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Western Europe has emerged as a central front in the Global War on Terrorism, and with its large, growing, unintegrated, and disaffected Muslim minorities, long-term prospects for success are increasingly problematic. This threat, which has global as well as regional implications, is not sufficiently recognized in the current U.S. National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, according to this essay, and countering it should be made an explicit priority in this strategy.

The authors produced the paper of which this article is a re-titled and edited version as students in the Joint and Combined Warfighting School, Joint Forces Staff College, Norfolk, VA.- Ed.

by Lt. Col. Kristen Baker, Maj. James Mitchell, and Brian Tindal

The four priorities of action included in the current National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (NS-CT) are: 1) prevent attacks by terrorist networks; 2) deny weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to rogue states and terrorist allies who seek to use them; 3) deny terrorists the support and sanctuary of rogue states; and 4) deny terrorists control of any nation they would use as a base and launching pad for terror.[1] Though each of these is important, in order to be an effective and complete strategy, the United States must add a fifth priority of action: assist allies in denying terrorists influence on moderate Muslims in their own countries.

The significance of the United States’ aggressive engagement with its Western allies in their own countries to both counter global terrorism and defend U.S. borders and citizens cannot be overstated. Europe has become a critical battlefield in the Global War on Terror; the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 were hatched in Hamburg, Germany; the 2004 terrorist bombings of trains in Madrid altered the course of a European election ultimately leading to the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq; and perhaps most significantly, Islamic extremists have stated their intent to conquer Europe.

The Islamic extremists’ goal of re-establishing the glory days of the Muslim world by creating an expanded Islamic caliphate cannot succeed without the backing of moderate Muslims worldwide. It is in Europe that this ideology poses the greatest danger to the future of a free and democratic world. In the words of Dr. al-Qaradawi, the host of the popular al-Jazeera TV show, Sharia and Life:

“Islam will return to Europe. The conquest need not necessarily be by sword. Perhaps we will conquer these lands without armies. We want an army of preachers and teachers who will present Islam in all languages and all dialects.”[2]

Though a cursory read of the NS-CT may suggest the proposed fifth priority of action might be captured within one of the first four priorities, upon a more detailed review it becomes clear that the first four are either too broad or too specific to capture the essence of the proposed fifth priority. The priority that appears the closest to incorporating the concepts included in the proposed fifth priority is “prevent attacks by terrorist networks.” Using this first priority of action, the United States can justify proactive engagement with its Western allies in preventing a pending attack, denying terrorists entry to the United States, denying terrorists propaganda operations, and disrupting terrorist travel. Where priority one falls short is in specifically addressing the significance of not just preventing attacks, but denying terrorists the opportunity to negatively influence moderate Muslims in democratic or Western nations.

As Dr. al-Qaradawi notes in the quote above, in Europe the pen is more frequently used than the sword by European-based Islamic extremists. The United States must have a priority of action that dictates its requirement as a nation to deny terrorists sanctuary in democracies. In Western countries, Islamic extremists can cloak their anti-Western extremist messages in the guise of free speech; they hide behind protections offered to all citizens, leaving only legal recourse to address their untoward actions. Without a focused effort as a nation to assist U.S. allies in identifying extremists whose message counters democratic ideals and in encouraging these allies to establish laws that allow them to imprison, detain, or deport Islamic extremists, these extremist individuals or groups will be successful, possibly within a generation, in convincing moderate Muslims to support the conquest of the free world by a radical form of Islam.

European Role in GWOT

Europe plays a significant role both to the United States and to the Islamic extremists in this current war. Without the support of its European allies in countering terrorism, the U.S.-led coalition cannot win the war. For example, it was the German government that convicted the first person, Mounir el Motassadeq, for involvement in the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, after a five-year court battle.[3] On the other hand, without the financial, physical, and spiritual support of influential European Islamic radicals, those who intend to create an expanded Islamic caliphate governed by Sharia law cannot win. Europe is included in their ambitions, especially the southern portion of Spain or Andalusia. Per an al-Qa’ida posting:

“We will not rest until we have liberated the whole of the Muslim world of crusaders, apostates and enemy agents and retaken our despoiled Andalusia and our desecrated Jerusalem.”[4]

Europe is problematic, considering its role in the current war on terrorism and its history with its own Muslim populace. Following World War II, Europe encouraged immigration of low-wage workers, many of them Muslim, to assist in the rebuilding of its nations. Because the European hosts never anticipated that these workers would remain once the nations were re-built, they never made any effort to integrate them socially or politically. European leaders encouraged these “short-term” workers to maintain their own cultural practices and languages. In Germany, for example, there are now more than two million Turks, who entered Germany as part of the German guest worker program initiated more than 40 years ago. Of these Turks, many now into their second generation, most are still considered aliens in Germany.[5]

