The War Nerd: How do you deal with wannabe jihadis? An upgrade to business class
KUWAIT CITY—It’s been a busy week for Canada’s home-grown jihadis.
Monday, October 20: Martin Rouleau, a French-Canadian convert to Islam, ran down two Canadian soldiers with his Nissan Altima, then led the RCMP on a chase that ended when he rolled the Nissan, came up out of the wreck waving a kitchen knife, and got himself shot to death “like he wanted to.”
Wednesday, October 22: Michael Zehaf-Babeau, also Quebecois and a recent convert, shot a soldier standing guard at a war memorial then ran into Parliament, firing as he ran, until he was shot dead by the Sergeant-at-Arms.
You can look for all kinds of patterns in these shootings — to me, the Quebecois connection seems particularly interesting here -- but the most obvious, urgent connection we need to see is that both these guys had tried their best to get out of Canada, and were refused the chance to go to fight in Syria/Iraq. Both had their passports seized, and were “counselled” to dissuade them from jihad. Instead, it simply made them consider the local option.
So, two soldiers are now dead, Canada’s uncommonly flustered, and all because the RCMP didn’t do the obvious, and let these guys go where they wanted to go. If the RCMP had taken DNA samples, front and side photos, and seen them off at the airport with a “Mazel tov!”, Canada would be a lot better off. It took both Rouleau and Zehaf-Babeau weeks, between being refused a passport and their final act, to work up the courage to kill at home. Most wannabe jihadis feel a certain grudging sentimentality for the country where they grew up, which makes them more willing to kill for God far, far away from home than to kill people who look like the kids they grew up with.
These two only killed at home when the Syrian option was shut down for them.
So what was the downside of letting them go? The most likely outcome was that both would have been cannon fodder, dead in their first month. The Middle East, the non-tourist version, is a big shock to most Westerners, and amateur soldiers who don’t speak Arabic and are used to flush toilets will spend their first months just dealing with the gastro-intestinal adjustments. During that time, these pampered amateurs make big fat targets. And that’s all Martin and Michael wanted, “Istishad,” martyrdom. Though I doubt they knew the proper term; like many new jihadis, they were much more excited about the killing and dying than actually learning the religion. They would have found their deaths fast, vaporized in an air strike or hit by shrapnel. The death rates for foreign jihadis in Syria are horrific, and only the practically unlimited pool of replacements keeps foreign-dominated militias in operation.
New recruits, and those who have no useful military skills, are also the ones persuaded to make the ultimate sacrifice as suicide bombers.
Something many people don’t understand about this way of becoming a shahid (martyr) is that it’s the least prestigious, far less honored than death in combat. It’s the least useful recruits who get used as suicide bombers. That’s why Saudi boys are disproportionately represented among suicide bombers; they’re hard to train (as I can testify), not much good for more complex tasks. Almost half of suicide bombers to detonate in Iraq in the last two months have been Saudi.
Once a recruit has been persuaded to drive a car full of TNT into an enemy checkpoint, the counter-terror officer assigned to monitor him, back in a government cubicle in Ottawa, can safely cross one name off the list of potential threats. Case very definitely closed.
And even if they survive, they’re marked for life; the second they try to return to their home countries, they can be pulled out of the line at the airport and detained for as long as necessary, on any charge you care to name. It’s not like charges are hard to find, since Islamic State actually brags, in its house magazine, that it sold hundreds of Yazidi women and girls into slavery.
Last time I checked, slavery is illegal in Canada, and in fact everywhere except Mauritania, so conspiracy to commit kidnapping and rape are the minimum you could charge every IS recruit with.
Or you could send them to Mauritania, but that seems a little harsh compared to a life sentence in a Canadian prison. Nobody deserves Mauritania, not even sex slavery gangsters.
Coming or going, these guys are not going to do it the subtle way so they’ll be easy to spot. They’re not the brightest guys in the world. Most of them buy tickets direct for Istanbul, after posting jihadi stuff on Facebook for months. You’d think the idea of flying to a neutral destination, say Frankfurt, then making your way south and east toward the war zone, would occur to these guys, but these are mostly very young men, and young men aren’t very smart. So they keep repeating the pattern: Facebook rants, then the ticket direct to Istanbul. Hell, I bet half of them buy a one-way ticket, just to make their intention totally clear. Even the dumbest security agent knows enough to red-flag a file that has those two features. You could do it on a 1980-model KayPro: “Jihadi FB posts + Ticket to Istanbul = I.S. recruit.”
The question is what you do once you’ve spotted the pattern. And that answer is also simple enough to do on a KayPro: let them go, hope they die over there, be absolutely sure they won’t get back in undetected.
Even when they’re alive and fighting in Syria, these guys are a huge asset to Western Intelligence, because they make an effective camouflage for the real double agents already in place there. You can safely assume that a big fraction of the men fighting with Islamic State are double agents reporting to one or more of the major Western intelligence agencies, covertly photographing and DNA-typing their comrades for future reference.
If there’s one thing most intelligence agencies do in quantity, if not quality, it’s infiltration. Sometimes the scale of infiltration of targeted groups is just ridiculous, especially when they’re Leftist groups that drew J. Edgar Hoover’s rage. Case in point:
“Following a lawsuit…it was revealed that an organization with 2,500 members had been infiltrated by 1,600 informers.”The proportion of double agents in Islamic State may not be that high (it’s a lot riskier to pretend to be a jihadi in a combat zone than a harmless stateside socialist) but there is no doubt that all jihadi organizations have been penetrated by the intelligence agencies of countries from Egypt to Russia.
