Is ISIS Closing in on Europe?

In October 1993, I was in Brussels attending the Socialist Group of European Parliament’s seminar on Kashmir. Dr. Farooq Abdullah and Prof. Bhim Singh were also there. A group from PoK lead by Amanullah Khan of JKLF was also attending. Around midnight, my telephone rang and a local friend on the other end said that Amanullah Khan had been arrested. Government of Bharat had issued a red-corner letter to Interpol wanting his arrest for murder of Bharatiya diplomat Mhatre in London. Next day, the British Parliament passed a resolution demanding the Belgian government to release Amanullah Khan forthwith. Belgium obliged. I asked my Belgian friend, who, I knew, had close contacts with Pakistanis, how the release came about that soon. She said,” Brussels is the hotbed of jihadis in Europe.”

During the past one year, terrorist attacks happened at many places, including Paris, Turkey, San Bernardino, Israel, Toronto, Ivory Coast, Pathankot, and more recently in Belgium. These attacks were not isolated.

They are rooted in dangerous, violent and sick ideology. Perceptive commentators have highlighted the dangers of political Islam/Islamism, stemming from one of three ideological sources: the Muslim Brotherhood, Wahhabi/Salafism and Khomeinism to lesser and limited extent.

Terrorist attacks, owned by ISIS, at an airport and Metro station in Brussels on Tuesday have left 34 dead and 270 injured. Actually, radical Islamist jihadis have declared war on the West. Their language is simple: we will find you and kill you wherever and whenever we can.

Jihadis have pinpointed the West to be Dar al Harb (land of war), a concept that allows them to justify killing anyone on this land. — from the USA across to Canada, the UK and Europe. One of the smallest countries in Western Europe, Belgium, has become Europe’s biggest per capita source of jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq. According to data provided by Belgian Interior Minister Mr. Jan Jambon in the third week of February last, 451 Belgian citizens have been identified as jihadists. Of these, 269 are on the battlefields in Syria or Iraq; 6 are believed currently to be on their way to the war zone; 117 have returned to Belgium; and 59 attempted to leave but were stopped at the border.

According to Minister Jambon, 197 of the jihadists are from Brussels: 112 are in Syria while 59 have returned to Belgium. Another 195 jihadists are from Flanders: 133 are in Syria while 36 have returned.

Belgium is the EU’s leading supplier of jihadists to the Islamic State per capita: around 40 jihadists per million inhabitants, compared to Denmark (27), Sweden (19), France (18), Austria (17), Finland (13); Norway (12), UK (9.5), Germany (7.5) and Spain (2).

The Muslim population of Belgium is expected to reach 700,000 in 2016, or around 6.2% of the overall population, according to figures extrapolated from a recent study by the Pew Research Center. In percentage terms, Belgium has one of the highest Muslim populations in Western Europe.

In metropolitan Brussels — where roughly half of Belgium’s Muslims currently live — the Muslim population has reached 300,000, or roughly 25%. This makes Brussels one of the most Islamic cities in Europe. Approximately 100,000 Muslims live in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, which has emerged as the center of Belgian jihadism.


Growing numbers of Belgian Muslims live in marginal districts — isolated ghettos where poverty, unemployment and crime are rampant. In Molenbeek, the unemployment rate hovers at around 40%. Radical imams aggressively canvass the area in search of shiftless youths to wage jihad against the West. As in other European countries, many Muslims in Belgium are embracing Salafism — a radical form of Islam — and its call to wage violent jihad against all nonbelievers for the sake of Allah.

The aim of Salafism is to recreate a pure form of Islam in modern era. A recent German intelligence report defined Salafism as a “political ideology, the followers of which view Islam not only as a religion but also a legal framework which regulates all areas of life: from the state’s role in organizing relations between people, to the private life of the individual.”

The report added: “Salafism rejects the democratic principles of separation of state and religion, popular sovereignty, religious and sexual self-determination, gender equality and the fundamental right to physical integrity.”

Although Salafists make up only a small fraction of Europe’s burgeoning Muslim community, authorities are increasingly worried that many of those attracted to Salafi ideology are impressionable young Muslims who may be receptive to calls for violence in the name of Islam.


Before the rise of the Islamic State, the best-known Salafist group in Belgium was Sharia4Belgium, which played an important role in radicalizing Belgian Muslims. Sharia4Belgium was outlawed in February 2015, when its leader, Fouad Belkacem, was sentenced to 12 years in prison. A partial archive of the group’s former website, Sharia4Belgium issues an invitation to all Belgians to convert to Islam and submit to Sharia law or face the consequences.

The text states: “It is now 86 years since the fall of the Islamic Caliphate. The tyranny and corruption in this country [Belgium] has prevailed…… As in the past we [Muslims] have saved Europe from the dark ages, we now plan to do the same. Now we have the right solution for all crises and this is the observance of the divine law, namely Sharia. We call to implement Sharia in Belgium. Sharia is the perfect system for humanity. In 1,300 years of the Islamic state we knew only order, welfare and the protection of all human rights. We know that Spain, France and Switzerland knew their best times under Sharia. In these 1,300 years, 120 women were raped against 120 women now raped a day in Europe. There were barely 60 robberies recorded in 1,300 years. As a result, we invite the royal family, parliament, all the aristocracy and every Belgian resident to submit to the light of Islam. Save yourself and your children of the painful punishment of the hereafter and grant yourself eternal life in paradise.”

