The United Nations has recently warned, that the ongoing turmoil inside of Syria and Iraq has formed a situation, where “the battlefields are merging” into one.
One of the reasons for this, were expressed by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who stated last month, that the borders between the two countries were still “quite open for movement by terrorist groups, or weapons.”
The situation inside of Syria has been further exacerbated by the presence of Iraq’s Al-Qaeda, whose presence in Iraq, only emerged after the US and UK failed to fully secure the borders upon their entry in 2003.
This failure created a situation, where foreign fighters were able to freely cross from Syria into Iraq, where among the chaos which followed the coalition invasion, were able to conduct operations and then quite literally “fade into the night”.
When the United States left Iraq in 2011, Al-Qaeda issued a statement, warning that attacks inside Iraq would remain ongoing; until the Shiite dominated Government of Nouri Al-Maliki had fallen, with Al-Qaeda reaffirming their opposition to Iran’s interference in Iraqi affairs.
What has shocked many Iraq experts though, is how the situation now in Syria, mirrors exactly what started in Iraq ten years ago, with kidnappings, beheadings, ethnic cleansing, Youtube video’s and again, streams of foreign fighters.
As most Middle Eastern countries can testify, the presence of Al-Qaeda increased dramatically after the 2001 collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, with the United States warning in 2005, that Iraq is “producing better trained militants than Afghanistan”.
In a recent statement, the Pakistani Taliban claimed to have sent “hundreds of fighters” to Syria, in support of local fighters against Bashar Al-Assad.
While these claims have been disputed by some sources, if true, these fighters would be joining hundreds of foreigners from inside of the European Union. A survey by King’s College London, found a minimum of 600 people from Europe, have taken part in the conflict since it began two years ago.
The response to this has caused Britain and Belgium to increase their efforts, to track how people are recruited, while the Netherlands have raised their terror threat level to “substantial” – partly over concerns about radicalised citizens returning from Syria.
Similar sentiments have been echoed for the second time by Saudi Arabia, after their first predictions in 2005, that “a new generation of young Saudi’s drawn to the insurgency in Iraq, could return home armed with even deadlier combat skills”.
People have already witnessed the levels of “skill” obtained in Iraq, when in 2005 London suffered multiple bombings and in 2012, Mohammed Merah killed three French soldiers and four Jewish people in Toulouse, before himself being shot by the police.
Just last year Abu Musab al-Suri, Al-Qaeda’s operations chief in Europe and the “mastermind” behind London’s 7/7 attacks, was freed from his Syrian prison and while his current location is unknown, is still wanted in Spain, for involvement with the Madrid train bombing in 2004.
While many in the media compared the scale of Mohammed Merah’s atrocities to events in Iraq, what has often been overlooked, is the immediate family’s involvement with terror activities, from running Al-Qaeda safe houses in Syria, to involvement with smuggling fighters into Iraq.
His own brother Abdelkader, who was charged after the rampage in France, had an equal role in acquiring his younger brother’s arsenal and financing his trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East.
In an interview with the BBC in April, Jacques Beres, co-founder of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, stated how he treated two French brothers, injured while fighting against the Syrian army, and who described Mohammed Merah as “the real hero”, who “was an example to follow”.