Thursday, January 31, 2013

Extra vigilance against terrorist threat

The current French intervention in northern Mali and the recent hostage crisis at a gas plant in Algeria are reminders that jihadists remain an ever present threat not only across North Africa, but also in Spain and Portugal.  
The followers of radical leaders including Osama Bin Laden, his mentor Abdullah Azzam, and the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, believe it to be an Islamic “obligation” to return and recover their “lost” territories of al-Andalus.
Occupied by Muslim Moors from North Africa from the early 8th century, al-Andalus included the Algarve and most of the rest of Portugal, along with much of Spain. Muslims dominated the Algarve for well over 500 years. They were not finally banished by indigenous Christian forces in southern Spain until near the end of the 15th century.
In March last year, Spanish police arrested a suspected al-Qaeda member on terrorism charges. They said he ran one of the world's most important jihadist forums dedicated to online recruitment and propaganda operations. 
Four months later, in July, Spanish police arrested three more al-Qaeda suspects who were thought to be planning an attack. These arrests were reported to be the result of collaboration between the Spanish intelligence services and some of the country’s unnamed “close allies.”
Such collaboration is now being stepped up. The interior ministers of Morocco, Spain, France and Portugal signed an agreement in Rabat last week to expand police cooperation and improve information exchanges on terrorism, illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
A closer commitment to combating renewed threats from jihadists in the light of the Mali intervention was the subject of this week’s visit to Algiers by Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron. He said the UK and Algeria wanted to form a strategic partnership on policing, defence, counter-terrorism and intelligence. The international community should use “everything at its disposal” to fight terrorism, Cameron declared.
The predominately Muslim nations of Morocco and Algeria are southern Portugal’s closest neighbours after Spain. Algeria shares a long border with northern Mali, which is closer to the Algarve than Faro is to Paris.
The main point of entry to the Iberian Peninsula from Morocco is the busy Spanish port of Aljeciras, just across the Straits of Gibraltar. It was the first city created on Iberian soil by the invading Moors in 711. As a result of last week’s agreement in Rabat, Portugal and France will send liaison officers to the police centre in Algeciras to become part of the existing Moroccan-Spanish intelligence effort.
In the past there have been reports of al-Qaeda movements across the open border between the south of Spain and the Algarve. Southern Spain has a large Muslim community. Incitements to attack certain types of targets in Portugal, as well as Spain, have been reported from forums on radical Islamist websites.
The head of Russia's Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov, blamed al-Qaeda for starting forest wildfires last year in Portugal, Spain and elsewhere in Europe. He said it was part of what al-Qaeda calls its “strategy of a thousand cuts.” Bortnikov was quoted by the Russian International News Agency (RIA) as saying: “This method allows (al-Qaeda) to inflict significant economic and moral damage without serious preliminary preparations, technical equipment or significant expenses.” 
Crimes of forgery and fraud  in Portugal and the theft of a large number of passports and identity documents of various nationalities in Spain have been attributed to supporters of al-Qaeda. This is seen as part of an on-going “bleed the enemy to death” campaign against the western world.
Meanwhile, a growing number of commentators in the media are questioning the whole concept of the so-called “war on terror.” They point out that the Islamist threat comes not from a unified al-Qaeda organisation with a clear agenda, but from complex and disparate groups embodying a range of grievances. 
In the UK’s Independent newspaper last week, the British shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander wrote: “Today the challenges and circumstances we confront demand a different response. Al-Qaeda – using modern technology to advance medieval ideas – is like a mutating virus, seeking out weak host bodies in which to take root and spread.”
As to how the international community should respond t0 the emerging threat in the Sahel region of Africa, Alexander said: “First - in a way that was not the case in Iraq - by prioritising an understanding of the peoples, history and culture of the region.
“To try and draw simplistic lines between good and bad will only help those seeking to unify those with ethnic, regional and international grievances. The prize is to keep those movements separate, not unite them.”
Another key ingredient, Alexander added, was the need for “more intelligence sharing on the characteristics and capability of the emerging threats.”
The British Foreign Office continues to advise those travelling to Portugal that “there is an underlying threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.”
While the threat rarely gives rise to concern in the everyday experiences of those living or holidaying here, it is reassuring to know that it is very high on the agenda of those responsible for the security of this and the wider region around us.  

1 comment:

captainbillschweizer said...

Good advice on how to combat terrorism.
Google Captain Bill Schweitzer
Captain Bill Schweitzer U.S.M.M., missionary
Mountaintop Sea Ministries International