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Hundreds answer jihad call: NYT

November 01, 2003 17:18 IST
Last Updated: November 01, 2003 17:23 IST

Hundreds of young Muslim men are leaving their homes across Europe and the Middle East in answer to calls for a jihad, reportedly from Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and other extremists to join the fight against the American-led occupation in Iraq, a media report said Saturday.

Intelligence officials from six countries told The New York Times since late summer they have detected a growing stream of itinerant Muslim militants headed for Iraq. They estimate hundreds of young men from many countries have arrived in Iraq by crossing the Syrian or Iranian borders.

The officials said the influx was not necessarily evidence of coordination by Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, since it is unclear if the men are under the control of any one leader or what, if any, role they have had in the attacks in Baghdad last Monday.

The paper quotes a European intelligence official calling foreign recruits 'foot soldiers with limited or no training.'

A senior British official, who was in Iraq in September, told the newspaper most foreign men captured there were from the Middle East, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, or North Africa. He described them as 'young, angry men' motivated by the 'anti-British, anti-American rhetoric that fills their ears every day.'

Signs of movement to Iraq, the paper said, have also been detected in Europe.

Jean-Louis Bruguiere, France's top investigative judge on terrorism, said dozens of poor and middle-class Muslim men had left France for Iraq since the summer and some appeared to have been inspired by exhortations of Qaeda leaders.

Bruguiere, who earlier this year opened an investigation of young men leaving France to fight on the side of Muslims in Chechnya, said the traffic to Iraq was similar.

He called the changing pattern 'a new threat.'

A senior German intelligence official told the Times the authorities had detected cases of immigrants in Germany trying to go to Iraq. 'We know that in Germany there are people in the militant Muslim scene who are willing to go other places to participate in jihad, including Iraq,' the official said.

The paper said there are scattered reports from other places, including Saudi Arabia, where a senior Saudi official said two Saudi militants, believed to have ties to Al Qaeda, were missing from the kingdom and believed by the authorities to have gone to Iraq.

Intelligence officials, who base their assessment of the traffic into Iraq on surveillance of mosques and Islamic centers and on interrogation of terrorist suspects captured in Iraq, say they have found no connection between the recruits.

'Nobody is organizing this move from Europe to Iraq,' a senior European counter-terrorism official said. 'At least it is difficult to analyze and know who is organizing this. This may be just the beginning of a new phenomenon.

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