Parallel Muslim Societies

Because of this situation, Muslims from France to Germany to Belgium created what are often referred to as “parallel societies.” In these sub-sets of European populace, immigrants live in common, often-impoverished neighborhoods and continue to practice the religion and cultural norms of their homeland.[6] Without citizenship or power, their political voice has been significantly limited in their adopted countries. As evidenced by the riots in the immigrant suburbs of Paris in 2005[7] and the violent Europe-wide demonstrations set off by the publication of a series of Prophet Mohammed caricatures in a Danish newspaper,[8] the disaffected European Muslims are becoming increasingly restive. Within these marginalized parallel societies, Islamic extremists find young Muslims ripe for recruitment.

Moreover, there is an increasing occurrence of “blue-eyed converts” to Islam — converts Western in appearance who were born and raised in the West — eager to prove themselves supportive of the jihadist cause. These “blue-eyed converts” pose a significant threat as they easily blend in with their fellow Europeans and would fit in well in the United States. The most vulnerable potential recruits, whether born Muslim or converted to Islam, are those who are at a stage of life where they are seeking an identity, while looking for approval and validation. They are searching for causes that can be religiously and culturally justified, that provide them a way to identify who they are, and that provide a clear call for action.[9]

It is going to take a sophisticated effort by European governments to quell this increasing disaffection. It is within the proposed fifth priority of action that the United States commits as a nation to assisting its long-standing allies in this effort.

Al-Qa’ida’s Objective

Al-Qa’ida’s notion of the original Muslim state guided by a righteous ruler and devoted to the strict application of sharia law gives the potential recruits in the movement doctrinal force and a singular objective. To al-Qa’ida, the ultimate goal and message of the Salafi jihad, which seeks to revive a practice of Islam that more closely resembles the religion during the time of Muhammad, is the establishment of a “Muslim nation” in the very center of the Islamic world.[10] The West often chooses to label al-Qa’ida as an organization of hate, as if that hate were an end in and of itself. In reality, the Salafis are dissatisfied with the current position of Islam and seek to redress this grievance. In doing so, they have found themselves drawn into conflict with Western powers. As Zawahiri saw it, there was a confluence of factors preventing the emergence of a renewed caliphate. Among these was the acquiescence of Muslim rulers to the narcotic of secular culture and the semi-covert attempts by Western powers to prevent what should be the ascendance of the Islamic world.[11]

The strategic objective of al-Qa’ida is rather straightforward: to cleanse Muslim countries of corrupt and secular leadership by fighting the powers that threaten Muslim states and the holy places of Islam. The strategic center of gravity of their war is the Islamic extremist message, to include its appeal to moderate Muslims. Al-Qa’ida, leading the broad Salafi jihad, has adopted a two-pronged strategy to accomplish its objective: fighting both the near enemy and the far enemy in tandem. The ‘near enemy’ is defined as the secular regimes that hold sway over Islamic countries. The ‘far enemy’ is defined as the West.

“Islamists are fighting a two-pronged conflict. On the one hand, they have initiated a wide-reaching war against U.S. interests and allies, which includes not only direct combat against U.S. military forces, but also attacks like those of 9/11 that target Americans and other Western civilians. Second, in the Middle East the Islamists view the acceptance of a corrupt, godless, immoral system by the civilian populace as being responsible for the Western system’s spread. Consequently, Islamists are engaged in a comprehensive battle for hearts and minds.”[12]

The adoption of the two-pronged ‘near enemy/far enemy’ strategy was a logical step for al-Qa’ida. The withdrawal of Russian forces from Afghanistan robbed al-Qa’ida, in a certain sense, of its rallying cause. The infidel had departed and the Salafis were left again to agonize over the hurdles involved with tackling the ‘near enemy.’ Still, the organization retained Afghanistan as a base and center of operations. The U.S. involvement in the 1991 Gulf War changed things. Men like bin Laden and Zawahiri came to see in U.S. policy a secret attempt to conquer Muslim lands.[13] They furthermore came to attribute their failures against the ‘near enemy’ as a product of the support rendered to those governments by Western interlopers. To topple any apostate regimes became an exercise in futility so long as Western powers were present to prop up flagging governments.

