President Jacques Chirac has been the first foreign head of state
to visit the USA in the aftermath of the 11 September tragedy. It
was not only a visit of courtesy. A day before the tragic events of
New York and Washington, a Judiciary information has been open in
Paris about a group of islamic extremists based in Belgium and
Netherlands, which apparently had planned to blow up the American
embassy, according to the confession of Jamel Beghal, a
French-Algerian extremist, arrested last July in Dubai (United Arab
Emirates). Jamel himself who has sojourned in the United Kingdom had
been trained in an Afghani military camp as a member of "Attakfir
wal hijra " - a radical extremist group to which belongs also
another militant arrested on September 13 in Brussels: Nizar
Trabelsi. The latter is originally from Tunisia. He was dwelling in
Essonne - a Parisian suburb- and had also sojourned at least one
time in Afghanistan. Whether the operation against the American
embassy in Paris was scheduled to occur at the same time than the
American operation or not, is not known. But it seems that the four
persons arrested last Thursday in Netherlands (: two French, an
Algerian and a Netherlander) are suspected to be linked to Jamel
Beghal and Nizar Trabelsi. The Netherlands prosecutor has however
declared that there is no evidence of their eventual implication in
the terrorist operations in the USA. At the time this story is being
posted, the French police have arrested seven other suspects
belonging to the same network.
Just after his return from America, President Chirac received
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, for a short consultation in the
Elysées Palace. Both leaders pledged to back any " effective U.S.
action against the 'menace' of terrorism." After the breakfast
meeting, Chirac said: " I believe that neither England nor France
could fail to present if the response is... effective." Mr. Blair,
recognizing the " need to take action" said: "I hope that in the
next few days we demonstrate as a world our complete solidarity in
this fight which is so important to us."
The positions of London and Paris concerning the Islamic
fundamentalism have never been close, though. The French have always
reproached to the British their "laxity" in dealing with people
considered in France as "dangerous". Even before the July-September
1995 string of blind terrorist acts in France, there has always been
a great distrust towards the British handling of the Islamist
network. According to the French daily Le Figaro - 3 Nov.
1995- " the trail of Bouallem Bensaid, GIA leader in Paris, leads to
Great Britain. The British capital has served as logistical and
financial base for the terrorists. "
The next day, Le Parisien reported that the author of the
GIA terror attack inside France was former Afghan mujahideen leader
Abu Fares, who was given a residence visa in London, despite the
fact that he was already wanted in connection with the bombing of
the Algiers airport. Abu Fares's London- based organization,
according to Le Parisien, recruits Islamic youth from the
poor suburbs of Paris, and sends them to Afghanistan, where they are
trained as terrorists.
According to the French sources, the GIA (: Algerian Armed
Islamic Group), which was responsible for the assassination of
Algerian President Mohamed Boudiaf on June 29, 1992, has its
international headquarters in London. Sheik Abu Qatabda and Abu
Musab communicate military orders to GIA terrorists operating in
Algeria and France via the London-based party organ, Al Ansar.
Sheik Abu Qatabda was granted asylum in Britain in 1992, after he
was condemned to death in Algeria for acknowledging responsibility
for a bombing at Algiers airport. A third London-based GIA leader,
Abu Fares, oversees operations targeted against France. He was
granted asylum in Britain in 1992, after he was condemned to death
in Algeria for acknowledging responsibility also for the same
operation that killed nine people and wounded 125 in Algiers
airport. He was also suspected of bombing three Paris train and
subway stations and an open-air market.
While asking for the extradition of some suspects from London,
the French kept wondering whether the British intelligence had been
actually outwitted by the terrorists. For an institution that has
two hundred years history of exercising influence across the steppes
of Central Asia, where Islam had been probed, prodded, and profiled
by the British East India Company, and by its successor British
India Office's Arab Bureau, since the times of James Mill and,
later, Lawrence of Arabia, it was rather a shame not to know who
exactly was living on its territory!
France, to be sure, was not the sole country to complain to the
British about this matter. Well before the Islamic terrorism struck
at the heart of America, it was the Arab countries themselves that
were hit. Here are some examples:
- In July 1998, a former British MI5 officer, David Shayler,
revealed that in February 1996, British security services financed
and supported a London-based Islamic terrorist group, in an
attempted assassination against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
Then-Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, Shayler charged, in an
interview with the British Daily Mail, sanctioned the action.
Speaking to the BBC on 5 August 1998, the same Shayler said: " We
paid £100,000 to carry out the murder of a foreign head of state.
That is apart from the fact that the money was used to kill innocent
people, because the bomb exploded at the wrong time. In fact, this
is hideous funding of international terrorism."
- The Saudis complained several times to the British authorities
about the activity of the expatriate Mohammed al-Massari, who called
for the overthrow of the House of Saud, and they asked for his
extradition with particular insistence. A rumor wanted him allied to
Osama Bin Laden, who apparently was maintaining a residence in the
wealthy London suburb of Wembly. According to the same sources,
London is also the headquarters of Bin Laden's Advise and Reform
Commission, run by Khaled al-Fawwaz. But if the British Home Office
granted al-Massari a four-year refugee permit to remain on British
soil, the decision to seal off Bin Laden's account, seemingly
managed by K. Fawwaz, was taken as late as September 20, 2001.
