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Returning Iraqi Fighters a Serious Threat, Germany Says

German intelligence officials warn that European Islamic extremists returning home from fighting with insurgents in Iraq are a danger. Last year's London bombings, they say, are proof of the homegrown terrorist threat.

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Germany's work in training Iraqi police makes it a target, experts say

In an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF, Heinz Fromm, the president of Germany's domestic intelligence service said that the highly unstable situation in Iraq poses a threat to European countries, including Germany.

Fromm warned that the hundreds of European Muslims who have gone to Iraq to support Iraqi insurgents, and who then return to Europe, are a great concern to European security agencies.

"These are people who embrace the Jihad ideology," Fromm said. "They can operate weapons and explosives professionally and they have no qualms about killing people. We would be well advised to keep a very close watch on these people if they should come to Germany."

German intelligence officials have been concerned for some time that returning insurgents would consider it an honor to carry out attacks in western Europe in the name of the Iraqi al Qaeda leader, Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

"These terrorists are considered to be extremely dangerous, especially when returning from Iraq," said German terrorism expert, Elmar Thevessen. "The London bombings have shown that they can attack targets that are next to impossible to effectively protect."

Germany a target

London Terroranschläge auf U-Bahn und Bussystem in London zerstörter Bus

The London bombings were carried out by British-born Islamic extremists

The mainly young Muslim men in question were either born, or grew up in Europe, can speak one or more European languages, and are capable of blending in with their western surroundings.

Although Germany is not directly involved in the fighting in Iraq and also risked a serious breach in relations with the United States over the Iraq war, it is actively involved with the international stabilization forces in Afghanistan and also helps train Iraqi police outside of Iraq. According to Fromm, this makes Germany a potential target.

"The threat to Germany is very high," Fromm said. "The fact that Germany trains Iraqi police is an issue which has consequences for the country’s security."

European intelligence experts say that in the last two years, at least 300 western European Muslims have gone to Iraq to pursue "jihad" or holy war against the West. If they aren't killed, their radical beliefs are often strengthened, raising the risk that they will seek to carry on their struggle in Europe.

Meanwhile, the intelligence community is grappling to cope with this threat. According to the former anti-terrorism advisor to the US government, Richard Clarke, monitoring the activities of returning insurgents is difficult.

"You can't follow them around the clock," Clark said. "You can keep on coming back to them, maybe listen in to their phone calls. But it's always possible that they're building sleeper cells that intelligence officers know nothing about."

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