From orphans to terrorists: The childhood that became a breeding ground for vengeance


Before he killed two New York City police officers, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley was on a desperate search to find himself.

He “tried on identities as if they were new clothes,” The New York Times reported. He was mostly a street hustler who dabbled in petty crime and spent seven months in jail once for shooting a friend’s car. He tried to straighten out with a legitimate T-shirt-making business, but it quickly failed. His saving grace was an active fantasy life, which he openly expressed on social media, alternately portraying himself as an unrealized filmmaker, screenwriter or rap producer. 

After he committed double homicide and then killed himself, too, some seemed puzzled as to why Brinsley did it: There was no evidence to suggest he had a history of devout anti-police sentiment; or that he belonged to any hate-stoking activist group. He was Muslim, but hardly radical. In fact, until his final day, the most significant thing he ever took up arms against was the aforementioned car.

The Times concluded that Brinsley was no dedicated criminal; rather, he “seemed to be a grandstander at the end of his tether, homeless, jobless and hopeless.”

Homeless, jobless, hopeless. That’s a heady brew. Poisonous, even. And in the end, those three ingredients may have been what led Brinsley from a troubled life to an irredeemable one. But the question remains: Even in the worst circumstances, what accounts for the difference between those who emerge well adjusted and those who are incurably alienated?

Reach deep into Brinsley’s childhood, and clues converge to suggest why he became a difficult and dangerous adult. His parents split when he was 9; “his mother couldn’t handle him”; “[h]e learned that if he did poorly in school or acted out, his father came around,” so, “[h]e acted out often.” He “learned to live on a couch”; and he was “so estranged” from his mother, she couldn’t be counted upon to identify where her son went to high school.

Throughout his childhood, Brinsley lacked security, stability and love. Is it any surprise that a child who was never cared for never acquired the tools to care for himself? Anger was his only recourse, and it fueled a final rage that cost two more families their stability.

Consider the offspring of another shattered family: Cherif and Said Kouachi, who murdered 12 people at Charlie Hebdo last week, after spending years searching for an anchor of their own. Both orphans and immigrants, they turned to radical Islam for purpose and meaning — the ideology promised the answer to all that they lacked. But what did they lack?

Cherif and Said's Algerian-immigrant father died when they were young boys, leaving the family with limited resources. They were 10 and 12-years-old when they discovered their mother's body after an apparent suicide. After that, Cherif and Said were tossed to the French foster-care system that raised them. They did not grow up religious. They were not encouraged to do something great with their lives. So when they finally came of age, all that was available to them were menial jobs like fitness instructor, fishmonger or pizza delivery man. It was a hard life, not a cherished one. One, you might even imagine, they would happily give up for redemption in the world to come. But before their clarion calls of Allahu Akbar, the floundering brothers “initially drifted into petty delinquencies, not religious fanaticism.”

What changed them from lost children to found jihadists? In a 2005 documentary that aired on one of France’s state-owned television channels, Cherif was portrayed as an ordinary kid who liked rap music and late-night clubbing before stumbling into a dark underworld of hate and fanaticism. It was reportedly a 26-year-old janitor-turned-preacher who drew him to radical Islam by romanticizing jihad in passionate sermons. 

When he was brought to trial in 2008 for helping recruit young French Muslims to fight in Iraq, his lawyer presented him as a lost, confused soul who was hardly the devout Islamist he was believed to be. Cherif, his lawyer noted, “smoked marijuana … and described himself as an ‘occasional Muslim.’” (If there had been any hope for rehabilitation, it was conclusively dissolved once he was incarcerated and found a like-minded inmate who had plotted an attack on the American Embassy in Paris.) 

Once you start tumbling down a mountain, it’s hard to recover your balance.

The fact that the brothers had long been on the radar of French authorities, and had been detained and then released, indicates how futile it is to fight radical Islam in the streets. Drones can only do one thing. Should democracies arrest or kill every person who has ever walked into an Islamist mosque?

Beating back radical Islam will require addressing root causes of radical loneliness. The more young immigrants grow up in homes with education and real economic prospects, the less likely it is that they’ll become bait for ideological tyranny. There’s a reason the first book of Torah focuses on families — they are the bedrock from which everything else flows, for better or worse. Freud told us this; Stephen Sondheim repeated it when he cautioned: “Careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see.”

