Small Wars Journal

Fears Growing Islamic State Successfully Weaponizing Refugees

Sun, 12/25/2016 - 6:06am

Fears Growing Islamic State Successfully Weaponizing Refugees

Jeff Seldin, Voice of America

Western security officials are increasingly worried that the Islamic State terror group may be a step ahead of their renewed efforts to stop terrorist infiltration of their countries.

Fears once centered on IS using migrant and refugee flows to sneak in highly trained operatives bent on carrying out attacks. Now they have expanded to include an equally dangerous possibility.

A growing number of officials now warn that the terror group may be looking to essentially weaponize refugees and other vulnerable immigrant populations after they have successfully crossed Western borders and passed through what look to be ever-tougher vetting processes.

“We have to be ready,” said Fabrice Leggeri, executive director of Frontex, the European border and coast guard agency, speaking prior to the deadly attack in Berlin.

“Some people might get radicalized or manipulated or used or utilized by terrorist groups after they enter the EU,” he said. “This is something where I don't have clear indications.”

A Europol report published in November, "Changes in Modus Operandi of Islamic State (IS) revisited" — is even more explicit.

“A real and imminent danger is the possibility of elements of the [Sunni Muslim] Syrian refugee diaspora becoming vulnerable to radicalization once in Europe and being specifically targeted by Islamic extremist recruiters,” the report stated. “It is believed that a number of jihadists are traveling through Europe for this purpose.”

Christmas Market Attack

Just how many terrorist operatives have been sent to Europe to recruit among the growing number of migrants and refugees is unclear. Europol cited German reports that, as of April 2016, there were approximately 300 cases in which jihadists tried recruiting refugees trying to enter Europe.

But there is also a sense that IS, also known as ISIS, is likely not as focused on the numbers as it is on exploiting what it sees as a potent opportunity.

“ISIS just wants to give itself options,” said Robin Simcox, a terrorism and national security analyst with the Heritage Foundation.

“It chimes perfectly with what ISIS would want to do,” he added. “It enables them to extend their foreign operations.”

Adding to the level of concern is the case this past week of Tunisian Anis Amri, who carried out a deadly attack on a Berlin Christmas market.

By most accounts, there were few signs Amri had radical leanings when as a 19-year-old, he arrived in Europe, on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Even when he left Italy for Germany years later, to seek political asylum, authorities say his behavior was more akin to that of a criminal than of a terrorist.

Yet on Monday, the now 24-year-old Amri used a truck to plow through the crowded market, killing 12 people and injuring 56 others. Before the attack he made a video in which he pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State terror group and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Ohio State University Attack

U.S. officials are also concerned, pointing to an attack on American soil barely a month earlier — the November 28 car attack at Ohio State University carried out by Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a Somali-born refugee with legal, permanent resident status.

“I do think he did radicalize in the United States,” the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Representative Mike McCaul, said at the time, voicing concern it was a vulnerability that could be exploited again.

“They can come in and be what they call 'clean' and radicalize after they're in the United States,” he said. “That's where the [U.S.] counter-radicalization program needs to be more robust.”

Yet improving security measures to prevent refugees from being targeted for radicalization is likely to be challenging, especially since terrorist recruiters often work without the need for face-to-face interaction.

“As long as the Islamic State, as long as [al-Qaida] have an external operations capability, have access to the internet, we have to be concerned,” said U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson during a forum in Washington late last month. “I think there is little doubt we need to build these bridges to communities in which [IS] is trying to recruit.”

Not Just Refugees

Despite concerns and political rhetoric about the vulnerability of refugees in Europe and the U.S. to radicalization, there is also skepticism about the degree to which IS or other terror groups are specifically targeting those communities.

“When it comes to refugees being radicalized after they come to a host country, this is quite low in number, actually," according to Mubin Shaikh, a terrorism expert who has previously worked with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

According to the George Washington University's Program on Extremism, 112 people have been charged with IS-related crimes in the U.S. since March 2014. The vast majority of them were U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

“Much of ISIS's argument is, of course, that Muslims — immigrants, converts, everyone — will never be included and accepted in the West because of the very fact that they are Muslim," said Program on Extremism fellow Amarnath Amarasingam.

“This message, it could perhaps be argued, but gently, may indeed resonate more in some countries and with some communities,” he added. “But is ISIS specifically targeting immigrants? Not really.”


