"Holy War" Recruitment Networks Are in Place
By Gérard Davet
Wednesday 15 December 2004
Iraq is not yet a jihad country, but the networks for channeling "foreign volunteers" are already in place. According to the first figures communicated by the CIA to western intelligence agencies, only 40 foreign individuals were counted among the 2,000 prisoners arrested in Falluja during the November fighting, which killed 2,200 on the Iraqi side.
The American secret services even advance the figure of 2% jihadists, a datum susceptible to upward review based on interrogations now in progress. In fact, American officers estimate that fighters could have dissimulated their true origins.
French hostages Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot's detention in Iraq for 118 days will have at least produced this advantage: it has led the French intelligence services to increase their operational capacities in the region. This increase in power, in workforce as well as technical capacities, has since allowed the Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure (DGSE) [General Directorate of External Security, the French CIA] to identify five French citizens present in Iraq: Boubakeur El-Hakim, imprisoned in Damascus since August, Redouane El-Hakim, deceased July 17, Tarek Ouinis, deceased September 17, Abdel Halim Badjoudj, who died in a suicide attack October 20, and finally, Fawzi D., designated as the emir of a group of about 20 Falluja fighters. "You must look at this phenomenon in perspective," is the assurance from intelligence milieus, "the French network remains marginal."
The networks, however, are expanding little by little. The presence of Arab volunteers goes back to the end of 2002, at the Iraqi regime's initiative. Since summer 2003, "Holy War" has become a real motivating force. Hassan Ghul's arrest January 22 in Iraq brought the first concrete proof of an Al-Qaeda presence in the country. He is none other than one of those close to the leadership committee of the structure created by Osama bin Laden, and was able to enter in contact with Saif Al-Adel, the organization's number 3. His specialty would have been funneling volunteers into jihad countries.
More and more, candidates for martyrdom who come from radical internationalist cells, then integrate networks which become operational. These networks mount suicide attacks, like those against the UN in Baghdad in August 2003, or against Italian forces in Nassyria, in November 2003. "Their operation rests on the principle of 'cascading networks,'" summarizes a specialist in the area. "It is based above all on personal relationships between the people who drive these networks. Their overarching objective is to obtain great flexibility." Police operations do nothing about them; these networks remain active, all the more so as they are put in place by real logistics professionals, educated by their experiences in Chechen or Afghan networks. Consequently, intelligence services target the names, Abderrazak Madjoub, an Algerian implicated in European networks, questioned in Germany in November 2003, and Abu Hammam, alias "Mohammed Ali", arrested by British Special Forces October 10, 2004, thanks partly to information communicated by the DGSE.
The number of these volunteers remains difficult to evaluate. According to the secret services, they would be between 1,000 and 2,000, mostly from Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, but also from Kuwait. Several places appear to be strategic in the eyes of terrorism specialists. First of all, Lebanon, where the Palestinian refugee camp Ain El-Helouai would serve as a rear base for certain networks channeling volunteers towards Iraq under the aegis of two officials: the Yemeni Ibn Al-Shahid Al-Yemeni, arrested October 16, 2003 by the Lebanese, and the Syrian Fahd Ajami Akkach. In north Lebanon, the Salafist leader Dai Al-Islam Chabal would play the role of recruiter.
Syria, given its immediate proximity to Iraq, is also fingered. Islamist groups there are charged with contacting youths of European or Maghrebi origin who have come to follow Koranic studies in religious institutes of radical Salafist persuasion: the Al-Fatah Al-Islami School, or the Zohra Institute in Damascus. They incite the students to go to Iraq. That was notably the case with Boubakeur El-Hakim, a French citizen today in Syrian custody.
Two preachers are the subjects of very strict surveillance: Imam Abdelaziz Al-Khatib, of the Al-Darwishiya Mosque and the Al-Kabbahdjia Institute in Damascus, and Imam Abu Al-Daaqaa, of the Aleppo Mosque, both of whom step up their virulent anti-Western speeches.
Syria remains the main transit country for jihad, from along the frontier region of Husaybah. Several reasons combine to create this phenomenon. It is very easy to obtain a temporary stay visa in Syria as long as you come from one of the Arab League member states. Moreover, it is quasi-impossible for the Syrian authorities to keep the entire border with Iraq under adequate surveillance, given the degree to which local security services rot with corruption. Finally, the presence in the region of networks for clandestine emigration and narcotics trafficking allows trails to be obscured. Europe also shelters these networks. Intelligence agencies have detected them in Germany, Italy, Belgium, and Spain. They are in permanent contact among themselves, moving around, and melting into the landscape.
In Iraq, a whole infrastructure has also been developed. The country now possesses, like Pakistan, "guest houses", located notably in Baghdad and Falluja. They are specialized, like certain mosques, in welcoming foreign nationals, particularly Yemenites and Lebanese, who have come to fight "the American enemy." The Ibn Taymiyya Mosque in Baghdad would be part of that network.
The Al-Zarkawi group would thus have several "guest houses' in Baghdad, Falluja, and Mosul. In a September sermon broadcast on Al-Jazira, the war chief Abu Mussab Al-Zarkawi did not forgo the opportunity to boast about the merits of his "foreign volunteers."
Money, Jihad's Nervous System
Intelligence services are also trying to better understand the financial flows that feed the Iraqi guerilla movement. Money remains a preoccupation for jihadists. Setting up a network, installing sleeper cells, paying for travel, shelter and means of communication, is all expensive. Generous donors, accomplices, are necessary.
Thus, the secret services have observed that Sheikh Hareth Suleiman Al-Dari was often seen in the company of Tarek Al-Issa, an executive of the Kuwaiti non-governmental organization, Society for the Renewal of the Islamic Patrimony. Sheikh Abdel Sattar Al-Janali received millions of dollars from the Saudi ideologue Safar Al-Hanali. As for the extremist Abu Mussab Al-Zarkawi, he has his own financial networks available. The money is collected by his emissaries abroad, and then brought back to Iraq by bearers. He takes personal responsibility afterwards for distributing this manna, all the while financially supporting his cell members' families.
Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.