Europe’s Angry Muslims

By Robert S. Leiken

From Foreign Affairs, July/August 2005

Summary: Radical Islam is spreading across Europe among descendants of Muslim immigrants. Disenfranchised and disillusioned by the failure of integration, some European Muslims have taken up jihad against the West. They are dangerous and committed — and can enter the United States without a visa.

Robert S. Leiken is Director of the Immigration and National Security Program at the Nixon Center and a nonresident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of Bearers of Jihad? Immigration and National Security After 9/11.

Fox News and CNN’s Lou Dobbs worry about terrorists stealing across the United States’ border with Mexico concealed among illegal immigrants. The Pentagon wages war in the Middle East to stop terrorist attacks on the United States. But the growing nightmare of officials at the Department of Homeland Security is passport-carrying, visa-exempt mujahideen coming from the United States’ western European allies.

Jihadist networks span Europe from Poland to Portugal, thanks to the spread of radical Islam among the descendants of guest workers once recruited to shore up Europe’s postwar economic miracle. In smoky coffeehouses in Rotterdam and Copenhagen, makeshift prayer halls in Hamburg and Brussels, Islamic bookstalls in Birmingham and “Londonistan,” and the prisons of Madrid, Milan, and Marseilles, immigrants or their descendants are volunteering for jihad against the West. It was a Dutch Muslim of Moroccan descent, born and socialized in Europe, who murdered the filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam last November. A Nixon Center study of 373 mujahideen in western Europe and North America between 1993 and 2004 found more than twice as many Frenchmen as Saudis and more Britons than Sudanese, Yemenites, Emiratis, Lebanese, or Libyans. Fully a quarter of the jihadists it listed were western European nationals — eligible to travel visa-free to the United States.

The emergence of homegrown mujahideen in Europe threatens the United States as well as Europe. Yet it was the dog that never barked at last winter’s Euro-American rapprochement meeting. Neither President George W. Bush nor Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice drew attention to this mutual peril, even though it should focus minds and could buttress solidarity in the West.

The mass immigration of Muslims to Europe was an unintended consequence of post-World War II guest-worker programs. Backed by friendly politicians and sympathetic judges, foreign workers, who were supposed to stay temporarily, benefited from family reunification programs and became permanent. Successive waves of immigrants formed a sea of descendants. Today, Muslims constitute the majority of immigrants in most western European countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and the largest single component of the immigrant population in the United Kingdom. Exact numbers are hard to come by because Western censuses rarely ask respondents about their faith. But it is estimated that between 15 and 20 million Muslims now call Europe home and make up four to five percent of its total population. (Muslims in the United States probably do not exceed 3 million, accounting for less than two percent of the total population.) France has the largest proportion of Muslims (seven to ten percent of its total population), followed by the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Italy. Given continued immigration and high Muslim fertility rates, the National Intelligence Council projects that Europe’s Muslim population will double by 2025.

Unlike their U.S. counterparts, who entered a gigantic country built on immigration, most Muslim newcomers to western Europe started arriving only after World War II, crowding into small, culturally homogenous nations. Their influx was a new phenomenon for many host states and often unwelcome. Meanwhile, North African immigrants retained powerful attachments to their native cultures. So unlike American Muslims, who are geographically diffuse, ethnically fragmented, and generally well off, Europe’s Muslims gather in bleak enclaves with their compatriots: Algerians in France, Moroccans in Spain, Turks in Germany, and Pakistanis in the United Kingdom.

The footprint of Muslim immigrants in Europe is already more visible than that of the Hispanic population in the United States. Unlike the jumble of nationalities that make up the American Latino community, the Muslims of western Europe are likely to be distinct, cohesive, and bitter. In Europe, host countries that never learned to integrate newcomers collide with immigrants exceptionally retentive of their ways, producing a variant of what the French scholar Olivier Roy calls “globalized Islam”: militant Islamic resentment at Western dominance, anti-imperialism exalted by revivalism.

As the French academic Gilles Kepel acknowledges, “neither the blood spilled by Muslims from North Africa fighting in French uniforms during both world wars nor the sweat of migrant laborers, living under deplorable living conditions, who rebuilt France (and Europe) for a pittance after 1945, has made their children … full fellow citizens.” Small wonder, then, that a radical leader of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, a group associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, curses his new homeland: “Oh sweet France! Are you astonished that so many of your children commune in a stinging naal bou la France [fuck France], and damn your Fathers?”

