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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

The Autopsy of Jihadism in the United States

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The American counter-terrorism establishment is shocked to know that its current terrorist threat, contrary to conventional wisdom, is not foreign but “a large majority of jihadist terrorists in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents”.

A terror threat assessment by NewAmerica, a think tank comprehensive, up-to-date source of online information about terrorist activity in the United States and by Americans overseas since 9/11, 20 years after 9/11 reported: “…while a range of citizenship statuses are represented, every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident except one who was in the United States as part of the U.S.-Saudi military training partnership”.

The ultimate irony is NewAmerica quoting a terrorist to underline the seriousness of the threat: “Yet today, as Anwar al-Awlaki, the American born cleric who became a leader in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, put it in a 2010 post, ‘Jihad is becoming as American as apple pie’.”

Since 9/11 and today, the United States faced just “one case of a jihadist foreign terrorist organization directing a deadly attack inside the United States since 9/11, or of a deadly jihadist attacker receiving training or support from groups abroad”. The report recalls: “That case is the attack at the Naval Air Station Pensacola on December 6, 2019, when Mohammed Al-Shamrani shot and killed three people. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed the attack and according to the FBI, evidence from Al-Shamrani’s phone  he was in contact with an AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula) militant and AQAP prior to his entry to the United States…”

In the last two decades, “jihadists” have killed 107 people inside the United States. Compare this with deaths occurring due to major crimes: 114 people were killed by far-right terrorism (consisting of anti-government, militia, white supremacist, and anti-abortion violence), 12 and nine people, respectively, killed in attacks “inspired by black separatist/nationalist ideology and ideological misogyny”. Attacks by people with Far-Left views have killed one person. It just goes to show that terrorism inside the United States is no longer the handiwork of foreign or “jihadi” ideologies, but is “homegrown”, the report points out.

The report points out a poor understanding of the terror threat and its roots by the Trump administration. A week into his presidency, Donald Trump issued an executive order banning entry of citizens of seven Muslim countries into the United States. The countries were: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. Th order cited “national security” as the reason, but gave no real justification.

Trump’s aides tried to find some justification for the order claiming that in the administration’s assessment the United States was and will be the prime target of terrorist organisations from these countries. The same report clarifies how wrong this assessment was: “None of the deadly attackers since 9/11 emigrated or came from a family that emigrated from one of these countries nor were any of the 9/11 attackers from the listed countries. Nine of the lethal attackers were born American citizens. One of the attackers was in the United States on a non-immigrant visa as part of the U.S.-Saudi military training partnership.”

President Trump had to swallow his pride and gradually revoke his order. In early March of 2017, he revised the order excluding Iraq from the ban list. That September, he dropped Sudan too, but added North Korea, Venezuela and Chad.

In the last two decades since 9/11, there have been 16 “lethal jihadist terrorists in the United States”. Of them, “three are African-Americans, three are from families that hailed originally from Pakistan, one was born in Virginia to Palestinian immigrant parents, one was born in Kuwait to Palestinian-Jordanian parents, one was born in New York to a family from Afghanistan, two are white converts – one born in Texas, another in Florida, two came from Russia as youth, one emigrated from Egypt and conducted his attack a decade after coming to the United States, one emigrated from Uzbekistan and one was a Saudi Air Force officer in the United States for military training”. Nobody from the banned countries, nobody foreign citizens; all were American citizens.

What is more embarrassing for the Trump administration is the report saying: “When the data is extended to include individuals who conducted attacks inside the United States that were foiled or otherwise failed to kill anyone, there are only four cases that the travel ban could have applied to. However, in at least two of those cases, the individual entered the United States as a child. In a third case the individual had a history of mental illness and assault not related to jihadist terrorism. In a fifth, non-lethal attack Adam al-Sahli, who conducted a shooting at a military base in Corpus Christi on May 21, 2020, was born in Syria but was a citizen because his father was an American citizen and thus would not have been subject to the travel ban.”

The NewAmerica assessment, in contrast to the executive order, finds concrete evidence to suggest that the terror threat is “homegrown”. It gives the example of Mohammed Reza Taheri-Azar, “a naturalised citizen from Iran”, who on March 3, 2006 drove a car into a group of students at the University of North Carolina, injuring nine people. “Taheri-Azar, though born in Iran, came to the United States at the age of two” and “his radicalization was homegrown inside the United States”. On September 17, 2016 Dahir Adan, a naturalized citizen from Somalia, injured 10 people while wielding a knife at a mall in Minnesota. He too had come to the United States as a young child.

There are more such instances: “On November 28, 2016 Abdul Razak Ali Artan, an 18-year-old legal permanent resident who came to the United States as a refugee from Somalia in 2014 — having left Somalia for Pakistan in 2007 — injured eleven people when he rammed a car into his fellow students on the campus of Ohio State University…However, it is not clear that the attack provides support for Trump’s travel ban.

