The spike in the flow of refugees arriving in Europe has increased concerns that jihadist fighters could be sneaking in under the guise of asylum seekers, prompting media speculation.
Hungary’s most watched national TV channel, M1, reported Tuesday that at least two “terrorists” were uncovered via photographs on social media after entering Europe as refugees.
“Islamist terrorists, disguised as refugees, have showed up in Europe. [The] pictures were uploaded on various social networks to show that terrorists are now present in most European cities. Many, who are now illegal immigrants, fought alongside Islamic State before,” the report said.
The Hungarian channel broadcasted collections of photographs of the two men from social media. The first set depicted two individuals with weapons and the second set showed them smiling as they arrived in Europe.
However, the man it was claimed had been an Islamic State militant had previously given an interview to AP, saying that he was a former Syrian rebel commander. The AP reported that his name was Laith Al Saleh, 30, and he “led a 700-strong rebel unit in Syria's civil war.” The news agency’s photos taken on August 15 showed Al Saleh among other refugees waiting to board an Athens-bound ferry on the Greek island of Kos.
AP reported that he was a member of the Free Syrian Army, which is fighting against the Syrian government forces of President Bashar Assad, as well as against terrorist groups in the region.
The man who uploaded the photo of Al Saleh on Facebook claiming the man was an Islamic State militant has apologized in an interview to the BBC on Monday.
The identity of the second man, who the Hungarian media claimed to have been an Al Nusra fighter, has not yet been clarified.
Some politicians have said that Islamic State might be winning if people are abandoning their homes in Iraq or Syria. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said: “It’s very difficult, but if all these refugees come to Europe or elsewhere, then Islamic State has won.”
A Middle East expert has expressed similar concerns. “This is a major challenge for Europe, but it’s also giving [Islamic State] the possibility to claim victory, because it has claimed its goal is to get rid of every ethnic religious and cultural diversity from the Middle East. ISIS has stated very clearly that all the region should be under Sunni leadership. And therefore those who won’t convert should leave and they have been pushing a lot of people to leave,” Mansouria Mokhefi, of the French Institute for International Relations, told RT.
Hungary is among several European countries that have been struggling to deal with the influx of migrants and refugees breaching its borders, fleeing violence in the Middle East and North Africa. Hungarian police have been challenged with hundreds of asylum seekers stuck near the Serbian border. Hundreds have fled into nearby cornfields, aiming to reach Budapest on foot.
Inaction of Gulf States triggers international criticism
As Europe is left overwhelmed by the refugee crisis, the Gulf States have continued to ignore the problem by shutting their borders and refusing to take in asylum seekers, drawing in criticism from human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“Other countries need to do more,” Human Rights Watch deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Nadim Houry, tweeted. He also described the wealthy countries’ inaction on the Syrian refugee crisis as “shameful.”
Since the war in Syria started in 2011, Kuwait has accepted only seven refugees, the United Arab Emirates just 16, and Saudi Arabia only four.
In fact, instead of embracing a solution, Saudi Arabia is putting up a 900-kilometer razor wire fence on its border with Iraq. There are also underground movement sensors being installed, which are capable of triggering silent alarms.
It would make a lot of sense for refugees to enter some Gulf States, where they can quickly become productive, hard-working residents, the director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, Ali Al-Ahmed, told RT.
“The Gulf countries are more interested in funding armed groups in Syria, rather than assisting the Syrian people, inviting them to live in the Gulf. Syrian refugees in the Gulf are not going to be refugees, they will be working. There are no social, cultural and religious barriers for Syrian refugees in the Gulf. It is going to be much cheaper to have them move to the Gulf and it will be easier for them to move back to Syria,” Al-Ahmed said.