Divided Belgians

This apart, Belgium being a fragmented artificial State makes terror gain ground with each passing day. In November 2015, the New York Times carried a scathing analysis of Belgian incompetence. It emerged that a month before the Paris attacks Molenbeek Mayor Ms. Schepmans received a list with the names and addresses of 80 jihadists living in her district. The list included two brothers who would later take part in the November 13 attacks in Paris.

According to the Times, Schepmans said: “What was I supposed to do about them? It is not my job to track possible terrorists. That is the responsibility of the federal police.” The Times continued: “The federal police service, for its part, reports to the interior minister, Jan Jambon, a Flemish nationalist, who has doubts about whether Belgium — divided among French, Dutch and German speakers — should even exist as a single state.”

European jihadists have been exploiting the so-called Schengen Agreement, which allows for passport-free travel throughout most of the European Union. It has allowed jihadists posing as migrants to enter Europe through Greece and make their way to northern Europe virtually undetected. “The government must also close our national borders. The European Union’s Schengen zone, where no border controls are allowed, is a catastrophe. The Belgian-Moroccan Salah Abdeslam, the mastermind of last November’s bloodbath in Paris, travelled freely from Belgium to the Netherlands on multiple occasions last year”, said Dutch politician Geert Wilders in an interview with Breitbart London.

Such is the diffidence among Belgian authorities that following a terrorist attack on two Canadian military officers in Toronto on March 14, the media initially did not wish to publish the words spoken by the attacker: “Allah made me do it.” Following Sunday’s bombings in Brussels, the media immediately brought in “experts” to analyze the motives of the attackers. A commentator rightly said,” There is nothing left to analyze. It is simple: It is a war against us.”

ISIS links

ISIS’s long arm reaches entire Europe. On February 26, Safia a 15-year-old German girl of Moroccan descent stabbed and seriously wounded a police officer in Hanover, Germany. The newspaper, Die Welt, reported that Safia had been part of the local Salafist scene since 2008. She had appeared in Islamist propaganda videos alongside Pierre Vogel, a convert to Islam and one of the best-known Salafist preachers in Germany.

On February 4, 2016, German police arrested four members of an ISIS cell allegedly planning jihadist attacks in Berlin. In coordinated raids, more than 450 police searched homes and businesses linked to the cell in Berlin, Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia. The ringleader — a 35-year-old Algerian who was staying at a refugee shelter with his wife and two children in Attendorn — arrived in Germany towards the end of 2015. Posing as an asylum seeker from Syria, the Algerian, identified as Farid A., had received military training with the Islamic State in Syria.

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Maaßen, German intelligence boss warned: “Salafists want to establish an Islamic state in Germany.” On February 16, more than 200 German police raided the homes of 44 Salafists in the northern city state of Bremen. The Interior Minister of Bremen, Ulrich Mäurer, said he had ordered the closure of the Islamic Association of Bremen (Islamischen Fördervereins Bremen) for the alleged recruiting of jihadists for the Islamic State: “It is rather apocalyptic that we have people living in the middle of our city who are prepared, from one day to the next, to participate massively in the terror of the Islamic State.”

Targeting Europe

In a February 19 interview with the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, the head of Europol, Rob Wainwright, said that up to 5,000 European jihadists have returned to the continent after obtaining combat experience on the battlefields of the Middle East. He added that further jihadist attacks in Europe were to be expected. “Europe is now facing the greatest terrorist threat in more than ten years. We expect that ISIS or other Islamist groups will carry out an attack somewhere in Europe, with the aim of achieving high losses among the civilian population”.

Hans-Georg Maaßen, the spy chief, warned that Germany is not an island: “We have to assume that we will become the target of jihadist attacks, and we need to be prepared.”

In a dispatch with Paris dateline, the Associated Press wrote on March 23 that the Islamic State group has trained at least 400 fighters to target Europe in deadly waves of attacks, deploying interlocking terror cells like the ones that struck Brussels and Paris with orders to choose the time, place and method for maximum carnage.

The officials, including European and Iraqi intelligence officials and a French lawmaker who follows the jihadi networks, described camps in Syria, Iraq and possibly Libya where attackers are trained to attack the West. Before being killed in a police raid, the ringleader of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks claimed to have entered Europe in a multinational group of 90 fighters, who scattered “more or less everywhere.”

French Senator Nathalie Goulet, co-head of a commission tracking jihadi networks, has estimated that between 400 and 600 Islamic State fighters are trained specifically for external attacks. According to the officials, including Goulet, some 5,000 Europeans have gone to Syria.

Fighters in the units are trained in battleground strategies, explosives, and surveillance techniques and counter surveillance, the security official said. The difference is that in 2014, some of these ISIS fighters were only being given a couple weeks of training. Now the strategy has changed. Special units have been set up. The training is longer. And the objective appears to no longer be killing as many people as possible but rather to have as many terror operations as possible, so the enemy is forced to spend more money or more in manpower. It’s more about the rhythm of terror operations now.

A senior Iraqi intelligence official who was not authorized to speak publicly said people from the cell that carried out the Paris attacks are scattered across Germany, Britain, Italy, Denmark and Sweden. Recently, a new group crossed in from Turkey, the official said.

A commentator was asked why the European Union is not demanding Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the largest international organization of 53 Islamic member states after the UN, to play its role in curbing jihadist terror. His cryptic comment was that there was no need for Islamic Caliphate because OIC itself is the Islamic Caliphate.

About the Author

K.N. Pandita
Shri K.N. Pandita is the former Director of the Centre for Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.