In Artan’s case, he left Somalia as a pre-teen, and “if he was radicalized abroad, it most likely occurred while in Pakistan”, which is not included on the travel ban. The report says the chances of him being radicalised inside the United States are more. This is based on the fact that “in a Facebook posting prior to his attack, he cited Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric born in the United States, whose work — which draws largely upon American culture and history — has helped radicalize a wide range of extremists in the United States including those born in the United States”.

There are several other pointers to the “homegrown” theory. For one, a “large proportion of jihadists in the United States since 9/11 have been converts”. There are “jihadists” who are non-Muslims. These facts “challenge visions of counterterrorism policy that rely on immigration restrictions or focus almost entirely on second generation immigrant populations”, the report says, debunking the Trump executive order.

The NewAmerica report debunks the assumption that only “hot headed” people are attracted to jihadist extremism. It finds that “participation in jihadist terrorism has appealed to individuals ranging from young teenagers to those in their advanced years (and) many of those involved have been married and even had kids – far from the stereotype of the lone, angry youngster”.

Women have broken the glass ceiling of jihadist terrorism as “more women have been accused of jihadist terrorism crimes in recent years” inside the United States.

The expansion of the social media world has played a singular role in radicalising American youth. “Many extremists today either maintain public social media profiles displaying jihadist rhetoric or imagery or have communicated online using encrypted messaging apps. The percentage of cases involving such online activity has increased over time.” Al Qaeda terrorists became key figures in this proliferation. They “fine-tuned the message and the distribution apparatus” and “put out extremist propaganda via websites and YouTube videos”.

America’s jihadists were never an immigration problem, the biggest jihadist terror threat U.S faces today is “homegrown”.

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Terrorism

March Towards Mosul: Beckoning the End of ISIS

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The tenor of ISIS is laced with terror and brutality ever since the militia began rattling Iraq in 2013. While the Civil War already wreaked havoc in the desolate country long before, the advancement of ISIS resonated the country beyond repair. The spread of ISIS quickly transitioned into an endemic as a succession to government failure and withdrawal of the United States military from Iraq in 2011. The group quickly took hold of the key cities of Raqqa, Tikrit, and Ramadi: inching closer to the capital city of Baghdad. However, the strategic win came in 2014 when ISIS struck victory and subsequently toppled the city of Mosul: the core cultural and economic haven of Iraq, only second to Baghdad. The fall of Mosul not only alarmed the Iraqi regime regarding the surging threat of ISIS but also pushed the US to advance airstrikes to displace the gripping offensive in northern Iraq.

While ISIS flourished on the sectarian divide rooted in the Iraqi society post the execution of Saddam Hussein, the US invasion and subsequent withdrawal was cited as the main reason for the passage of ISIS into Iraq. The 2003 invasion left the Iraqi society weakened and desperate for constant US regulation. While the Shia-Sunni divide broadened gradually over the decade, the Arab spring added oil to fire as animosity against the shite-regime expanded in the region. Syria served as the death grip of chaos as rebellious militants surged to dethrone the adamant Bashar al-Assad. With loose Syrian borders, compromised governments on either side of the border, and immediate exit of the US military, ISIS got a convenient passage of expansion from Syria to Iraq.

Amidst the sinister possibilities of the springing rebels in the Middle-East, ISIS declared the split from Al-Qaeda in January 2014. However, what some touted as the fragmentation of the Afghani militant group was only to surf into dangerous territory. A nightmarish humanitarian crisis followed suit as ISIS ransacked city after city while Iraq dwindled and perished piece after piece to the swelling violence of the militants. The US airstrikes targeting the militants did little to deter the group as it verged towards the city of Erbil, spewing chaos as they gripped the northern periphery of Iraq.

The fall of Ramadi, however, quickly incited the retaliation of the regional Kurdish forces. The regional forces were notoriously accused of fighting the government in the civil war and were the main targets of the US forces before their withdrawal in 2011. With the combined effort of the Iraqi army, the Kurdish Democratic Forces (KDF), and the sporadic US airstrikes, ISIS was pushed to a defensive stance as key cities of Falluja, Ramadi, and Tikrit were snatched back from the tight hold of the militant group. The city of Mosul, however, has been much of an unprecedented challenge to rope back as ISIS has cliched onto their ‘Caliphate Capital’ as a power statement to prove their subdued yet eminent presence in Iraq.

ISIS holds onto as many as 2.5 million people in the city of Mosul ever since the reign of brutality sprawled over the city in June 2014. Public beheading, lynching, and incineration are the common tactics inflicted by the group that has led to a mass exodus of millions of victims from the city over the course of the decade. With Mosul’s strategic proximity to Syria and Turkey, ISIS has commanded the region ever since the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, declared the city as their ‘Cultural Capital’. The reality, however, is not as simply put as the context of historic or cultural significance of the city. Mosul is the prime location of some of Iraq’s most lucrative oil fields and thus a notorious means of revenue to the group. Confirmed reports suggest illegal oil dealings between ISIS and both regional and international smugglers. The heavy compensation has granted ISIS enough means to acquire advanced artillery to continue its combat against the coalition forces of the country.

