Al-Qaida Continues to Recruit
The Sunday Times reported on 7/21 that British intelligence now estimates that some 4,000 Muslims with British citizenship passed through al-Qaida training camps, many of them having fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya or the Balkans before returning to the UK. Previous estimates had been 80 or so. If true, this report indicates that British security forces have a much more difficult task in fighting terrorism than previously thought.
On 7/22 USA Today reported that Peter Gridling, an Austrian who took control this month of Europol’s counterterrorism unit. Europol, is convinced that al-Qaida continues to be active in virtually every country in Europe and continues successfully to recruit members and to maintain contact among cells. Roland Jacquard, Roland Jacquard, president of the Paris-based International Observatory on Terrorism, is said by the report to have estimated that over 200 al-Qaida suspects have been rounded up in Western Europe since September 11, but he remains pessimistic about the possibility of cracking the organization altogether.
Asharq al-Awsat reported Tuesday that Salim Zarda, 32, who was deported from the US to Tunisia in May, will be tried there by a military court. Zarda was apprehended last fall in San Antonio on charges of entering the US illegally and suspicion of belonging to al-Qaida. He went to Germany in 1996 and was given political asylum there. He made a number of trips to Afghanistan and Bosnia. He denies any connection to Usama Bin Laden. The military court in Tunisia has already imprisoned 4 persons on similar charges, for terms ranging from 8 to 20 years, and has sentenced another 30 in absentia, including some in the Milan group busted by Italian security.
The same source says that 8 of prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay in Camp X-Ray are Tunisian nationals, one of which also has French citizenship. They include Bilal al-Tunisi, Hamza al-Tunisi, Abu `Abdu’llah (the one with French citizenship) and Abu Shu`ayb al-Tunisi. Most appear to have been caught by the Pakistani security forces, some just after the Tora Bora battle, from which they appear to have been fleeing. It said that fair numbers of Tunisians were killed fighting in Afghanistan for al-Qaida against the U.S.
The Tunisian contingent in al-Qaida is a sign of how effective the virtual police state of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, president of Tunisia, has been in cracking down on Islamists and forcing those who insisted on remaining activists to go abroad. (Ben Ali gets 99% of the vote every time he runs.) Although his human rights record is abysmal, it is also true that the radical Islamists in Tunisia were highly intolerant of others and would have established a totalitarian state if given the chance. The interest of these Tunisian radicals in al-Qaida, however, poses a security concern in Europe, where there are large (mostly peace-loving and secular-minded) Tunisian expatriate communities. A poll done in the 1980s showed that 20% of Tunisians, when asked their religion, replied that they were not religious. In the US only 8% of the population gives that reply. Nevertheless, among the other 80% of Tunisians there are obviously some radical fundamentalists. German intelligence is convinced that Tunisian affiliates of al-Qaida carried out the bombing of the Djerba synagogue in April 2002, which killed 19 persons, including 14 German tourists.