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Trained for terror

March 27, 2012

Pakistani officials claim dozens of French Muslims have been training with the Pakistan Taliban, raising fears of future attacks in France following the recent shooting incident in Toulouse.

Image: Reuters

French authorities are investigating whether Mohamed Merah, the Frenchman of Algerian descent accused of killing seven people, including three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi, in southern France was among the group of French Muslims trained by the Pakistani Taliban.

Merah, 23, who claimed to be associated with al-Qaeda, was killed in a gunfight with the French police on Thursday. According to French officials, he had traveled twice to Afghanistan in 2010 and to Pakistan in 2011.

The revelation by Pakistani intelligence officials that some 85 Frenchman have been training with the Islamist militants in North Waziristan for the past three years raises fears that France could be a target of future Islamist attacks.

On Sunday, Pakistani intelligence officials told the AP on condition of anonymity that the Frenchmen operated under the name of Jihad-e-Islami near the towns of Miran Shah and Datta Khel in North Waziristan, which is believed to be the stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network. Both of these groups are closely tied to al-Qaeda.

According to AP, Ahmed Merwat, a Pakistani militant commander, claimed Merah was affiliated with the Jundullah wing of the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan. His claim, however, could not be verified.

Pakistan's involvement not new

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy
French President Nicolas Sarkozy says his government will hunt down extremistsImage: Reuters

Farooq Sulehria, a London-based Pakistani journalist, told DW that it was not the first case of European Islamists receiving training in Pakistan.

"In the past, Swedish nationals were accused of traveling to Pakistan to receive militant training. There have been countless such examples from Britain. So, this (Merah's case) is not a new thing," Sulehria said. "Each time when the world finds out about the Pakistani connection to such incidents, the country's image gets further tarnished."

Sulehria also believes the revelations could negatively affect Pakistan's ties with the European Union.

But he doubts whether the civilian government in Pakistan has any control over what he called the 'jihadi infrastructure' in Pakistan, noting that it was Pakistan's powerful military that was not ready to "dismantle the Taliban sanctuaries." He questions whether even the civilian government is serious enough to reign in the Taliban militants.

In Sulehria's view, the rise of Islamization in Muslim countries is a main factor behind the radicalization of the Muslim youth in the West. "This is not only the case with the Muslims," he said. "When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in India, the Indian youth living in the West also exhibited the fundamentalist traits."

Sulehria also accuses Western governments for the rise of fundamentalist Islam in their countries. "The French governments in the 1980s, in particular, encouraged the Islamists to operate freely in France, so that the communist influence among the Muslim migrants could be decreased," he added.

Identity issues

Unidentified Taliban are seen at a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan
Taliban are backed by the Pakistan army, say expertsImage: AP

Adeel Khan, a doctoral student in Islamic Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, and a specialist in Islamic Education, warned against the over-simplification of the radicalization phenomenon.

"There are a couple of factors that need to be analyzed to understand the assertion of Islamic identities in the public sphere of Europe," Khan told DW. "One is the search for a universal identity based on their parents’ religion and customs that can stand its ground in the predominantly secular public space of Europe."

Second, according to Khan, is the young generation's conflict with the older generation, which the Muslim youth in the West believes is stuck to its local customs and has no clue about the golden age of Islamic dominance in science, religion and humanities in the medieval period. "Then they have this reactionary desire to assert their identity in a society which considers them and their past backward and unsuitable for a modern Europe," he said.

'You can't counter extremism with extremism'

People mourn over the death of their family member, a victim of suicide bombing, in Peshawar, Pakistan
Taliban are responsible for thousands of Pakistanis' deathsImage: dapd

Noman Benotman, senior analyst at the London-based counter-extremism think-tank, Quilliam Foundation, believes it is the nature of the Western democratic society not to allow extremism to be tackled with more extremism.

"It is like someone is trying to strike a balance between these two issues; how to counter extremism and at the same time not sacrificing your own (secular) values. That would be losing the war," Benotman told DW. "These countries need to stick to these values. It is positive and not negative."

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: John Blau

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