How Islamism has become a threat to international security

Posted on Posted in Analyses, Intelligence and Security, Terrorism, Organized Crime & Security

By Giovanni Giacalone, Analyst KEDISA


Austria and France have become targets of Islamist extremists, with a series of terrorist attacks perpetrated in a timeline that goes from September 25th to November 2nd, immediately after the new publications of satirical cartoons by Charlie Hebdo depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in embarrassing situations.

France has called out on its European partners to take a strong stance against Islamism, but not everyone is willing to follow Macron and his Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz. As a matter of fact, in some countries it’s even forbidden to define the phenomenon as “Islamist” (such as Germany), in part due to the slavery of the politically correct mentality, in part not to enrage important economic partners but also in fear of potential retaliation.

This lack of common line in the fight against Islamist extremism is a serious problem for Europe, as the ideology is by now strongly rooted among the Muslim communities present in the Old Continent. It is not a case that on several occasions many Muslims interviewed in France, the UK and Germany have clearly stated that they would rather prefer Sharia law to be implemented in Europe.

The attacks

On September 25th in Paris, 25-year-old Pakistani citizen Zahir Hassan Mahmoud approached Charlie Hebdo’s former headquarter and stabbed four people, mistaking them for employees of the satirical magazine. All four victims survived the attack but two of them sustained serious injuries.

On October 16th in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 18-year-old French-Chechen Abdoullakh Anzorov stabbed to death and beheaded middle-school teacher Samuel Paty.

On October 22nd in Lyon, a woman wearing a niqab and carrying several bags threatened to detonate herself next to a rail at Part-Dieu train station. The woman was isolated by French special units and placed under arrest.

On October 29th in Nice, 21-year-old Tunisian citizen Brahim Aouissaoui stabbed three people to death and beheaded one of them. The attack took place in the early morning at Notre-Dame cathedral. The perpetrator was wounded by the police and arrested.

On the night of November 2nd in Vienna, an individual of ethnic Albanian origin with dual Austrian and North Macedonian citizenship, identified as 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzullai, opened fire using an AK-47 in Vienna’s historic center and against a synagogue. In the attack, four people were killed and 23 injured.

This wave of terror merely seems like a clear response to the French magazine’s publications; however, by looking back a couple of years it becomes evident how both, France and Austria, became a target due to their strong stance against Islamism.

In the summer of 2018 Austrian authorities had taken strong measures against seven mosques belonging to the Turkish-Austrian Islamic Union (Atib) and expelled forty imams. The move came after the website “Clarion Project” had published an article by the title “Erdogan grooming child martyrs”, exposing shocking images published by the AKP watch Twitter account, taken inside Turkish mosques on Austrian soil, that portrayed minors in military clothes who improvised themselves as martyrs with Turkish flags.

Such horrifying images came after Turkish president Erdogan had glorified child-martyrs and told a six-year-old girl how she would have been covered in a Turkish flag if she had died as a martyr, as reported by the New York Times.

Needless to say that already at the time, an enraged Erdogan had defined the measures taken by the Austrian government as “racist and Islamophobic”.

In October 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron had urged France’s Muslim community to step up the fight against Islamic extremism, in response to the October 3rd 2019 attack perpetrated by a French convert against Police headquarters in Paris, killing four and injuring two.

In February 2020, Macron indicated “Islamist separatism” as an enemy of France due to its incompatibility with freedom, equality, and in contrast with the indivisibility and unity of the French nation.

The problem of “Political Islam” or “Islamism”

Immediately after the November 2nd attack in Vienna, Austrian PM Sebastian Kurz claimed that the Austrian authorities were ready to outlaw political Islam in order to intervene against those who are not necessarily terrorists but who are active in creating fertile ground for them by fueling Islamist ideology that consequently leads to terror attacks.

As a consequence, mosques and Islamic centers that spread Islamist ideology will be closed while authorities will also be cutting financial channels that bring in funds to such groups.

In relation to this issue, the Austrian Ministry of Interior specified that such measures are not intended to hit Muslims but, on the contrary, to safeguard them against extremist organizations that exploit religion to achieve objectives that go against the Austrian Constitution. In the following days, several places linked to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood were raided by Austria police.