As a consequence of demography, history, ideology, and policy, western Europe now plays host to often disconsolate Muslim offspring, who are its citizens in name but not culturally or socially. In a fit of absentmindedness, during which its academics discoursed on the obsolescence of the nation-state, western Europe acquired not a colonial empire but something of an internal colony, whose numbers are roughly equivalent to the population of Syria. Many of its members are willing to integrate and try to climb Europe’s steep social ladder. But many younger Muslims reject the minority status to which their parents acquiesced. A volatile mix of European nativism and immigrant dissidence challenges what the Danish sociologist Ole Waever calls “societal security,” or national cohesion. To make matters worse, the very isolation of these diaspora communities obscures their inner workings, allowing mujahideen to fundraise, prepare, and recruit for jihad with a freedom available in few Muslim countries.

As these conditions developed in the late 1990s, even liberal segments of the European public began to have second thoughts about immigration. Many were galled by their governments’ failure to reduce or even identify the sources of insécurité (a French code word for the combination of vandalism, delinquency, and hate crimes stemming from Muslim immigrant enclaves). The state appeared unable to regulate the entry of immigrants, and society seemed unwilling to integrate them. In some cases, the backlash was xenophobic and racist; in others, it was a reaction against policymakers captivated by a multiculturalist dream of diverse communities living in harmony, offering oppressed nationalities marked compassion and remedial benefits. By 2002, electoral rebellion over the issue of immigration was threatening the party systems of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, and the Netherlands. The Dutch were so incensed by the 2002 assassination of Pim Fortuyn, a gay anti-immigration politician, that mainstream parties adopted much of the victim’s program. In the United Kingdom this spring, the Tories not only joined the ruling Labour Party in embracing sweeping immigration restrictions, such as tightened procedures for asylum and family reunification (both regularly abused throughout Europe) and a computerized exit-entry system like the new U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology program; they also campaigned for numerical caps on immigrants. With the Muslim headscarf controversy raging in France, talk about the connection between asylum abuse and terrorism rising in the United Kingdom, an immigration dispute threatening to tear Belgium apart, and the Dutch outrage over the van Gogh killing, western Europe may now be reaching a tipping point.

The uncomfortable truth is that disenfranchisement and radicalization are happening even in countries, such as the Netherlands, that have done much to accommodate Muslim immigrants. Proud of a legendary tolerance of minorities, the Netherlands welcomed tens of thousands of Muslim asylum seekers allegedly escaping persecution. Immigrants availed themselves of generous welfare and housing benefits, an affirmative-action hiring policy, and free language courses. Dutch taxpayers funded Muslim religious schools and mosques, and public television broadcast programs in Moroccan Arabic. Mohammed Bouyeri was collecting unemployment benefits when he murdered van Gogh.

The van Gogh slaying rocked the Netherlands and neighboring countries not only because the victim, a provocative filmmaker, was a descendant of the painter Vincent, the Dutch’s most cherished icon, but also because Bouyeri was “an average second-generation immigrant,” according to Stef Blok, the chairman of the parliamentary commission reviewing Bouyeri’s immigration record. European counterterrorism authorities saw the killing as a new phase in the terrorist threat. It raised the specter of Middle East-style political assassinations as part of the European jihadist arsenal and it disclosed a new source of danger: unknown individuals among Europe’s own Muslims. The cell in Hamburg that was connected to the attacks of September 11, 2001, was composed of student visitors, and the Madrid train bombings of March 2004 were committed by Moroccan immigrants. But van Gogh’s killer and his associates were born and raised in Europe.

Bouyeri was the child of Moroccan immigrant workers. He grew up in a proletarian area of Amsterdam sometimes known as Satellite City because of the many reception dishes that sit on its balconies, tuned to al Jazeera and Moroccan television. Bouyeri’s parents arrived in a wave of immigration in the 1970s and never learned Dutch. But Bouyeri graduated from the area’s best high school. His transformation from promising student to jihadist follows a pattern in which groups of thriving, young European Muslims enlist in jihad to slaughter Westerners.

After graduating from a local college and then taking advanced courses in accounting and information technology, Bouyeri, who had an unruly temper, was jailed for seven months on a violence-related crime. He emerged from jail an Islamist, angry over Palestine and sympathetic to Hamas. He studied social work and became a community organizer. He wrote in a community newsletter that “the Netherlands is now our enemy because they participate in the occupation of Iraq.” After he failed to get funding for a youth center in Satellite City and was unable to ban the sale of beer or the presence of women at the events he organized, he moved to downtown Amsterdam. There, he was recruited into the Hofstad Group, a cell of second-generation Islamic militants.

