One month into 2014, Islam-related controversies continued making headlines in newspapers across Europe. The most salient topic involved the dramatic increase in the numbers of European jihadists participating in the war in Syria.
An ominous foreboding is unfolding over Europe, as counter-terrorism officials intensify their warnings about the negative security implications surrounding the return of hundreds—possibly thousands—of battle-hardened jihadists to towns and cities across the continent.
But Syria is only one of many concerns. What follows is a brief survey of some of the more noteworthy stories involving Islam in Europe during just the month of January 2014.
In Britain, a Muslim extremist who hacked a soldier to death on a London street in May 2013, launched a taxpayer-funded appeal against his murder conviction. Michael Adebolajo, 29, who tried to behead the British soldier Lee Rigby with a meat cleaver, maintains he should not have been convicted because he is a “soldier of Allah” and therefore Rigby’s killing was an act of war rather than premeditated murder.
Adebolajo and his co-defendant, Michael Adebowale, 22, were found guilty by a jury in December 2013, but have yet to be sentenced. The judge in the case, Nigel Sweeney, is said to be considering a whole-life prison term, but is awaiting legal guidance from the Court of Appeal of England and Wales. That court is currently reviewing a ruling by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which states that whole-life terms violate the rights of prisoners.
Also in London, a Muslim woman was arrested by counter-terrorism police at Heathrow Airport on January 16 as she was preparing to board a flight to Turkey. Nawal Masaad, 26, is accused of trying to smuggle £16,500 ($27,000; €20,000) in her underwear to jihadists in Syria. She and her alleged co-conspirator, Amal El-Wahabi, 27—a Moroccan who does not work and claims British social welfare benefits for herself and two young sons—are the first British women to be charged with terrorism offenses linked to the conflict in Syria.
In a separate but related incident, two 17-year-old schoolgirls were arrested at Heathrow over suspected terrorism offenses. Police say they were “inspired by jihad” and were attempting to fly from Britain to Syria to fight in the civil war there.
The head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism unit, Commander Richard Walton, revealed that 14 British minors were also arrested on charges linked to the Syrian conflict in January, compared to 24 for the whole of 2013. Calling the figures “stark,” Walton said it was shocking to see “boys and girls enticed” to join jihadists fighting in Syria. He said he believes it is “almost inevitable” some fighters will try to mount attacks in Britain upon their return.