Westerners Being Recruited by al-Qaeda

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 23

A statement entitled “al-Qaeda’s Future Soldier: Rakan Bin Williams,” published by a group calling itself “al-Qaeda’s Voice on the Internet,” indicates that al-Qaeda plans to recruite white European converts to Islam rather than depend on Arabs and Muslims from Middle Eastern or Asian origin (posted on the jihadist forums al-Saha (http://alsaha.fares.net/sahat/.ee6b2ff, and www.la7odood.com; see also the Arabic daily al-Sharq al-Awsat on November 8, 2005).

According to the statement, recruiting Westerners is part of al-Qaeda’s strategy to respond to the “war on terrorism” and the resulting restrictions placed on its members. The statement indicates that following September 11, there was a special focus given to Saudi Arabia—or the Land of the Two Holy Mosques (as described by the statement)—in that most of the attackers originated from the kingdom. Later, however, al-Qaeda carried out its next attack in Indonesia by the hand of Indonesian nationals, and followed by a “strategic” threat to Europe by attacking its borders with the Islamic World in the east (Turkey) and west (Morocco). When Europe failed to recognize or react accordingly to the warning, al-Qaeda targeted Madrid—in an attack carried out by North Africans—shifting scrutiny to Arabs in Europe. Then, in what came as a surprise to many, London was targeted in an attack carried out by British-Pakistanis. This attack may well have resulted from Europe’s failure—in the eyes of bin Laden—to accept the truce offered in regard to Iraq. (Moreover, al-Qaeda misled Europe, and others, into believing that the next target would be Italy). The statement finishes by vowing that the next al-Qaeda recruits will be “Rakan Bin Williams,” which is the name it gives to white Europeans.

Whether the statement was issued by al-Qaeda or not, it is nonetheless reflective of the changes that al-Qaeda has undergone since 9/11, and the new recruitment methods it has adopted. While most original al-Qaeda members were of Arab origin, the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing American-led war on al-Qaeda drove them to become a decentralized organization. This was exemplified by the fact that most attacks led by al-Qaeda in different areas were organized and carried out by local groups, whether in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey, Spain or the UK.

This dependence on local groups is a response to the tightened grip on Salafi-jihadists in the world. The statement describes “Rakan Bin Williams:” “You will not be able to monitor him, limit his movement or stop him.” For al-Qaeda, this is what makes the recruitment of white Europeans so appealing.

Two factors in particular give credibility to the new recruitment strategy: al-Qaeda’s activities in the West, and its focus on groups that seek to breakaway from their regimes. The Iraq war, by all indications, is providing fuel for recruitment, though mostly of Arab of Asian Muslims to date. French authorities have captured three recruitment networks, such as the “forgers network,” which handled preparing forged passports for volunteers in Iraq; the “Afghan Arabs” network, headed by an Islamist called Saeed the Moroccan; and “Morocco’s network,” headed by Farid Bin Bieo (see the Saudi daily Al-Watan September 21, 2005). Attempts to recruit white Westerners became evident in the first female European suicide bomber in Iraq, carried out by 38 year-old Belgian national Muriel Degauque, who was recruited by her husband, of Moroccan origin, to become the second female suicide bomber in Iraq (on November 9). Additionally, there are also indications that other women are ready to become suicide bombers (al-Hayat, December 2, 2005).

With regard to the Salafi-jihadist focus in the West on marginalized communities that are discontent with their government, it can be noted that Muriel grew up in a blue collar area, which is considered a rich recruitment ground. This raises questions as to the future of al-Qaeda as a whole. Olivier Roy, a French specialist on Islamist movements, maintains that while the Salafi-jihadist way is a religious movement, it can still collaborate with non-Muslim organizations, and can also include members who are not Muslim. The agreement between Salafi-jihadists, particularly al-Qaeda, and groups of violent radical leftists who are “descendants of the Baader-Meinhof gang, Action Directe or the Red Brigades. They have a common enemy: a world order exemplified by U.S. imperialism. Al-Qaeda fascinates people looking for ways of breaking with the established order. And it benefits from the almost complete disappearance of the radical Marxist far-left. Former sympathizers have shifted their attention to building an alternative global market and tend to disregard the worst cases of social deprivation” (“Al-Qaida Brand Name Ready for Franchise,” Le Monde Diplomatique, September 2005). Therefore, it appears that al-Qaeda is striving to recruit white Europeans, particularly disgruntled marginalized groups, as a mechanism to survive and adapt to the increasing pressure it faces.