The cell started meeting every two weeks in Bouyeri’s apartment to hear the sermons of a Syrian preacher known as Abu Khatib. Hofstad was connected to networks in Spain, Morocco, Italy, and Belgium, and it was planning a string of assassinations of Dutch politicians, an attack on the Netherlands’ sole nuclear reactor, and other actions around Europe. European intelligence services have linked the cell to the Moroccan Islamic Combat Group, which is associated with the Madrid bombings and a series of attacks in Casablanca in 2003. Its Syrian imam was involved with mujahideen in Iraq and with an operational chief of al Qaeda. “Judging by Bouyeri’s and the Hofstad network’s international contacts,” an analyst for the Norwegian government says, “it seems safe to conclude that they were part of the numerous terrorist plots that have been unraveled over the past years in western Europe.”

The Hofstad Group should not be compared with marginal European terrorist groups of the past, such as the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany, Action Directe in France, or the Red Brigades in Italy. Like other jihadist groups today, it enjoys what Marxist terrorists long sought but always lacked: a social base. And its base is growing rapidly, thanks in part to the war in Iraq.

The Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) says that radical Islam in the Netherlands encompasses “a multitude of movements, organizations and groups.” Some are nonviolent and share only religious dogma and a loathing for the West. But AIVD stresses that others, including al Qaeda, are also “stealthily taking root in Dutch society” by recruiting estranged Dutch-born Muslim youths. An AIVD report portrays such recruits watching jihadist videos, discussing martyrdom in Internet chat rooms, and attending Islamist readings, congresses, and summer camps. Radical Islam has become “an autonomous phenomenon,” the AIVD affirms, so that even without direct influence from abroad, Dutch youth are now embracing the fundamentalist line. Much the same can be said about angry young Muslims in Brussels, London, Paris, Madrid, and Milan.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of jihadists in western Europe: call them “outsiders” and “insiders.” The outsiders are aliens, typically asylum seekers or students, who gained refuge in liberal Europe from crackdowns against Islamists in the Middle East. Among them are radical imams, often on stipends from Saudi Arabia, who open their mosques to terrorist recruiters and serve as messengers for or spiritual fathers to jihadist networks. Once these aliens secure entry into one EU country, they have the run of them all. They may be assisted by legal or illegal residents, such as the storekeepers, merchants, and petty criminals who carried out the Madrid bombings.

Many of these first-generation outsiders have migrated to Europe expressly to carry out jihad. In Islamist mythology, migration is archetypically linked to conquest. Facing persecution in idolatrous Mecca, in AD 622 the Prophet Muhammad pronounced an anathema on the city’s leaders and took his followers to Medina. From there, he built an army that conquered Mecca in AD 630, establishing Muslim rule. Today, in the minds of mujahideen in Europe, it is the Middle East at large that figures as an idolatrous Mecca because several governments in the region suppressed Islamist takeovers in the 1990s. Europe could even be viewed as a kind of Medina, where troops are recruited for the reconquest of the holy land, starting with Iraq.

The insiders, on the other hand, are a group of alienated citizens, second- or third-generation children of immigrants, like Bouyeri, who were born and bred under European liberalism. Some are unemployed youth from hardscrabble suburbs of Marseilles, Lyon, and Paris or former mill towns such as Bradford and Leicester. They are the latest, most dangerous incarnation of that staple of immigration literature, the revolt of the second generation. They are also dramatic instances of what could be called adversarial assimilation — integration into the host country’s adversarial culture. But this sort of anti-West westernization is illustrated more typically by another paradigmatic second-generation recruit: the upwardly mobile young adult, such as the university-educated Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, or Omar Khyam, the computer student and soccer captain from Sussex, England, who dreamed of playing for his country but was detained in April 2004 for holding, with eight accomplices, half a ton of explosives aimed at London.

These downwardly mobile slum dwellers and upwardly mobile achievers replicate in western Europe the two social types that formed the base of Islamist movements in developing countries such as Algeria, Egypt, and Malaysia: the residents of shantytowns and the devout bourgeoisie. As in the September 11 attacks, the educated tend to form the leadership cadre, with the plebeians providing the muscle. No Chinese wall separates first-generation outsiders from second-generation insiders; indeed, the former typically find their recruits among the latter. Hofstad’s Syrian imam mentored Bouyeri; the notorious one-eyed imam Abu Hamza al-Masri coached Moussaoui in London. A decade ago in France, the Algerian Armed Islamic Group proselytized beurs (the French-born children of North African immigrants) and turned them into the jihadists who terrorized train passengers during the 1990s. But post-September 11 recruitment appears more systematic and strategic. Al Qaeda’s drives focus on the second generation. And if jihad recruiters sometimes find sympathetic ears underground, among gangs or in jails, today they are more likely to score at university campuses, prep schools, and even junior high schools.