Outlaw 09

Mon, 12/26/2016 - 12:02pm

In reply to by RantCorp is the point....the war against terrorism is simply a security services and police battle....this was proven with the take down of RAF...Red Brigades....PL/PFPL in Europe and PKK on European a time in space where computers and smart phones were non existent.... good old fashion footwork and analysis were the keys.....


Mon, 12/26/2016 - 4:38am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw wrote,

'1. in every ethnic group of people or the general population writ large there is a proven 1% who are violent and will carry out violence...'

I imagine there are a considerable number of Wahhabi recruited foreign fighters who are inspired by a deep belief in their faith to murder but they are a very rare breed indeed. As someone who has interrogated dozens I have never discovered one that wasn't a petty criminal, drug-dealer/taker, social outcast and generally illiterate and ignorant to most things - especially so Islam.

I had an unnerving experience of encountering a small group of foreign fighters being chaperoned by some Saudi Fruitcake - all of the non-Arabs (including at least one American) had rather obvious mental health/development issues. Some of them were clearly autistic or had mild Downs Syndrome. Later on we managed to learn they were destined to carry out suicide missions.

The point being that the overriding characteristic all of these folks carry within themselves is that they have a criminal mindset/demeanor and a few of the more mentally unstable ones to the point of criminal insanity. IMHO if we adopt the Gen Flynn's self-aggrandizing 'Crusade' approach they will continue to ghost straight past us. The police deal with these kind of people every day of the week. I imagine that's why the two Italian police officers stopped Anis Amiri in Milan - his demeanor triggered their policeman's instinct pertaining to petty criminals.

and again:

'So why do these terror attacks get so much attention and the number of bicycle riders killed by drivers not watching for them on a daily basis gets no attention.....'

I am always skeptical when people who have a vested interest in the military - both civilian and uniformed - express outrage at casualties and the need to buy more tanks, ships and planes or bomb more or send in more men. When you ask these same folks their advice on funding solutions regards the 20 Vets who commit suicide every day, month in, year out, they either don't believe you, declare that the 600 a month homegrown death toll has nothing to do with the GWOT or they avoid talking to you altogether.

IMHO this attitude suggests to me that whilst many of the arguments for procurement/escalation/de-escalation have good and bad points, the argument that folks are concerned with the consequential deaths caused by their POV is false.


Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/25/2016 - 3:30pm

Here is the truth that even VOA seems to have deliberately wanted to miss...

1. in every ethnic group of people or the general population writ large there is a proven 1% who are violent and will carry out violence...

2. RUSSIA and Assad have "weaponized refugee flows into Europe"....NOT IS..

3. IN all the IS attacks in Europe...not a single attack was carried out by a "true refugee"....meaning a Sunni driven out of say Aleppo smuggled all the way to Berlin.....

4. all of the attacks came from locals and or deliberately smuggled in IS fighters....

5. WHAT is extremely interesting in this "terrorist attack debate" is the simple fact and it sounds harsh...but the total number of killed is far exceeded by say the total number of road accidents every year in say France and or Germany.....

HERE is the kicker....far more Americans have been killed by guns of all calibers and all types of shooters to include shooters under the age of 5 THAN all those killed in 9/11......IN A SINGLE YEAR AND THAT YEAR AFTER YEAR SINCE 9/11.....

So why do these terror attacks get so much attention and the number of bicycle riders killed by drivers not watching for them on a daily basis gets no attention.....

Berlin is interesting in that it was "business as usual immediately after the attack"...WHY Germany has been a target of terror since the mid 60s to include the Palestinian raid on the Munich Olympics....PKK terror on the streets against Turkish Consulate personnel...RAF..Baader Meinhof...2nd June..Red Brigade..PLO......PFPL....a civil society gets use to it.....AND this does not include neo Nazi killings on the right....

Many in the anti terror business have always is a security services and police fight....keep it that way but do not give up you democracy in the process.

In many ways we in the West are slowing giving up those rights in the so called name of fighting IS and AQ.....

AND honesty that fight is not going they are still fighting and killing and IMHO that will go on for another decade until the true reasons for AQ and IS are addressed head on....


Sun, 12/25/2016 - 7:54am

Nothing like a lurid headline especially today. Citing various "experts" and finally one says: ' ISIS specifically targeting immigrants? Not really'

The sad fact is that the ideological aspects of the counter-terrorism effort in the West are still a "work in progress", often with steps backwards. Where is the mention that jihadist calls for mobilization and violence fall on "stony ground"? Nor that jihadists kill more Muslims than non-Muslims.