French intelligence report, American interests in Greece and Cyprus were considered by Osama bin Laden’s network as targets. Citing a DGSE document, To Vima reported that members of al Qaeda, mostly located in Beirut, in cooperation with Taliban officials and other armed groups, were planning to hijack airplanes between March and September 2000, yet it was never carried out due to various logistical and operational disagreements.
European intelligence agencies have also reported that about 20 Arab fundamentalists have been arrested in Britain, Italy, Portugal, France and the Netherlands for having in their possession forged Greek passports, according to a 2007 revelation by the Greek daily Ta Nea and for the period 2001-2006.
In another notable case, in September 2005 Moroccan Anwar Mazrar— one of the leading Al Qaeda operational terrorists in Europe—was arrested on the Greek-Turkey border while attempting to travel to Greece on the Istanbul-Thessalonica bus service. Mazrar had been accused of being a leading member of terrorist groups in Morocco and also of having ties with al Qaeda. It was revealed that Mazrar was planning to stay in Greece for a while as an illegal immigrant and then move on to Italy and plan two bombing attacks.
Mazrar regularly travelled from Milan, Italy, to Algeria, Syria and Turkey. Greek authorities suspected that he was interested in setting up a base of support in Greece and use the country as a safe haven between Italy and the Middle East. In 2005, immediately after the capture of Mazrar, there was a boost in surveillance by the Greek authorities of suspected Islamist radicals in the country. Cooperation between Greece, the United States, France, Italy and the United Kingdom intensified in that sector.
Towards the end of 2010, various press reports claimed that radical Islamic action was increasing in the center of Athens, and the issue became widely publicized after it was brought to Parliament via the LAOS political party, which demanded state explanations on the issue and proper notification of security forces. According to statements by several Greek politicians, the country hosts amongst its illegal immigrant population radical cells and quite possibly “al Qaeda sleeping cells.”
In another case in 2005, the so-called “Pakistani abduction case,” 28 Pakistani immigrants were allegedly kidnapped by Greek intelligence agents in Athens. That case was connected to the cooperation between Greek and U.K. authorities following the July 2005 bombings in London, but was also the first notable case of accusation of the Greek state by Islamic organizations that Greece is actively turning against the Islamic element and taking harsh measures in the “war against terror.” The Greek weekly newspaper Proto Thema disclosed the names of 15 alleged Greek agents and an MI6 spy chief allegedly involved with kidnapping and torturing the Pakistanis eight days after the London bombings of July 7, 2005. There was widespread support by leftist groups that demanded through a series of legal actions and demonstrations the punishment of the Greek and U.K. security members involved.
According to all data up to now, the Pakistani immigrants were somehow connected, probably via mobile phone SMS texting and conversations, with the terrorist group responsible for the July 2005 bombings in London. Although six years have passed, Greek and U.K. authorities have not revealed the extent of the involvement of these immigrants.
In early 2011, the Greek media revealed information mainly derived from WikiLeaks that U.S. diplomats in Athens had since 2006 information that there is a nexus between illegal immigrant trafficking networks from Pakistan and terrorists groups in that country that profit from that illicit market. American diplomats at that period in Athens met with their Pakistani counterparts and then provided to Greek authorities several names of traffickers suspected with links to terrorists.
According to the State Department, the Greek authorities didn’t take any action, and one Pakistani diplomat who served in Athens at that period, in a conversation with an American officer, commented that he suspects “Greek security officials may be involved in covering the traffickers.”
In July 2009 Abu Sanjat, am Iraqi citizen wanted by Interpol due to his involvement with terrorist attacks in Baghdad, was arrested in Greece. His arrest was a joint Greek-American-Iraqi operation. According to media reports, he was one of the main ringleaders of al Qaeda in Iraq who wanted to expand the network into Europe. He came to Greece as an illegal immigrant by crossing the borders with Turkey and joined a team of another 20 immigrants. When he was arrested he had forged papers identifying him as a Palestinian refugee claiming political asylum.
In 2006 another case of interest took place in the Athens international network. According to reportage by the Greek daily paper Kathimerini, an imam and Pakistani citizen wanted for terrorist attacks and homicide was arrested as he was flying from the United Kingdom, where he lived in a provincial town. The police investigation revealed that his purpose of visiting Athens was to enact a series of religious seminars for the expanding community of Pakistani immigrants in the city. Although there was an international arrest warrant against him by authorities of Pakistan, he was able to pass through the airport controls in London before taking his flight to Athens. That particular incident alarmed the Greek authorities who surprisingly were able to map an emerging social network of Pakistani radical Islamists in Greece before they were able to commit illegal activities or terrorist actions.
Overall
Greece’s geographical placement, in addition to the wider culminations in the Mediterranean that have unfolded over the past year, has sounded alarm bells over the peril of the country being used as a regional logistics hub for international Islamic terrorists and a breeding ground of radicals amongst the communities of illegal immigrants from Islamic countries.
A Greek intelligence service report that was leaked in April 2011 in the Greek daily paper Ethnos points to a definite nexus between international organized crime, illegal immigration trafficking, and the communities of Islamists in the country who in their turn finance and form NGOs in order to attain influence in the local society. The danger of infiltration of terrorists in all of the above is also highlighted.
The main known countermeasures that have been taken by the Greek authorities include increased exchange of intelligence with partner countries, technological upgrade of surveillance equipment, and infiltration of suspected radical and terrorist cells.
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Terrorism

