New headache for governments as extremists call on all Muslims to kill "non-believers"
PARIS (AP) — The Islamic State group’s call on Muslims to go after the "filthy French" and other Westerners multiplies already deep security concerns in nations targeting the militant organization.
The appeal made public Monday makes intelligence tracking of potential suspects virtually impossible and opens up Muslims in the West to the possibility of being unfairly put under suspicion or stigmatized.
Nations are honing mechanisms to monitor Westerners who head to Syria and Iraq to fight in the jihad, the better to catch them when they return home with deadly skills. But how do you track someone who reads the Islamic State group’s call in a newspaper or on a mainstream website, and then carries out a spontaneous attack?
Experts in terrorism agreed that the options to counter-act the call on all Muslims to kill are virtually nil, beyond bolstering security forces’ visibility — thus allowing them to act quickly if need be.
"We are not waging a war between east and west, or Christianity and Islam," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Tuesday. The French government says what it calls the "butchers" of the Islamic State group don’t represent Islam.
But Valls acknowledged that France is facing an unprecedented challenge from "the enemy within."
"We have compatriots who could strike us," he said on Europe-1 radio.
On Friday, France became the first country to join the U.S. in carrying out airstrikes in Iraq. France, with the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, an estimated 5 million, also counts the highest number of citizens and residents who have turned to jihad in Syria and Iraq — more than 900 people travelling or planning to go.
France has increased security around places of worship, airports and "symbolic" sites after the first airstrikes.
A French citizen captured Sunday evening in Algeria by a breakaway al-Qaida affiliate was the first victim of the new threat. A masked man crouching with the hostage in an authenticated video threatened his death if France doesn’t end airstrikes on Iraq within 24 hours. The group, Soldiers of the Caliphate, said the kidnapping was a response to the Islamic State group’s call.
The sweeping appeal in an audio statement implored Muslims to "not let this battle pass you by, wherever you may be."
The statement, issued by group spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, asked Muslims to use all means to kill a "disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian or a Canadian" or any disbeliever and others whose countries have joined to try to disable and destroy the Islamic State group.
Matthew Henman of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center said, "When you have people traveling out to Syria to fight, there are mechanisms in place that make it easy for security forces to track and survey those people … when they return from the conflict zone."
But "all someone has to do is read a newspaper" reporting the threat and be inspired, he added. "It’s extremely difficult for security forces to predict and intercept that because there’s almost no intelligence."
Muslims in the West could become the collateral damage, stigmatized as potential extremists, as they have in the U.S. and Europe after attacks of the past. But this time they could fall under suspicion even if nothing happens.
The rector of the Grand Mosque in Lyon, which has a significant Muslim population, envisioned that possibility as soon as the Islamic State group’s order went public.
Kamal Kabtane, along with two other Muslim leaders, said Monday the appeal risks creating an "anti-Muslim tsunami" and hands ammunition to those who "cast doubt on the loyalty of Muslim citizens regarding (French) values and democracy."