French Counter-Terrorism Head Warns On Muslim Recruiters
Recruiters for hard-line Islamist groups can turn Muslim youths with little interest in religion into extremists in a matter of weeks, the head of France's counterterrorism agency said in an interview published Friday.
A year after suicide bombers launched attacks on London's transit system, Pierre de Bousquet de Florian told the daily Le Parisien he could "not rule out" the possibility of a terrorist attack in France. The fact that there have not been any attacks in Europe since last year's bombings on the London transit system "does not mean there haven't been any plans," he said. "We have - like our British and Italian colleagues - neutralized groups that could have taken action," Bousquet de Florian said, adding authorities dismantled "several groups" in the Paris region and in the south of France in late 2005 and earlier this year.
Bousquet de Florian said one potential threat comes from volunteers who pass through Syria to fight in Iraq but are returned to Europe "to carry out the jihad according to one of the strategies developed by (Abu Mussab) al-Zarqawi," the head of al-Qaida in Iraq who was killed in June.
"The model is evolving," the DST official said, adding this was in part due to an increase of Iraqis taking part in the fight against U.S.-led forces, leading to a reduced need for young, untrained volunteers unless they volunteered as suicide bombers. However, another significant change is the shortening time span needed to transform a young Muslim into a radical ready to take action. "We have noticed a shortening in the time between recruitment and the radicalization of these volunteers," Bousquet de Florian was quoted as saying. "Young people who are indifferent to religion fall in a matter of weeks into the toughest kind of Islam and, almost without any transition, into the most worrisome kind of activism," he said.
The official said that, thus far, nine French nationals who joined up with insurgents in Iraq have died there, and about 10 are believed to be in combat zones. Two others have been detained and held in Iraq, he said. With about 5 million Muslims, France has western Europe's largest Muslim population. Some 5,000 embrace extremist Islam, according to a report last year by police intelligence.