Who Stands Behind Terrorist Attacks in the West?

A truck forced itself into the Christmas market near Breitscheidplatz, a popular tourist destination in western Berlin, a bit after 8 PM. On December 20, 2016

London- In the first detailed analysis of terrorist operations against European countries and the United States over the past years, a new report by international terrorism experts presents an overview of terrorists led by extremist ideologies and their affiliations.

The report also reviews the various aspects of terrorist attacks, including their locations, the way they occurred and the number of casualties.

It also outlines the identity of the extremists, their nationalities, the degree to which the authorities were aware of their past activities, and, finally, their association with extremist organizations such as ISIS.

The report, entitled, “Fear Thy Neighbor. Radicalization and Jihadist Attacks in the West”, was prepared by a group of researchers led by Dr. Lorenzo Vidino, the director of the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University and of the Program on Radicalization and International Terrorism at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) in Milan.

The research is part of a report by ISPI, George Washington’s Program on Extremism and the International Centre for Counter-terrorism in The Hague, conducted by Dr. Vidino, along with Dr. Francesco Marone and Eva Entenmann.

The first chapter of the book, “From Syria with Hate”, speaks of the origins of the current wave of terrorism. The second chapter describes an analysis of three years of attacks. Chapter Three presents a classification of attacks, while the fourth and final chapter examines the role played by the centers of extremism.

The report identified 63 attacks between September 2014 and late August 2017 that were considered to be acts of jihadist terrorism.

A relatively limited number of countries were affected: nine in Europe, plus Denmark and Sweden – along with the US and Canada.

“Although the vast majority of Islamist attacks are elsewhere in the world, an unprecedented number has taken place in Europe and North America since the declaration of a “caliphate” by the so-called ISIS, in June 2014,” the report said.

The report noted that regardless of country, most attacks were in large towns and cities – including Barcelona, London, Manchester, Paris, Nice, Berlin, Brussels, Stockholm and Orlando.

A few attacks hit iconic targets, such as the Champs-Elysees and the Louvre museum in Paris, Westminster in London and Las Ramblas in Barcelona, the report added.

In total, the 63 attacks caused 424 deaths and left almost 1,800 people injured, according to the research.

Pointing out that the average age of attackers was 27.5, the report said that the two youngest were 15 – an unnamed boy who attacked a Jewish teacher with a machete in Marseille, and Safia S, a girl who stabbed a police officer at a Hannover train station.

The oldest suspect, Mohamed H Khalid, was 54 when he was accused of stabbing to death an elderly couple in the Austrian city of Linz.

The report also highlighted the fact that 74 percent of attackers were known to the authorities before the attack, while 50% had a criminal background.

It also revealed that the number of attackers, who were illegally in a country or who arrived as refugees, is small.

As for the affiliation with ISIS, the report noted that two of the four most lethal attacks – those in Paris in November 2015 and in Brussels in 2016 – are believed to be well orchestrated multiple attacks directed by ISIS.

It added that although it was difficult to tell whether the attack was plotted by ISIS or not, the influence of the terrorist group could be clearly seen in most of the attacks.

Muslim Worshippers Seek Green Inspiration at Annual Hajj Pilgrimage

Hajj

Some 2 million people are expected to travel across the globe to eat, sleep and pray in unison from Wednesday, as the annual Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj gets underway in Mecca.

For billions of Muslims who are physically and financially able, Hajj is a mandatory act of worship. But the religious celebration also has a substantial impact on the environment, said a Thomson Reuters Foundation report on Wednesday.

Environmentally aware worshippers say that should be reduced, while inspiring Muslims to adopt a greener lifestyle.

“Hajj is all about living lightly and centering yourself around God,” 28-year-old pilgrim Shanza Ali told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Mecca in Saudi Arabia. “We make many journeys in our life, and we go to many places, but this is the only journey that’s physical, mental and spiritual,” said Ali, who is chair of UK-based group Muslim Climate Action.

She has found many similarities between Hajj’s message of simplicity and being environmentally conscious, and has tried to minimize her own carbon footprint and waste during the pilgrimage, which lasts for at least six days and takes worshippers to a series of holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

For Husna Ahmad, author of “The Green Guide for Hajj”, Muslims are doctrinally required to be stewards of the Earth.

Tackling climate change is no longer about preserving the planet for future generations as its effects are evident now, she said.

The majority of Muslims live outside Saudi Arabia and could collectively influence the greening of the sacred rituals, she added.

“Consumer power is something that people need to think about in terms of flights, what they take, what they wear, the rubbish they throw, plastic bottles and all those sorts of things. We have to be conscious of that,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Muslims need to move away from a fast, disposable society, she added, with Hajj being the potential start of that journey.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has taken steps to green the Hajj, such as setting quotas for pilgrim numbers and developing the Mecca metro system to limit pollution.

The Saudi Green Building Forum, a Riyadh-based non-governmental group recognized by the United Nations, has recently been tasked with auditing green efforts in Medina, the country’s second holy city where the Prophet Mohammed is buried and a site visited by millions of pilgrims.

Forum Secretary General Faisal Alfadl said his team will measure the green credentials of the holy cities of Mecca, Medina and others against international guidelines on energy use, waste, water, transport and human well-being.

People now realize it is politically and culturally incorrect not to respect the environment, said Alfadl.

“We have moved forward,” he said, noting a shift in the public mood from desert Bedouins to city dwellers on the importance of protecting the environment, with the focus now on action rather than simply raising awareness.

Reviving traditional practices could help – for example, sharing water among pilgrims from a communal source, which was common before plastic bottles became ubiquitous.

And the white marble stones surrounding the central cube-shaped Kaaba building in Mecca naturally prevent the heat-island effect found in other urban areas, Alfadl said.

Recycling may not be at the top of pilgrims’ minds, but Muslims have a duty to recognize the creator of the environment and reflect on Islamic teachings not to harm animals, waste water or cut down trees unnecessarily, said Fatima Ragie of Green Deen South Africa, a Muslim environmental network.

Ragie, who completed Hajj in 2009, urged greater efforts once the pilgrimage ends – for instance, ensuring food is not wasted when millions of animals are slaughtered, marking Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son and the start of the Eid holiday.

More mosques and Muslim leaders should also speak up about climate change and the environment, she said.

From Bangladesh to North Africa, climate change is a reality for many Muslims, as floods and droughts fuel instability and conflict, said Nana Firman, who participated in the UN climate talks in Morocco last year for the Global Muslim Climate Network.