By this logic, the Salafi jihad changed course in targeting the ‘near enemy’ in favor of targeting the ‘far enemy,’ i.e., the United States and subsequent targets in Europe.[14] To bin Laden, there was no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the Holy Land. In 1998, the fatwa of the World Islamic Front declared “Jihad against the Crusaders,” and this fatwa became the manifesto of the full-fledged global Salafi jihad. The global jihad now carried the fight to the ‘far enemy.’ The justification of this new type of jihad was the U.S. “occupation” of Saudi Arabia and support for Israel.[15]

Lessons from Attacks

What al-Qa’ida and its broader Salafi jihadists have learned from their attacks on the ‘far enemy’ in the West is that these attacks are quite effective in shaping the broader populations’ perceptions of the global jihad. The 2004 attacks in Spain changed a government and ultimately resulted in the Spanish decision to remove its troops from Iraq. The 2005 attacks in London and the constant fear of repeated attacks in the United States have led to diminishing support by the average citizen for the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If al-Qa’ida’s strategic center of gravity in this war is its radical message, the strategic center of gravity of the U.S.-led GWOT coalition is its ability to hold the counter-terror coalition together. The glue that’s currently holding the global coalition together is the support of the average citizen for the efforts of his government to fight Islamic terrorists. One of the most important investments the United States must make in keeping the coalition together must be assisting its long-standing European allies, who are fighting the same battle, to maintain the popular support of their citizens for countering Islamic terrorism.

Counter-terror experts almost universally agree that nations must do more to counter the Salafi jihadist message.

“When people talk about the global war on terrorism they often focus on the most tangible aspects, such as fighting wars, hunting terrorists, gathering intelligence, and protecting our borders. At its core, this conflict is fundamentally a war of ideas, however, and I don’t think we’re winning that war. I find that very frustrating, because American ideas and ideals are powerful and compelling, and they should work to our advantage. Unfortunately, we have not conveyed our ideas or shaped our ideals into policies in ways that have improved our relationship with the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims.”[16]

The proposed fifth priority of action is critical in committing the United States to working with its European allies to counter this extremist message.

Ideological Goals

One of the primary ideological goals of al-Qa’ida is to radicalize existing Islamic groups and create Islamic groups where none exist. Al-Qa’ida’s main strength lies in its ability to support other organizations with first and foremost money, but also with an ideological framework. Al-Qa’ida has been successful in achieving this goal, especially in Europe. Al-Qa’ida’s message serves as a call for all Muslims to join al-Qa’ida in its efforts. Conducted through public fora, these statements form public perception of the purposes for al-Qa’ida’s actions and provide the organization power and leverage for garnering resources to conduct its actions. Bin Laden is able to harness these groups, despite widely differing aims, into a broad coalition due to their commitment to the central objective of attacking the West.[17]

Since the early 1990s, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of radical Islamists and an expansion of their transnational activities in Europe, where there are fewer political and law enforcement constraints on their activities than at home. In the words of an anonymous senior German intelligence officer, “The Islamist scene in Germany is very well connected, and not only in Germany. Muslim activities are more globalist — more pan-European — than Europeans are.”[18]

Even greater cause for concern is that radical Islamists — in their efforts to establish an Islamic state governed by sharia through violence and extralegal means — are increasingly relying on an interstate network for assistance, finance, and training. Domestic groups with domestic grievances are now forming international alliances in pursuit of their goals.[19] The economic activities of al-Qa’ida are diverse, and its European financial network channels money to hundreds of organizations, many of which are purported to be humanitarian. Money can be channeled again from these organizations to other organizations, which perform the actions that are part of the Salafi jihad. Sources for this funding include: non-profit organizations, donations from witting and unwitting individuals, illicit criminal activity, and funds skimmed from charitable organizations. Central countries for these activities are Germany, Luxembourg, and Switzerland.

Why U.S. Help Is Needed

A good example of the positive results of proactive U.S. engagement in Europe is the April 20 warning by the State Department to American citizens to increase their personal security in Germany. The State Department message was followed on May 11 by an acknowledgement by unidentified U.S. officials that “There is intelligence reporting suggesting there is a group interested in staging an attack, potentially in Germany.”[20]The officials further noted that they believed a Kurdish Islamist from outside Germany, affiliated with al-Qa’ida, was involved in the alleged threat.[21] Though it is unclear from press reporting where this alleged Kurdish Islamist originates or resides, it is likely he is associated with Kurdish groups in northern Iraq, where the United States and its coalition partners are currently operating. Successes in uncovering plots such as this are a result of collaborative work between U.S. personnel on the ground in Europe, U.S. personnel with access to information on terrorist groups in Iraq, and European allies who have access to detailed information on terrorists within their own borders.

The proposed fifth priority of action would have three sub-components. These sub-components would be: 1) assist allies in developing plans to discredit the radical Islamic message in European mosques and cultural centers; 2) engage moderate Muslims in an effort to develop plans for improved integration into European society; and 3) neutralize the influence of European-based terrorists supporting active terrorist plots and jihads in Europe and elsewhere. The first sub-component commits the United States to addressing the center of gravity of the War on Terror — the Islamic extremist message. The second sub-component commits the United States to assisting its allies in recognizing the growing dangers presented by the disaffected, increasingly restive Muslims living in parallel societies in Europe. The third sub-component acknowledges that European jihadists play a significant role in the global jihad and that the United States must find proactive, aggressive methods to ferret these European jihadists out and neutralize them. These three subcomponents together will allow the United States to help its European allies defeat terrorism within their borders while keeping its own borders safe.