Political Scientist: Taliban Rule will lead to terrorism activation in Pakistan

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image source: India Today

The strengthening of terrorist activity in the northwest of Pakistan and the country as a whole is linked with reinforcing the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan. Since they have established absolute power in Afghanistan, implicitly or not, they support the Pakistani Taliban. Although these are different organizations, they definitely have a common genesis, ties and contacts, but they deny this. However, we understand that the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban are at least allies. This is how a political scientist, Ph.D., associate professor Georgi Asatryan commented on the latest developments around the situation in Afghanistan and the activity of the Taliban.

“There was another explosion in Peshawar; unfortunately, this can be predicted to occur again. Now we witness a particular conflict between the Pakistani and Afghan authorities represented by the Taliban. Pakistan, represented by the Minister of Defense and other high-ranking officials, blames the Afghan authorities for these attacks, arguing that the Taliban Kabul is supporting the Pakistani Taliban, and the Taliban, in turn, deny this. Therefore, this conflict between the two South Asian countries will boost and worsen”, said political scientist Georgi Asatryan.

The administration of the Pakistani Taliban has announced that it is lost the armistice. It happened in November. The Pakistani Taliban announced that they were withdrawing from the armistice with Pakistan and called on their supporters to launch attacks on targets in Pakistan. It should be mentioned that the situation will worsen and destabilize as long as the Taliban run in Afghanistan and supports its Pakistani allies.

To a certain extent, we witness how the method of the Pakistani military to support the Afghan Taliban leads to harmful and dangerous outcomes for them. The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan would be impossible, or quite complicated, without the total assistance, consultations and, to a certain extent, the participation of the Pakistani military. Now we see a growth of terrorist networks in the region. The policy of strategic depth leads to troubles and threats for Pakistan itself.

The country’s ruling parties received a warning from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that “concrete actions” aimed at their leadership would be carried out in reaction to the statement of war against them. In this statement, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari were named in the TPP message. In addition, the statement contains a warning to the religious political parties of Pakistan. They are urged not to participate in activities directed against the TPP. “TTP’s policy does not include targeting your parties, but we ask you to avoid engaging in any activity against us,” it says. The TPP danger came two days after the National Security Committee of Pakistan announced its decision to combat organizations related to violence and terrorism.

According to Al Jazeera, Pakistan is confronting an attack again. Analysts express that as the country enters into an election year, the leadership of Pakistan should develop a strategy to counter the threat to internal security. At least nine attacks occurred in the southwestern province of Balochistan last Sunday, killing six employees of security services. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), known as the Pakistani Taliban due to its close ideology to the Afghan Taliban, has claimed responsibility for these attacks.