“A lot of people feel like they don’t know what to do, so it’s really important that we engage (them),” she said.

Indonesia – which has the world’s largest Muslim population, according to the Pew Research Center – has launched initiatives, from a phone app showing pilgrims how to enjoy a green Hajj, to offsetting carbon emissions from flights by planting trees, and limiting the number of times each person can undertake the pilgrimage, said Firman.

She urged Hajj pilgrims to “reflect and make a change in their lives when they go back, and care more for the environment”.

As Ali prepares herself to undertake the challenging pilgrimage in the Gulf heat with her husband and mother, the natural environment offers a way for her to draw closer to God.

“I think just reflecting on the fact you’re with humanity, you see people from every corner of the world… That really makes you appreciate the idea that we’re all sharing the Earth together,” she said.

Former Loyalists Lose Faith in Suu Kyi after Myanmar’s Oppression of Rohingya Muslims

Kyi

As Aung San Suu Kyi launched a national struggle against decades of harsh military rule, one medical student worked tirelessly at her side, facing down gun-wielding soldiers trying to crush the surging pro-democracy movement. For her activism and loyalty, Ma Thida suffered six years of mostly solitary imprisonment and nearly died of illnesses.

Now a medical doctor, novelist and recipient of international human rights awards, Ma Thida has few kind words for the former mentor she once called “my sister who always remained in my heart,” said an Associated Press report on Tuesday.

The criticism by Ma Thida and other formerly ardent supporters is manifold: they accuse Suu Kyi of ignoring state violence against ethnic minorities and Muslims, continuing to jail journalists and activists, cowing to Myanmar’s still-powerful generals, and failing to nurture democratic leaders who could step in when she, now 72, exits the scene. Instead, they say her government is creating a power vacuum that could be filled again by the military.

Some conclude that Suu Kyi, who espoused democracy with such passion, always possessed an authoritarian streak which only emerged once she gained power.

“We can’t expect her to change the whole country in one-and-a-half years, but we expect a strong human rights-based approach,” Ma Thida says of the Nobel Peace Prize winner once hailed as “Myanmar’s Joan of Arc” and spoken of in the same breath as South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi of India.

International criticism has focused on Suu Kyi’s lack of action or condemnation of violence targeting the country’s approximately 1 million Rohingya Muslims, who have been brutalized since 2012 by security forces and zealots among the Buddhist majority in western Myanmar.

More than 1,000 Rohingya have been killed, while some 320,000 are living in squalid camps in Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh, according to estimates by the US-based Human Rights Watch and the United Nations. Thousands more embarked on perilous sea voyages to other Southeast Asian countries.

After a new wave of violence and humanitarian crisis erupted last week, with ethnic Rohingya militants attacking police posts and leaving 12 security personnel and 77 Rohingya Muslims dead, her office said military and border police had launched “clearance operations.” She herself condemned the militants for what she called “a calculated attempt to undermine the efforts of those seeking to build peace and harmony in Rakhine state.”

As usual, she did not address the insurgents’ counter-allegations — that the attacks were aimed at protecting Rohingya villagers from “intensified atrocities” perpetrated by “brutal soldiers,” noted the AP.

“The violence against the Rohingya is not an isolated event,” says Stella Naw, an analyst from the ethnic Kachin minority focusing on national reconciliation. “We know the game the army is playing. But as a politician elected by the people, she is accountable for her inaction and failure to condemn the army.”

Suu Kyi’s government has banned a UN investigation team from entering the afflicted region, and earlier this month rejected the world body’s assertion that the regime’s actions “very likely” amounted to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. The February report alleged security forces had perpetrated mass killings, hurled children into fires and gang raped Muslim women. The government has mostly blamed the latest round of blood-letting on extremist militants. Suu Kyi’s official Facebook page last year flashed a message reading “Fake Rape.”

“We don’t have a second choice. People still support her party and government. People must lower their expectations because the problems are so deeply rooted,” says Thant Thaw Kaung, executive director of the Myanmar Book Aid and Preservation Foundation, an initiative to improve the country’s woeful education system.

For years, Suu Kyi had courageously defied the military, suffering 15 years of house arrest and separation from her British husband and two sons to helm her National League for Democracy to a landslide victory in 2015 elections. Often referred to as “The Lady,” she retains popularity among the general public as the liberator from half a century of military oppression.

“When she was in the opposition she was so articulate, so vocal, but suddenly now we are faced with silence. Now that Myanmar is back on the democratic path, everyone expects that there should be more openness, but this has not happened,” says Khin Zaw Win, a political prisoner for 11 years who now heads the Tampadipa Institute, a civil society think tank.

Since assuming office in April 2016, Suu Kyi has earned a reputation for being aloof and controlling of information.

Explanations for why she’s changed, or faltered in upholding previously avowed goals, are starkly disparate: she is variously cast as a tragic heroine fighting impossible odds, and a closet authoritarian with a soft spot for the military, reported the AP.

Suu Kyi herself has often said she inherited an affinity for the armed forces from her father General Aung San, a military hero who fought for independence from Britain.

Reflecting this puzzlement, a satirical Internet site called Burma Tha Din Network joked that the Suu Kyi in office now was a clone created by Russian geneticists hired by Myanmar’s generals to remove her democratic genes, and that the real Suu Kyi was being held by the military and wondering, “How the hell can people believe I’d do that?”

Perhaps the most widespread view is that she simply can’t push her democratic agenda or human rights demands, lest the military oust her from power. Although her post as government leader places her above the president, the military retains its grip on three key ministries controlling law enforcement, local administration and embattled frontier areas as well as a mandated 25 percent of seats in Parliament.

“She may shake hands with the military across a table, but under it they are kicking her,” says That Thaw Kaung.

Some disagree, and say her popular mandate gives her the force to challenge the generals who are unlikely to upset an arrangement that still allows them to wield power with seeming impunity while also being able to blame problems on Suu Kyi’s civilian government.

“The litany, the excuse that is repeated, ‘Oh, the military is still in politics, still dominates the Constitution … so we are hamstrung.’ I don’t buy that argument,” says Khin Zaw Win. “She is not a prisoner of the military.” What is lacking, he says, is moral courage in addressing human rights and the ability to tackle other problems outside the power grid of the military, such as the economy.

Meanwhile, the military is preparing itself for the 2020 elections.

Mark Farmaner of the human rights group Burma Campaign UK says that while Suu Kyi may be constrained by the political situation, there are many areas where she has the freedom to act and has not done so.

