The EU- Mali mission is a threat to the European security. This apparent paradox is preoccupying security officials in Brussels along with the identification of potential "lone" terrorists.
Few details are known but those that have emerged are already causing alarm. The EU mission to Mali is a "direct threat" to Europe itself, according to a report by the EU anti-terrorism coordinator Gilles de Kerchove. The document was presented to EU interior ministers a few weeks ago. The reports says the threat comes from the terrorists' strategic retreat zones in northern Mali and from their expanded operating areas in the Maghreb. They are also a threat from African or Middle East Islamist fighters living in Europe, who are now returning to their homeland. But Tobias Koepf, researcher at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris, says the danger is hard to assess. "The terrorist threat is out there, but is certainly very diffuse." There is probable no European offshoot of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Koepf told DW. He said one could only assume that certain individuals had been radicalized through contact with material downloaded from the internet, but seen from the outside, it was hard to judge.
A radical interpretation of Islam
According to Franziska Brantner, a member of Germany Green Party and the European Parliament, individual terrorists operating more or less alone were more dangerous than a network. They were more difficult to identify, she told DW. Many of them, who are Malians or from the Middle East return home with European passports or would have dual citizenship.
Brantner, who is also a member of the European Parliament's committee on security and defense, said "it has long been clear that these people use Mali as a strategic retreat in order to prepare themselves for conflict in other regions." She is convinced the Internet is being used to convert young people to militant Islamism. "It is on this platform that young people find a radical interpretation of Islam, which, coupled with the lure of violence, taps a vein of hatred that some young people have for the rest of society. Some of the Islamist propagandists are very astute.
The EU's mission to Mali may be an important propaganda tool for militant Islamists, but it is only one of many, notes Tobias Koepf. "The EU Mali mission is seen as legitimatizing their cause, because Afghan mission can no longer serve that purpose anymore," he said.
Muslims criticize Islamists
This propaganda can only work if it is used as the basis for a slanted, one-sided interpretation of events. Jihadists fail to reveal that many Muslims in Mali do not support them. Oumou Sall Seck was a mayor of Goundam, which is a small town near Timbuktu. Together with many of her fellow residents, she fled to the south when the Islamists were advancing on the town. Speaking to DW, she said the attackers "terrorists" were merely fighting for their own personal gain. "They are drugs and weapons smugglers who pretend to be religious. But their deeds show that they have nothing in common with Islam," she said. Devout Muslim say it is therefore wrong to see a connection between the extremists and Islam. "A few Muslims believe they are fellow Muslims who we should supports. But that's wrong," Seck said.
Dialogue and humanitarian aid
Tobias Koepf says the Islamists' ideology needs to be confronted if threats to Mali and Europe are to be reduced. The EU has two tasks. "First, they will have to provide humanitarian assistance in order to improve Mali's economic situation and secondly, they must push for a political dialogue," he said.