The head of UK intelligence, Jonathan Evans, says the turmoil that followed the Arab Spring allowed extremists to gain a foothold in the Arab world. Middle East peace activist, Franklin Lamb, believes that this warning is not groundless.
The head of the MI5 Security Service, Jonathan Evans, has highlighted Yemen, Libya and Egypt as being among the countries that most concern the agency. Up to 200 young extremists from the UK, aged between 18 and 30, are thought to have joined forces with heavily armed terror groups in these countries. Evans says Al-Qaeda militants are training radical Western youths for potential attacks on Britain.
“Today parts of the Arab world have once more become a permissive environment for Al-Qaeda,” Evans said on Monday according to Reuters. “A small number of British would-be jihadis are also making their way to Arab countries to seek training and opportunities for militant activity, as they do in Somalia and Yemen. Some will return to the UK and pose a threat here.”
RT spoke to Middle East peace activist, Dr. Franklin Lamb, to get his views on the subject.
RT: Western countries supported what they called a move towards democracy in the Arab countries. But now, according to Britain's top spy, some of these states could be turning into terrorist training grounds. Is this exactly what London and its allies were bargaining for?
Franklin Lamb: Taking the case of Libya, where there was a rush to enter and to topple the regime, I think that was a classic mistake. I spent four months there, got to know a number of different factions, and it was clear Al-Qaeda was there. In some cases they were training the same militia that the British were training and the Americans and the French were training. So, when there’s an opportunity, Al-Qaeda is going to be there and they took it, and now they are increasing their ranks. Three months ago, a CIA analyst told the Congress that there were 300 maximum Al-Qaeda in Syria. Now they estimate there are 3,100. They are coming in from Jordan, they are coming in from the Gulf Co-operation Council countries, they are coming in from Lebanon and Turkey. So because NATO got this thing going in Libya, there was this opportunity – and Al-Qaeda will respond to an opportunity – that’s what we are seeing now. But there maybe a little panic by the intelligence in the UK about them coming and attacking the Olympics – who knows what evidence they have of that – but there’s no question, even here in Libya Al-Qaeda is growing and is active, and they are well-trained.
RT: What pushes people inside Western countries to get radicalized and join militant movements? There have been a few high-profile people recently who could fit that category.
FL: I think that there’s a lot more that we don’t know about who haven’t made it public. You mentioned earlier terrorist training camps. Well, of course that’s one point of view: are they terrorists or are they liberators? They have a strong program and strong ideology. But my point is why they even exist. Either for dignity and to overthrow some dictators, but when you’ve got an operation like NATO slaughtering civilians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, of course it’s going to activate them and give them the opportunity. As you know, Al-Qaeda’s leadership has urged people to go to Syria and get training, and to go to southern Turkey and also in Libya. Libya’s become a major training center, and I saw that as a fact. And I went meeting with some of the rebel militia against Gaddafi. They used to say “One Al-Qaeda member is worth 10 of us. We admit that. And they are worth six of Mutassim [Gaddafi’s] special forces.” They are very well disciplined. Rather than lecture people, they go out there and show them how to do something. And they are very effective. So I think that the threat is real, their numbers are growing, their competence is well known, and I do think there’s a problem.
RT: Islamists have come to power in Egypt. The country was one of those named by Britain's security service chief as at risk from turning into Al-Qaeda training grounds. But how much should the West be concerned with the direction Egypt is taking?
FL: Frankly, no, not particularly. I think what we see in Egypt is, believe it or not, a government that represents the majority of the population. I think, for the first time in Egypt’s history it was a democratic election. I respect the word of people. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Egypt and there are concerns about the Brotherhood. Do they keep their word, for example? Mohamed Morsi seems to be very sophisticated – as the Brotherhood has been – at playing the political game. So I think there’s going to be some consequences that the West doesn’t like. I think we are frankly going to see the end of the Camp David agreement. I don’t think that the Israelis, who are now complaining that they can’t even rent an office for their embassy, are going to have much luck in the future – not just because of the Brotherhood, but because those values are greater, and deeper, and broader than the Brotherhood. They represent the Egyptian people. Camp David was [Egypt’s President] El-Sadat. It was a private contract between the Americans and the Mubarak family and their associates, and the Israelis. That doesn’t reflect the view of one Muslim or one Arab that I know, or anybody of good will who wants peace in the Middle East.
So I think we are seeing a fundamental change, but I wouldn’t put it on Al-Qaeda. I think the Arabs are awakening. They are standing up. Islam is rising, and we see that here in the Middle East, we see that in Lebanon. The Americans are diminishing, the Iranians are increasing. You see that all over in every aspect – from who is buying the real estate, who is organizing the next campaign, who is doing the training, who is supplying the arms. It’s a new era. It’s the era of resistance that we are entering, and things are going to be different.