We can only hope more children witnessed the example of Lassana Bathily, the French-Muslim young man who ushered 15 kosher supermarket shoppers to safety, before escaping himself and helping French police assess the situation inside. Bathily proved it isn’t Islam itself that is so radical — or any other religion, for that matter. It is the choice a religious person makes to either lash out or love.

French Jews on edge after 4 killed in Paris siege


The two hostage crises that transfixed France and much of the world on Friday epitomize the problem Islamic radicalism poses in the heart of Europe: They’re a danger to civilized society generally, but especially to Jews.

Now it’s time for the authorities to wake up to the problem and confront it, French Jewish leaders said Friday.

At the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris’ 12th arrondissement on Friday, a gunman believed to have killed a Paris policewoman a day earlier killed two people and holed up in the store with an unknown number of hostages.

Meanwhile, the two brothers that French police identified as having carried out Wednesday’s attack at the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, which left 12 people dead, were cornered at a printing shop north of Paris. The brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, also were holding a hostage.

“We have warned that the menace of rising anti-Semitism threatens French society at large,” Simone Rodan-Benazquen, director of the Paris office of the American Jewish Committee, said. “The Charlie Hebdo massacre makes clear that the war against France’s democratic values is in high gear.”

French police identified the captor at the kosher supermarket as Amedy Coulibaly, 32, and said he was in contact with the Kouachi brothers. Police received threats that the hostages in the kosher shop would be killed if the brothers were harmed, Reuters reported.

Near day’s end, the two sieges ended almost simultaneously: Firefights erupted between the captors and the police, and the captors were killed – along with several hostages at the kosher supermarket. The hostage held by the Kouachi brothers was freed.

Wednesday’s attack at Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper that drew admirers and detractors for offensive cartoon caricatures, was described by many in France as a national shock akin to 9/11. Tens of thousands of protests gathered in Paris after the attack to memorialize the dead and express their support for press freedom.

Despite assurances by the government to fight anti-Semitism, French Jews are facing the Islamic jihadists alone, said Chlomik Zenouda, vice president of National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism.

But the attack came after a long period of increased anti-Semitic attacks in France that grew worse during last summer’s war in Gaza. Since then, synagogues have been set ablaze, Jews have been attacked and Jewish institutions have been threatened.

“Thousands showed up to protest the Charlie Hebdo killings – that’s nice. But they gathered at a square where just a few months ago public officials stood idly as around them calls were heard to slaughter the Jews. No one came out to protest that – no one but the Jews,” said Zenouda, referring to the inflammatory rhetoric at Gaza War protests held last summer at Place de la Republique.

After the Charlie Hebdo killings, Jewish community institutions went on maximum alert. But it wasn’t enough to thwart Friday’s hostage taking.

During the sieges, a local TV station, BFMTV, interviewed the captors both at the printing plant and the supermarket, and the men said they answer to al Qaeda in Yemen and that the two attacks were coordinated, Le Monde reported. They said they had ties to the American-Yemeni cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, who was killed in 2011.

Police were in contact with the Kouachi brothers during the siege, and the brothers reportedly said they wanted to die as martyrs.

Near the supermarket site, schools were put on lockdown or evacuated.

Paul Bernadini, a 22-year-old technician, said he was in a van near the supermarket listening to news on the radio about the Kouachi brothers’ hostage situation when he suddenly heard gunfire about 20 feet away and people screaming. He ran into a shop adjacent to the supermarket and took cover.

“We heard a series of shots and knew it had to come from an automatic weapon,” he told JTA. “We heard the cries, but then we took shelter and we didn’t hear them anymore.

The Hyper Cacher market is located in a neighborhood on the easternmost edge of Paris, bordering Saint-Mandé — a heavily Jewish suburb, where there are many kosher shops and restaurants. Just a quarter mile away from Hyper Cacher is the century-old Synagogue de Vincennes, which long has catered to the community’s sizable Ashkenazi population. The synagogue sits adjacent to another Jewish congregation, Beth Raphael, founded in 2005 to serve to the growing population of Jews of North African descent.

In 2013, JTA reported on an incident in which France’s Jewish Defense League, a vigilante group, beat an Arab man after he reportedly attacked Jews in Saint-Mandé.

On Friday, Courts de Vincennes, usually a lively boulevard with a street market, was nearly abandoned. The only sound there was that of police convoys heading to the hostage site. Meanwhile, police ordered the shops closed on the rue de Rosiers in Paris’ Marais district, where Jewish area where shoppers tend to proliferate in the hours before Shabbat.

