Europe's Terror Alerts: Mumbai Meets Madrid

Austin Bay

10/6/2010 12:01:00 AM - Austin Bay

"There is a real terrorist menace in France and Europe," French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux told European media this week.

Hortefeux had just announced the arrest of a group of Islamist militants operating in southern France. The arrests followed numerous reports that intelligence agencies in several nations had detected a plot, likely planned by al-Qaida operatives, to launch "Mumbai-style" terrorist commando attacks in major European cities. The reports mentioned Paris and Berlin as specific targets.

The November 2008 Mumbai, India, assault was a massacre-by-gunfire attack left 166 people dead and over 300 wounded. Pakistani Islamist terrorists arrived by boat. They shot up hotels, going room-to-room looking for American and British citizens. They hit a railroad station, a Jewish community center and even a hospital. The terror team may have received orders via cell phone from senior commanders who were watching live TV coverage. Terrorists always seek media magnification, but Mumbai may be an example of terrorists using live media reports as a tactical intelligence tool.

The Mumbai attack had a huge strategic goal: to ignite a major war between India and Pakistan. Pakistan's fall 2008 army offensive against the Pakistani Taliban threatened terrorist sanctuaries. Beginning in mid-2008, Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes on al-Qaida and Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan had been increasingly effective.

Mumbai was a political and media gamble. The terrorists got a media pay-off but failed to ignite an Indo-Pakistani war that would have led to a Pakistani Army withdrawal from the pro-Taliban tribal areas.

Today, Pakistan remains in turmoil, but its army continues to press the Taliban. Moreover, Predator attacks on Taliban and al-Qaida sanctuaries have increased dramatically. The longwarjournal.org has done a splendid job of graphically documenting the increases and estimating Taliban and al-Qaida casualties. The Predator offensive is -- literally and figuratively -- killing them.

Which leads, unfortunately, to Europe, and terror war in Europe.

Al-Qaida regards Europe as a weak link in its war with the civilized world. It has what it regards as a good reason for this conclusion: The March 11, 2004, attack on Spain's capital, Madrid, gave the terror organization it greatest victory in this long struggle.

Al-Qaida hoped the "3-11" assault would affect Spain's national elections and bring to power a government that would withdraw Spanish troops from the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. This would be the first step in shattering the Iraq coalition and politically isolating the U.S. At some point, America would skedaddle as well, and al-Qaida would chalk up an even greater strategic triumph.

With the assistance of defeatist politicians and defeatist media in Europe and the U.S., al-Qaida achieved its initial goal. Following the 3-11 attack, "Socialist peace candidate" Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was elected Spain's prime minister. He ordered Spain's troop contingent to leave Iraq.

The U.S., however, has stuck it out, and so have the Iraqi people, and in so doing have dealt al-Qaida a major military and psychological defeat.

Yet al-Qaida's leaders cling to what they believe is a great geo-strategic truth: "If we kill enough of them, they will withdraw." al-Qaida theorists point to Beirut (U.S. Marine barracks, 1983) and in Mogadishu, Somalia, ("Blackhawk Down," 1993) as examples of terrorist action leading to U.S. military withdrawal from what al-Qaida regards as Muslim territory.

The Madrid and Mumbai attacks, and arguably 9-11, are a bit different. In these cases, militant Islamist terrorists launched deep attacks in non-Muslim territory designed to affect counter-terror military operations in other theaters (Iraq and western Pakistan) or what they touted as a U.S. military threat to Islam's holiest shrines (post-Desert Storm U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia).

On al-Qaida's grandiose map of the global caliphate, however, Spain is "al Andalus," a Muslim domain filched by the Reconquista. In the minds of al-Qaida commanders, Madrid lies in Muslim territory.

Berlin and Paris never knew Muslim rule, but German and French troops serve with International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. France has had special operations forces involved since 2001. Predators firing Hellfire missiles are killing terrorists in their Pakistani sanctuaries, and doing so relentlessly. Al-Qaida's senior commanders appear to believe a bloodbath on the Champs Elysee will force the Predators to withdraw.