According to senior counterintelligence officials, classified intelligence briefings, and wiretaps, jihadists extended their European operations after the roundups that followed September 11 and then again, with fresh energy, after the invasion of Iraq. Osama bin Laden now provides encouragement and strategic orientation to scores of relatively autonomous European jihadist networks that assemble for specific missions, draw operatives from a pool of professionals and apprentices, strike, and then dissolve, only to regroup later.

Typically these groups target European countries allied with the United States in Iraq, as was proved by the Madrid bombings, the November 2003 attacks on British targets in Istanbul, as well as the lion’s share of some 30 spectacular terrorist plots that have failed since September 11. In March 2004, within days of the London police chief’s pronouncement that a local terrorist attack was “inevitable,” his officers uncovered a plot involving nine British nationals of Pakistani origin and seized the largest cache of potential bomb-making material since the heyday of the Irish Republican Army. A few months later, Scotland Yard charged eight second-generation South Asian immigrants, reportedly trained in al Qaeda camps, with assembling a dirty bomb. Three of them had reconnaissance plans showing the layout of financial institutions in three U.S. cities.

Several hundred European militants — including dozens of second-generation Dutch immigrants “wrestling with their identity,” according to the Dutch intelligence service — have also struck out for Iraq’s Sunni Triangle. In turn, western Europe serves as a way station for mujahideen wounded in Iraq. The Iraq network belongs to an extensive structure developed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, now formally bin Laden’s sworn ally and the “emir” of al Qaeda in Iraq. Recently unsealed Spanish court documents suggest that at a meeting in Istanbul in February 2002, Zarqawi, anticipating a protracted war in Iraq, began to lay plans for a two-way underground railway to send European recruits to Iraq and Middle Eastern recruiters, as well as illegal aliens, to Europe. Zarqawi also activated sleeper cells established in European cities during the Bosnian conflict.

A chief terrorism investigator in Milan, Armando Spataro, says that “almost all European countries have been touched by [Iraq] recruiting,” including, improbably, Norway, Switzerland, Poland, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic. The recruitment methods of the Iraq network, which procures weapons in Germany from Balkan gangs, parallels those for the conflicts in Chechnya and Kashmir. Thanks to its state-of-the-art document-forging industry, Italy has become a base for dispatching volunteers. And Spain forms a trunk line with North Africa as well as a staging area for attacks in “al Andalus,” the erstwhile Muslim Spanish caliphate.

Although for some Europeans the Madrid bombings were a watershed event comparable to the September 11 attacks in the United States, these Europeans form a minority, especially among politicians. Yet what Americans perceive as European complacency is easy to fathom. The September 11 attacks did not happen in Europe, and for a long time the continent’s experience with terrorism mainly took the form of car bombs and booby-trapped trash cans. Terrorism is still seen as a crime problem, not an occasion for war. Moreover, some European officials believe that acquiescent policies toward the Middle East can offer protection. In fact, while bin Laden has selectively attacked the United States’ allies in the Iraq war, he has offered a truce to those European states that have stayed out of the conflict.

With a few exceptions, European authorities shrink from the relatively stout legislative and security measures adopted in the United States. They prefer criminal surveillance and traditional prosecutions to launching a U.S.-style “war on terrorism” and mobilizing the military, establishing detention centers, enhancing border security, requiring machine-readable passports, expelling hate preachers, and lengthening notoriously light sentences for convicted terrorists. Germany’s failure to convict conspirators in the September 11 attacks suggests that the European public, outside of France and now perhaps the Netherlands, is not ready for a war on terrorism.

Contrary to what many Americans concluded during Washington’s dispute with Paris in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, France is the exception to general European complacency. Well before September 11, France had deployed the most robust counterterrorism regime of any Western country. Irish terrorism may have diverted British attention from jihad, as has Basque terrorism in Spain, but Algerian terrorism worked the opposite effect in France.