“There are problems which will take years to resolve, but freeing political prisoners, repealing repressive laws and ending aid restrictions to displaced Rohingya can be done now,” he says. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reported that 225 persons were still in prison or awaiting trial last month for political activities.

Suu Kyi has often stressed that her highest priority is ending decades of warfare between the central government and a welter of ethnic minorities. Last week, her government welcomed a report from a commission led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recommending rapid economic development and social justice to counter the deadly violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

But Suu Kyi has also publicly ignored the army’s continuing attacks and atrocities against ethnic groups in the Kachin and Shan states, further eroding their trust in her government.

“Her concept of national reconciliation seems to focus mostly on the relationship between the military and her party, with the ethnic minorities being an inconvenient side-issue,” says Ashley South, an expert on Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. Farmaner contends Suu Kyi views Myanmar principally as a country of the ethnic Burman Buddhist majority, rather than a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation.

Some critics say Suu Kyi is trapped not by the generals, but by her own history and that of Myanmar, which has endured centuries of kings, British colonials and military dictators. By contrast, the country has experienced a mere 15 years of democracy.

Suu Kyi has expelled dissident party members, neglected to groom successors, spoken rarely to the press and apparently made command decisions rather than seeking help from capable advisers.

Khin Zaw Win notes that General Ne Win, who ruled with an iron fist for 26 years, initially enjoyed some connection with the populace but grew increasingly remote and autocratic, surrounding himself with “yes men.”

“She seems to be following almost exactly in his footsteps,” he says. “I call it the ‘courtier mentality’ and that is exactly what is happening now.” Having reached the pinnacle of power, he says, Suu Kyi believes she can go it alone.

“It is such a tragedy,” says Naw, the Kachin analyst. “She has lost so much, her family, her years under arrest, and to have come to a stage where she has disconnected herself from people who went to prison for her, who would have given their lives for her — it breaks their hearts to see what she has become.”

Iran Out to Remake Mideast With Arab Enforcer: ‘Hezbollah’

Hezbollah

For three decades, “Hezbollah” maintained a singular focus as a Lebanese military group fighting Israel. It built a network of bunkers and tunnels near Lebanon’s southern border, trained thousands of committed fighters to battle Israel’s army and built up an arsenal of rockets capable of striking far across Israel, said a New York Times report on Monday.

But as the Middle East has changed, with conflicts often having nothing to do with Israel flaring up around the region, “Hezbollah” has changed, too.

It has rapidly expanded its realm of operations. It has sent legions of fighters to Syria. It has sent trainers to Iraq. It has backed rebels in Yemen. And it has helped organize a battalion of combattants from Afghanistan that can fight almost anywhere.

As a result, “Hezbollah” is not just a power unto itself, but is one of the most important instruments in the drive for regional supremacy by its sponsor: Iran.

“Hezbollah” is involved in nearly every fight that matters to Iran and, more significantly, has helped recruit, train and arm an array of new militant groups that are also advancing Iran’s agenda.

Founded with Iranian guidance in the 1980s as a resistance force against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, “Hezbollah” became the prototype for the kind of militias Iran is now backing around the region. “Hezbollah” has evolved into a virtual arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, providing the connective tissue for the growing network of powerful militias.

Months of interviews with officials, fighters, commanders and analysts from nine countries, and with members of “Hezbollah” itself, bring to light an organization with new power and reach that has not been widely recognized. Increasingly, Iranian leaders rely on it to pursue their goals.

Iran and “Hezbollah” complement each other. For Iran, a Persian nation in a mostly Arab region, “Hezbollah” lends not just military prowess but also Arabic-speaking leaders and operatives who can work more easily in the Arab world. And for “Hezbollah”, the alliance means money for running an extensive social services network in Lebanon, with schools, hospitals and scout troops — as well as for weapons, technology and salaries for its tens of thousands of fighters.

The network “Hezbollah” helped build has changed conflicts across the region, said the Times.

In Syria, the gunmen have played a major role in propping up Bashar al-Assad, an important Iranian ally. In Iraq, they are battling the ISIS and promoting Iranian interests. In Yemen, seized the capital Sana’a in support of the insurgents. In Lebanon, they broadcast pro-Iranian news and build forces to fight Israel.

The allied militias are increasingly collaborating across borders. Syria, Iranian-backed forces are pushing to connect with their counterparts in Iraq. And in the battle for Aleppo last year — a turning point in the Syrian war — Iranian-supported fighters hailed from so many countries their diversity amazed even those involved.

“On the front lines, there were lots of nationalities,” said Hamza Mohammed, an Iraqi fighter who was trained by “Hezbollah” and fought in Aleppo. “‘Hezbollah’ was there, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis – everyone was there, with Iranian participation to lead the battle.”

The roots of that network go back to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, when Iran called on “Hezbollah” to help organize Iraqi Shiite militias that in the coming years killed hundreds of American troops and many more Iraqis.

Recent wars have allowed Iran to revive and expand the web, and some of the groups “Hezbollah” trained in Iraq are now returning the favor by sending fighters to Syria.

More than just a political alliance, “Hezbollah” and its allies have deep ideological ties to Iran. Most endorse vilayat-e-faqih, the concept that Iran’s supreme leader is both the highest political power in the country and the paramount religious authority. They also trumpet their goal of combating American and Israeli interests, while arguing that they fill gaps left by weak governments and fight extremists like al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Many wonder what these tens of thousands of experienced fighters will do after the wars in Syria and Iraq wind down.

For “Hezbollah”, expansion has come with a cost. The grinding war in Syria has saddled it with heavy casualties and growing financial commitments.

In an interview, Sheikh Naim Qassem, “Hezbollah” deputy secretary general, proudly acknowledged his organization’s efforts to pass its rich experience to other Iranian-aligned forces.

“Hezbollah” has become active in so many places and against so many enemies that detractors have mocked it as “the Blackwater of Iran,” after the infamous American mercenary firm.

“Hezbollah” has taken on increasingly senior roles in ventures once reserved for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — the force that helped create “Hezbollah” itself.

In Iraq, Iran has redeployed militias originally formed to battle American troops to fight ISIS. It has also recruited Afghan refugees to fight for a militia called the Fatemiyoun Brigade. And it has organized a huge airlift of fighters to fight for Assad in Syria. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps provides the infrastructure, while commanders from Iran and “Hezbollah” focus on training and logistics, said the Times.

