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Syrian passport puts spotlight on refugees after Paris attacks, but real threat closer to home

© AFP / Andrej Isakovic | A photo taken in Belgrade on November 15, 2015 shows the frontpage of Serbian magazine Blic, displaying a Syrian passport found by police at the scene of one of the Paris attacks

Text by Sam BALL

Latest update : 2015-11-16

In the wake of Friday’s terror attacks on Paris, the spotlight has fallen on one of the perpetrator’s possible links to Syria, but the facts show that it is the homegrown terror threat on which security services should be focusing their attention.

When news broke that a Syrian passport had been found next to the body of one of the suicide bombers that blew himself up outside the Stade de France on Friday night, speculation started immediately over his origins as a possible refugee welcomed into Europe as someone ostensibly fleeing terror abroad, but in fact intent on inflicting it here.

It later came to light that the passport was in the name of Ahmad Al Mohammad and had been used by a man who registered as a refugee on the Greek island of Leros on October 3.

The man then apparently travelled on to Serbia.

“One of the suspected terrorists, A.A., who is of interest to the French security agencies, was registered on the Presevo border crossing on October 7 this year, where he formally sought asylum,” the Serbian interior ministry said in a statement.

Passport a fake?

Doubts have since been raised about the authenticity of the passport. A US intelligence official told CBS News the Syrian passport might be fake as it did not contain the correct identification numbers and the picture did not match the name.

France’s justice minister Christiane Taubira has also reportedly said the passport appeared to be a fake.

Others cautioned that there is currently a booming trade in fake and stolen Syrian passports, fuelled by the current surge in migrants arriving in Europe and the belief they will have a better chance of claiming asylum if they can show they are fleeing the war-torn country.

As an experiment, a Dutch journalist earlier this year said he managed to buy a forged Syrian passport and ID card for the price of €750. He was able to pick up the passport, featuring the photograph of the Dutch prime minister, 40 hours after ordering it from the forgers, he said.

Theories that the passport could have been deliberately planted by Islamic State group terrorists to cause a backlash against refugees in Europe have also circulated online and in the media.

‘A meaningful future’

But until the authenticity of the passport can be established all of this, at this point, is only speculation.

However, one fact remains: that nearly all the suspects in the attacks appear to be French citizens.

“If a Paris attacker was migrant, most were home grown. Blame social exclusion, not refugees,” tweeted Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, on Monday.

Roth later told FRANCE 24 that “attacking refugees is not a panacea” and instead, Europe’s long history of poverty and social exclusion among previous generations of migrants is a far more pressing problem, leading to discontent and radicalisation.

“Europe should introspect why it has found it so difficult to offer a meaningful future” to descendents of immigrants who arrived on the continent generations ago, he said.

Among the suspects already identified is Omar Ismaïl Mostefai, a 29-year-old of Algerian origin who grew up in Courcouronnes, just south of Paris, who is believed to have taken part in the attack at the Bataclan concert hall.

Samy Amimour, 28, from the Paris suburb of Drancy, is also thought to have been one of the attackers that slaughtered 89 people at the Bataclan.

Another French citizen, Ibrahim Abdeslam, is believed to have carried out the suicide attack at the Comptoir Voltaire café, while police are hunting his brother Salah Abdeslam over his suspected involvement.

It is a pattern Paris should already be familiar with: terrorist atrocities committed on French soil, by French nationals, mainly from rough neighbourhoods, with immigrant Muslim backgrounds. This was the case with the three perpetrators of the January attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Paris kosher supermarket; Saïd Kouachi, Chérif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly were all born and radicalised in France.

Playing into the terrorists' hands

Yet, the possibility that one of the attackers came from Syria has already been seized upon as an opportunity to criticise and alter refugee policy not just in Europe, but across the world.

Officials from Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia have all criticised an EU plan to relocate asylum seekers across the bloc’s 28 members, while in Germany, Bavarian allies of Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a reversal of her “open-door” refugee policy.

“The days of uncontrolled immigration and illegal entry can’t continue just like that. Paris changes everything,” Bavarian finance minister Markus Soeder told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

And in the US, the governors of Michigan, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, Indiana and Louisiana have said they will block or suspend a programme to resettle Syrian refugees within their borders in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Other world leaders have urged a less reactionary response..

“Those who organised, who perpetrated the attacks are the very same people who the refugees are fleeing and not the opposite,” European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said Sunday.

Meanwhile, drawing links between Syrian refugees arriving in Europe and the terror attacks could be helping the Islamic State in their aim of stoking anti-Muslim feeling.

“ISIS wants to generate anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe,” Roth said, using an alternative name for the terrorist group. “It wants to increase divisions in Europe to increase its pool of potential recruits. It is important we don’t play into their hands”.

Date created : 2015-11-16

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