Greece: The Increasing Importance Of Muslims Is A New Challenge

Translation by Michela Mogavero
increasing_importance_of_Muslims_is_a_new_challeng e
Nov 16 2007

The first Islamic prayer centre has been opened in Athens, ahead
of the big mosque that will be built around 2009-2010. Even if the
integration of Greek Muslims in the social-political structure of
the country is quite good, the possible proliferation of radicalism
constitutes a real threat.

Angelita La Spada (16 November 2007)

Controversial minarets

Greece is the gateway to Europe, geographically situated at the point
of contact and possible conflict between the Old Christian Continent
and the Muslim Middle East. The main Greek Islamic communities
are located in the North of the country, in the region of Western
Thracia, at the crossroads with Turkey and Bulgaria. Its members are
expected to number 110,000 and to constitute 1% of the overall Greek
population and a fourth of the inhabitants of Western Thracia. This
region has a great strategic importance for two main reasons: the
former deals with the attention of the Turkish, which periodically
create nationalistic and religious clashes between the Muslim and the
Christian inhabitants; the latter is linked to the huge potential
for growth, due to vast infrastructural projects like the 280 km
pipeline which will transport up to 800 barrels of Russian oil per
day, from the Bulgarian port of Burgas to the oil terminal situated
near Alexandroupolis, on the Aegean Sea.

The Muslim community in Thracia is well integrated within the social
and political structure of the country, yet the possibility that
this part of the population becomes extremist is a real danger. In
the nineties, some reports by the Greek intelligence services showed
their concern about the huge amounts of money given to the Greek Muslim
minorities by the Saudis, which was generally invested in religious
assistance activities. Outside Thracia, unlike what happens in other
European countries, in Greece no signs of Muslim segregation have been
detected. The presence of heterogeneous ethnic and racial areas in the
centre of Athens -which avoids the creation of any kind of security
shield- could favour the development of fundamentalist propaganda.

After 2000, in the heart of Athens, a new Islamic instable basis has
been established and dozens mosques have been created in apartments,
garages and warehouses, and 5 of them have been recognized by
SCA(Serious Crimes Agency) as places where fundamentalist elements
interact and pray. A few months ago, the first Greek Arabic centre
for culture and civilization was officially established in the
Southern area of Athens. More than 170 years after the fall of the
Ottoman Empire, thousands of Muslims will be able to carry on with
their rites in a place which is 1,800 metres wide (previously it was
a textile factory). The complex, financed by Saudis, can hold up to
1000 people and be used at the same time as cultural centre and school
of Arabic language. De facto, the opening of the centre represents a
temporary solution to a controversial issue which has existed for a
long time between the Muslim community and the Greek authorities as to
the building of an out and out mosque in Athens.The opposition of the
Orthodox church and that of citizens which associate the mosques with
a four-century long domination of the Ottoman empire and political
rivalry with Turkey, are postponing the actual construction of an
official mosque. According to a recent survey carried out by 1500
Athenians, more than 2,5 million (more than half of them) oppose the
building of a mosque for the numerous community of Muslim migrants

Even before the Olympic Games in 2004, the socialist government had
decided to authorize the building of an Islamic cultural centre and a
mosque in the area of Peania, near Athens International Airport. But
after the reaction of the Greek Church, who supported the creation
of a mosque but not of a cultural centre, the local authorities froze
the project. Last year, on a proposal by the Greek Church, opposed to
the re-opening of an Ottoman mosque in Monastiraki Square (Athens),
the Greek government has given the go ahead for the building of a
mosque by 2010, which will be placed in a non- residential area of
Eleonas or Elaionas, near Omonia, in the centre of Athens.

Unequal threats

Differently from what happens in other European countries which are
subjected to global Islamist and Qaidist threats, Greece has not yet
considered the threat of Jihadist terrorism. The country, together
with al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) was indicated by the leadership of
the Muslim Brothers as being a place -once belonging to the Islamic
land- which now has to be won back, in order to create a pan-Islamic
caliphate. Apart from this, no other episodes linked to the jihadist
network have been registered in the country.

The only episode of terrorism happened last January, when the
American Embassy in Athens was hit by an anti-tank rocket Rpg-18,
built in Russia. The act was claimed by the Revolutionary Fight (EA,
Epanastatikos Agonas), a terrorist group of natives from the extreme
Left responsible for another six attacks. This followed a series of
events between 2005 and 2006, characterized by a number of episodes
whcih showed the birth or re-birth of terrorist groups. In the past
there were also various networks which launched attacks against some
Western targets in the Greek Republic. Throughout the course of the
centuries, these networks have relied on Arabic organizations with
American objectives and Armenian or Kurd groups aiming at Turkish
targets. In the most important cases of terrorist attacks, Kurd PKK
was involved, as well as affiliates of the Palestinian organization
15 May, or the Abu Nidal group, more than Black September and Lebanon
Shiite groups.

It is considered that cooperation between native and foreign groups
has been used in training practices, particularly guerrilla tactics,
the use of explosives, improvised tactics in the use of weapons, the
planning of attacks, as well as logistic and financial support. At the
moment, there are no clear signs of terrorist activities politically
motivated and linked to international networks; it is not excluded,
though, that Greece could be a transit channel, even for migration
routes. Thousands people coming from the Middle East and Central Asia
arrive in Greece before getting to Western Europe.

Possible threats of Islamic radicalism are due, therefore, to phenomena
of illegal immigration. Throughout the years, criminal organizations
of Balkan and Middle Eastern inspiration have developed huge networks
of contacts and competences in the field of drug trafficking, illegal
immigration and the falsification of identity documents. Terrorist
groups linked to criminality are working together. The links between
crime and terror are confirmed by the fact that the operators of
terror often cover the routes of the traffic of drugs, weapons or
other transnational criminal activities.

In 2005, for example, a Moroccan citizen was arrested on the
Turkish-Greek border while he was trying to reach Greece on a bus
linking Istanbul with Thessalonica. Mazra, wanted by the French and
Moroccan authorities, was charged of belonging to a fundamentalist
organization, an armed branch of Al-Qaeda in Morocco. He was found in
possession of some false documents, something which has been frequently
registered during the last five years and proved by numerous detentions
of Arabic fundamentalists in European countries who owned Greek
passports. ‘Grecian’ Arabs were detained in Great Britain, Portugal,
France and the Netherlands. Interesting data: 10-15% of detained
people were suspected of belonging to Islamic extremist organizations.


The opening of the first mosque in Athens makes official the Islamic
presence in Greece, considering the necessity to face, as in other
European countries, the possible threats of indoctrination activities
and fundamentalist propaganda. As well as this, there is the risk
of radicalization that could happen if a Wahhabite mosque became
the centre for spreading extremist literature, collecting funds and
distributing videos honouring the Jihad fighters.

You may also like