Fighters interviewed in Iraq described how they had registered at recruitment offices for Iranian-backed militias to fight ISIS. Some were trained in Iraq, while others went to Iran for 15 days of drills before flying to Syria to fight. More experienced fighters took advanced courses with Iranian and “Hezbollah” commanders in Iran or Lebanon.

Phillip Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher who studies militant groups, said more than 10,000 Iraqi fighters were in Syria during the battle for Aleppo last year, in addition to thousands from other countries.

Officers from Iran coordinated the ground forces with the Syrian military and the Russian air force while “Hezbollah” provided Arabic-speaking field commanders, the fighters said.

*The New York Times

Radicalism and Terrorism: Obstacles Hindering Historic and Geographic European-Muslim Ties

Islam

Cairo – One of the most important questions posed on the intellectual scene is one related to the ties between Europe and Islam as a religion and Muslims as followers of that religion. This is a relationship that dates back to centuries. Yes, they may not all have been calm and peaceful, but they, in one way or another, witnessed a form of cooperation and coexistence.

At this we ask, will recent terrorist attacks, which are a sign of growing radicalism, act as an obstacle to coexistence or will the Europe of enlightenment and tolerance be able to overcome this hurdle in recognition of the relationship that dates back to over a thousand years?

Associate professor of media studies and Middle Eastern studies at Rutgers University, Deepa Kumar argued in her book, “Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire,” that for over a century and a half, the West has looked towards the East in general, the Ottomans in specific, as being inferior to it. The West believed that eastern cultures were only capable of producing oppressive societies. The most accurate perception of Islam in the West occurred during the age of Enlightenment. During the Romantic age, Islam was viewed as something exotic.

Kumar refuted the claim that the West and East were in a constant state of conflict. In fact, she noted that the history of the West and the history of the East were closely connected.

The critical and fundamental question that should be asked is: “Did the West always have a negative and distorted image of Islam and Muslims?”

Not at all at first. The distortion started to emerge during colonial times and with efforts to “demonize Islam and Muslims.”

In examining the terrorist attacks that have taken place over the past two decades, we are concerned in whether Islamophobia was an obstacle that hindered communication between West and East, which could have prevented these crimes.

Perhaps French political journalist Edwy Plenel can offer the best answer to this question in his book “For the Muslims.” He said that Islam is being manipulated to produce an internal enemy to create a state of panic among the most important figures of the European public, especially in France. He noted that France has started to adopt violent stances against immigration, which in many media, has become synonymous with Islam, extremism, terrorism, cultural invasion and other terms from the xenophobic dictionary.

Plenel pointed out to a pre-ISIS 2013 human rights report that clearly showed violent anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-Muslim blocs. If we compare the current sentiment in Europe to the one preceding World War II, we can say that Muslims today have become the scapegoat, similar to how Jews used to be, revealed the report.

This sentiment led to debates over barring religious symbols, such as the veil, from universities and institutions of higher education in Europe. Islamophobia has been used as an excuse to protect “secularism” and politicize issues of immigration and terrorism.

Logically, the Europeans should have kept these two issues apart because they have nothing to do with each other as some sides are trying to say through distorting facts and questioning whether Islam allows cultural diversity. How is this possible while some figures still cast doubts against Muslims and their ties with Europe?

The “father” of Orientalism, Bernard Lewis, has for a long time, been a planter of doubt. Despite being naturalized as an American citizen, he never forgot his European roots, therefore presenting the image of a racist Europe that is intolerant of Islam and Muslims. This image, which was evident in his 2010 book, “Faith and Power: Religion and Politics in the Middle East”, was present even before the emergence of ISIS and it preceded the recent terrorist attacks.

Lewis spoke of the intolerant European minority, which has grown in numbers in recent years. This minority believes that the developments in Europe today are part of a second wave of attacks by Muslims, which is summed up by terrorism and immigration.

The author said that terrorism is being used in service of the religion. He stated that Islam recommends it as a fact of life and that Muslims believe that the world is divided into one of peace, which is ruled by Islamic Sharia law, and another that is ruled by war. Lewis also spoke of Europe losing its demographic identity due to the flow of immigrants. He went so far as to warn of the “Islamization” of the Christian continent as a result of the influx of Muslims.

An in-depth analysis of Lewis’ views leads us to an unexpected place, a fertile ground where radical Muslims and their European allies meet.

He explained that radical Muslims have an appeal to leftist anti-Americans in Europe, who see them as a substitute to the Soviets. They appeal to the anti-semitic right as a substitute to Nazis. These views have managed to garner support, often by the same people. Some figures in Europe clearly believe that grudges trump loyalties.

In Germany, the majority of Muslims are of Turkish origin. They tend to compare themselves to Jews, saying that they have succeeded them as the victims of German racism and oppression. Lewis referred to a meeting that was held in Berlin to address the situation of the new Muslim minorities in Europe. He remarked that one of the attendees wondered: “For 2,000 years the Germans were unable to accept 400,000 Jews, so what hope is there for them to accept two million Turks?”

Of course, Lewis has to add fuel to the fire, noting that Muslim Turks are playing on German guilt to advance their own agenda.

Within the lines of searching for the future of Europe and its Muslims, we find that there are some figures who are promoting the idea of “Islamicizing” the continent.

Radical French Jewish journalist Eric Zemmour, author of “Le Suicide Francais”, called for expelling Muslims from France. He said that it was shameful to compare the position of Jews in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the position of Muslims in France today. He claimed in an article in France’s Le Figaro newspaper in October 2014, that the Jews back then were rich and contributed to the economy. Muslims today spark fear due to their large numbers and Islamic terrorism and extremism. In addition, he remarked that the majority of violence against Jews in France is usually committed by Muslims.

In the same vein, French journalist Benoit Rayski, who is specialized in attacking Islam, wrote an article called: “It is our duty to be Islamophobic.” He constantly seeks to justify Islamophobia by promoting stories of the crimes committed against Christians in Nigeria, Iraq and Sudan, as well as highlighting ISIS’ execution of western hostages.

The question that should be asked at this point is whether Europe can reconcile with Muslims. The answer is not clear yet, especially in wake of recent terrorist attacks.

We are perhaps on the doorstep of a new phase of relations between Europe and Islam and Muslims. In sum, we can say that the direct relationship between Europe and Muslims took place over three different phases or eras. During each phase, the Muslim that Europe met was different. In the first phase, the Arabs played a prominent role. The Ottoman Turks were prominent in the next phase and the Mongols in the third.

