Is there a way to break the wave of Islamist terrorism in Europe?

Islamist terrorist wave hitting Europe: What needs to be done

Europe is in the middle of an Islamist terrorist offensive that started on September 25th in Paris with the stabbing of four people outside the former Charlie Hebdo headquarters. The attack was perpetrated by 25-year-old Pakistani refugee Zahir Hassan Mahmoud in retaliation for the new publication of satirical cartoons picturing the Muslim prophet Mohamed.

  • On October 16th, once again in Paris, 18-year-old ethnic Chechen Abdoullakh Anzorov stabbed to death and beheaded middle-school teacher Samuel Paty. The motivation once again is the satirical cartoon published by Charlie Hebdo and shown by Paty to his students in a class on freedom of expression.
  • On October 22nd, in Lyon, France, a 51-year-old woman wearing a niqab threatened to detonate herself next to a rail at Part-Dieu train station. The woman was isolated by French special units and placed under arrest.
  • On October 29th in Nice, France, 21-year-old Tunisian citizen Brahim Aouissaoui stabbed three people to death and partially beheaded one of them, an elderly woman. The attack took place in the early morning at Notre-Dame cathedral. The perpetrator was wounded by the police and arrested. Investigation revealed that Aouissaoui had arrived on the island of Lampedusa in September onboard a vessel of illegal immigrants that had departed from a beach located a couple of kilometers south of Sfax.
  • On November 2nd in Vienna, Austria, an individual of ethnic Albanian origin with dual Austrian and North Macedonian citizenship, identified as 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzullai, opened fire in the streets of the city's historical center and against the Stadttempel synagogue. In the attack, four people were killed and 23 injured.

Some considerations

While the identity and profile of the Lyon female attacker haven't been released to the public, the backgrounds of the other four are quite clear.

  • Zahir Mahmoud had managed to reach France in July of 2018 after going through Iran, Turkey, and Italy. He had obtained the status of refugee and provided a false name and age (claiming to be born in 2002 instead of 1995). Mahmoud had shown interest in the Islamist extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan.
  • Abdoullakh Anzorov had reached France with refugee status, together with his family, 12 years earlier as a six-year-old boy, after leaving Chechnya and Russia. Investigations revealed that he had maintained contacts with radical Islamists individuals active on French soil.
  • Brahim Aouissaoui had reached the Italian island of Lampedusa on September 20th onboard a boat of illegals; he had then been transferred to the port of Bari onboard the quarantine ship "Rhapsody" where Italian authorities identified him, took his mugshot, and simply let him free with a paper warning him to leave the country within seven days, but his movements were not monitored. His entry into France, between October 27th and 28th, was facilitated by the identity card given to him by the Red Cross refugee Ngo. Aouissaoui had become strictly religious approximately two years earlier while still in Tunisia and maintained contacts with local Salafis.
  • Kujtim Fejzullai was born in Austria to ethnic Albanian parents. He had been constantly meeting with Islamist extremists active in Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. He had been sentenced to 22 months of prison in April 2019, after he had tried to cross the Turkish border into Syria to join ISIS*; however, he was paroled in December 2019, eight months into the sentence. Fejzullai had also taken part in a deradicalization program managed by the DERAD association and which obviously did not give any results.

The fact that both, Austria and France, became the target of Islamist terrorism makes sense since both governments have recently taken very strong positions against Islamism/Islamist separatism (not Islam), indicating such ideology as in contrast to democratic and liberal values. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons might have been a reason for the attacks, but not the only one.

These four cases point out to three very serious issues such as the lack of integration among 1st, 2nd and 3rd generations, the spread of Islamist ideology in Europe (that often attracts individuals with a lack of identity, a sense of revenge against society and willing to convert) and the incapacity, or unwillingness, of the European Union to stop the flow of illegal immigrants coming from both, the Mediterranean route (Aouissaoui's case) and the Balkan route (Mahmoud's case).

As a matter of fact, other terrorists that had managed to infiltrate into Europe by illegally reaching the coasts of Sicily, such as Anis Amri, Sillah Ousman, Alagie Touray and Mohsen Omar Ibrahim "Anass Khalil", just to cite some; and the question is:

"How many more managed to infiltrate and are currently on "sleep mode"?

It is clear that the Islamist ideology is by now well-rooted within Europe and it is therefore essential to work not only on prevention but also on eradication. Austria and France deserve and need all possible support and other EU countries should work with them on this common objective as it is in everyone's interest to keep Europe safe; something that however currently seems utopic as the EU does not seem able to find a common strategy against the deceitful phenomenon of Islamism.

Another very relevant issue is the uncontrolled flow of illegal immigrants coming from both, the Mediterranean and the Balkan route. Without proper border control and screening, basically any jihadist can slip through and infiltrate Europe with the objective of perpetrating attacks and this has  already taken place on several occasions. Another problem that Europe doesn't seem to be able to solve.

*terrorist organization, banned in Russia

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Author`s name Giovanni Giacalone