As news of the hostage crisis spread, Jewish groups and institutions in the United States sent out urgent messages to constituents to pray for the hostages in France, attaching a list with nine Hebrew names said to be the hostages.

In France, some Paris synagogues canceled their Sabbath-eve services, a French Jewish official, Shlomo Malka, told Israeli Army Radio, according to the Times of Israel.

“There’s a huge amount of fear,” Malka said, according to the report.

Finally, after several hours, police stormed the two hostage sites.

The news of the Kouachi brothers’ deaths was greeted with relief in France after a two-day manhunt that police said involved a deployment of more than 88,000 police officers.

“The operation in Dammartin is finished,” said Rocco Contento, a spokesman for the Unité S.G.P. police union, according to The New York Times. “The two suspects have been killed and the hostage has been freed. The special counterterrorism forces located where the terrorists are and broke down the door. They took them by surprise. It lasted a matter of minutes.”

At the supermarket, witnesses reported hearing explosions and gunshots. Images from the scene showed heavily armed police officers escorting hostages from the store. The captor was killed, but there were additional civilian casualties. Two more hostages were dead and four were seriously wounded, according to reports. The U.K. Telegraph said two police officers were injured in the supermarket raid, one critically.

Some 15 hostages were freed after the raid, reports said.

Police were still searching Friday for the supermarket captor’s girlfriend, Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, who was also said to have been involved in the killing Thursday of the French policewoman in Montrouge, on the outskirts of Paris.

Later in the night, a third hostage situation developed in the southern French town of Montpellier. Two people reportedly had been taken hostage in a jewelry store, and police surrounded the area. It was not immediately clear whether the episode was an unrelated robbery or somehow tied to the hostage takings in Paris.

Shimon Samuels, the Paris-based director of international affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told JTA that France needs to face up to the danger posed by radical Islamists and recognize it for what it is, rather than excusing it away.

“A culture of excuse exonerates the perpetrators as disaffected, alienated, frustrated, unemployed,” he said. “No other group of frustrated unemployed has resorted to such behavior.”

Samuels called on the French government to declare a state of emergency that would give it sweeping powers to crack down on Islamist organizations. Other Jewish groups in France also have issued such calls.

In the United States, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York announced it would hold a gathering of prayer, mourning and solidarity on Sunday evening in Manhattan in the wake of “the barbaric assault in France.” The meeting was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Lincoln Square Synagogue.

Uriel Heilman contributed reporting from New York. Additional reporting by Gabrielle Birkner in New York.

5775: Old conflicts, new hopes in the new year


Israel turned 66 years old in 5774, the year that just passed. Some 8.2 million people live in Israel, of which 24,000 immigrated in the past year. Some 178,000 babies were born, and 42,000 people died. Jews make up 75 percent of the population; Arabs make up 20.7 percent. When Israel was founded in 1948, just 806,000 citizens lived in the Holy Land. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the opportunity this past Independence Day to stand up for the fundamental right of Israel to be a nation for the Jewish people. 

Then came the Gaza war. The third war in Gaza, which flared up this past summer, turned into a tunnel war after Hamas had holed up in a maze of underground passages. These attack tunnels, some nearly 100 feet deep and close to 2 miles long, had several outputs and presented the greatest threat to Israel. Israelis are convinced that the kidnapping and murder of the three Jewish students, which led to this new military conflict, prevented Israel from experiencing something much worse — an unexpected attack from Gaza through the tunnels with the aim of massacring Israelis living near the Gaza border, as well as mass hostage-taking. 

The very idea that hundreds of heavily armed Hamas terrorists could emerge from burrows in the middle of villages and perpetrate a massacre has triggered panic among many Jewish mothers in southern Israel. 

