Al-Qaida-tied group widening its recruitment of non-Arabs

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - In the Pakistani tribal regions that harbor al-Qaida and a cauldron of other jihadist groups, militants from Central Asia, China, Turkey and even Germany are growing in number, possibly raising new challenges not just for the U.S. but for Europe, Russia and China, say intelligence officials, analysts and residents of the area.

Al-Qaida consisted largely of Arabs, but stepped-up U.S. drone strikes, Pakistani military offensives and dwindling cash reserves have driven out many of the Arabic-speakers in recent years, says Mahmood Shah, a retired brigadier and former security official in the tribal regions.

Shah said intelligence sources in the tribal regions put the number of Arab and African jihadists at about 1,500, compared with 3,500 to 4,000 ranging from Chinese Uighurs and Uzbeks to recruits from Turkey, the Russian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan as well as native and immigrant Germans.

None of the Central Asian groups figuring in the apparent demographic change are new to the tribal regions. Some were welcomed to Afghanistan decades ago during the 1980s Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Others arrived during the Taliban's rule of Afghanistan that lasted from 1996 to the American-led invasion of 2001.

Jihadists from outside the Arab world have been getting more attention.

A report on extremist trends released last month by Germany's domestic intelligence said the Islamic Jihad Union, headquartered in Pakistan's tribal area, is "widening its sphere in the sense of global jihad to include Europe." Once dominated by ethnic Uzbeks, the union has sought to recruit German converts who have embraced a radical form of Islam as well as Germans of Turkish origin, say analysts familiar with the organization.

In 2007, German intelligence foiled a terrorist plot planned by ethnic German converts to Islam who belonged to the Islamic union..

The group wants to recruit Turkish-origin people, but maybe born in Germany, established here and who hold a German passport, said Rolf Tophoven, director of the Institute for Terrorism Research and Security Policy in Germany. "They train them and build them up and send them to Germany as well as to other European countries to commit acts of terrorism."

According to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks Islamist extremist messages, the jihadist group is known as the European affiliate to al-Qaida.

SITE described the group's rise in prominence as a significant development within the global jihadist movement.

The threat from the changing jihadist demographics is "more in the future than immediately. The main threat is that the existing nucleus will attract more and as time goes on the threat will increase." he said.


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