Mr. President, the attacks in Spain are why your “travel ban” will never work.
Working to counter terrorism before, during, and after September 11th, 2001, was an emotionally draining experience, which is why I am not one who cries. However, the attacks in Madrid, Spain, in March 2004 marked the first time that I personally felt that I should have seen the attack coming and done more to stop it. I cried that day ― it was a heavy burden to bear.
During my tenure at the CIA, much of my time was spent targeting North African terror cells operating in Europe. The remainder of my time was spent targeting Usama Bin Laden’s bloodthirsty lieutenant/poison expert Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The allegiance of North African terrorist groups to Al Qa’ida (AQ), and later ISIS, can be traced back to 2001, when Bin Laden ― in an effort to effort to both appease and repudiate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ― tapped him to lead one of his AQ global franchises. Bin Laden realized that AQ would be more powerful if he could erect global “franchises”; hence groups such as Al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI, later ISIS), and Al Qai’da in the Islamic Maghreb (and others) were born. Zarqaiwi, who served as the head of AQIM and later AQI/ISIS, was tasked with recruiting North Africans to commit attacks in Europe.
Why would AQ target North Africans to commit attacks in Europe? Civil wars and infighting in some North African countries in the late 1990s, gave birth to violent terrorist factions such as the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC) in Algeria and Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain (GICM) in Morocco. Both of these groups embraced the AQ ideology of Salafi jihadism or physical jihad, making their members ideal targets to join AQ. Also, what made North Africa attractive to AQ was that members of their terrorist groups could travel to and from Europe with relative ease. Most spoke French and travel between the port of Tangiers and Spain is relatively easy. Both of these groups came together to form AQIM.
2013 was a turning point for AQIM, as it was the year that Al Qa’ida in Iraq became ISIS, thus beginning another global franchise. This raised the question as to whether or not the members of AQIM should pool their support behind AQ or ISIS. As it stands now, both groups exist in North Africa, with ISIS now the stronger of the two.
No citizens of countries listed in this travel ban have perpetrated the recent attacks in Europe."
One of President Trump’s “tools” to combat terrorism is his so-called travel ban for Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia. No citizens of countries listed in this travel ban have perpetrated the recent attacks in Europe. In fact, the attacks in Brussels, Paris, Berlin, and others were all perpetrated by individuals who were either North African citizens or had deep North African roots. By no means should Trump extend his ban to include citizens of North African countries ― that is counter to everything I believe. My point is that terrorists come in all genders, nationalities, and religions. What trump and the supporters of his travel ban need to understand is that stereotyping people from the Middle East (which this ban does), is quite simply dangerous and irresponsible.
Rather than stereotyping a group of people as terrorists, we need to educate ourselves as to the origins of these groups and where their members come from. That education will be one of the keys to determining an effective anti-terror strategy. Rather than education, Trump appears to make his anti-terror policy via executive orders, which do not allow for input from the true experts in the field. Many of his core “experts” are anti-Semitic, nationalist, racist individuals with little to no background in terrorism or foreign policy. The attacks in Spain should serve as a stark reminder that Trump’s travel ban will never be an effective tool in combatting terrorism. By banning one group of people and focusing almost entirely on them, Trump is ignoring others, thus opening the door to future terror attacks in the US.