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Iraq drawing Muslim militants from Europe
( 2003-11-04 11:12) (Agencies)

U.S. Security officials are concerned that Iraq is becoming a magnet and proving ground for young Muslims from Europe angered by the U.S. occupation of a Muslim land and encouraged by a string of deadly attacks on American soldiers.

In interviews with The Associated Press, some European experts said they have evidence that young militants are being drawn to the struggle not hardened al-Qaida fighters, but men with no experience of Afghan training camps and little apparent connection to established terror groups, making them hard to track.

"Since the end of the war, there has been a large movement of people motivated by Islamic extremism from Germany and the rest of Europe toward Iraq," said a German security official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"They're people who want to fight a jihad (holy war)," said the official. "They see bleeding and dying American soldiers on television every day. It makes the Americans look vulnerable."

The number of fighters heading from Europe is sketchy, and would appear to make up only a fraction of militants heading to Iraq to fight.

In Jordan, where authorities have tried to reinforce the country's border with Iraq, counterterrorism officials told AP the foreign fighters are believed to be mainly Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Yemeni, Kuwaiti and Saudi.

Nevertheless, the German security official said the numbers who have already left Europe for Iraq are "not inconsiderable."

France's top anti-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, said Monday that security services were keenly aware that Iraq may lure terrorists, though he stopped short of confirming that fighters were already on the move.

"It's incontestable that Iraq has become a factor of crisis like other zones," Bruguiere told France-Inter radio.

The judge said he is on guard for what can happen "in the long term" in Iraq "an Islamic movement that may try to head to a land where there are clashes between Muslims and non-Muslims."

He acknowledged the difficulty of keeping track of Islamic militants.

"There is a sort of daily understanding of the evolution of a movement that is extremely complicated ... and difficult to understand," Bruguiere said.

Militants leaving Europe individually or in small groups bound for Iraq appear to be young Muslims without military training who have made a "spontaneous" decision to join the anti-American resistance, a Western intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.

"It seems to be small groups.... Often, they're not even recognizable as groups," the official said. "They just don't crop up in the files."

In Italy, where dozens of suspected Islamic extremists have been arrested on anti-terrorism charges, only a few have been accused of involvement in Iraq.

At least one suspect picked up in May is believed to have been in northern Iraq during the war, but he returned home to Italy, where he was arrested.

Many European countries have tightened anti-terror laws to make it easier to detain and prosecute suspected terrorists.

German legislation passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, for instance, makes membership in a foreign terrorist group a crime even for those who have committed no offense in Germany, where three of the Sept. 11 suicide pilots had lived undetected.

But such rules have limited bite for young Muslims whose families have been in Europe for one or two generations and have citizenship in European countries, said Alex Standish of Jane's Intelligence Digest.

"Their foreign passport status gives them a greater mobility," Standish said.

 
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