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The price of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

Aug 23,2017 - Last updated at Aug 23,2017

The overwhelming majority of takfiri men who in the past two years mounted attacks against civilians in France, Belgium and Spain have been of Moroccan and Tunisian origin.

Their hostility is difficult to explain as these North African countries have escaped the mayhem sown in the eastern Arab world by the 2003 US conquest of Iraq and the chaos caused by the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Most of the European takfiris have been radicalised and mounted attacks in the countries of their birth or residence.

For Moroccans, in particular, several districts of Belgium’s capital, Brussels, have become a main hub of radicalisation.

There are connections between these districts and the deadly attacks in Paris in 2015, Brussels in 2016, and last week’s brutal car rammings in Barcelona and Cambrils.

The latest attacks may well have inspired a Moroccan asylum seeker to go on a rampage with a knife in the central square of the Finnish town of Turku and kill two women and wound four more, as well as two men.

Two Tunisians acting individually carried out the July and December 2016 vehicle attacks on civilians in Nice, killing 87, and Berlin where they slayed a dozen.

Tunisians have formed the largest contingent of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, Moroccans the seventh largest overall and second largest from North Africa.

Men of Moroccan origin resident in Europe have been the most proliferate perpetrators there, while 2,000 dual Moroccan-European nationals have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Although Tunisians have a reputation for being a peaceful people, the 2011 uprising that ousted the repressive Ben Ali regime exposed the country to freedom and established a working democratic system of governance.

After the introduction of free speech, jihadist preachers and activists were liberated and empowered to radicalise alienated young people disillusioned by the failure of post-Ben Ali governments to deliver jobs and prosperity.

Some joined Ansar Sharia, a Tunisian terrorist group, while arms flowed into the country from Libya and takfiri training camps sprouted up in the Libyan desert.

The Tunisian who was radicalised at home and killed 38 tourists in a beach hotel in 2015 had trained in Libya.

Some 6,000 Tunisians have joined Daesh and other takfiri groups in Syria and Iraq.

Having survived the unrest of the Arab Spring, Morocco kept a lid on trakfiri recruiters and groupings. However, the government turned a blind eye to Moroccans travelling to Syria after the 2012 meeting in Casablanca of the “Friends of Syria” — grouping the US, Germany, Britain, France, Turkey, the Gulf states and others — which declared the expatriate opposition to Syrian National Coalition as the “legitimate representative of the Syrian people”.

At least 1,600 Moroccans journeyed to Syria to fight for various insurgent factions that came to be dominated by Al Qaeda’s Jabhat Al Nusra and Daesh.

By contrast, few Algerians have joined the flow to Syria and Iraq.

They were put off by the decade of conflict that followed Algiers’ refusal to accept the victory of the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front in the first stage of the 1990-91 parliamentary election. This led to a revolt that killed 150,000-200,000 and resulted in more than 7,000 disappeared. 

Algerians of all backgrounds have not been eager for a new crackdown and remain deeply suspicious of backward-looking and smothering takfiris.

Youngsters were not inspired by them. European citizens of Algerian origin have not been drawn into networks that have been responsible for attacks in Europe.

The Arabs most affected by Western interference and intervention, Palestinians and Iraqis, have not played major roles in attacks with vengeance in mind.

Two Iraqis were involved in the Moroccan-planned and executed operations in Paris in November 2015 and one Palestinian residing in Sweden took part in the Brussels bombings in March 2016.

Palestinians living in their Israeli-occupied country are too busy trying to survive and too hemmed in by Israel to mount group-planned and executed operations at home. 

Palestinian takfiris carried out attacks on Israel and infiltrated Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula to mount operations against Israel in coordination with Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, the local Egyptian takfiri organisation.

Few Palestinians in the diaspora got involved in the struggles in Syria and Iraq.

The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority urged Palestinians living in Syria to stay neutral in the civil conflict although Palestinians settled in the Yarmouk suburb of Damascus were, in December 2012, driven from their homes by Free Syrian Army factions and Nusra.

Yarmouk subsequently became a battleground between Nusra and Daesh.

The number of Palestinians fighting in Syria and Iraq has been minimal. Following the US invasion and occupation of Iraq, takfiri fighters from several countries, including those in North Africa, flowed through Syria to Iraq. Many joined Al Qaeda’s local offshoot, which, after the 2011 upheavals in the Arab world, morphed into Islamic State in Syria, Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (Daesh) and Nusra (now Jabhat Fatah Al Sham).

Nusra and Daesh invaded Syria, Nusra in 2012 with the aim of battling the government, Daesh in 2013 in order to seize territory before returning to Iraq where it conquered nearly 40 per cent of the country before being contained after taking Mosul in June 2014.

It is unclear how many foreign takfiris remain in Iraq and Syria — several thousands were killed and hundreds have been returning to their home countries.

Some have gone underground at home or elsewhere to evade arrest and, perhaps, to mount attacks in their homelands or to join the takfiri foreign legion. They can be found in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Libya, Sinai, Turkey and Yemen.

While takfiris have existed for aeons, they entered the modern era as “mujahedeen” during the US-led war to drive the Soviet army from Afghanistan.

Veterans of that war joined the battle on the Muslim side in the Balkan wars of the 1990s and, as mentioned earlier, took on the Algerian government.

When they mounted the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001, they became archenemies of the West and its allies.

They multiplied and put down roots in Iraq after the 2003 war that devastated that country and crossed into Syria in 2012-13.

 

The world is paying a high price for Washington’s use of takfiris in Afghanistan and for the US conquest of Iraq.

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