Some observers believe that we have reached the fourth phase of European-Muslim ties.

The best way to conclude the above statements is to refer once again to Plenel, whose views on Islam have not been distorted by terrorist attacks in France. He believes that attributing the entire beliefs and culture of a certain peoples to the actions of the few paves the way for dark days.

The torchbearers of enlightenment in Europe now have the task of correcting the misconception in the continent, where Islam as a religion that rejects modernity is being presented as the norm. This is only adding fuel to the clash between Muslims and the radical right in Europe, paving the way for more deadly fundamentalism.

A Day with The New York Times

Times

New York – The international version of The New York Times newspaper is a staple in my office and its electronic version is the most visited website on my mobile phone. Its investigations inspire me and some of my ideas derive from its reports. I always wanted to visit the newspaper’s headquarters to witness up close what takes place behind the scenes.

I indeed got the opportunity to spend a day there. At exactly 9 am, a yellow New York taxi dropped me off in front of a skyscraper on Manhattan’s eighth avenue near Times Square. I forgot the hustle and bustle and the tourists around me and set my sights on the gray building in front of me that houses the Times and entered its lobby.

Loud orange walls. A massive space without any chairs. Cheerful employees.

I was received by the vice president of communication Danielle Rhoades. At around 9:30 am, we headed to the conference room to attend a morning editorial meeting. I chose to sit at the back so that I could watch every detail. Editors from various departments soon began to enter the room and take their seats. A call was made to the newspaper’s Washington office so that its editors may also be present at the meeting.

The meeting kicked off with a report on the most read articles on the website. Related social media activity was also discussed. Discussions soon shifted towards the Washington work agenda, which could be summed up in one word: Trump.

A Washington editor talks about the agenda that revolved around Trump’s tweets that day, his activities and meetings. The editors delved deep into the US president’s tweet, expressing their views and expectations about his stances and new moves. The meeting did not revolve around a single person, but no one interrupted the other. The editors were not formal with each other, but they were professional. Ever since Trump embarked on his electoral campaign, The New York Times, monitored and documented his every controversial move and statement in its political and opinion articles.

At this point, the two sides got embroiled into daily media debates. Trump chose Twitter to respond to the newspaper with bold tweets. I never expected that Trump, The New York Times’ fiercest critic, to be its morning meeting’s guest of honor. I wondered if other US presidents enjoyed this much attention.

Editors later told me that they were very happy that Trump reads their newspaper, adding that they have six correspondents at the White House.

Going back to the editorial meeting, or what remained of it after the Trump discussion, I noticed the presence of all departments, even the non-political ones. One of the main stories of the day was a scientific study. The video, photography and breaking news departments were allotted time at the meeting, which demonstrated a harmony between the print and online version of the newspaper.

I spent a day at one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world and I had the opportunity to observe its work starting from the morning. Below are what stood out:

One identity unites the print and online versions

In the past, meetings used to focus on the print version’s front page. Things have changed now and attention is given to the “material that are worth being published on the front page of the website,” said Ronald Caputo, executive vice president of the Print Products and Services Group. He later told me: “The print version is still important to us.” The relationship between the print and online version of the newspaper is clear and close. Their motto is cooperation, not competition, especially since the same editorial team is responsible for both the print and electronic versions.

The New York Times stayed abreast technological advancements through its website, but it chose to preserve its print version, that is still read by millions all over the world. Over the decades, the newspaper formed its own special identity that distinguishes it from others. The era of online journalism has given it an opportunity to expand this identity. For example, The New York Times podcast has become daily fixture of over 700,000 listeners.

“We will not abandon the print version any time soon,” Caputo told me.

He also added that he can never imagine only having an electronic version of the Times. The newspaper does after all have a million print subscribers and millions of readers that buy it from kiosks.

Strict rules

Publishing The New York Times, like all print material, is bound by the importance of the articles, news and ads. Choosing photographs and direction of the issue is the responsibility of an editorial and publishing team. The departments complement each other and in order to preserve the identity of the Times, the production team adheres to strict rules on advertising. They do not allow big ads on the front page. The pages are imagined and then compiled before being sent to 27 printing presses in the United States.

Caputo, who is in his 32nd year at the newspaper, said of his career: “The printing and distribution have not changed much in the past decade, but we witnessed the greatest change at the beginning of the 1990s.”

“We used to own two printers at the time, then we introduced technology that helped replace manual printing,” he explained.

Up until 1993, the newspaper was printed in black and white.

“We decided to add color to the Sunday editions and in 1997 the daily editions also featured some colored pages, including the front and back pages,” said Caputo.

He ruled out the possibility that the entire newspaper would be printed in color due to the high expense and weakness of the advertising market in the US.

Challenge of accuracy and speed

I asked the electronic department if their priority was to be the first to publish a story or to be a constant source of accurate news. They replied that they aspire to achieve both, because they do not publish breaking news until they verify it.

More than 1,350 journalists work at The New York Times. Last year, they were able to work as correspondents in over 150 countries. These are all part of the Times’ efforts to combat “fake news”. To avoid discrepancies, the newspaper always checks facts before publishing them. Photographs and videos are also very important for the newspaper, which focuses on releasing its own content at the heart of a developing story. Correspondents take photographs in their daily coverage and a video team works on reports to accompany daily news. Visual documentation adds to the credibility of the published articles.

Prominent social media presence

The New York Times realized at an early stage the importance of using social media to attract readers and interact with them. It has accounts on several social media platforms. Instagram posts images taken by its photographers from around the world, Twitter posts breaking and latest news, and Facebook opens the door to discussions and interactions through the comments section.

The Times has 14.4 million Facebook followers, 39.1 million Twitter followers and 2.8 million Instagram followers, making it the leading newspaper on social media. These figures are however not the goal of the publication, but it seeks to provide a comprehensive journalistic experience to its followers on any platform.

International news section

The international news department coordinates with foreign bureaus. Correspondents around the world present their proposals to the international affairs editors for discussion at the editorial meeting. Ideas are then generated and task are distributed to the correspondents. The proposals are not purely political, but they include social and cultural topics, among others. The New York Times has 75 correspondents all over the world, more than ever before. In the Middle East, the correspondents work from Abu Dhabi, Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, Kabul and Tehran. War correspondents often travel to danger zones. Most of them speak several languages and are able to perform instant translations. These correspondents also read the local newspapers in the country they are in. In the Middle East, they seek to read the most important dailies, such as Asharq Al-Awsat.