- On November 17, 1997, the Gamaa-al-Islamiya (Islamic group)
carried out a massacre of tourists in Luxor, Egypt, in which 62
people were killed. Since 1992, terrorist attacks led by this gang
claimed at least 92 lives. Yet, according to the Egyptian
authorities, the leaders of this organization have been provided
with political asylum in Britain, and repeated efforts to have them
extradited met with stern rebuffs. On December 14, 1997, British
Ambassador to Egypt David Baltherwick was summoned by then Egypt's
Foreign Minister Amr Moussa and handed an official note, demanding
that Britain " stop providing a safe haven to terrorists, and
cooperate with Egypt to counter terrorism." In an interview with the
London Times the same day, Mr. Moussa called on Britain " to
stop the flow of money from Islamic radicals in London to terrorist
groups in Egypt, and to ban preachers in British mosques calling for
the assassination of foreign leaders." The Times added that
Moussa was "outraged by reports that £2.5 million had come from
exiles in Britain to the outlawed Gamaa-al- islamiya".
Some people believe that Britain has been caught in the American
geostrategic game to the extent of believing, along with Zbigniew
Brzezinski that Islamic fundamentalism could be played as a card to
destabilize the Soviet Empire all across South Asia. The national
security adviser of President Jimmy Carter was actually the man who
coined the famous expression " arc of crisis", when in a Time
magazine cover story published on Jan.15, 1979, he described Iran,
Afghanistan, and the Indian subcontinent as posing a grave challenge
to the West.
Time's story on " The Crescent of Crisis" ended with the
following observation: " In the long run there may even be targets
of opportunity for the West created by ferment within the crescent.
Islam is undoubtedly compatible with socialism, but it is inimical
to atheistic Communism. The Soviet Union is already the world's
fifth largest Muslim nation. By the year 2000, the huge Islamic
populations in the border republics may outnumber Russia's now
dominant Slavs. From Islamic democracies on Russia's southern tier,
zealous Koranic evangelism might sweep across the border into these
politically repressed Soviet states, creating problems for the
Kremlin... Whatever the solution, there is a clear need for the U.S.
to recapture what Kissinger calls the 'geopolitical momentum'. That
more than anything else will help maintain order in the crescent of
Another thesis views the USA, Brzezinski included, as schooling
in British geopolitics, in all what concerns the Islamic world. It
is based on the following assumptions:
- Rommy Fullerton set up Afghan Aid U.K. in Peshawar, Pakistan,
in the early stages of the war. Her husband, John, has written a lot
on Afghanistan. The main sponsor and funder of the group was
- Radio Free Kabul was formed almost immediately after the 1979
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, by Lord Nicholas Bethell, a former
lord-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth II. Lord Bethell had served in
the Mideast and Soviet sections of MI6.
- In 1983, Radio Free Kabul sponsored the formation of Resistance
International, which pulled together various "freedom movements"
sponsored by the Thatcher and Reagan-Bush administrations, including
the Afghan mujahideen, the Nicaraguan Contras, anti-Castro Cubans,
and various anti-Communist eastern European and African movements.
- The Committee for a Free Afghanistan - CFA- was founded in 1981
in the aftermath of a trip by Prime Minister Thatcher and Radio Free
Kabul founder Lord Bethell to the United States, dedicated to
building support for the mujahideen. It provided funds for almost
all the "Peshawar Seven" groups of mujahideen.
- Before shifting against the West, Osama Bin Laden was one of
the financiers who played the " great game" in that region. Along
with Abdullah Azzam, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood leader he
founded in the mid- 1980s the Services Office (Maktab al Khadamat:
MAK), which established recruitment centers around the world. Azzam
was killed by a car bomb in late 1989; the MAK split, with the
extremist factions joining Bin Laden.
- Bin Laden ran the Jihad Committee which includes the Egyptian
Islamic group, and the Jihad Organization in Yemen, the Pakistani
al-Hadith group, the Lebanese Partisans League, the Libyan Islamic
group, Bayt-el-Imam group in Jordan, and the Islamic group in
Algeria. According to some sources, this committee has a bureau in
These are the main assumptions concerning what the French call
the "British connection", meaning the Islamic network in Britain,
and probably a little more. An important question has to be cleared,
though. It concerns the terminology. For so far, there is not an
agreement between the Western observers as regards the exact
signification of the terms: Islamism, Islamists, or fundamentalists.
Last week, the French magazine "L' express" ran a cover story
headlined "The Islamists attack the West". Such an expression omits
that many pro-Western Arab regimes are actually Islamists. Yet, they
have been hit by the Islamic terrorism.
So, where is the difference, may one ask?
The difference has been well explained by an American writer, Mr.
Marc E. Fisher, who after receiving a letter of protestation from
one of his fundamentalist readers, who happened also to be American,
answered him as follows:
" Point taken. We tend to get careless with our terminology when
referring to unfamiliar groups, whether that unfamiliarity is due to
faith, culture, or skin color. To ascribe terrorist acts to a
blanket class of people called 'Islamic Fundamentalists' would be as
misleading as saying that all Christian fundamentalists danced with
poisonous snakes and spoke in tongues. My apologies for the
discrepancy. " Then Mr. Fisher stated that he meant only " those who
believe that their faith justifies the use of violent force and the
killing of 'infidel' Americans and Israelis. And he concluded: " In
the future interests of accuracy, we will refer to 'Islamic
extremists' or 'Islamic terrorists', not as a catch-all
generalization for all Muslims but as a way to separate the true and
peaceful fundamentalist from the more radical (and violent)
believer." (Conspiracies and Extremism. 09/14/98 ).
If this definition could convince the other Westerners, so much
the better for the communication between civilizations! At a time
when America is seeking to form a great coalition against terrorism,
maybe it is important to remind ourselves that the Arabs and the
Muslims - islamist states included (Saudi Arabia for example)-
experienced this kind of blind terrorism well before it reaches the