September 11 attacks: European aspects – by Maria Chr. Alvanou

September 11 will surely be remembered as one of the most tragic events in the history of the United States. A surprise attack on American soil that caused death, destruction and injuries to the specific target locations, as well as trauma and shock to a whole population. As a terror operation it succeeded not only in leaving its mark, but also changing the way the Americans would view homeland security threats and the way they should deal with them.

From the very first moment it became evident that the significance of  9/11 would go beyond U.S.  borders. Some years later the Madrid and London terror events took place and Europe started to see the danger of islamist terrorism inside its own borders. Quite soon European countries started to adopt counterterrorism measures that undermined the protection of human rights, although in previous years Europeans were criticising the Americans who had done the same. Yet, there is one other issue, usually forgotten when commenting on the 9/11 from a European aspect: it was actually a European operation and after the United States and the spectacular attacks that put the Islamist terror network in the spotlight (and probably the choice of the U.S. was a strategic one due to this parameter too),  this network resumed its business where it all began, that is in Europe.

The  terror operation that hurt the U.S. so seriously was not an event that just took place on the day of 9/11; it was planned and prepared by the “Hamburg Cell” in Germany many years before. And although the discussion about Al-Qaida’s development always leads to a criticism of the American foreign policy, let us not forget that the German Police and Intelligence failed to recognize on time the importance of what was going on in Marienstrasse 54[1], the hub in which the deadly plans were discussed and prepared. While the failure of the Americans to prevent the attacks despite their security authorities is still debated, we must note too the failure of European intelligence services to stop in its early stage what resulted in a new terrorism era for the whole world. Moreover, in Hamburg the network of Islamists[2] has continued to trouble counterterrorism authorities for years after September 11.

The European character of the 9/11 attacks means that the ground in Europe was fertile for Islamists ready to perpetrate suicide terrorism and this is why it should surprise nobody that Islamist terrorism is a domestic issue for the European countries. What attacks in Europe- up to now- have shown is that the perpetrators in general seem to be European citizens, regardless of an ideological umbrella that serves an inspiration and covers and comes from outside the gates of Europe with the help of Internet (now days from Daesh that seems to lead the islamist terror network regarding its presence in Europe). The terror plans are conceived and carried out in Europe, by Europeans who usually are second or third generation of immigrants. While in the U.S. Muslim communities have become part of the country and contribute to a multicultural society, with being an American an identity immigrants and their descendants feel and want to feel, the situation in Europe looks different. Muslim communities are often marginalized, suffering from identity confusion, with no real sense of belonging neither in Europe nor to the countries of origin and this may be partly why its young members are sensitive to radicalization and recruitment.

There is no such thing as a domestic security problem threatening only Americans or only Europeans when it comes to terrorism. We are talking about a global threat, with individual perpetrators and networks ready to select targets anywhere, as long as it is strategically possible and positive. Unfortunately, the notion of international terrorism has also  expanded today to  typologies and ideologies other than the Islamist/religious one and the need for cooperation is a must. However, it is important for Europeans to look a bit more close to what is going on in their backyard. We need to understand what has made our societies vulnerable to radicalization, how the phenomenon has evolved, how we can address it and what are the weaknesses of our prevention and deterrence policies that we have to work on in order to reduce the danger of future terrorism. The 9/11 commemoration, after all, is a reminder of our own security failures that contributed to one of history’s biggest terror tragedies and we should make sure we don’t fail this way again.