In the fighting that followed, Hamas made every effort to claim perished combatants as civilians. Hamas has stated officially that only a small minority of the dead was part of the militia, with the aim of presenting the civilian death rate far above average. It has been proved without a doubt that Hamas continuously, cruelly and cynically used kindergartens, schools and hospitals as missile bases and thereby deliberately exposed civilians to risk. Thus, last July, 260 rockets were fired from schools, 127 from cemeteries, 160 from mosques, 50 from hospitals and 597 from various population centers. With such attack bases, Hamas hoped its rockets would incite Israeli retaliation, and thus deliberately provoked the killing of its own civilians. Killed children are an integral part of the strategy of Hamas, spread throughout the world and intended to serve the Hamas propaganda. Meanwhile, Hamas TV shows 3-year-olds in its children’s program drilled to fight against the Jews. Unfortunately, a concise and accurate quote from Golda Meir has not lost its relevance: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” 

Meanwhile, 20 years of talks with the Palestinians have led to nothing. If the border control to the Gaza Strip is ceded to Fatah, this would mean that Hamas de facto controls the borders. Since the beginning of this war in Gaza, Fatah militia in Gaza participated in mortar and rocket attacks against Israel. The Fatah leadership did not keep this fact a secret; it was proud of it. Thus, Fatah published a poster on its Facebook page on July 9 with the heading “brothers in arms.” Below one sees terrorists of Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad with the headline: “A God, a homeland, an enemy, a target.” 

In the aftermath of the war, Israel has been set in the pillory as a war criminal and child murderer. One can talk raw numbers: 1,881 Palestinians killed, and 67 Israelis killed. 

“Yes, it’s true,” emphasizes the historian Matthias Küntzel, who was honored in 2011 by the Anti-Defamation League for his commitment against anti-Semitism. “The whole world was, over four weeks, a witness of an exorbitant war crime. However, it was not the Israelis who committed this crime but the religious fanatics of Hamas.” 

Every evening, TV news showed dead children in Gaza without any mention of the cruel background of Hamas policy. Consequently, the uninformed viewer was led to sympathize with Hamas and against Israel. 

Those images stoked sometimes-violent anti-Semitism worldwide, which aroused terrible associations with the past. In July, anti-Semitic attacks rose in America by 130 percent, in Europe by 436 percent, in South Africa by 600 percent and in South America by a shocking 1,200 percent compared to July 2013. With regard to the European Union (EU) there was, however, a positive message, namely from Brussels: The activity of the aggressive Israel-hater Catherine Ashton as EU foreign minister has come to an end. Federica Mogherini as her successor (effective Nov. 1) suggests the righteous hope that the fatal, perfidious EU anti-Israel resolutions will belong to the past, and that finally a fair European policy toward Israel can be expected. 

During the Gaza war, one of the major players in the region was largely out of sight: Iran, which to the present day is the only state that has openly threatened to wipe out Israel. But the Islamic Republic of Iran was actively involved in the Gaza war. Its connection with Hamas, which deteriorated due to Syria, is back on track. Iran supplied Hamas and the Islamic Jihad with weapons and allegedly also gave direct instructions to the commanders of Hamas in the Gaza tunnels. The Iranian fingerprints in Gaza were clearly seen in training of the Hamas fighters as well as their technological knowledge of weapons production, development and handling. Although the Gaza war distracted attention from Iran and its nuclear weapons program, Hamas is not an existential threat to the Jewish state, but Tehran’s nuclear program probably is. In this respect, the Gaza conflict came at a very unfavorable time for Israel. Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli minister of international relations and intelligence services, regards the Iranian threat with anything but optimism: “Israel is deeply concerned,” he told reporters. “We are of the opinion that the international negotiations with Iran go in the wrong direction. What Iran offers is superficial, cosmetic in nature. Unfortunately, no acceptable agreement with Iran seems to move forward. Iranians get almost everything they want, but they hardly give anything.”

The situation of innocent people abused by a terrorist organization in Gaza is heartbreaking, but the facts are clear: There will be no lasting cease-fire with Hamas. Its reign of terror must be stopped; there is no long-term alternative. This was also seen with the announcement of the last cease-fire, which Netanyahu did not bring to a vote in the Cabinet because he supposed, without a doubt, that the majority of Israelis favor an end to Hamas, even if more deaths will be inevitable to achieve this objective. 

However, the main finding of the Gaza war should be the importance of Israeli presence — at least on a military level — in the disputed areas. Since the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Israel has not been physically present in Gaza. This left a vacuum that gave Hamas the opportunity to turn Gaza into a giant terrorist network. This fact confirms the need for an Israeli security presence in the region. Moreover, this fact also led to the Israeli population’s overwhelming rejection of, at this stage, leaving the West Bank to the Palestinians, which could similarly pave the way for Hamas to gain power there. After the repeated outbreaks of terror and bombings from Gaza on Israel’s population, Israeli skepticism about further territorial concessions to the Palestinians is only logical. 

