The 1980s and 90s gave rise to the phenomenon of "graduates" of Afghanistan – jihadists dispersed around the world in the service of global Islamist terrorism. They returned from the war in Afghanistan imbued with a sense of power after defeating the Soviet empire and began to seek a new outlet for their skills. Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization, whibech had by then begun to grow, gave these fighters money and instructions on infiltrating East to West, from Afghanistan to Europe and the United States. Mosques on three continents, primarily in the Middle East, became their mission controls and centers of operation for fanatical imams.
Today those who have "graduated" the war in Syria work exactly according to the same formula and in the same service of a widespread global jihad. But today the center is the area in which Assad's army are fighting rebels, where they receive training and weapons, and after several months, or even years, of fighting, they return to their homelands imbued with a sense of power and militant religious fervor.
The ideology is the same ideology and the theology is the same theology. Syria is the Afghanistan for first half of the 21st century.
In Europe, as in Israel, there is long-standing concern over the establishment and export of global Islamic Jihad in Syria, even though these two phenomena are still in their infancy. The attack in Brussels is not the first committed by a jihadist terrorist returning from the Syrian civil war, but luckily the French authorities, who experienced a murderous hate crime against Jews last year, were prepared this time.
It appears that the French authorities have closely monitored the young men returning from Syria and, with the assistance of cyber technology, managed to quickly identify the perpetrator of the Brussels murders, track him, and catch him.
One can appreciate that the French and Belgian police were helped by the fact that the Brussels murderer was equipped Kalashnikov and a pistol, weapons that are found in the hands of terrorist organizations or guns people carried into battle in the Middle East, where airport security is not so precise and they can move about with their weapons disassembled in their suitcases. Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq are a ready source not only of activists skilled in battle who are flowing into Europe, but also of the weapons that they bring with them.
The attack in Brussels sounds a clear alarm, and the speed and manner in which the Brussels killer was caught shows this was not predestined, and that it is possible to locate these extremists before they carry out their murderous missions. To al-Qaeda, the Arab regimes are priorities for attack, ahead of Europe. As such, the Arab states have been working hard to eradicate the "Syrian threat," and Europe could learn something from them.
Most of the foreign volunteers in Syria, who number some 5,000-8,000, come from Arab countries, not Europe and North America. Some join the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, while others turn to the local branch of Iraqi al-Qaeda, ISIL (Islamic State of Syria and the Levant) or the Islamic Front. Others sneak in across the borders of Jordan and Lebanon and join Salafist groups. Among these volunteers are also a number of young Israeli Arabs from the "triangle" of northern Arab towns, and the isolated Bedouin from the Negev – their estimated number is less than fifteen.
These volunteers - who as noted obtain experience in using small arms such as Kalashnikov rifles, RPGs, explosive devices and even anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles - do not remain in Syria for long. After they have gained their necessary experience, they return home, where they threaten both regimes and civilians with terrorist attacks.
In the Arab countries, this fear was realized last year, when "graduates" of the fighting in Syria joined the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis organization, which is active in the Sinai Peninsula. The group operates primarily against the Egyptian authorities, but has also been sending its militants deep into Egypt proper to carry out attacks against the military, which took power after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood regime.
This is the same organization and same "graduates" who are firing rockets into Israel from Sinai, and also threaten civil aviation in the Gulf of Aqaba with their experience operated anti-aircraft rockets in Syria Of course, they also are threat to Jordan.
In general, it is fair to say that the Arab states are the primary targets for these graduates. To be precise, the regimes in Arab states which al-Qaeda considers to be heretical, in particular Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. In the past year, there have been terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia stemming from the royal family's decision to join the fight against extreme Islamist organizations operating in Syria, organizations that the House of Saud had previously provided with weapons and funding.
The Saudi Interior Minister recently announced that these organizations had been outlawed. He has also imposed numerous restrictions, both on young men seeking to travel to Syria to fight and on those returning from there. He sends these young men to prison - or "rehabilitation" facilities, where they undergo indoctrination that is supposed to restore them to their former selves. A similar process of transition to supporting all-out war on Islamists fighting in Syria has also spread to other Gulf states, such as Kuwait, Dubai, Bahrain and more.