Reports of volunteers from the Muslim community in the West secretly travelling to Pakistan to join the on-going jihad in the Af-Pak region are not infrequent. The British citizens/residents of Pakistani origin, who carried out the suicide attacks in London in July 2005, belonged to one such group from the UK, which had travelled to Pakistan, got trained by Al Qaeda or pro-Al Qaeda elements, returned to the UK and carried out the suicide attacks. The British intelligence failed to question them after they returned from Pakistan or even to keep them under watch. It became aware of the details of their visits to Pakistan only after they had carried out the suicide attacks.
The Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Prime Minister, which enquired into the explosions, said, inter alia, in its report submitted to the local Parliament in May,2006, as follows: " We remain concerned that across the whole of the counter-terrorism community, the development of the home-grown threat and the radicalisation of British citizens were not fully understood or applied to strategic thinking. A common and better level of understanding of these things among all those closely involved in identifying and countering the threat against the UK, whether that be the Security Service or the police or other parts of Government, is critical in order to be able to counter the threat effectively and prevent attacks. Lessons that have been learned about the potential diversity of those who can become radicalised and the extent to which they can become radicalised --including to the point of suicide-- must be taken into account as new initiatives are taken forward."
There have also been instances of members of the local Muslim community in Germany and Denmark going to the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan to join the on-going jihad of the two Talibans of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Adam Gadahn, an American convert to Islam, who is in charge of As Sahab, the publicity wing of Al Qaeda , which produces and disseminates the recorded messages of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, is another example of this Af-Pak-bound jihadis.
Till a few years ago, the majority of foreign Muslims studying in the Pakistani madrasas used to come from Asia and Africa, but a recent trend has been for Muslim families in the US and West Europe to send their children, including girls, to Pakistan for a short attachment to the madrasas in order to make them true Muslims. Since many of these madrasas maintain close links with jihadi organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) these students come under their influence and are brain-washed before they return home.
The jihad of the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s attracted nearly about 6000 foreign volunteers, almost all of them from the Arab countries and some from other parts of Asia. But, there was hardly any from the West.
The Al Qaeda-supported jihad of the two Talibans in the Af-Pak region has not been attracting many Arabs and volunteers from South-East Asia. The Arabs, who are with Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban today in the Af-Pak region, are the remnants of the past volunteers. There has not been much of a fresh flow. However, the jihad of the two Talibans has started attracting young Muslims from the communities in the West, who want to express their Islamic solidarity with their co-religionists in the Af-Pak region by either fighting with them shoulder to shoulder or through other means such as placing their technical expertise in Information Technology and other modern innovations at the disposal of the jihadis.
It is still a small trickle from the West. It is estimated that the number of young Muslims from the West, who have come to Pakistan either for studying in the madrasas or for assisting the Talibans and Al Qaeda, must be around a hundred. As these jihadis go back to their countries from the Af-Pak region, they are likely to carry with them the radical jihadi virus to their communities back home. Their activities in Pakistan and after they return home would, therefore, need close watch.
The five young Muslim residents from the Virginia area of the US-- two of them of Pakistani origin and the remaining three of Egyptian, Ethiopian and Eritrean origin-- who were arrested by the Pakistani police at Sargodha on December 9,2009, in response to an alert from the USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seem to have been self-motivated by a desire to assist the Talibans. Reports from Pakistan indicate that they were self-motivated volunteers and not externally-induced recruits. They had travelled to Pakistan on their own towards the end of November and allegedly contacted the JEM as well as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the political wing of the LET. Since they were located and arrested within a few days of their arrival, they could not have undergone any training.
The prompt action to trace and round them up became possible because one of the Pakistani origin volunteers had left a recorded message back home indicating the purpose of their travel to Pakistan. His family alerted a local Muslim community group. The FBI would seem to have come to know of their sudden disappearance from their homes in the US and alerted the Pakistani authorities to look for them.
The claims made by the Sargodha Police after their arrest that they seemed to be having links with Al Qaeda and had offered their services for committing acts of terrorism in Pakistan have not been corroborated. All that has been established so far is that since August they were in touch with acquaintances in Pakistan through the Internet in order to prepare themselves for the visit to Pakistan to join the jihad in the FATA area. It has been alleged that the house in which they were found and arrested belonged to a member of the JEM and that the father (Khalid Farooq) of one of the Pakistani origin persons by name Umar Farooq is also being questioned by the Police in order to ascertain whether he had any role in their travel to Pakistan. Khalid Farooq reportedly runs a computer business in the US and Pakistan and spends part of the year in the US and part in Pakistan. The arrested persons are between 19 and 25 years of age.
While there is so far no evidence to show that they belonged to any jihadi organization, the five arrested persons seem to have had a common social background in the US which brought them together and induced them to plan together. This needs to be looked into carefully.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.