But it’s best to finish with some positive impressions of the past year. Even under the conditions of the fighting in Gaza, Israel’s population showed its beautiful side. The sympathy for affected residents in southern Israel was very strong everywhere and was expressed, among other ways, in mass invitations to the people of the south from Israelis in the safe north. Another example of the newly ignited Israeli sense of belonging: Some 30,000 people attended the funeral of a fallen lone soldier (Max Steinberg of Los Angeles). And government circles received a greater understanding abroad for Israel’s actions as part of its self-defense against barbarian enemies. 

The year that is ending also saw the surprising start of a hopeful alliance between Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates as a concrete result of the Islamists’ advance in Iraq, Syria and Libya. This alliance may reduce what has been an increasing international isolation of Israel, although it will also change current strategic agreements in a dramatic way. Hamas once enjoyed the massive support of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Today, however, both countries feel threatened by Hamas, which in turn is strongly supported by Qatar and Turkey. 

The Near and Middle East are experiencing constant change, to which Israel must react carefully but also consistently. Despite the difficulties of this past year, numerous extremely creative and significant activities in many fields continued in Israel. Let us hope that these admirable achievements will continue in the New Year.


Arthur Cohn is the Academy Award-winning producer of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “One Day in September” and many other films. This essay is translated and adapted from the original German.

U.S., Kurds strike at Islamic State in Syria


U.S. warplanes attacked Islamic State targets in Syria overnight, in raids that a group monitoring the war said killed civilians as well as jihadist fighters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes hit mills and grain storage areas in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, in an area controlled by Islamic State, killing at least two civilian workers.

Strikes on a building on a road leading out of the town also killed a number of Islamic State fighters, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory which gathers information from sources in Syria.

The U.S. military said on Monday an American air strike overnight targeted Islamic State vehicles in a staging area adjacent to a grain storage facility near Manbij, but it had no evidence so far of civilian casualties.

While a week of raids has taken a toll on Islamic State equipment and fighters on the ground, there is no sign yet that the tide is being turned against the group, which controls large areas of Iraq and Syria, where it has declared an Islamic Caliphate.

In a statement to the United Nations that appeared to give approval of U.S. and Arab air strikes in Syria against the militants, Syria's foreign minister said his country backed the campaign against Islamic State.

Syria “stands with any international effort aimed at fighting and combating terrorism”, Walid al-Moualem said, whose government has long been an international pariah because of what critics say is its brutality in a civil war that has killed 200,000 people.

The U.S.-led strikes have so far failed to halt an advance by fighters in northern Syria on Kobani, a Kurdish town on the border with Turkey where fighting over the past week caused the fastest refugee flight of Syria's three-year-old civil war.

At least 15 Turkish tanks could be seen at the frontier, some with guns pointed towards Syrian territory. More tanks and armoured vehicles moved towards the border after shells landed in Turkey on Sunday and Monday.

ARAB ALLIES

The United States has been bombing Islamic State and other groups in Syria for a week with the help of Arab allies, and hitting targets in neighbouring Iraq since last month. European countries have joined the campaign in Iraq but not in Syria.

Islamic State, a Sunni militant group which broke off from al-Qaeda, alarmed the West and the Middle East by sweeping through northern Iraq in June, slaughtering prisoners and ordering Shi'ites and non-Muslims to convert or die.

It is battling Shi'ite backed governments in both Iraq and Syria, as well as other Sunni groups in Syria and Kurdish groups in both countries, part of complex multi-sided civil wars in which nearly every country in the Middle East has a stake.

The head of Syria's al Qaeda branch, the Nusra Front, a Sunni militant group which is a rival of Islamic State and has also been targeted by U.S. strikes, said Islamists would carry out attacks on the West in retaliation for the campaign.

Obama has worked since August to build an international coalition to combat the fighters, describing them last week in an address to the United Nations as a “network of death”.

His acknowledgment in an interview broadcast on Sunday that U.S. intelligence had underestimated Islamic State offered an explanation for why Washington appeared to have been taken by surprise when the fighters surged through northern Iraq in June.

The militants had gone underground when U.S. forces quashed al Qaeda in Iraq with the aid of local tribes during the U.S. war there which ended in 2011, Obama told CBS's “60 Minutes”.

“But over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you have huge swathes of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.”

