Terrorists Sway Second-Generation Europeans

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Why are second-generation Muslims in Great Britain being recruited by al Qaeda? Robert Leiken of the Nixon Center in Washington, D.C., wrote about the trend toward "radicalization" in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. He tells Jennifer Ludden what he found.


In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Robert Leiken warns about the threat posed by Europe's jihadists. The article is called Europe's Angry Muslims, and Leiken wrote it before the London transit attacks. Robert Leiken directs the Immigration and National Security programs at The Nixon Center and he joins me now from Madrid.

Welcome, Mr. Leiken.

Mr. ROBERT LEIKEN (The Nixon Center): Thank you. Happy to be here.

LUDDEN: Judging by your article, you must not have been surprised at all to learn that the suspected bombers in London were British-born UK citizens. You write that Osama bin Laden is specifically targeting these second-generation European Muslims.

Mr. LEIKEN: Yeah. There's quite a bit of evidence. It's clear that al-Qaeda's very interested in second generation. They see an opportunity. There's a lot of alienation. The Europeans are having a hard time integrating Muslim immigrants of the second generation who find themselves often in some cases without a job, people who live in slums, who have very poor prospects, who are, let's say, downwardly mobile. And then the other--and this is more the case of the British bombers and I think more generally the case--upwardly mobile people, doing quite well economically and--but not very well culturally. A feeling of loss of identity or a quest for identity. Sometimes they suffer a disappointment, something happens in their life and they go through a process of radicalization.

LUDDEN: And how do you know that bin Laden might be targeting them? I mean, how has this been documented?

Mr. LEIKEN: Well, I know it from talking with intelligence services around Europe that they have picked up efforts to recruit. It's complicated. Al-Qaeda doesn't go around advertising its recruiting strategy. But there's been evidence of key al-Qaeda people in major European cities where there are large concentrations of second-generation Europeans and showing up in mosques, but more frequently as in the case of the British bombers, in Islamic cultural centers, and attempting to turn anger or dismay into hatred and terrorism.

LUDDEN: And specifically those who would be citizens of these European countries?

Mr. LEIKEN: Well, yes. And that, of course, is a--points to another problem because if you're a European citizen, if you're a second-generation European immigrant born in Europe, you're entitled to--you are a citizen and you're entitled to a passport, which means that you can get to the United States without a visa under our visa waiver program, which means that you're not interviewed by consular, by State Department officials or by Department of Homeland Security officials, which is one important element of the safety net that they will have skirted.

LUDDEN: As you travel through Europe, I mean, are you hearing from imams and Muslim clerics about this whole notion of radicalizing the second generation of Muslims there?

Mr. LEIKEN: You know, I think there's been more of a reaction this time than ever before in terms of imams and other Muslim leaders who have criticized this. They've said things like, `Western policies in the Middle East are bad and are part of the problem, but we have to acknowledge that we're part of the problem and we have to do more.' There's a big mainstream Muslim community and there are a lot of mainstream Muslim leaders and I talk to a couple of them in Britain and we might disagree on some aspects of American policy, but these were people who were very clearly, strongly opposed to terrorism and who saw this as something that was perverting their youth and that they had to start working to do something about it.

LUDDEN: Robert Leiken directs the Immigration and National Security Programs at The Nixon Center. Thank you so much.

Mr. LEIKEN: You're very welcome.

LUDDEN: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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