To prevent proselytizing among its mostly North African Muslim community, during the 1990s the energetic French state denied asylum to radical Islamists even while they were being welcomed by its neighbors. Fearing, as Kepel puts it, that contagion would turn “the social malaise felt by Muslims in the suburbs of major cities” into extremism and terrorism, the French government cracked down on jihadists, detaining suspects for as long as four days without charging them or allowing them access to a lawyer. Today no place of worship is off limits to the police in secular France. Hate speech is rewarded with a visit from the police, blacklisting, and the prospect of deportation. These practices are consistent with the strict Gallic assimilationist model that bars religion from the public sphere (hence the headscarf dispute).

Contrast the French approach to the United Kingdom’s separatist form of multiculturalism, which offered radical Arab Islamists refuge and the opportunity to preach openly, while stepping up surveillance of them. French youth could still tune into jihadist messages on satellite television and the Internet, but in the United Kingdom open radical preaching spawned terrorist cells. Most of the rest of Europe adopted the relaxed British approach, but with less surveillance.

Now, the Madrid bombings and the van Gogh killing have strengthened the hand of engaged politicians, such as Germany’s Social Democratic interior minister, Otto Schily, and the former French interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who leads the governing Union for a Popular Movement. They have also prompted Brussels, London, Madrid, Paris, and The Hague to increase resources and personnel devoted to terrorism.

In general, European politicians with security responsibilities, not to mention intelligence and security officials who get daily intelligence reports, take the harder U.S. line. Schily has called for Europe-wide “computer-aided profiling” to identify mujahideen. The emergence of holy warriors in Europe and the meiosis of radical groups once connected to al Qaeda have prompted several European capitals to increase cooperation on counterterrorism as well as their counterterrorism resources and personnel.

Yet a jihadist can cross Europe with little scrutiny. Even if noticed, he can change his name or glide across a border, relying on long-standing bureaucratic and legal stovepipes. After the Madrid bombings, a midlevel European official was appointed to coordinate European counterterrorist statutes and harmonize EU security arrangements. But he often serves simply as a broker amid the gallimaufry of the 25 member states’ legal codes.

Since the Madrid bombings, the Spanish Interior Ministry has tripled to 450 the number of full-time antiterrorism operatives, and the Spanish national police are assigning a similar number of additional agents to mujahideen intelligence. Spanish law enforcement established a task force combining police and intelligence specialists to keep tabs on Muslim neighborhoods and prison mosques. Similarly, special police cells are being organized in each of France’s 22 regions, stepping up the surveillance of mosques, Islamic bookshops, long-distance phone facilities, and halal butchers and restaurants.

The 25 EU members have also put into effect a European arrest warrant allowing police to avoid lengthy extradition procedures. Despite widespread concerns about possible privacy abuses, several EU countries have lowered barriers between intelligence and police agencies since the van Gogh murder. Germany aims to place its 16 police forces under one umbrella. In France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, intelligence and police officers meet with officials in state-of-the-art communications centers, or “war rooms,” to share information about interrogations, informant reports, live wiretaps, and video or satellite pictures.

Still, counterterrorism agencies remain reluctant to share sensitive information or cooperate on prosecutions. Measures proposed in the wake of the Madrid attacks, such as a Europe-wide fingerprint and DNA database and biometric passports, remain only that — proposals. Fragmentation and rivalry among Europe’s security systems and other institutions continue to hamper counterterrorism efforts. For nearly a decade, France has sought the extradition of the organizer of several bombings in the Paris metro in the 1990s, but his case languishes in the British courts to the anguish of the Home Office as well as Paris.

The new mujahideen are not only testing traditional counterterrorist practices; their emergence is also challenging the mentality prevailing in western Europe since the end of World War II. Revulsion against Nazism and colonialism translated into compassion toward religious minorities, of whatever stripe. At first, Muslim guest workers were welcomed in Europe by a liberal orthodoxy that generally regarded them as victims lacking rights. In some countries, such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, that perspective spawned a comprehensive form of multiculturalism. London’s version verged on separatism. While stepping up surveillance, the British authorities allowed Islamists refuge and an opportunity to preach openly and disseminate rabid propaganda. Multiculturalism had a dual appeal: it allowed these states to seem tolerant by showering minorities with rights while segregating them from, rather than absorbing them into, the rest of society. Multiculturalism dovetailed with a diminished Western ethos that suited libertarians as well as liberals.

But now many Europeans have come to see that permissiveness as excessive, even dangerous. A version of religious tolerance allowed the Hamburg cell to flourish and rendered German universities hospitable to radical Islam. Now Europeans are asking Muslims to practice religious tolerance themselves and adjust to the values of their host countries. Tony Blair’s government requires that would-be citizens master “Britishness.” Likewise, “Dutch values” are central to The Hague’s new approach, and similar proposals are being put forward in Berlin, Brussels, and Copenhagen. Patrick Weil, the immigration guru of the French Socialist Party, sees a continental trend in which immigrant “responsibilities” balance immigrant “rights.”