The command of combat against ISIS in 2016 were to mark the end of ISIS as the group perished its conquests. Despite that, the Iraqi coalition amounting to 94000 members all but failed to oust the group estimated to be only about 5000 to 7000 in number. The coalition faced a decimating response of round-the-clock attacks ranging from suicide bombings and car bombs to heavy firing while the forces breached the 200 km radius leading to Mosul. The coalition managed to free the Erbil-Mosul road which was a strategic mark to sever any connection of ISIS from the rest of Iraq. While the coalition cornered ISIS only to Mosul and its outskirts, the urban center of Mosul resisted the breach attempt even with the heavy backing of a coalition with up to 90 fighter planes. The labyrinth of villages in the Mosul metropolis deterred the coalition to advance further and to this day, Mosul remains the last remaining straw in the violent streak of ISIS in Iraq.

The fall of Mosul could end the blood-ridden hold of ISIS in Iraq since it has all but fallen in shambles throughout the Middle-East. However, the victory over Mosul is only the beginning of the end of ISIS; the key lies in the execution of the strategy. The fall of ISIS may crush the backbone of extremism yet the Shia-Sunni divide still exists as it did long before ISIS raised its head in 2014. The same divide could fester again after the common enemy is eliminated from the picture. Moreover, the fall of Mosul could disperse ISIS over Europe in the form of ethnic-diaspora recruited by the militant group over the years. This could well spread the militants over Europe and Africa: reigniting the offshoots in failed states like Libya, Syria, and Nigeria. Without a doubt, the fall of Mosul could bring liberation and economic flourish to Iraq. However, precise execution and reform of the war-torn country is the answer for a sustained and progressive reality in Iraq.

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Every Pakistani is a soldier of Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad

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Citizens have the right to participate in politics and to be aware of the political situation. However, in our country, it is becoming common to make unwarranted comments and speculations on non-political, national issues. All institutions in the country have their own mechanisms and among them, the Pakistan Army is the most committed to its rules and regulations. However, the attitude adopted by some people towards the security agencies of the country and the nation in the recent past does not fall under the category of patriotism in any way. This is the same institution whose soldiers and officers have not only extinguished the flames of the beloved homeland with their blood but also restored peace by eradicating terrorism from the country. DG ISPR Major General Babar Iftikhar briefing on the completion of four years of Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad said that the forces with the help of the people have defeated terrorism and eliminated major terrorist networks. Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad covers the entire country and every Pakistani is a soldier of this operation.

There is no denying the fact that Pakistan has suffered the consequences of being a frontline ally in the US war, launched in Afghanistan in the name of eradicating terrorism, in the form of the worst terrorism on its soil. The Pakistan Army launched Operation Rah-e-Rastin 2008 to eradicate the scourge of terrorism, which entered the phase of Operation Rah-e-Nijat. These operations took place mostly in North, South Waziristan and Northern areas, followed by Operation Zarb-e-Azb and Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad were launched, the domain of which was extended to the whole country and combing operation and Operation Khyber-4 were also launched under it. Our security forces made great sacrifices in these operations for the protection of civilians and a peaceful Pakistan and remained committed to continuing the operation till the last terrorist is killed. It is the result of the unparalleled sacrifices and determination of the security forces that the terrorists have been completely wiped out from the land of Pakistan. Although some miscreants fled across the border during the counter-terrorism operation which is a constant threat to Pakistan butto secure the borders, Pakistan is erecting fences not only on the border of Afghanistan but also on the border of Iran so that the movement of terrorists can be stopped.

After four years of Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, the country is peaceful, playgrounds are inhabited, foreign teams are coming to the country for sports, Pakistan’s war on terror is being praised around the world, world leaders and Institutions are also acknowledging the peace efforts of our security forces. According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Pakistan’s journey towards peace is excellent while British General Sir Nicholas Carter is calling the clearing of South Waziristan from terrorists a great achievement of the Pakistan Army. Pakistan army has not only accepted the challenge of terrorists and their sponsors and facilitators but has also left no stone unturned in measuring their necks. DG ISPR has rightly termed it as a journey from terrorism to tourism. However, all this has been made possible by the sacrifices made in Radd-ul-Fasaad.

There is no doubt that the Pakistan Army has not only successfully met every trial yetis working day and night to protect the country’s internal and external borders but the question is, are we doing our job? Even now, some political and non-political people are hurling insults against the institutions in public meetings and also on social media; those who slander the country’s sensitive institutions should be ashamed. It is the duty of every patriotic Pakistani along with the spokesperson of the institution to respond to them with arguments and facts and also to take a hard line to discourage them. The rioters who speak out against these institutions and sitting on social media are even more dangerous than ISIS. If every Pakistani is a soldier of the Radd-ul-Fasaad operation then we all have to work for our country. The anti-national agenda must be thwarted together but we must not forget the heroes who made Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad a success by shedding their blood and the people are beginning to breathe a sigh of relief in an atmosphere of peace.

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