Jihadi groups are easy to penetrate by their very nature. By definition, jihad is open to anyone with the True Faith. And the way you tell who has that faith is that they make the declaration of faith, the shahaada.
Professions of faith come easy to double agents, whether they’re DEA scum telling their newfound friends “I love all you guys” before leaving them to the SWAT Team or DIA agents going for the Salafist look—shaved head, big beard and learning a little Arabic.
If you want a group that can’t easily be infiltrated by double agents, you stick with family and very, very close friends, people you’ve known since childhood.
Compared to worming your way into a group like that, Islamic State is as sweet a target as a sliding patio door. It doesn’t even have linguistic or ethnic rules. You don’t need to speak Arabic, or have a family history of interest in Islam. In fact, due to the weird adulation for Westerners you still see in the Middle East, there’s far more delight in a Western jihadi than in ordinary Middle Eastern ones. If you remember your Gospel of Luke, you know that strange verse,
“I say unto you, there shall be more joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine of the righteous….”The jihadi version runs something like, “There shall be more joy at I.S. HQ over one blond guy who joins up, yea though he be a complete doofus, than ninety-nine brown guys who were raised Muslim and can actually fight.”
Most people here are still in love with blond hair and blue eyes. If you’re a horny blond, male or female, past your used-by date in the first world, believe me, just come to the Middle East and you’ll be getting cellphone numbers in wadded up bits of paper thrown at you like confetti in a welcome parade. I’ve seen it too many times and it doesn’t matter what kind of body is supporting that blonde hair or what kind of mind lies behind the blue eyes, those are the only requirements for what we might politely call social success. And this prejudice in favor of any blond, no matter how weird, was what caused the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, one of the few really intelligent American-born jihadis.
Awlaki befriended a Danish convert named Morten Storm, whose only qualifications were blond hair and a Nordic appearance – not a very attractive Nordic appearance since Morten was a big, fat ex-bouncer, but Nordic nonetheless. Everything else about Morten was incredibly dicey. He’d bounced around the scummiest circles in Denmark, where it is almost impossible not to succeed. Storm had been a failed boxer, then a bouncer and then rode with one of those European biker gangs where they don’t let you in if you weigh less than 300 pounds. He was a mess. And then this mess decided he was a Muslim, as a lot of old-school macho guys are doing right now. He moved to Luton, a Bedfordshire town with a big Muslim population, learned Arabic, and started complaining about the weak, non-Salafist version of Islam preached in the local mosques.
Storm now claims he was a double agent when he moved to Luton in 1999, but that could be a lie. Like most double agents, he’s a classic attention-seeking liar. It’s just as likely he was drawn to Islam just as he’d been drawn to belonging to his biker gang, and later to the CIA, always trying to find that baddest, scariest group that would take him on.
He’d already shown that pattern of moving from allegiance to allegiance. And that’s a deal-breaker for any serious insurgent group. You don’t even let guys like Storm work in your revolutionary veggie garden collective, because they always move on from their latest infatuation to another one, like Storm did, at some point, going from jihad to CIA.
And yet Al-Awlaki, who was not stupid, did let Storm into his inner circle after Storm flew to Yemen in 2006. That’s very odd. I can think of two reasons Al-Awlaki might have let his guard down for such a sketchy newcomer: First, the whole sad blond-worship thing, and second, there just isn’t a big pool of western jihadi converts to choose from. Each one gets huge publicity, like skinheads got a generation ago, but we’re talking about a few thousand men at most.
Al-Awlaki, for whatever reason, trusted Storm enough to enlist his help in finding him another wife (he wanted a blonde this time, naturally) so Storm hunted up a Balkan girl, brought her to Yemen, and, before handing her over to Al-Awlaki, packed a GPS tag in her luggage so that her wedding procession would be a nice clear target for a drone-fired Hellfire missile. Unfortunately for Storm and his CIA handlers, she had the sense to ditch the suitcase, so Al-Awlaki survived—for a while.
But Awlaki retained the fatal habit of trusting anyone who claimed to be a good Muslim. As a result, he was betrayed by yet another double agent in his entourage and killed by a drone in 2011.
So the answer to the problem of Western convert jihadis is simple: Let ’em go to Syria. A few will wake up, and it’ll be a painful awakening in more ways than one. As Melville said, “What like a bullet can undeceive?” More will die quickly. A few will arouse their comrades’ suspicion and be executed—and the odds are those won’t even be the real double agents. The rest will provide cover for those actual double agents.
These guys are surplus, after all, surplus males in an era doing some fairly frantic tinkering with that whole concept. The best way to deal with them is let them take one for the team they’ve talked themselves into joining. And their job for that team is to provide cover. Basically, it’s the same assignment I used to get on every play: “Uh, the rest of you, go out and block.”
In fact, Islamic State is such a perfect organ for draining the surplus reactionary-male rage from a certain demographic of the secular West that you can’t help wondering, sometimes, if it’s a Western invention. I doubt that; just because IS has turned out to be useful to Western security services doesn’t mean they created it. But it has become extremely useful, a sort of global kidney, drawing in and filtering out a pool of potentially troublesome young males. And all done far away, in the bowels of Syria. But only if places like Canada have enough cold-blooded sense to let this piece of luck keep doing its job. And that means only one thing: business class upgrades for every male under 25 with a record of jihadist rants and a one-way ticket to Istanbul.
[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]