- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

PARIS (Agence France-Presse) — They are highly motivated, battle-hardened, mobile — and therefore, dangerous. And the return of Europe’s jihadists from Iraq is giving the Continent’s intelligence services nightmares.

As far back as October, Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr warned that intercepted correspondence between Abu Musab Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and other figures in the movement had revealed a decision to send large numbers of Islamist volunteers back to their countries of origin to wage holy war.

Mr. Jabr said several hundred militant fighters had left for home by last fall.

Baltazar Garzon, a Spanish judge who has led inquiries into al Qaeda in Spain, said in an interview last week that there were indications that large numbers of veterans of the Iraqi jihad were returning to Europe.

“I cannot say how many cases we are talking about, but it is a question of logic. Up until now, inquiries were focused on volunteers traveling to Iraq. Now we are beginning to get indications that they have begun to return,” he said.

“Infrastructures are being put in place to accommodate them,” added the judge, who spoke from the French city of Lyon, where he was attending an Interpol meeting.

In the past three years, hundreds of jihadist volunteers from almost every country in Europe have traveled to Iraq, via Syria, Egypt, Turkey or Iran. Once there, they have been more or less integrated into the anti-U.S. resistance, often to commit suicide attacks.

In 2005, the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies in London estimated that the number of foreign volunteers in Iraq to be at least 1,000.

OnMay 11, the head of France’s domestic-security service, Pierre de Bousquet, indicated that about 15 young French people remained in and around Iraq. At least nine have been killed there.

Foreign volunteers “have become a bit of a nuisance there and are being urged to return to Europe to pursue jihad there. We have seen a few examples,” he said.

Claude Moniquet, director of the Brussels-based European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, estimates that there are “several hundred” former fighters from Iraq in Western Europe and says they are “potentially very dangerous.”

“Given the high motivation and the youth of these Iraqi volunteers, the risk that they will start to commit terrorist acts on European soil is very real,” he said.

“It is pretty much impossible to organize the surveillance of several hundred people across Europe,” he said. “Effective surveillance of one person requires an absolute minimum of 12 to 15 officers. Multiply that by several hundred, and you need thousands. And even then, we’re talking about a makeshift operation.”

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