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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2005

July 4, 2005

MARBELLA, SPAIN - Marbella was a sleepy fishing village until German aristocrats, notably the family of the great Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, turned it into Spain’s most elegant resort.

I’m here for a three-day celebration for my old friend Princess Gunilla von Bismarck, a leading Euro celebrity and most charming lady. The cream of Germany nobility and a bevy of European kings and queens are coming to join this biggest Spanish social event of the summer.

From the outside the Marbella Club, where we’re all staying, comes the utterly incongruous sound of a Muslim muezzin calling prayers five times daily. King Fahad of Saudi Arabia built a mosque nearby and, bizarrely, a palace that is a small version of the White House.

Rich Arabs love Marbella almost as much as Nice and Cannes. So do Russian Mafiosi. To Arabs, Spain - `Al-Andalous’ - remains both Paradise Lost and Promised Land. Arabs conquered Spain in the 8th Century AD and ruled it until driven out in 1492. In Andalous, they created bountiful, glittering kingdoms that brought civilization to squalid medieval Europe.

`If Russian and Polish Jews could return to their Promised Land of Israel, which their ancestors ruled for a shorter period than Arabs did Spain,’ a Spanish professor asked me, `why can’t Arabs lay claim to southern Spain, from whence they were expelled? (and don’t forget Jews also expelled from Spain).

Many Arabs already have. As French rightwing Jean Marie Le Pen once quipped to me, `emigration equals invasion.’

Nearly a million Arabs, mostly illegal North African immigrants, have come to Spain to do the nation’s dirty jobs and are by now firmly rooted and already into a second generation.

Most Arab immigrants are hard-working and law abiding. But with them have come small numbers of most violent extremists. Last March, one terrorist cell bombed Madrid’s train station, killing 192 commuters, an outrage that brought down Spain’s conservative government.

Spanish authorities killed the perpetrators of the Madrid bombing, and arrested hundreds of suspects. Even so, large numbers of potential terrorists are believed operating in Spain. Contrary to popular belief, they have nothing to do with al-Qaida.

While the US has been obsessing over Osama bin Laden, other violent anti-western groups were springing up across the Muslim World. Though inspired by bin Laden’s jihad against western domination, they march to their own drummer and have no operational contact with tiny, isolated al-Qaida. Most come from the Maghreb (North Africa.)

The Maghreb is the wildest, most violent and backward part of the Arab World. Two particularly lethal movements came from its lawless mountains: Algeria’s Armed Islamic Groups(GIA) and Morocco’s Salafists. Both have spread into Mauritania, Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, Chad, Mali, Niger and Spanish enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla – and into mainland Spain, which has long suffered from its own violent Basque separatist movement..

Five years ago, this column warned Algeria’s raging civil war would eventually spill over into neighboring states and Europe. Out of this bloodbath came the fanatical, nihilistic GIA, dedicated to overthrowing Algeria’s US and French-backed military junta. Both GIA and the junta slaughtered some 80,000 civilians in reprisal raids and terror attacks.

Morocco’s Salafists are just as violent and even more effective. They are determined to punish Europe for supporting Morocco’s brutal monarchy, a key US ally. Salafists are also operating in Iraq, which has become a magnet for Islamic militants.

Much of the GIA and Salafist leadership has been killed, but the movements are still operating and highly dangerous. Western security officials know little about them and have underestimated their lethality.

In fact, over 90% of suspects charged in Europe with terrorism offenses have been North African Salafists, not al-Qaida members. CIA and US military units are now operating in the vastness of northwestern Africa, trying to locate and destroy bands of GIA and Salafis.

Spain, in spite of maintaining excellent relations with the Arab World, finds itself on the firing line. But Spaniards are not easily intimidated, Here, there’s none of the hysteria or insecurity seen in North America. Spaniards are largely ignoring terror threats and partying away in the blazing summer heat.

Published at Bigeye.com since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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