BRUSSELS, April 1, (Agencies): A British man could face a life sentence after being found guilty on Friday of plotting to kill US servicemen based in Britain. Junead Ahmed Khan, 25, scouted US Air Force bases in eastern England using his job as a delivery driver as cover, a London court heard. Police found online messages between Khan and an Islamic State (IS) fighter in Syria calling himself Abu Hussain, whom prosecutors claimed was in fact British-born Junead Hussain. He was later killed in a US drone strike in the IS stronghold of Raqa in Syria.
Khan told Hussain that he wanted to carry out an attack similar to the one on British solider Lee Rigby, who was hacked to death by an Islamist on a London street in 2013, the trial heard. Following his arrest last July, detectives also found pictures of Khan posing with an IS-style black flag in his bedroom. He was convicted of preparing for an act of terrorism and on a second charge of planning to travel to Syria to join IS. “Through early detection and prosecution of these individuals, more serious crimes have been avoided which could have had devastating consequences in the UK or Syria,” said prosecutor Sue Hemming. Khan’s 23-year-old uncle Shazib Ahmed Khan was also convicted of planning to join Islamic State militants in Syria. The crime carries a maximum term of life imprisonment, with sentencing scheduled for May 1
The Brussels attacks have given a boost to the far right in Belgium and beyond, and their anti-Islam language is finding a special resonance after another bloodbath by Islamic State extremists. Just as the Paris attacks that killed 130 people in November reinvigorated the right-wing National Front in regional elections, last week’s bombings in the Belgian capital have given radical-right leader Filip Dewinter’s Flemish Interest party fresh impetus to re-ignite his group’s flagging fortunes. Even in the Netherlands, where one arrest was made linked to a possible future attack this week, fire-brand politician Geert Wilders is using the latest bombings to boost his popularity.
It’s the result of a potent mix of fear, foreign enemy and a failing security system that has been unable to stop one attack after another. “These events are fuel to the fire of every radical rightwing party in Europe,” said Professor Dave Sinardet of Brussels University.
Extremist groups have also used the attacks to boost their venomous brand. Last Sunday, hundreds of black-clad football hooligans broke up a solemn wake at Brussels’ Bourse Square for the 32 victims of the March 22 attacks on the airport and subway system, and police had to bring in water cannon before order could be restored. On Saturday, police are bracing for a possible gathering of right-wing extremists in Brussels’ Molenbeek district. Even though any demonstration has been banned by police, fear remains that it would further incite violence in a neighborhood dominated by Muslim immigrant families. “What happened at the Bourse doesn’t inspire confidence. The population here, it’s going around that the protesters still want to come,” said Molenbeek councilwoman Sarah Turine.
It’s in this atmosphere of trepidation that the far right has traditionally flourished. “If only you had listened to us,” hectored Wilders in the Dutch parliament on Tuesday, arguing he had been calling for the preventive detention of foreign fighters for three years. One of the airport attackers, Ibrahim El Bakraoui, was caught near the Syrian border last summer and another, Najim Laachraoui, had been in Syria before the two blew themselves up. “Hundreds, maybe thousands of jihadis are ready to strike,” said Wilders, using the kind of language that has made his PVV party the most popular in the Netherlands, according to the latest polls. It has always been easier to make big claims for the far right, since they have rarely held power since World War II.
“You have an important part of the public that … can reconcile itself with a radical right-wing position on security and Islam and migration. That will hover around a quarter of the population,” Sinardet said of the situation in Belgium. “And attacks like these bring it to the fore and put it high on the agenda.” It is the same situation in France. So when President Francois Hollande, a socialist, decided to abandon proposed legislation Wednesday that would have revoked citizenship for convicted terrorists and strengthened the state of emergency, the National Front of Marine Le Pen was the first to pounce. She called the decision “a historic failure.” In Belgium, Dewinter now wants to restore the death penalty, even though a ban on capital punishment has been a cornerstone of human rights legislation in the European Union.
Meanwhile, Italian Premier Matteo Renzi says Europe must look inward to help deal with the threat posed by terrorism. Renzi spoke at Harvard University on Thursday as he continued a fourday US visit. The former Florence mayor who was elected premier in 2014 said many of the terrorists including those who attacked Paris and Brussels grew up in European cities. While agreeing with the need for a military response and enhanced security within Europe, Renzi said governments must also invest in education, economic growth and the “humanistic model of cities in Europe.” Renzi made clear he supports Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, but added he would respect any outcome of the US election. He is scheduled to join other world leaders at a global nuclear summit in Washington on Friday.