The same position is currently being held by Saudi Arabia as evident by the statement released on November 10th 2020 by the Kingdom’s Council of Senior Scholars which has strongly accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being a deviant group that exploits Islam for its own objectives as well as of engaging in terrorism and violence:

The Brotherhood pursues its partisan goals that contradict the guidance of our true religion, and it is causing discord and inciting sedition, violence, and terrorism that are contrary to the teachings of Islam…This group incites sedition in countries, undermines coexistence in one nation, and makes Islamic societies look ignorant. Ever since its inception, this group has not shown interest either in the Islamic faith or in the sciences of the Holy Book and the Sunnah, but rather its goal is to grab power…The history of the Muslim Brotherhood is full of evils and strife. The extremist terrorist groups, which emerged out of its womb, ravaged countries and people with violence and terrorism around the world”. (Saudi Gazette).

Two days later, the Saudi embassy in The Hague was targeted by a drive-by shooting that did not cause any harm only due to the early hour in which it was perpetrated, 6 am. An action that sounds very much like a warning.

It is also worth recalling that in March 2018 the Muslim Brotherhood had received the moral support of former al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a video entitled “America is the first enemy of Muslims”. A support that came after an interview of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on US television in which he vowed to clamp down on what remained of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideologies that invaded Saudi schools. In the video, al-Zawahiri had claimed that the United States was “working with Saudi Arabia to train imams and rewrite religious textbooks”.

Al-Zawahiri’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood does not come as a surprise, considering that the jihadist leader had initially been part of the Organization back in Egypt in the 1960s and had later moved to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad exclusively for operative reasons. Al-Zawahiri did not reject the Brotherhood’s ideology, but rather the modus operandi which consisted in a gradual conquest of the country through political, social, economic, and cultural means. Al-Qaeda’s former leader was in favor of the armed struggle, with the objective of putting Sayyid Qutb’s vision into action, and Qutb is indeed one of the historical leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood.  A modus operandi that can also be recalled in Yusuf Qaradawi’s calls to jihad in Syria against Bashar al-Assad. [1]


Turkey’s role in the dissemination of Islamism

Turkey, under the leadership of Tayyip Erdogan and the Islamist AKP party, has quickly turned from a strong NATO ally and a country rooted in Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s principles of secularism, modernism and industrialization, to an ambiguous political actor keeping one hand with NATO, one with Russia, while supporting and using FSA, Isis and al-Qaeda jihadists for its own objectives of hegemony in Syria and Libya. Erdogan even reached the point of provoking, threatening, and assaulting its French and Greek NATO partners in the Mediterranean and all under an embarrassing silence by the Organization which seems terrified to lose Turkey.

Under Erdogan, Istanbul became a safe haven for leaders and operatives of the terrorist organization Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is currently blacklisted by the United States, the European Union, and Canada.

Under Islamist rule, Turkey has even granted citizenship to some Hamas members, as reported by the British newspaper “The Telegraph”.

By coincidence, the long list of Hamas supporters in Europe includes French-Moroccan preacher Abdelhakim Sefrioui, who was arrested in mid-October after being accused of instigating online violence against the French teacher Samuel Paty, murdered and beheaded on October 18th by 18-year-old French-Chechen Abdullakh Anzorov. Paty was killed after being found “guilty” of showing his students the Charlie Hebdo satirical cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad, during a class on freedom of expression.

Back in 2004, Sefrioui founded the “Collectif Sheikh Yasin” in honor of Hamas’ historical leader Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yasin, killed in the same year by an Israeli airstrike.

In Europe, Islamist organizations and groups, directly or indirectly linked to Turkey, are being used as tools for Erdogan’s propaganda. Its constant rhetoric that accuses anyone who dares criticizing political Islam as “Islamophobic” or “racist” only contributes to potential further violence.

Macron and Kurz are correct when they claim that Islamism/political Islam must be stopped, because it’s an ideology that finds its roots in Sharia, something that is incompatible with essential democratic values, including freedom of thought and expression. In order to defeat Islamist terrorism, it is important to contrast the ideology that fuels it. Merely focusing on preventing and contrasting terror attacks without focusing on preventive measures against the ideological side is like trying to shut the holes of a crumbling dam.


[1] Yusuf Qaradawi is the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and a constant guest on Qatari television