Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Implications for Canada (Part 2)

Posted By November 3, 2015 No Comments

The Trojan Horse – Assessing the Threat from ISIS.

Human Trafficking:

Migration from Syria, Iraq, areas of North Africa and Southwest Asia has been facilitated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and other jihadist groups. Since 2014, ISIS has demonstrated an increased requirement for funding and an appetite to utilize alternative funding models. Initially, according to UN estimates, ISIS was drawing up to $3 million a day from oil. [1] These earnings plunged by half when the coalitional air campaign started attacking ISIS oil refineries. It is estimated that ISIS needs between $523.5 million (USD) and $815.3 million (USD) a year to run its operations.[2] This includes funds to pay fighters, social services and to acquire weapons and ammunition for their ongoing war aimed at expanding the Caliphate.  It has been suggested that, “ISIS has recently driven Syrians and Iraqis from their homes in a deliberate attempt to increase their control over smuggling routes, and to drive up the numbers of those trying to cross the Mediterranean. Syrians now comprise the largest number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.”[3] It has been noted that “The surge in Syrian refugees crossing the Mediterranean since last year appeared to follow ISIS attacks on refugee camps.”[4] The aim was to drive refugees out from the camps near the Syrian-Jordanian border. Many refugees journeyed to Libya to take the dangerous sea route to Europe, and were required to pay different armed groups along each step of the journey.[5] The trade in human smuggling is a growing business and garners ready cash, in some cases up to £10,000 per person.[6] For both organized crime networks and armed groups, this enables them to purchase weapons, and establish and maintain larger terror forces, which enables them in turn to extort monies and demand taxation [7] to further expand their nefarious operations.

Fake Syrian Passports

In the midst of this human tsunami, Bulgarian police authorities discovered 10,000 fake Syrian passports. German customs officers working with police in Bulgaria seized boxes containing Syrian passports that were being smuggled into Europe. The Bulgarians further reported that an ISIS terrorist posing as an asylum seeker was arrested by German police in a refugee centre in Stuttgart. The suspected terrorist, a 21-year-old Moroccan, used a false identity to register as an asylum seeker in the district of Ludwigsburg[8] and was identified after police linked him to an arrest warrant issued by Spanish police authorities. The seizure of Syrian passports underlines the overwhelming demand as it is believed that a Syrian passport will guarantee asylum in all member states in the EU. To date, however, some holders of Syrian passports originate from North Africa or other parts of the Middle East, or have the profile of economic migrants.[9]

Islamic Extremists Targeting Muslim Asylum Seekers in Germany and Elsewhere

Hans -Georg Maassen, the head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV), Germany’s domestic intelligence service, has warned there is evidence of Islamic extremists attempting to talent-spot recruits among the Muslim asylum seekers flooding into Germany. Norwegian security authorities have also reported catching extremists talking to Syrians at asylum centers in Oslo. [10] The conditions are developing to create a fertile recruiting ground among the young Muslim men in this refugee flow, should their hopes be dashed for a new life in Europe or that the hard realities clash with their hopeful perceptions.

Pierre Vogel, a former boxer, is a German convert to Islam. Now an influential Salafist preacher – a Puritan branch of Sunni Islam –  Vogel “called on his followers to seek out new recruits at government refugee shelters.”[11] Although Vogel has publicly denounced violence and terrorism as being contrary to Islam and denying any links to extremist groups such as ISIS, his public speeches have been banned by German authorities due to his extremist views.[12] Moreover, in June, German police stormed his house and arrested a suspected jihadist who was hiding in Vogel’s residence.[13] Vogel is not the only subject of concern – the BFV is said to be monitoring some 30 mosques and 1,900 Islamists.[14]

The ability of ISIS to facilitate the transportation of sleeper cells into Europe and to provide the appropriate identification indicates that ISIS has the wherewithal to undertake a Trojan Horse operation to insert personnel and cells under Syrian or other documentation. The recent arrest by German authorities of a suspected ISIS terrorist further suggests a threat to the European homeland. One report drawn from a Syrian ISIS operative suggested that, “more than 4,000 covert ISIS gunmen have already been smuggled into Western nations ‘hidden among innocent refugees.’”[15] However, this may be disinformation as part of a well-planned deception operation to force intelligence and police authorities to expend time and resources on investigating the veracity of various claims.