There is no simple solution to countering global Islamic terrorism. By incorporating the proposed fifth priority of action, “assist allies in denying terrorists influence on moderate Muslims in their own countries,” the United States will both include a priority of action that addresses the enemy’s center of gravity and identify a critical battlefield in the Global War on Terror. To keep Islamic extremism at bay and maintain the peace and prosperity collectively built and shared over the past six decades, the United States must include a priority of action that obligates the nation to neutralize the message of the Islamic radicals. It is in Europe that this battle will prove to be the most significant. End.


[1] U.S. Government, United States National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, Washington, D.C., September 2006.

[2] SPECTATOR, UK, Cover Story, the Triumph of the East, On-line, Internet, 24 July 2004.

[3] Agence France-Presse, Attack against Americans in Germany Imminent, On-line Internet, 11 May 2007.

[4] News & Views of the Maghreb, Algerians Unite in Condemning Bombings, On-Line Internet13 April 2007.

[5] Broomby, Germany’s Guest Workers Mark 40 Years (BBC News, 30 October 2001).

[6] Borchgrave, Europe’s Muslim ‘parallel’ society (World Peace Herald; Viewpoints, Peace and ConflictEurope, 10 Apr 2007) 15 — 16.

[7] Ford, Deep Roots of Paris Riots (Christian Science Monitor, 2006). On-line Internet, 4 November 2005.

[8] Jyllands-Posten, Muhammad cartoons controversy (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2006).

[9] Jenkins, Building an Army of Believers – Jihadist Radicalization and Recruitment, (Testimony presented before the House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment on April 2007) 3.

[10]Sageman, Understanding Terrorist Networks (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 15-16.

[11] Ibid, 20.

[12] Groves, Harvey, and Sullivan, A Clash of Systems– An Analytical Framework to Demystify the Radical Islamist Threat (Parameters,Vol. XXXV, No. 3, 2005) 79.

[13] M. Sageman, 40.

[14] Ibid, 47.

[15] Ibid, 19.

[16]A. Rosenthal, Reversing Islamic Radicalization, Chapter Excerpt from State of the Struggle: Report on the Battle against Global Terrorism (Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 2007) 4.

[17] Emerson, Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam (Prometheus Books, 2006) 42.

[18] AP Berlin press article, Germany New `Base’ for Recruiting Militants, On-line Internet, 7 Mar 2005.

[19] Z. Abuza, Militant Islam in Southeast Asia-Crucible of Terror, (Lynne-Rienner Publishers, 2006) 7.

[20] C. Thompson, U.S Officials Believe Attacks Planned on Americans in Germany, On-line Internet, 12 May 2007. Para 1.

[21] Ibid, Para 3.

Lieutenant Colonel Kristin Baker, USA, is currently assigned to Pacific Command Headquarters after having served as the Chief of Counter-terrorism and Executive Officer for the United States Army Europe G2. LTC Baker has been on active duty for 16 years, serving in positions to include platoon leader, battalion and brigade intelligence officer positions, company commander, and as an assignment officer at Human Resources Command. LTC Baker was commissioned in 1990 from the United States Military Academy, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Human Factors Engineering. She has a Master’s degree in Strategic Intelligence from the Joint Military Intelligence College and completed Army Command and General Staff College in 2002.

Major James Mitchell, USAF, is a Program Manager currently assigned to the Defense Information Systems Agency in Falls Church VA. Maj. Mitchell has prior experience supporting the F-15 Eagle and U-2 Dragon Lady weapon systems. He was commissioned in 1993 from Air Force ROTC at Louisiana Tech University. He earned his Bachelor’s in Physics in 1993 and a Master’s in Administration from Central Michigan University in 2002. Maj. Mitchell completed Air Command and Staff College in 2005.

Mr. Brian Tindall, GG-13, DAFC, is assigned to the U.S. Strategic Command Counterintelligence Staff Office as the command’s lead analyst for the Terrorist Finance Exploitation Unit. He also provides specialized counterintelligence support for USSTRATCOM’s Joint Functional Component Command – Global Strike and Integration. Mr. Tindall is a retired USAF counterintelligence agent, and served in multiple assignments in Southwest Asia and Central and South America while on active duty. He earned a BS in Criminal Justice from Bellevue University and is a graduate of the USAF Special Investigations Academy.


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