BATTLE ON BORDER

Gunfire rang out from across the border and a plume of smoke rose over Kobani as periodic shelling by Islamic State fighters took place. Kurds watching the fighting from the Turkish side of the border said the Syrian Kurdish group, the YPG, was putting up a strong defence.

“Many Islamic State fighters have been killed. They're not taking the bodies with them,” said Ayhan, a Turkish Kurd who had spoken by phone with one of his friends fighting with the YPG. He said Kurdish forces had picked up eight Islamic State bodies.

At Mursitpinar, the nearby border crossing, scores of young men were returning to Syria saying they would join the fight. More refugees were fleeing in the opposite direction.

“Because of the bombs, everyone is running away. We heard people have been killed,” said Xelil, a 39-year-old engineer who fled Kobani on Monday. “The YPG have got light weapons but Islamic State has big guns and tanks.”

A local official in Kobani said Islamic State continued to besiege the town from the east, west and south and that the militants were 10 km (6 miles) from the outskirts.

“From the morning there has been shelling into Kobani and … maybe about 20 rockets,” Idris Nassan, deputy foreign minister in a local Kurdish administration said by phone. He said the rockets had killed at least three people in the town.

Turkey has not permitted its own Kurds to cross to join the battle: “If they've got Syrian identity or passports, they can go. But only Syrians, not Turks,” said one Turkish official at the border where security has been tightened.

A NATO member with the most powerful army in the area, Turkey has so far kept out of the U.S.-led coalition, angering many of its own Kurds who say the policy has abandoned their cousins in Syria to the wrath of Islamic State fighters.

GAS PLANT

The Syrian Observatory, which monitors the conflict with a network of sources on the ground, said U.S.-led strikes had hit a Conoco gas plant controlled by Islamic State outside Deir al-Zor city in eastern Syria, wounding several fighters.

The plant feeds a power station in Homs that provides several provinces with electricity and powers oilfield generators, the Observatory said.

The observatory also said warplanes had hit mills and grain storage areas in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, killing civilian workers.

“We are aware of media reports alleging civilian casualties, but have no evidence to corroborate these claims,” Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman at the U.S. military's Central Command said, adding the military however took such reports seriously and would look into them further.

U.S.-led warplanes also hit areas of Hasaka city in Syria's north east and the outskirts of Raqqa city in the north, which is Islamic State's stronghold. Syria's state news agency also said U.S.-led forces had carried out strikes in Raqqa province.

Additiona reporting by Sylvia Westall in Beirut, Angus McDowall in Riyadh, Doina Chiacu and Peter Cooney in Washington; Writing by Sylvia Westall, Peter Graff and Giles Elgood, editing by Philippa Fletcher

Brussels attack arrest underscores threat of returning jihadists


It was the threat that European authorities dreaded — and Europe’s Jews suffered the first blow.

The suspect arrested in the attack last month at the Jewish museum in Brussels that left four dead was a French-born jihadist who had returned home from fighting in Syria.

Now European Jewish institutions are left to reckon with the danger of European jihadists coming home from Syria with deadly new skills, extremist fervor and malicious intentions.

“There has been a change and it requires us to fundamentally reconsider the degree of threat posed to Jewish targets not only in France, but across Europe,” said Sammy Ghozlan, a French former police officer and president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against anti-Semitism. “That is the only way to prevent attacks like the one in Brussels.”

On Friday, police in Marseille arrested Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, on suspicion that he carried out the May 24 attack at the Jewish Museum of Belgium. French police found an assault rifle, handgun and a small video camera in Nemmouche’s bag.

Nemmouche, who was born on France’s border with Belgium, is believed to have traveled via Brussels in 2012 to fight with jihadists in Syria’s civil war. Western intelligence agencies have feared that European Muslims fighting in Syria will return and commit terrorist attacks in their home countries.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in January that the threat of jihadists returning to Europe is “the greatest danger that we must face in the coming years.” He added, “It’s a phenomenon of unprecedented size.”

Ghozlan has called on his government to revoke the citizenship not only of jihadists who leave to fight but also of their families.

“Our synagogues and schools already resemble fortresses,” he said. “It’s time for the perpetrators, not the victims, to fear for their families.”

France already has hardened its line on French nationals who undergo Islamist indoctrination and weapons training abroad as part of its security services response to the actions of Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Muslim radical from Toulouse who in 2012 killed three soldiers and four Jews.