In the most dangerous and isolated locations, The New York Times seeks the assistance of local correspondents, who receive the complete backing and protection of the newspaper.

Publishing agreements

Asharq Al-Awsat is one of the global publications that struck a deal to publish New York Times articles in its newspaper. The American newspaper has remarkable content, unique reports and opinion pieces written by prominent columnists. These are among the reasons that led the Arab world’s leading international newspaper to translate and publish the Times’ content.

Patti Sonntag, managing editor at The New York Times’ News Services division, said that the newspaper wants to reach all the countries of the world.

The newspaper in a few lines

No one imagined that the first issue of The New York Times would mark the beginning of one of the world’s most important newspapers. In 1851, the top floor of a windowless room in a building in Manhattan in New York was the birthplace of the first copy of the newspaper, which was then comprised of only four pages. Established by Henry Jarvis Raymond and George Jones on September 18, 1851, the newspaper managed after a few decades to become the United States’ leading daily.

Throughout its history, it has garnered 122 Pulitzer Prizes, becoming the most decorated newspaper in the world. Nicknamed the “gray lady,” it is also considered one of the most influential publications in the world.

At the beginning of 2017, 308,000 people subscribed to its electronic service, bringing the total to 3.2 million spread across 195 countries.

Saudi Factory Stitches Gold-Laced Cover for Islam’s Holiest Site

Kaaba

Dozens of Saudi craftsmen are hard at work in a factory in Mecca preparing an embroidered black and gold cloth to cover the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam.

Known as the Kiswa, the cloth is woven from silk and cotton and adorned with verses from the Qoran. A new one is made each year to be placed on the Kaaba in Mecca’s Grand Mosque during the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage, which begins on Wednesday, said a Reuters report on Sunday.

Many of the craftsmen have worked in the factory in the Oum al-Jood district of Mecca all their lives but they will retire soon, so a new generation is being trained to carry on the trade.

General manager Mohammed bin Abdullah Bajuda said Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman had ordered all the machines, which were introduced some 30 years ago to help automate the process, to be replaced with newer ones by next year.

“He also called for a new cadre of manufacturers to take the place of the current one,” Bajuda said during a visit to the factory on Saturday.

A cube-shaped stone structure, the Kaaba is a focal point of the Hajj, during which some two million pilgrims walk around it in a mass ritual.

When Muslims anywhere in the world say their prayers five times a day, it is towards Mecca and the Kaaba that they face.

The Kaaba’s black stone was revered even before the birth of Islam. Muslims believe it was originally built by the prophet Ibrahim on the site of the first house of worship built by Adam. It has since been rebuilt more than once.

The Kiswa was manufactured in Egypt until 1962. There have been red, green or white coverings in centuries past, but now it is always black with embroidered gold calligraphy.

Nearly 670 kg (1,477 pounds) of silk, enough to cover a structure estimated to measure about 50 feet (15 meters) high and 35 to 40 feet long, is imported from Italy. Silver and gold-plated thread comes from Germany.

But the Kiswa is embroidered and stitched together in Saudi Arabia and paid for by the kingdom each year at a cost of $6 million.

Waleed al-Juhani has worked at the factory, which opened in 1977, for 17 years.

“Thanks to God we are working to serve the holy Kaaba. This is a great blessing,” he said, while embroidering a Qoranic verse that takes 60 days to complete.

“When we succeed in our work, we are glad that Muslims will celebrate a new cover for the Kaaba. This is the best feeling.”

At the end of Hajj, the used cloth will be cut into pieces to be distributed to dignitaries and religious organizations.

Recipients regard the fragments as heirlooms.

This year’s Kiswa is complete, but the workers have already started on the next one.

Palestinians Share Appetite for Traditional Food

Palestinians

For a people struggling to establish their own state, traditional food is an important part of the national heritage, and for Palestinians in the West Bank that goes well beyond the standard hummus (chickpea paste), said a Reuters report.

In Hebron, a biblical town in the Israeli-occupied territory, Eyad Abu Seena runs his family’s qedra shop, where potted meat bakes over rice in an open oven in the wall. For many, Hebron has the best food in the West Bank.

“The qedra is part of the heritage of the people of Hebron,” Abu Senena says. “People come from all over – from Amman, from Jerusalem, from (West Bank towns in) the north like Jenin and Tulkarm. They come especially to Hebron to eat the qedra.”

In the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, captured by Israel along with the West Bank in a 1967 war, Yasser Taha presides over the famed Abu Shukri hummus and falafel (fried chickpeas) restaurant. The 70-year-old owner inherited the recipes from his father and will pass them on to his son, reported Reuters.

“Everyone who comes to Jerusalem must eat at Abu Shukri,” he said.

Palestinian cuisine isn’t just about hummus or falafel. There are other beloved traditions, like vine leaves and mashed vegetables stuffed with rice and minced meat.

Another favorite is maqlouba, made from layers of meat, rice, and fried vegetables such as cauliflower, eggplant, potatoes, and carrots. It is cooked in a large pot, then turned over – maqlouba means “upside down” in Arabic – and topped with fried nuts or fresh herbs.

“Everyone has their own way of making it,” said Raida Salhout, who lives in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber and often cooks a big vat for her family’s lunch.

Usually made at home, maqlouba is an economically flexible dish: when prices rise or money is tight, Palestinians opt for chicken or more potatoes instead of meats like beef and lamb.

In the West Bank city of Qalqilya, Ahmed Ighbary expertly lowers a rack of spiced chicken, vegetables and rice into an oven dug into the ground. Then he covers it with dirt and blankets. After several hours, the result – called zarb – is a hearty meat and rice dish that is particularly popular during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and other festivities.

He learned the art of zarb from his father, who cooked it for fun. A few years ago, he decided to open a restaurant with a wedding hall and special zarb oven to keep the tradition going.

Passion for keeping culinary heritage alive is what makes the knafa of Nablus so renowned, said Basil al-Shantir.

The West Bank city is known for its sweets, and particularly Knafa Nablusiya, a super sweet semolina and cheese pastry topped with more syrup. For more than 70 years, Shantir’s family has been dishing out the signature dessert at the Aqsa shop nestled inside Nablus’s historic covered market. Some people even make a knafa sandwich with pita bread.

Mosul Homes Turned into Graves after Victory over ISIS

Mosul, Iraq — Aya Abosh found her sister in the house where she spent her final moments, trapped with her boys as shells fell from the sky and caved in the roof.  
 
