Spies Can Only Intercept What’s in the Ether
Alarming world developments bring important reminders of the strengths, and limits, of intelligence
As Israel’s war against HAMAS, in retaliation for that terrorist group’s massive October 7 attacks, threatens to expand into a wider conflict, perhaps even World War Three, there’s global concern about security threats – with good reason. The threat of terrorism is real, far beyond the Middle East. The U.S. State Department didn’t casually release a worldwide travel caution for Americans. Iran’s intelligence services, particularly their Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which supports Islamic “brothers” in many countries, among them HAMAS, has the capability to launch terror attacks, directly or through proxies, in dozens of countries on several continents.
However, at least for now, the greater threat consists of jihadists inspired by the Palestinian cause seeking to attack Western targets in sympathy with HAMAS. Last week, a 45-year-old Tunisian radical who professed allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria gunned down two Swedes who were in Brussels to attend a football match. The suspect was shot dead by Belgian police before he could kill more “infidels.” The case is an embarrassment for Belgium, since the killer’s jihadist activities were known to the authorities for the better part of a decade, he was watch-listed by Belgian intelligence as a suspected ISIS affiliate, and he was in the country illegally, but nothing was done. Moreover, assumptions that the terrorist was a mere “lone wolf” seem doubtful now that two French associates of his have been arrested in the case.
The good news is that not everybody in the West is as incompetent as the Belgians. On Tuesday, heavily armed German special police in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia raided an apartment in the industrial city of Duisburg to arrest a terrorism suspect before he killed innocents. The 29-year-old suspect, identified only as Tarik S. by German prosecutors, is the son of an Egyptian father and a German mother, raised locally in Bielefeld. He was arrested because investigators determined he was plotting to attack a pro-Israel demonstration with a truck, with the intent of becoming a martyr for the jihad.
This wasn’t idle talk. Many questions are being raised since Tarik S. was alarmingly well known to German intelligence and law enforcement. Indeed, he was a notorious figure in German counterterrorism circles. In 2013, after becoming radicalized in Germany, he fled to Syria to join ISIS in its jihad there. Among the “brothers” he went by the handle “Osama the German.” Western intelligence was tracking Tarik S.’s activities with ISIS, which wasn’t particularly difficult since “Osama” regularly posted ISIS propaganda online. Upon his return home in 2016, he was arrested by German police upon arrival at Frankfurt airport.