Merah, who died in a shootout with police, had undergone training in Pakistan and Afghanistan and visited Syria and Jordan two years before the murders. He had surveyed and filmed Toulouse’s Ohr Hatorah Jewish school many days before he killed three children and a rabbi there.

To the Israeli Jewish Congress, a 2-year-old group that aims to strengthen ties between Israeli and European Jews, the phenomenon means that perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks ”are becoming much more sophisticated and professional in their combat training.”

The danger is thus “exacerbated not only from professional lone wolf attacks like in Brussels, but potentially also attacks on a much larger scale,” said Arsen Ostrovsky, the group’s director of research.

Experts on the security of Jewish institutions in five countries told JTA that since the war in Syria, they have observed a substantial increase in cases involving the gathering of intelligence on Jewish institutions by unidentified individuals.

“We see the gathering of tactical intelligence on Jewish targets occurring more often, we have security camera footage of it happening,” said Michael Gelvan, the Copenhagen-based chairman of the Nordic Jewish Security Council, which serves the Jewish communities in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. “It suggests the emergence of new and very serious threat which, unfortunately, not everyone has understood.”

Two days after the Brussels museum attack, a police receptionist near Paris received a report that lit up all sorts of warning lights at her emergency call center: Three men had been seen pointing a small video camera at the entrance to the local Otzar Hatorah Jewish school, according to the report given by the receptionist to the dispatch unit on May 26.

Officers hurried to the scene, but the three men had fled, realizing they had been spotted, according to a report by the Le Parisien daily. Some of Europe’s Jewish communities spend more than a quarter of their budgets on security, according to the European Jewish Congress.

Sophisticated attacks that entail surveillance, planning and prowess are nothing new for European Jews, who have seen many attacks by Palestinian terrorists during the 1970s and 1980s, noted Ghozlan, the ex-French police officer.

Some of the deadliest attacks occurred in Antwerp, where terrorists in 1981 detonated a car bomb near a synagogue, killing four people.

Yet the terrorist groups were limited in the number of attacks they could carry out because their operations required substantial investment in training operatives and covertly sending them abroad, whereas “thousands of European Islamists operating independently constitute a drastic quantitative change from a risk-assessment point of view,” said a spokesman from British Jewry’s Community Security Trust, or CST.

Ghozlan also identifies a qualitative change.

“The fervor introduced by Islamist indoctrination creates a new kind of determination in people who believe that killing a Jew is their ticket to heaven,” he said. “In a sense, we are dealing with [the equivalent of] kamikaze.”

Group tied to al-Qaida says it fired on Eilat


A jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaida claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Eilat.

The Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted the rocket fired early Tuesday morning by the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, which operates in Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, from the Sinai near the Israel border.

The Iron Dome battery was moved to the Eilat area about a month ago.

The Mujahideen Shura Council in its statement claiming responsibility said the attack was carried out to avenge the deaths of four jihadi terrorists on Friday in a drone attack in the Sinai. The attack was blamed on Israel, though Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility.

“Eilat and other Jewish towns will not be enjoying security, tourism or economy. Jews will pay for the blood of the jihad fighters,” the statement said.

Israeli authorities late last week ordered the closure of the Eilat airport for several hours following a warning from Egyptian security services about a possible attack, according to reports.

Hotels in Eilat, a major tourist destination for Israelis and Europeans, are nearly filled at this time of year.

Syrians angry at Israel


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Khalil Sharif wants everyone to stay out of his country’s business.

“First the foreign jihadists hijack the revolution and now the Israelis,” the 31 year old electrician complained to The Media Line. “Why can’t they leave Syria to Syrians?”

While Israel has neither confirmed nor denied it was behind the attacks on Syrian military installations this week, Syrians had no doubt who was responsible. What they’re not sure about, is what it will mean for the future of the civil war in Syria. On one hand, many are happy to see the regime they are fighting suffer a blow to its esteem. At the same time, Syrians fear the attack could allow President Bashar Al-Assad to marshal support by depicting an imminent Zionist threat.

Syrians are taught to loathe Israel at an early age, learning that it is the Arabs’ mortal enemy which wants to steal all their land and strip them of their cultural heritage. Daily doses of propaganda in papers and television ensure that older generations do not forget the perils Syria faces from what they call an expansionist Israel.

But today, many Syrians in opposition controlled areas have reconsidered their passionately held views about their southern neighbor. Some believe that Israel and the Syrian government are closet allies.