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Countering Terrorism: 2023 and Beyond

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afghanistan terrorism
(file photo) UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

Pakistan has carried three significant issues from 2022 into 2023. These include political instability, a dwindling economy and resurging terrorism. With respect to terrorism, Afghanistan has assumed centre stage. Following the withdrawal of US forces on 15 Aug 2021, there was initial jubilation in Pakistan over Taliban’s triumph. It stemmed from the perception that US military presence in the region and drone strikes were the leading sources of regional instability.

2022 ended for Pakistan with an upsurge in terrorist activities and accordingly the New Year started with a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC). The press release following the meeting reiterated NSC’s resolve to ‘have zero tolerance for terrorism in Pakistan and reaffirmed its determination to take ‘on any and all entities that resort to violence.’ This is a welcome decision by the government and state organs.

Pakistan’s counterterrorism (CT) efforts gained momentum following the unprecedented Army Public School (APS) massacre of 2014. Some have compared it to Pakistan’s 9/11. The tragedy was relatable to all of Pakistan regardless of the so-called ethnic, regional or sectarian divides. The inhumane attacks brought the civil and military leadership together in assigning this scourge of terrorism the priority that it deserved. The most prominent outcome was a National Action Plan on countering terrorism that enjoyed broadest possible political support.

Subsequently, the united stance against terrorism enabled unprecedented successes in rooting out terrorism. However, it appears that the reduction in terrorist activities led to a sense of complacency which was further aided by growing political polarisation that had more to do with differences on domestic, economic and foreign policy issues. Unfortunately, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan occurred at a time when Pakistan was struggling with internal politics. Apparently, the eventual prevalence of Afghan Taliban against a super power that they had been resisting for two decades, emboldened the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to think that it could similarly attrite the Pakistani nation and its state organs.

TTP’s motivation seems to be misplaced for primarily three reasons. First and foremost, the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) of Pakistan are fighting this war to provide a safe and secure environment to the future generations of the country – including their own children; unlike the US and coalition forces that neither had a clear objective nor a consistent policy to follow. Second, much of Afghan Taliban’s acceptance at the domestic level was based on the fact that they were fighting a foreign occupant – which is not the case for TTP. Thirdly, the Afghan Taliban assumed power by virtue of force rather than the will of the public and that is why they struggle to gain legitimacy at home and abroad.

Pakistani political leadership might differ on the possible approaches to dealing with this issue, but there certainly is no appetite for letting the TTP and associated factions consolidate power to a degree that they are able to challenge state’s writ at a level comparable to yesteryears. However, display of a united front by the various ruling parties at the Centre and provinces will help demonstrate that there will be no tolerance for terrorist activities no matter which political party assumes power.

TTP’s threat against the leadership of two ruling parties is an attempt to exploit the current domestic political divide. Political mudslinging on this issue only helps the enemy’s cause. The ongoing struggle for power between the political parties should not enable TTP to consolidate power in the interim period. Otherwise, it will become a greater threat for the next government to deal with. During the previous election years, terrorist outfits were successful in targeting the leadership of various political parties during their election campaigns and arguably changing the election outcomes by terrorising the electorate. It is in shared interest of all the political parties to avoid a repeat of such a scenario.

While the politico-military leadership establishes a united front at home, it will be important to deny external actors the ability to exploit Pakistan’s internal situation. Pakistan has been at the receiving end of accusations even as it presents irrefutable evidence of external involvement in terrorist activities inside the country. As Pakistan continues to expose foreign involvement, it ought to simultaneously deny foreign actors fertile ground to exploit at home. Previously, the foreign threat was limited to the Eastern front but now it has expanded at an unprecedented level to the Western front where the Taliban government is either complicit or unable to check use of its territory to launch terrorist attacks against Pakistan.

2023 is likely going to be the year of General Elections in Pakistan. Whichever party assumes power, it is important that it looks at counterterrorism as a long-term operation that will require broader political support, less in-fighting and an ability to stay the course impervious of temporary gains and setbacks which will inevitably be a part of the process.

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Terrorism

A Rift Getting Deeper: TTP and IEA parting their ways?