They were lying there, in the detritus of floral blankets and twisted railings. “Hammoudi,” Abosh said, somehow recognizing her 6-year-old nephew, Mahmoud. Recovery workers toiled around her, struggling to find a zipper on a body bag, then straining to wrap remains disfigured by trauma, time and sun. 

Sajjida, the sister, was 28 and devoted to God, Abosh said. Bakr, the other boy, was 9. In the heat and stench and swirling dust, Abosh quietly stared at the bodies before the workers spirited them away. It was early yet, and there were many more bodies to uncover in the Old City of Mosul. 

This was the site of Iraq’s landmark military victory just weeks ago that ended the ISIS extremist group’s wrenching occupation of Mosul and crippled the militants’ odious ambitions for the Middle East, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said. There were noisy, flag-waving celebrations, even as the prime minister reminded the nation that there had been “blood and sacrifices,” too.

Only now is the terrible cost of the victory emerging, in quarters of the Old City ground to rubble by airstrikes and shelling and suicide bombs. For under the barrage were thousands of homes packed with families. Hundreds of the houses were transformed into graves. 

With the rough estimates of the dead from the neighborhood reaching into the thousands, relatives have angrily questioned the way the battle was fought by Iraqi forces and their partners in the US-led military coalition, which carried out airstrikes in support. The concerns over civilian casualties have become more urgent as US-backed forces redouble their efforts to defeat ISIS in the militants’ final redoubts in Iraq and Syria.

Time after time in Mosul, civilians were killed in a similar, disturbing pattern: ISIS militants kidnapped families as human shields in houses that served as the fighters’ garrisons. Snipers took up positions on rooftops, firing at Iraqi troops or coalition planes. Then the houses were bombed, sometimes by artillery or airstrikes and with little apparent regard for the people inside, relatives and survivors said.

Basements used for shelter became tombs.

No one has said yet how many died here. Even estimates are a secret, closely held by a government sensitive to the charge that it attacked the neighborhood with terrifying force and not enough care. But there are grim clues.

At the local morgue, nearly 900 names are on a record of bodies pulled mostly from the Old City since June 24, an official there said. Civil defense workers have a list of 300 locations where bodies are waiting to be recovered, and they have reached only a little more than a third of those sites. 

In some of the houses, there is one body. In others, there are dozens. 

Hundreds of other victims were buried by their relatives during the fighting in gardens or makeshift cemeteries dug in empty lots. The local “refrigerators” at the main morgue in Mosul — two tractor-trailers parked on a lawn — are already full.

“Based on our figures,” said one Iraqi official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a taboo subject, “there are not enough refrigerators in all of Iraq.”

Mohammed Ali Mahmoud visited one of the Mosul morgues earlier this month, mingling with others carrying their own tragic tales. His was exceptional: Seventeen members of his extended family were killed in what he said was an airstrike in the Old City.

“They had no mercy. A sniper would fall with a bullet or a rocket. But to kill one sniper, seven houses were destroyed,” he said as another man entered the morgue to request death certificates for 15 members of his family, the victims of a different strike.

If the suffering of Mosul carried a lesson, it was that the government could not afford to disappoint the city’s residents ever again and stir the kind of complaints that militants had exploited. But at the morgue, the dead seemed forsaken among all the talk of victory and as luckier corners of Mosul burst back to life.

Their survivors struggled, too: to obtain documents for death benefits, to get medical care for their injuries and to shake the stain of suspicion that they said was attached to residents of the Old City, of sympathy with ISIS.

The Iraqi military said it made protecting civilians its priority at every stage of the difficult nine-month battle for Mosul, a city that once had nearly 2 million people, and delayed offensives out of an abundance of caution. 

“Liberation of people before liberation of the land,” was the troops’ refrain.

But there were warning signs that Iraqi and US forces might be less restrained as they reached the narrow confines of western Mosul where ISIS militants were making their last stand — even as it became clear the militants were increasingly hiding behind civilians. In late March, the coalition launched an airstrike against ISIS in the western Mosul al-Jadida neighborhood that killed at least 100 people. Residents said they had gathered in one of the targeted houses because it was one of the few in the area that had a basement.  

The growing concern about civilian deaths is not confined to Mosul. Civilian casualties have been rising across the battlefield against ISIS in Iraq and Syria because of coalition airstrikes, according to Airwars, a group that tracks the casualties — which it said have approximately doubled since President Trump took office.

US Army Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting in Iraq and Syria, said the “coalition’s goal is always for zero human casualties. We apply rigorous standards to our targeting process.” 

He attributed allegations of rising civilian casualties in Iraq to the shift from eastern Mosul to the more densely populated terrain in the west of the city, rather than to any change in strategy. “Not since World War II has there been an urban assault on a city like Mosul,” he said. “The only way to liberate the city was to go house by house and street by street.” 

And it fell to Iraqi soldiers to rescue civilians, whose only hope was that security forces reached them “quickly enough before they starved to death or were killed by ISIS while trying to flee,” he said.

In late July, responding to what it said was “false” speculation about a high number of casualties, the Iraqi military released a partial tally, from western Mosul, saying 1,429 people had been killed. It was unclear whether that included the Old City, and the tally has not been updated since.  

For surviving relatives, the outrage over the deaths has been followed by the laborious and painful process of recovering the bodies. Relatives call the fatigued, underpaid civil defense workers for help or flag them down in the street. There is no grid search underway and no legion of sniffer dogs.

Instead, when the civil defense workers have time, they travel with the relatives to their houses, trudging together over rubble, boxes of ammunition or the explosive-laden corpses of dead ISIS militants.

One day this month, relatives were forced to help with the digging. No one had paid the man who operated the excavator, and as a result, he had not shown up for work in four days, according to Lt. Col. Rabia Hassan, the head of the civil defense team in western Mosul. 

It was not the fault of the excavator operator, who, for most of the recovery operation, had been paying for the work from his own pocket, Hassan said. “Nobody cares, and nobody asks,” he said.

Theirs was backbreaking and perilous work. At one point, smoke rose from an explosion about a block away. Everyone kept digging.
    
Aya Abosh sat near the rescue vehicles, with the body bags at her feet, sobbing as other relatives watched and waited for their turn. Mohamed Taha’s house was a few blocks away, and in it, he said, were the bodies of his 2-year-old son, his wife and his mother. He had last seen them months ago, when he left the Old City to check on his livestock. But then the battle lines shifted, and he never made it home.
 