“Why hasn’t Syria attacked Israel in the last thirty years?,” 19 year old Hamid Shadi asked The Media Line at an Aleppo bakery. “How can Syria be Israel’s fiercest enemy if it never fights it?”

Shadi and others believe the two nations are colluding to prevent a rebel victory and that Israel has persuaded its Western allies not to intervene in the conflict.

Such reasoning has led some Syrians to postulate that the Israeli attacks were a ruse to allow the regime to shore up its sinking support in the face of the rebel led Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) revolution.

“Just when the regime is beginning to lose on the battlefield Israel attacks,” 34 year old accountant Sa’id Bunni tells The Media Line. “And what did it hit? A science research facility. How is that a military target?”

More level headed Syrians were equally perturbed by the attack.  “It will only distract people from our cause,” complained 42 year old landlord Jabir Shufi.  “We need to focus on overthrowing the regime, not sideshows and circuses.”

Shufi and others worry that a regime skilled in turning catastrophes to its advantage will do just that with the Israeli bombings.  “It will make people reconsider who the real enemy is – the Zionists or the regime, the defenders of the Arab cause,” explained 46 year old Anwar Ma’ri.”  Syrians will just get confused.  And they are good at that.”

Such confusion has already afflicted a number of Syrians. “Why is the FSA fighting the only regime willing to stand up to Israel?” asked 25 year old office supply store clerk Muhammad Sabri.  “It should support (President Bashar) al-Assad in his battle instead of fighting him.”

It is a refrain many on Aleppo’s streets echo. “The FSA is helping the Zionists bleed Syria,” said 22 year old fruit vendor Hashim Sadiq.  “This brings us dishonor.”

Despite the close ties between Israel and the United States, few here believe Jerusalem attacked on Washington’s orders.  “(American President Barack) Obama doesn’t need little Israel to do his bidding,” exclaimed 31 year old builder Yasir Umar.

In private homes far from the fears of eavesdroppers, some Syrians expressed reserved approbation.  “Assad does not fear the FSA,” said a man who only asked to be identified as Abu Ahmad. “But Israel scares him. These attacks keep him up at night and distract him from the fight against the FSA.”

Others who endorsed the Israeli strike lamented that Jerusalem did not bomb anything of significance.  “They didn’t take out Assad’s planes,” noted a man who asked that his name be withheld because he was speaking about a sensitive topic.  “They did not destroy his tanks.  So what good is the attack?”

With so many opinions voiced about an attack whose target is shrouded in secrecy, Syrians are unsure of what to think.  And that just might play into the hands of a regime that has portrayed itself as the only side that can provide stability in a land inundated with uncertainty.

Israeli intel: Independent jihadist network perpetrating Sinai attacks


Terror attacks in the Sinai emanated from an independent jihadist network there, Israeli intelligence reportedly believes.

Many members of the Sinai network are Egyptians who do not live in the Sinai, according to the Haaretz newspaper, which cited Israeli intelligence.

Two of the three terrorists involved in last month's cross-border attack that killed an Israeli soldier were well-off husbands and fathers who did not outwardly identify with religious extremism, Egyptian newspapers reported, according to Haaretz.

Other attacks on the Sinai border, including the killing of eight Israelis in August 2011 and the 14 attacks on a gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel, also are believed to have emanated from the same jihadist network and are not an extension of Gaza terrorism.

Haaretz reported that the network recruits from throughout the Arab world.

Israel, Egypt reinforce Gaza border due to attack fears


Israel’s military went on high alert, and both Israel and Egypt sent extra reinforcements to the Gaza border, amid fears of an Islamic Jihad attack.

Intelligence reports indicated that Islamic Jihad is planning to launch an attack in the area. The members of the terrorist organization are believed to already have crossed from Gaza to Sinai, according to reports.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of the General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz ordered the reinforcement of IDF troops early Monday morning. The decision to bolster IDF forces in the south was coordinated with Egypt, according to the IDF.

Egypt on Monday deployed 1,500 troops in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a report from the Britain-based Al-Hayat newspaper.

“The IDF views the Hamas terrorist organization as responsible for any terrorist activities emanating from the Gaza Strip,” according to a statement from the IDF.

The reinforcements were ordered two weeks after eight Israelis and at least five Egyptian soldiers and police were killed in a coordinated attack on Israeli civilian vehicles near Eilat in southern Israel.  The terrorists reportedly entered Israeli through Sinai.