Too many 'most wanted men'

Danish authorities claim that they have killed the Copenhagen synagogue shooter; his name has not been released, but he was a person “known to the security services,” Der Spiegel reports this morning. The Danes declined to release more information. We may have a repeat of the Paris pattern: terrorists whom the security services monitored and perhaps used as informants suddenly turned active and perpetrated atrocities.


It appears that the methods employed by European security agencies to control jihadists have broken down. Some 9,000 French citizens are fighting for ISIS or other jihadist organizations, according to a French government estimate. After several hundred thousand deaths in Syria and Iraq and the disintegration of Libya and Yemen, a very large number of young Muslims are prepared to sacrifice their lives.

Security services control prospective terrorists by blackmailing petty criminals at the fringe of jihadist organizations and turning them into informants. Because the Muslim criminal milieu overlaps extensively with the terrorist organizations, this has been an effective strategy for the past decade and a half. The John le Carre novel and Philip Seymour Hoffman film “A Most Wanted Man” portrays this approach reasonably well.

Few young European Muslims jump directly into violence: they join gangs, they attend radical mosques, they frequent jihadist chat rooms, and they otherwise flag their presence to the authorities. Security services use the threat of jail, deportation of family members, and so forth to compel their cooperation. This approach works until it doesn’t, that is, until the subjects of scrutiny cease to care about the consequences. As John Schindler observed at the XX Committee blog, there was no “intelligence failure” in Paris: the problem is that the security services are overwhelmed. A pseudonymous European security official made the same point recently at Asia Times Online.


The lesson of Copenhagan is the same as the lesson of Paris: the fragile social peace that European governments have maintained with their Muslim immigrant communities requires a fundamental revision. In the past, European security services let jihadists blow of steam while quietly culling potential killers. That has failed. The alternative is to tighten the screws on Muslim communities. I argued last month in Asia Times:

The means by which France, or any other nation, could defeat the terrorists are obvious: to compel the majority of French Muslims to turn against the terrorists, the French authorities would have to make them fear the French state more than they fear the terrorists.

That is a nasty business involving large numbers of deportations, revocation of French citizenship, and other threats that inevitably would affect many individuals with no direct connection to terrorism. In the short term it would lead to more radicalization. The whole project of integration as an antidote to radicalism would go down the drain. The effort would be costly, but ultimately it would succeed: most French Muslims simply want to stay in France and earn a living.


It’s no longer enough to patrol the edge of the swamp and kill mosquitos with fly-swatters. There’s no alternative to draining the swamp.


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