American voters and policy-makers should take note of this new terror travel tactic’s persistent use in Europe for half a decade now, since it holds implications for the United States’ own national border security. Border infiltration is now a successful tactic that isn’t going away anytime soon. Jihadists clearly recognize the value of using it. So they are.
By Todd Bensman as originally published by the Center for Immigration Studies on May 12, 2020
One of Europe’s most wanted jihadists is in custody — the so-called “ISIS Rapper” who once posted a photo of himself holding a severed head in Syria and whose father bombed American embassies in Africa in 1998. Spanish anti-terrorism police cuffed the Egypt-born British subject Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary last month in the southeastern port city of Almeria, Spain, where he had been wearing a protective face mask to hide his identity during outings.
But this event should not pass without more emphatic mention of exactly how one of the most sought-after ISIS war criminals was able to successfully return to high-alert Europe from the defeated terrorist group’s lost territories in Syria.
European media outlets report that Bary posed as an asylum-seeking migrant and, after a circuitous overland travel route from Syria to North Africa, hired a smuggler in Algeria who ferried him to the Spanish coast, among other migrants, on a wooden patera boat. He was in Spain for five days before Spain’s Policia Nacional force bagged him with two other suspected jihadists in an apartment, plenty of time for them to have done some damage.
American voters and policy-makers should take note of this tactic’s persistent use in Europe, since it holds implications for the United States’ own national border security. As my CIS research published in November 2019 showed, at least 104 violent jihadists from Muslim-majority countries and crossed European land and marine borders between 2014 and 2018 posing as migrant asylum seekers, committing scores of bloody attacks, getting arrested for plots, or dying in gun battles with police in nine countries. This cagey travel tactic was only sort of recognized as something brand new and dangerous after the 2015 Paris and 2016 Brussels terror attacks, though not widely or across the pond here in the United States; most of the involved 27 attackers had infiltrated Europe borders posing as migrant asylum-seekers.
Border Agency Frontex 2020: ‘…The Main Threat Emanates from Islamist Extremism’
Europe responded by stocking the shelves with traditional and some ingenious methods to reduce the mass migration flows from such countries, and the terror threat along with it, and to shore up its shared intelligence database systems. To a great extent, the 2014–2017 migration crisis that saw three million flood into Europe did significantly recede.
But five years after the Paris and Brussels discoveries, European policy-makers and border security specialists clearly are having limited success finding the needles in the haystack. The routes still exist, ferrying 141,846 migrants over EU external border in 2019, according to the EU border agency Frontex’s 2020 threat assessment, nearly 24,000 of them over the Western Mediterranean route that Bary evidently took.
The agency assessed, in part, that while terrorism is not exclusive to Islamist extremists, “when it comes to counter-terrorism efforts within the border dimension, it is assessed that the main threat emanates from Islamist extremism.(page 44)”
Indeed, many jihadists besides Bary have penetrated the EU since my CIS study, which covered a time period through 2018. What the Bary case demonstrates to anyone paying attention is that this travel tactic has become so well-known as effective among violent jihadists that even the most highly sought ones, those who would be on the list of every western intelligence and border control agency, know they can exploit it.
“Terrorism is not exclusive to Islamist extremists. This said, when it comes to counter-terrorism efforts within the border dimension, it is assessed that the main threat emanates from Islamist extremism.”— Frontex 2020 Threat Assessment
So they keep doing it, like the Sudanese asylum-seeking migrant who last month went berserk with a knife in southeastern France last month, killing two and wounding eight more while screaming “allah akbar.” Or the Syrian man granted asylum on a bogus Palestinian passport, after migrating into France, who in January was arrested with a half dozen others allegedly plotting several terror attacks.
Tajikistanis Raise the Red Flag for American Homeland Security
U.S. homeland security and border management agencies should consider all of these cases as a red flag warning to Up their security vetting game at our own borders, where migrant asylum-seekers from all of the same Muslim-majority countries regularly show up from Mexico after traveling through Latin America and sometimes Canada.
While they’re at it, American homeland security leaderships should start caring about Europe’s border infiltrations. In April, German anti-terrorism police rounded up five Tajikistanis as they allegedly were about to attack two U.S. air force bases. The terrorist suspects, all between 24 and 32 years old, apparently “all entered the country as refugees,” according to Germany’s Interior Minister Herbert Reul.
All applied for political asylum, according to authorities, which afforded ample time for them to form a cell and reach advanced stages of planning. Funded in part from $40,000 one received to assassinate an Albanian man, they’d allegedly stockpiled fully automatic machine guns, ammunition, and the components for anti-personnel explosives to kill U.S. soldiers.
Border infiltration is now a successful tactic that isn’t going away anytime soon. Jihadists like Bary clearly recognized the value of using it. If Americans don’t recognize that jihadists value border infiltration disguised as refugees, they probably should.
A long-held point of pride of the U.S. homeland security enterprise since 9/11 is the doctrinal endeavor to constantly study terrorist trade craft, such as how they communicate, organize, and collect weapons. Staying at least even with terrorist “tactics, techniques and procedures” as they emerge, adapting in tandem with the changes, was always viewed as the ideal to keep America safer.
One of the most fundamental of the tactics, of course, was “terrorist travel,” since understanding the ins and outs of how they reach targets would have prevented 9/11.
Bary, the terrorist luckily caught, was said to be preparing to go out in a blaze of jihadist glory with another final attack, this one on Great Britain, which he no doubt could have reentered on established smuggling routes that cross the English Channel and of which he was no doubt well aware. His awareness of what works and doesn’t work in travel and human smuggling is emblematic of normal criminal adaptation the American homeland security enterprise has, hopefully, already baked into intelligence operations.