American and Lebanese View of the Refugees Stream and the ISIS Threat

The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said that, “The U.S. has an aggressive program for vetting refugees as they enter the country.”[16]Notwithstanding, Clapper “expressed concerns about the ability of European nations to do the same.”[17]He further noted, “The subsequent refugee crisis has reached a critical point as migrants now desperately flow through ground and sea routes into Europe to get away from the protracted and brutal fighting.”[18] The American intelligence community has for some time expressed concerns about the intent and capability of ISIS to deploy operatives worldwide clandestinely, or to call upon those willing to undertake lone wolf attacks.[19]The flow of people out of the Middle East and North Africa provides an opportunity for this group to disperse fighters not only to Europe but also on ‘a global scale.’

Clapper’s concerns are echoed by EU prosecutor Michele Coninsx, who warned that the charitable concerns about migration come with “a potentially deadly, caveat – that ISIS terrorist and bombers are continuously being smuggled across the Mediterranean hidden among migrants.”[20] Coninsx reportedly received intelligence as a part of the EU’s continuing fight against cyber-crime, terrorism and illegal immigration. She reinforced the point that ISIS and similar terror groups use the money from people- trafficking to fund their terrorist operations. She noted, “It is an alarming situation because we see obviously that these smugglings are meant to sometimes finance terrorism and that these smugglings are used sometimes to have and ensure infiltrations by members of the Islamic State.”[21] British Prime Minister David Cameron was warned by the Lebanese education minister Ellas Bousaab, that the Islamic State is “sending trained jihadists ‘under cover’ to attack targets in the West.”[22] Bousaab further advised Cameron that “two in every 100 Syrian migrants are ISIS fighters.”[23] The situation was further complicated by a disturbing survey that claimed a fifth of Syrians believe that ISIS is a positive influence in the world. This further raised security concerns that Europe is exposed to Islamist extremists as thousands of Syrians arrive throughout the EU. The survey, conducted by the well-respected pollster ORB International revealed that 22% of Syrians viewed Isis in a positive light on their country. [24] In comparison, only 5% of people in neighboring Iraq felt the same way. [25]

ISIS Option – Infiltrating Europe via Libya’s Refugee Stream

In the Quilliam report “Libya: The Strategic Gateway for the Islamic State,”[26] Charlie Winter writes that Libya is only 300 miles from parts of Europe and, as such, can easily be reached by boat. The analysis emphasizes the strategic geographic location of Libya to Europe and other areas in the Mediterranean, as well as its potential use as a base to disrupt Mediterranean maritime traffic.[27] While this study is an analysis of ISIS propaganda literature, it does note that the strategic location would present an ideal staging ground to infiltrate ISIS operatives into the European theatre, considering the numbers of refugees transiting illegally from Libya to Italy and other European countries. Considering the uncontrolled numbers traversing these waters to Europe it could be seen as a strategic failure on the part of ISIS leadership to not leverage the opportunity to infiltrate terrorist operatives via these refugee routes, which in many cases are controlled by ISIS smugglers. The potential strategic gains for ISIS outweigh any tactical losses that could be accrued from the discovery of their operatives infiltrating Europe.

In September, French police authorities were reported to be searching for an ISIS terrorist believed to be attempting to sneak across the channel to Britain from Calais with the aim of committing terrorist acts.[28] The jihadist was believed to have departed Syria in late August, travelling overland to northern France with the intent of sneaking aboard a ferry or channel tunnel train to Britain.[29] There are an estimated 3,000 illegal immigrants living in a squat camp near Calais known as the ‘jungle.’ [30] The Calais Mayor Nathalie Bouchart “blamed Britain’s ‘black market economy’ and ‘cushy benefits system’ for the migrant crisis in her town.” [31] Bouchart said, “They want to go to England because they can expect better conditions on arrival than anywhere else in Europe or even internationally. There are no ID cards. They can easily find work outside the formal economy, which is not really controlled.”[32] From an operational perspective, this provides the ideal environment and opportunity for those wishing to bypass security measures to infiltrate the country, garner unreported monies by working in the ‘black economy,’ while conducting reconnaissance and planning operations, i.e. ideally sleeper cells being put into place for future operations, as was done by the September 11, 2001 terrorists. The likelihood of being compromised to intelligence and police authorities would be relatively small.

