Orchestrating a reign of terror
What gave them away was how they all wore a glove on their left hand only. In the photo taken by the surveillance camera at the Brussels Airport, three men can be seen pushing their trolleys towards the check-in area. The man wearing an open, light-coloured jacket, leisure shirt and dark cotton hat tried his best to pass as a normal tourist checking in for a flight to a sunny destination. But by the evening of the devastating attack in the Belgian capital, his two companions had already been identified as the suicide bombers who dragged 30 others with them to their death. The detonators for their explosives belts were fastened to their left hands, under the gloves.
The trail of the suspects in the Brussels attacks is leading investigators further and further afield. In addition to the arrests in Belgium and France, people have also been apprehended in Germany who had ties to the events in Brussels. It has come to light that the offenders are working together, in all likelihood as part of a pan-European network.
One of the two suicide attackers was Najim Laachraoui, whom the Belgian authorities had been looking for ever since the Paris attacks on 13 November 2015. French investigators found traces of his DNA in the bomb material used by the Paris terrorists. And now he is gone, having blown himself up in Brussels.
All three men in the airport photo arrived in Europe a year ago from Syria, taking different routes. Across entire continents, the same deadly strategy is taking hold, the same ideology. Because most of those who have been apprehended are returnees from the jihad in Syria and Iraq.
The target is Europe
Ever since the assault on the French satirical newspaper "Charlie Hebdo" in January 2014, international jihadists have increasingly been setting their sights on Europe. Their primary targets are nations that are part of the US coalition in Syria and Iraq. According to extremist propaganda, these countries are home to the "crusaders" and "infidels" who have killed countless Muslims in wars worldwide. The returnees are the mainstay of these terrorist forces.
"These radicalised fighters, returning after experiencing war first-hand, are like ticking time bombs," says the terrorist expert Rolf Tophoven, director of the "Institute for Crisis Prevention" in Essen. Paris and Brussels are two examples of what can happen. And the returnees also pose a tremendous threat to Germany.
The path taken by Najim Laachraoui is typical for this trend. The man wearing only one glove on the left in the airport photo trained in Syria as an explosives expert. But the 24-year-old first did a course in electrical engineering at a Catholic college in the Brussels suburb of Schaerbeek. After graduating, he moved to Syria in 2013 to take up the jihadist cause.
He is believed to have returned to Europe a good two months before the attacks in Paris – travelling first to Hungary. The Belgian citizen Laachraoui was picked up in Budapest by the Frenchman Salah Abdeslam, who grew up in Belgium, helped prepare the attacks in Paris and has meanwhile been arrested in Brussels. Both crossed the borders with Austria and Germany undetected before arriving in their home country. At a checkpoint on the way to Austria, Laachraoui used a forged Belgian identity card showing the name Soufiane Kayal. His true identity thus remained concealed.
A pilot project for sharia colonialism
The story of the suicide attacker Laachraoui reveals what is happening on the jihadist scene in Europe. First, young Muslims are lured into going to war in the name of Allah, fighting in Syria for the rights of the oppressed. The internet helps to spread the message. When an Islamic State is finally founded, they are promised paradisiacal conditions in the land that was once the site of the Garden of Eden. Everything will be taken care of: income, housing, food, women.
Syria and Iraq are to be something like a pilot project for sharia colonialism, which should then spread throughout the world. Al-Qaida head Osama bin Laden dreamt of global jihad. After his death, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi took up the vision and perfected it. He was able to make the blatant contradiction between Stone-Age Islam and state-of-the-art technology seem inconsequential. For this, he needed well-trained men from the West – i.e. Europe – and loyal, docile and religiously indoctrinated followers from the Middle East. The mix seems to be working. Daesh has fought its way from one victory to the next. The goal of expansion seems to be getting closer.
Until recently, Belgium was the leading exporter of jihadists to Syria and Iraq. No other European country produced more IS fighters in proportion to its population. In the meantime, Sweden has taken the lead. The Belgians have in some cases returned, blown themselves up as suicide bombers, or died in the struggle for the Caliphate.
A total of 4,500 so-called "foreign fighters", IS fighters from the USA and Europe, have allegedly died thus far in Syria and Iraq, according to a report by the "New America Foundation for Studies and Research". The report speaks of a total of 10,000 jihadists from the West who are fighting on the IS front. And 400 of them have been dispatched to Europe to carry out attacks there.
© Qantara.de 2016
Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor