Stubborn trickle of Western jihadists head to Pakistan
October 14, 2010
MABAD (AFP) - A small but determined band of Western militants are trickling into Pakistans northwest for training in Taliban and Al-Qaeda enclaves, officials say.
Western diplomats in Islamabad, intelligence officials and Pakistani security officials say dozens of Westerners are among the thousands of foreign militants hiding out in the remote lawless border with Afghanistan.
Despite their relatively small number, a host of bombings and aborted attacks in Western cities in recent years linked to Pakistans tribal areas shows that the threat posed by these migrating militants is nevertheless real.
Bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005, a foiled plot in Barcelona and the Mumbai siege in 2008, as well as the botched plot in New Yorks Times Square in May this year all led back to Pakistans heartland.
Officials say the would-be attackers are hard to detect as they arrive with legitimate visas from Europe, and even the United States, and blend in with the local population as they make their way to the Waziristan region.
The British-born Pakistanis are mostly young boys who are adventurous by nature and dont find it hard to come to Pakistan and move around, a security official said, requesting anonymity.
There are some basic flaws in our immigration system. Its very easy for these suspects, especially those coming from Europe, to pass through our immigration, another senior security official said.
Most of the militants arrive with a working knowledge of the local language, Pashto, and wear local dress, making them difficult to identify, an intelligence official said.
At a meeting in Luxembourg on Thursday, a US official told EU interior ministers that attacks being planned on countries including Britain, France and Germany had been traced back to European jihadists in the western tribal belt.
They are difficult to track down, they have European passports, Gilles de Kerchove, the EUs anti-terrorism coordinator, said at the same meeting.
Some Western fighters also disguise themselves as Tablighis, said a senior intelligence official, referring to followers of the moderate Tabligh movement, whose missionaries travel the globe to preach Islam. Raiwind hosts hundreds of thousands of Tablighs every November for one of the largest Muslim gatherings worldwide. Some of them have been arrested, but others made it to Waziristan, the intelligence official said.
Retired General Mehmood Shah, a former security chief in the tribal areas, said local facilitators and handlers meet the European fighters on arrival in Pakistan and later send them on to the tribal region.
Al-Qaeda converts these people to their cause before they arrive... once foreigners arrive in North Waziristan they are already fully motivated, he said.
A US drone strike in North Waziristan on October 4 killed five German in the lawless tribal belt, according to Pakistan security sources, in a raid that followed warnings of a possible attack by Al-Qaeda in Europe.
Germans of Central Asian origin who have links to Uzbek militants have been coming to Pakistan for some time, said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a journalist based in northwest Pakistan and an expert on militancy in the area.
They come very easily via Afghanistan after crossing the Amu Darya river border from Uzbekistan, said Yusufzai.
Others trickle in via Turkey and Iran said a Pakistani intelligence officer.
Anyone can easily find traffickers in the border areas and they can smuggle you wherever you want, he said.
One intelligence official put the overall number of Western militants in Pakistan at 70 to 80. Most said dozens were coming.
Former security chief Shah said it was a problem that the United States and its Western allies persistently blamed Pakistan, but that foreign powers should also shoulder some responsibility.
The US and the West will have to give up blaming Pakistan for acts of terror committed by foreigners after theyve visited our tribal region, he said. These countries should take an equal share of the blame and keep a closer eye on their own citizens.
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