While there have been some indications of ISIS operatives infiltrating Europe, particularly with the recent arrest in Stuttgart,[33] another stream for extremist recruitment is cultivating home grown operatives, including “lone wolves”, who are radicalized online, are talent-spotted or who are self-radicalized through their psychological dislocation – alienation – from Western society at large. A Time Magazine report notes that, “EUROPOL’s intelligence suggest that at least 5,000 E. U. citizens are either fighting alongside jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq right now, or have traveled to those countries and returned home. ISIS is now dominating the recruitment drive for those fighters, who can use their EU passports to travel across the continent undetected because of the bloc’s open borders policy, then enter Turkey and slip across to Syria. The concern for European governments is that these young men and women might return radicalized and stage attacks at home.”[34]

ISIS PLAN 2020 – Take Control of the Middle East, North Africa and Parts of Europe and China                                                                                                                                                               

In September 2015, ISIS published a new map of Europe which depicts their plans to take control of the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe within the next five years.[35] ISIS wants to take over what it claims is the Islamic world, to create a Caliphate governed by Sharia law. Once this takeover is completed, the strategic intention is to turn against and conquer the rest the world, to fulfill the ISIS vision of a new world order under Islamic rule, i.e. the ISIS Caliphate. With over 60 nations working to thwart ISIS, including Russia and the U.S., it would seem highly unlikely that ISIS will be able to achieve its strategic intent. Notwithstanding, many analysts thought the first steps that ISIS has achieved to date were unlikely as well. ISIS has destabilized Iraq, Syria, Libya and has set sights on Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. However, Western nations are concerned that should they put ‘boots on the ground,’ it would be a rallying cry for ISIS and result in a recruitment drive for Muslims around the world to join ISIS in order to fight the ‘Christian crusaders’ which occurred in Iraq during the 2003 invasion. For those in the intelligence and security world it must be appreciated that such a planned  ‘infiltration’ of Europe via mass migration with the strategic intent to facilitate terrorist operations  from ‘inside’ is not a pipedream but  a robust and  well proven strategy throughout recent history.

Implications for Canada

Canada has a history of welcoming refugees fleeing dictatorial regimes, including Hungarians in 1956, Czechoslovakians in 1968 and Vietnamese boat people in 1978. Canada had substantial commonalities with those groups, as it was the period of the Cold War and the people from those nations were opposed to the communist ideology they were fleeing. The refugees were committed to assimilating Western values of democracy, freedom, individual liberty and responsibility.  However, this may not be the case for all of those fleeing the war-torn nations under the scourge of extremist Islam.  Therefore, the new Prime Minister’s foremost responsibility, and that of the Canadian government, is to the safety and security of Canadians citizens. As Canada prepares to accept 25,000[36] or more Syrian refugees, proper vetting prior to arriving in Canada is a vital priority.

The video of the Hungarian camerawoman tripping a Syrian refugee on the Hungarian- Serbian border shocked international television viewers. The victim was subsequently offered a job by the football club Real Madrid in Spain while the Hungarian TV camera woman was fired. Soon after the refugee received his job and his name and photograph appeared on the Internet, a Kurdish-based political party in Syria identified him as a member of the extremist anti-Assad Nusra Front who reportedly fought “alongside the Nusra Front before leaving Syria with his family earlier this year.[37] While this information has not been confirmed, and no country has laid charges against him in relation to allegations he belonged to a terrorist group,[38] this incident underscores the security and intelligence concerns that there may be those in the refugee stream, who are not what they seem to be. While there is a short-term moral imperative to provide succor to bona fide refugees,[39] Western nations need to be cognizant of the long-term implications of the precedents being set , as well as the  policies being  developed and instituted, as the stream of refugees and migrants will continue unabated for some time to come.

Canada has a moral obligation as a good global citizen to assist in taking in bona fide refugees, and to support the UNHCR refugee processing in countries bordering Syria. The UNHCR is well-positioned to ascertain those who are bona fide refugees and those who purport to be (economic migrants), conduct appropriate vetting for local refugee camp security personnel, while ensuring the camps are safe, and located close enough to the home countries [40] so that refugees can be repatriated rapidly if peace comes to the area.

In Iraq, Canada is a coalition ally engaged in a counterinsurgency campaign against ISIS and its allies. To date, ISIS still holds substantial territory in the majority Sunni provinces of Anbar, Nineveh and Salaheddine.[41] ISIS continues to garner funds from smuggling oil, selling stolen goods, kidnapping, extortion and smuggling antiquities as well as humans. Despite the coalitional air campaign, ISIS remains a terrorist group with significant capabilities and influence.