The Dutch reaction to van Gogh’s assassination, the British reaction to jihadist abuse of political asylum, and the French reaction to the wearing of the headscarf suggest that Europe’s multiculturalism has begun to collide with its liberalism, privacy rights with national security. Multiculturalism was once a hallmark of Europe’s cultural liberalism, which the British columnist John O’Sullivan defined as “free[dom] from irksome traditional moral customs and cultural restraints.” But when multiculturalism is perceived to coddle terrorism, liberalism parts company. The gap between the two is opening in France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and to some extent even in Germany, where liberalism stretched a form of religious tolerance so much so that it allowed the Hamburg cell to turn prayer rooms into war rooms with cocky immunity from the German police.

Yet it is far from clear whether top-down policies will work without bottom-up adjustments in social attitudes. Can Muslims become Europeans without Europe opening its social and political circles to them? So far, it appears that absolute assimilationism has failed in France, but so has segregation in Germany and multiculturalism in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Could there be another way? The French ban the headscarf in public schools; the Germans ban it among public employees. The British celebrate it. The Americans tolerate it. Given the United States’ comparatively happier record of integrating immigrants, one may wonder whether the mixed U.S. approach — separating religion from politics without placing a wall between them, helping immigrants slowly adapt but allowing them relative cultural autonomy — could inspire Europeans to chart a new course between an increasingly hazardous multiculturalism and a naked secularism that estranges Muslims and other believers. One thing is certain: if only for the sake of counterterrorism, Europe needs to develop an integration policy that works. But that will not happen overnight.

Indeed, the fissure between liberalism and multiculturalism is opening just as the continent undergoes its most momentous population shift since Asian tribes pushed westward in the first Christian millennium. Immigration obviously hits a national security nerve, but it also raises economic and demographic questions: how to cope with a demonstrably aging population; how to maintain social cohesion as Christianity declines and both secularism and Islam climb; whether the EU should exercise sovereignty over borders and citizenship; and what the accession of Turkey, with its 70 million Muslims, would mean for the EU. Moreover, European mujahideen do not threaten only the Old World; they also pose an immediate danger to the United States.

The United States’ relative success in assimilating its own Muslim immigrants means that its border security must be more vigilant. To strike at the United States, al Qaeda counts less on domestic sleeper cells than on foreign infiltration. As a 9/11 Commission staff report put it, al Qaeda faces “a travel problem”: How can it move its mujahideen from hatchery to target? Europe’s mujahideen may represent a solution.

The New York Times has reported that bin Laden has outsourced planning for the next spectacular attack on the United States to an “external planning node.” Chances are it is based in Europe and will deploy European citizens. European countries generally accord citizenship to immigrants born on their soil, and so potential European jihadists are entitled to European passports, allowing them visa-free travel to the United States and entry without an interview. The members of the Hamburg cell that captained the September 11 attacks came by air from Europe and were treated by the State Department as travelers on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), just like Moussaoui and Richard Reid, the shoe bomber.

Does that mean the VWP should be scrapped altogether, as some members of Congress are asking? By no means. The State Department is already straining to enforce stricter post-September 11 visa-screening measures, which involve longer interviews, more staff, and more delays. Terminating the VWP would exact steep bureaucratic and diplomatic costs, and rile the United States’ remaining European friends. Instead, the United States should update the criteria used in the periodic reviews of VWP countries, taking into account terrorist recruiting and evaluating passport procedures. These reviews could utilize task forces set up in collaboration with the Europeans. Together, U.S. and European authorities should insist that the airlines require U.S.-bound transatlantic travelers to submit passport information when purchasing tickets. Such a measure would give the new U.S. National Targeting Center time to check potential entrants without delaying flight departures. And officers should be stationed at check-in counters to weed out suspects.

Europe’s emerging mujahideen endanger the entire Western world. Collaboration in taming Muslim rancor or at least in keeping European jihadists off U.S.-bound airplanes could help reconcile estranged allies. A shared threat and a mutual interest should engage media, policymakers, and the public on both sides of the Atlantic. To concentrate their minds on common dangers and solutions might come as a bittersweet relief to Europeans and Americans after their recent disagreements.
——————————————————————————– is copyright 2002–2005 by the Council on Foreign Relations. All rights reserved.


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