For weeks, Yunis Sallou had been trying to extricate his uncle and three cousins, who were interred in his grandparents’ house. As they scraped at the rocks with their hands or with small shovels last week, the smell of the bodies drifted up from somewhere too far down to reach. 

Hala Khamis, the survivor of an airstrike more than a month ago, escaped the wreckage with three of her daughters but not Jassim, her 10-year-old son, who had been in a separate room. She returned to the house with the rescue workers last week, carrying Jassim’s first-grade photograph and a can of aerosol deodorant to ward off the smell. 

“To be honest, I am not sure he is here. He may have escaped,” she said, spritzing the clothes of the rescue workers with the deodorant as if that might speed up their work. A body was found, but it belonged to a militant with a suicide belt still wrapped around his waist. Khamis stumbled around the concrete, imploring the civil defense workers to keep trying. 

But there was too much rock and no machine to shift it. They would have to return. 

The strike that killed 17 people spared three members of the family. One of them, Ali Hussein Ali, 23, happened to walk out of the room where the family was sitting when the roof collapsed. 

He spent 22 hours in the rubble, hearing the voices of his relatives, he said. Half an hour before he was rescued, the voices stopped.

The Washington Post 

How a Shadowy Imam Evaded Scrutiny and Forged the Barcelona Cell

Ripoll, Spain — He sometimes wore jeans and dressed like a “hipster,” and had only a short beard. He was unfailingly courteous and studiously discreet. And it seems that he trained the young men he lured into his terrorist cell to behave in much the same way, carrying on double lives that betrayed little of their real intentions.

Abdelbaki Essati, the shadowy imam who the authorities believe was at the center of last week’s terrorist attacks in and near Barcelona, Spain, appears to have been a master of deception. His associations with terrorists reached back more than a decade, but he managed to evade the scrutiny of authorities and the suspicion of many in Ripoll, the small town in northern Catalonia where he showed up last year to offer his services.

Mr. Essati’s technique, according to terrorism experts, was taken right from the playbook of the Al Qaeda recruiters with whom he had first come into contact at least 11 years ago. It now appears that he used those methods to carefully select and groom young recruits, but for ISIS.

“He was really nice, charming, really polite, but he was too polite, too correct,” said Wafa Marsi, 30, who grew up with the older members of the cell the imam forged in the town.

“Usually you can get a sense of a person by their look, their smile, but you couldn’t with him,” said Ms. Marsi, who also described his appearance. “And that is why I did not trust him.”

Mr. Essati died on Aug. 16, when the explosives he was manufacturing with the help of some of his young recruits blew up in their safe house in Alcanar, south of Barcelona. Court records show that the police later retrieved a book belonging to the imam from the rubble with the inscription, “Soldier of ISIS in the Land of Andalucia.”

But even after his death, Mr. Essati’s spell over the young men remained so powerful that the plot he put in motion went forward the next day without a bomb, ultimately killing 15 people.

How Mr. Essati slipped through the checks meant to protect the public from would-be terrorists speaks to the lack of communication between Spanish national and Catalan regional law enforcement and the judiciary.

But it also shows the skill of an experienced terrorist recruiter, one who appears to have been trained in keeping a low profile so that no one would think to look into his background.

If they had, they would have found only that he had been convicted once of drug trafficking. That is an important reason Mr. Essati was able to fly under the radar of Spain’s counterterrorism authorities; he had no charges or convictions for terrorism-related offenses.

Yet Mr. Essati had been known to the Spanish judicial and counterterrorism authorities for at least 10 years, according to Fernando Reinares, the director of the Program on Global Terrorism at the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid, which keeps an extensive database of Spanish militants based on court records and other official sources.

“Abdelbaki Essati had some kind of contacts, dating back a decade ago, with facilitators of the Madrid train bombing network based in Catalonia and, subsequently, while in prison, with a member of that same terrorist network,” Mr. Reinares said.

The Madrid train bombings killed more than 190 people and wounded hundreds more.

In the aftermath of last week’s attacks, regional and national law enforcement authorities and politicians are sniping at each other for failing to cooperate more closely. Their relationship was already strained because of Catalonia’s effort to win independence from Spain.

Catalan law enforcement authorities have long complained that they are not allowed to work on their own with foreign intelligence organizations such as the C.I.A.

Another problem appears to be that information gleaned by counterterrorism intelligence operatives that does not result in charges or convictions is not systematically made available to local law enforcement.

Records of behavior in prison — increasingly understood as an important factor in radicalization — also appear not to be widely shared.

While there is an Islamic Council of Catalonia that vets imams, it was not asked about this imam, its coordinator, Jamal Elattouaki, said.

The mayor of Ripoll, Jordi Munell, said that the local police should have gotten more warning about the dangers presented by Mr. Essati.

“The information that someone had did not arrive where it should have,” he said, adding that the Spanish government had not passed it on to the Catalan authorities.

Meanwhile, Spanish police officers denounced Catalan officials for “marginalizing in a painful way” the contribution of Spain’s national and military authorities during the investigation and manhunt.

Mr. Essati was born in Morocco in around 1970 in a small village in the Chaouen region near the northern city of Tangiers. Little is known about his early life. He told the mosque in Ripoll where he worked until the end of June that he was married and had nine sons.

He did not mention that he had acquaintances who had been convicted of terrorism-related offenses or that he had served time in prison on drug charges.

In 2006 his name surfaced in a case against a group of men accused of recruiting mujahedeen to fight in Iraq. At least one of those men had also helped conspirators involved in the 2004 Madrid train bombings to escape.

Mr. Essati’s documents or copies of them were found at the home of one of the accused recruiters, Mohamed Mrabet Fahsi, who claimed he had the papers because of his work at a local mosque. The court ultimately dismissed the case for lack of evidence.

Mr. Essati shows up next in the public record, this time in court himself, responding to charges of drug trafficking committed in 2010, according to the Spanish judicial authorities.

He was sentenced to four years in prison. There, he became friendly with Rachid Aglif, known as “El Conejo” (the Rabbit), who was serving 18 years for his involvement in the Madrid bombings.

An order for Mr. Essati’s expulsion from Spain upon release from prison was overturned by a judge in 2015, who said that he had shown “employment and an effort to integrate.” He was freed and he dropped from view.

He re-emerged in early 2016 in Belgium, home to the ISIS cell that carried out attacks in Paris and Brussels around that time.

There is no information suggesting that Mr. Essati had contact with the group, but Belgian authorities say they are currently looking deeper in to Mr. Essati’s background and movements.


The New York Times