Numbers of Islamic extremist attacks and plots across the West are connected formally or informally to the ongoing confrontations in Syria and Iraq and clearly demonstrate that the threat to the Western nations is not notional but real. These attacks encompass Paris, France, in January and August 2015, Garland, Texas in May 2015, Copenhagen, Denmark in February, 2015, Sydney, Australia in December 2014, Ottawa, Canada in October 2014 and Brussels, Belgium in May 2014. The renowned Rand research organization assesses there were over 20 terrorist attacks in the West either directed or provoked by extremist groups in Syria between October 2013 and January 2015.[42] ISIS has been directly or indirectly linked to plots in Canada, Australia, Belgium, France, Libya, Tunisia and the U.S.

The potential threat from extremists using the Syrian refugees can be considered higher today, predicated on a number of issues. Both Syria and Iraq have the highest numbers of foreign fighters operating on the battlefield and there has been an exodus of some fighters to the West, as depicted by numerous Western intelligence services. Moreover, several terrorist groups operating in the region, such as ISIS, have stated their intent to embed operatives in the West and have been planning to do so for some time, particularly in Europe. The easiest method would be to seek political refugee status, particularly as ISIS has been active in a number of refugee camps in Syria. For Western intelligence and security authorities, accessing intelligence in Syria is more difficult than in Iraq or Afghanistan, because of the limited access and intelligence collection capabilities available. In the U.S., refugees have been involved in terrorist plots, such as the 2009 Bowling Green, Kentucky arrests of Waad Ramadan and Alwan Mohanad Shareef Hammadi on terrorism charges.[43] They had received refugee status despite previous insurgent activities in Iraq and their role in attacking U.S. troops. The Bowling Green arrests led to changes in how American immigration authorities process refugees and asylum seekers. Other U.S. cases in which refugees have been arrested on terrorism charges include a Bosnian refugee in St. Louis, arrested in 2015, a Somali refugee in Minneapolis in 2015, an Uzbek refugee in Boise, Idaho in 2013, and two Chechen refugees in Boston, arrested in 2013 for the Boston marathon attack.[44] As well, an Uzbek refugee was arrested in Colorado in 2012, two Iraqi refugees in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 2011, a Somali refugee in Columbia Columbus, Ohio, in 2011, a Somali refugee in St. Louis, Missouri in 2010, another Somali refugee in Portland, Oregon, 2010, and an Afghan refugee arrested in Aurora, Colorado in 2009.[45] They were all arrested for concerns surrounding terrorist activities.

In Canada, Ahmed Ressam, known as the millennium bomber, was convicted in 2001 of planning to plant a bomb in the Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve 1999. Ressam had applied to Canada as a refugee and, although he was denied refugee status, he managed to remain in Canada to plan his attack before entering the U.S. [46]  Raed Jaser, who was sentenced in September 2015 [47] to involvement in a terrorist plot that targeted a train route between Toronto and New York City, had applied for refugee status in Canada as a Palestinian. The refugee claim of his family was rejected by the Canadian government, but as the family was stateless, Canada allowed family members to stay in the country under Canada’s deferred removal program. Sayfidin Tahir Sharif, also known as Faruq Khalil Muhammad ‘Isa’, was arrested in Canada on a U.S. warrant. Sharif had moved to Canada as a refugee from Iraq. The refugee stream remains a security concern, not just in Canada but in all Western nations. As many refugees are targeted by ISIS and other extremists, with little chance of being repatriated, some security expert s and analysts have posited that those refugees belonging to Christian minorities, orphans and single women are likely priorities and may be the safest candidates for expeditious refugee intake to Canada from UNHCR camps in the Middle East.  Canada however, will “designate Syrians who have fled the conflict there as ‘prima facie‘ refugees , rather than waiting for a United Nations agency to formally process them.”[48]

In response to media reporting when caring global citizens want to expeditiously facilitate a refugee intake, they need to fully appreciate all aspects of this objective view. Germany and other European countries are already experiencing manifestations of ‘refugee fatigue’ [49]as they realize the full political, social, economic and logistical impact of trying to house and process the flood of refugees, and yet the arrivals continue unabated. This crisis is not a temporary one and it will not be resolved by money or increasing the numbers of refugees. Furthermore, this is not the same as the previous refugee waves that happened before ISIS and before the attacks of September 11. The world is a different place.

Canada has a long, honourable tradition in providing opportunity for those wishing to come to Canada to seek a better life. An integral part of the refugee process is to ensure that those refugees selected by the Canadian government, including those from war-torn areas such as Syria, do not pose a risk to the safety and security of Canadians. The Canadian government’s first priority must be the safety and security of its citizenry. This is a different world from the previous refugee streams that came to this nation. Sadly, Canada can no longer afford to be as trusting as it once was.

“Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.”

 William F Buckley quoted in