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Image source: hindustantimes.com

A few days ago, an alleged audio of Tahreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief, Noor Wali Mehsud has caught the attention of those who keep a close eye on terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, especially Tahreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Through this audio, Noor Wali has sent a message, to TTP fighters to pick up arms against the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) after its search operation in provinces along the Pak-Afghan border. Since the takeover of Kabul, some security analysts had predicted the possible collaboration of IEA with TTP. Still, the evolution of TTP strategies and its ideological shift from being a branch of IEA to being an opponent of IEA was observed. Only those who have kept a sharp eye on TTP activities know that TTP is now a threat to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The reason behind the shift in TTP’s strategies:

 What compelled TTP to give such a big statement? This question comes to everyone’s mind, the below discussion is made in context to this question. The ideological standing of both TTP and IEA is far different. Afghan Taliban are ethnic nationals. They have only fought a war against foreign forces for Afghan territory and have never claimed any region beyond the borders of Afghanistan. However, TTP has long taken inspiration from Al-Qaeda, which has expansionist objectives and deadly takfiri ideology to create a falsified identity of believers and non-believers, only to legitimize its terror activities in the name of Islam. Hence, following the footprints of such a radical organization, there is a significant possibility that TTP will join hands with ISKP against IEA.

Question of natural and forced alliance:

Since the Kabul takeover, TTP has tried to align with IEA, thus, giving it the camouflage of a natural alliance. TTP’s leadership also manifested this narrative in its statements and activities. But the ideological drift and conflicting objectives show that TTP’s so-called alignment with IEA was one-sided and enforced. After the Kabul takeover, TTP tried its well to be a part of IEA but by rigid stance, IEA always cleared in their statement that TTP and IEA are two different groups, having different inspirations and goals.

Pakistan’s role that TTP in using Afghan soil:

Pakistan has been fighting TTP since 2003. In April 2022, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) struck the hideouts of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan along the Durand Line. This strike highlighted that a group within IEA was keen on providing safe havens to TTP. Hence, diplomatic pressure was mounted on IEA to eradicate TTP from the strategic provinces of Kunar and Khost.

 Chance of Mutual tussle between TTP and IEA:

Is there another conflict going to happen in the region? Now, the battle is the same, but the opponents are different. The so-called narrative that claims IEA and TTP were on the same table is wrecking after TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud and IEA spoke’s person Zabiullah Mujahid’s statements.” They are not, as an organization, part of IEA, and we don’t share the same objectives,” Zabiullah Mujahid said in reaction to TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud’s claims of being a part of the IEA. Now, the TTP chief has alerted his fighters for war. It would create complexities in the region. IEA acted as a mediator between the government of Pakistan and TTP to make peace in the region.  Additionally, Zabiullah mujahid also mentioned that We advise TTP to focus on peace and stability in their country. This is very important so, they can prevent any chance for enemies to interfere in the region, and we request Pakistan to investigate their demands for the better of the region and Pakistan.

Mujahid added that the TTP was Pakistan’s internal matter “The IEA stance is that we do not interfere in other countries affairs. We do not interfere in Pakistan’s affairs.”  

After this emerging rift, would it be possible for IEA to counter TTP? IEA is struggling to stabilize the state after Kabul take over. Nowadays, Afghanistan’s security and economy are on the verge of chaos. It would not be able to engage in other conflicts nor do they have the power to do so. And if they engaged in battle with TTP, an alliance of ISKP and TTP can hurt Afghanistan. But if they counter them, there is a chance to get international sympathy and maybe recognition because it will endorse the Doha agreement, as Recognition has become a dire need in Afghanistan.

Conclusion:

In a nutshell, it won’t be inappropriate to assume that another war will break out, and it is likely more drastic than the last ones. Despite all the hurdles, it is an opportunity for IEA to gain global sympathy for its recognition and to legitimize its regime. If the IEA becomes successful in convincing the world by taking action against terrorist outfits and extremism in its ranks, it will not only pave the way for its recognition but also meet with the minutes of the DOHA Accord to not allow any violent non-state actor to operate within Afghan territory.

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