The War in Iraq Could Fuel Terror at Home

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from TIME Magazine,

With thousands of westerners fighting for islamist groups in Syria and Iraq, a foreign jihad no longer seems so distant, and officials fear that some of these fighters may eventually return radicalized by their experience—and ready to bring their war home.

Michael Todd Wolfe

When air Canada flight 8112 to Toronto took off from George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston on June 17, it was missing four passengers who had been scheduled to fly that afternoon. For several months a pair of undercover law-enforcement officials working for the FBI had been spending time with two of the intended passengers: a young Muslim convert named Michael Todd Wolfe and his wife Jordan Nicole Furr, according to an affidavit filed June 18 by an FBI agent. During that time, the affidavit says, Wolfe had discussed with the two undercover employees the possibility of joining an extremist Islamic group that the agent believed to be the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which is run by the Iraqi terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for whose capture the U.S. State Department is offering a $10 million reward.

Wolfe, who is 23 and lives in Austin, had allegedly spent months getting ready for the journey. Law-enforcement officials watched as Wolfe, Furr and their two children entered the airport, according to the affidavit. The Toronto flight was, the FBI alleges, the first leg of Wolfe’s intended journey to Syria. As he tried to board the flight, he was arrested. He has been charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to terrorists.

Mehdi Nemmouche

Syria-inspired attacks in the West may already be happening. A French citizen named Mehdi Nemmouche is accused of having shot dead four people in an assault on Brussels’ Jewish Museum on May 25. French prosecutors said Nemmouche had spent more than a year in Syria and had links to ISIS.

German authorities, presenting their domestic intelligence service’s annual report in June, noted that the security services had averted a major terrorist attack in Bonn before Christmas.

With some 3,000 Europeans, North Americans and Australians fighting in Syria and Iraq, according to security analysts, a once distant war in which the West had no immediate involvement could be coming much closer. The U.S. has “an interest in making sure that we don’t have a safe haven that continues to grow for ISIL and other extremist jihadist groups who could use that as a base of operations for planning and targeting ourselves, our personnel overseas and eventually the homeland,” President Obama said on June 19.

At this point, ISIS is more terrorist army than terrorist group. A U.S. intelligence official says ISIS has about 7,000 fighters in Syria and 3,000 in Iraq. Of those, the official says, an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 are from outside those two countries.

Western security officials have seen this movie before. Afghanistan’s decadelong battle with the Soviet Union in the 1980s attracted anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 foreign fighters, some of whom went on to form al-Qaeda–including Osama bin Laden.

ISIS’s success in establishing what it portrays as a pure Islamic state in parts of Syria and Iraq has proved attractive to some Muslims who may have become disenchanted with life in the secular West. When Wolfe and his wife allegedly first considered jihad in Syria, the chance of living in an ideal Islamic state governed by the Quran appears to have attracted them, according to the FBI affidavit.

Abdul Waheed Majeed

But not all foreigners who end up fighting in Syria travel there with the initial intent of engaging in battle. When Abdul Waheed Majeed, a Briton of Pakistani origin, set out for Syria last August, he had planned only to help Syrian civilians who were suffering the effects of a brutal war now well into its fourth year, according to his brother Hafeez Majeed. Six months later, Majeed blew himself up along with a truckload of explosives at the gates of a government prison in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

The news of American and British citizens blowing themselves up in a distant war has yet to generate the primal fear in the West that followed the Sept. 11 attacks. ISIS’s chief concerns appear to be local–battling Assad in Syria and the Shi’ite-dominated Iraqi government in an increasingly sectarian regional war. But that could change. A senior U.S. intelligence official tells TIME that as a former al-Qaeda affiliate, ISIS “absolutely has intentions to target U.S. interests.

many fighters say they have no intention of returning home. They have found what they were looking for in al-Baghdadi’s Islamic state. Some burn their passports in a show of allegiance. “This idea of us wanna go back and plot terror attacks in our home countries, I think it’s absolute rubbish,” Abu Sumayyah al-Britani, a British fighter in Syria, told the online radio program The ISIS Show. “All of the people I am speaking to on the ground, they have no intention of going back at all. We are having a good life here.” But not much lasts forever in the volatile Middle East, and ISIS’s Islamic paradise could collapse as quickly as it was established. And then thousands of young fighters may have little choice but to go home.

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