Monday, March 31, 2008

French Extremists Dream of Jihad in Iraq

An interesting article from the AP:

PARIS (AP) — Boubakeur el Hakim traded his Paris neighborhood of boulangeries and halal butcher shops for the insurgent camps of Iraq. When he came home, he told his war stories to other young men on the forgotten edges of French society, allegedly persuading some to follow in his footsteps.

His younger brother did, and died fighting U.S. forces.

After years of investigation by French authorities, el Hakim, 24, went on trial this month in a case exposing how the Iraq war has sucked radical youths from Europe to a battlefield where they have learned skills that officials fear may one day be used in domestic terror attacks.

Along with four other young Frenchmen, a Moroccan and an Algerian, el Hakim is accused of funneling French Muslim fighters to Iraq. All the Frenchmen except suspected ringleader Farid Benyettou, 26, have acknowledged going to Iraq or planning to go. All deny inciting others to go.

All seven men are accused of criminal association with a terrorist enterprise, a vague charge that carries a maximum 10-year sentence, though the prosecutor only asked for between three and eight years.

The case is a delicate one in France, which strongly opposed the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq but has long struggled against homegrown terrorism. It also highlights a dilemma in many European nations with growing Muslim populations: Cracking down hard risks alienating or radicalizing moderate Muslims and betraying western ideals of tolerance.

The idea that French citizens of Islamic heritage could use the situation in Iraq as a training ground is a matter of concern, given recent events.

I wonder how much a sense of alienation among the banlieues is a factor in addition to Islamic Fundamentalism. One could easily fuel the other, and while such things as the French banning certain religious symbols can be seen as an attempt to prevent discrimination against religious subgroups it can also be seen as an attempt to prevent the expression of faith.

Interesting times, indeed.

To be clear, this isn't an exclusively French phenomenon. From the AP article again:

Other European countries have also fed fighters to Iraq.

Two men considered linked to Europe's deadliest Islamic terror attack, the 2004 bombings in Madrid, are believed to have later killed themselves in suicide attacks in Iraq. Spanish authorities have arrested dozens of people suspected of recruiting Islamic fighters for the Iraq insurgency.

Italian courts have convicted several North Africans of recruiting militants for Iraq in Italy in recent years.

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