“This message is the final warning to European states. We want to give you a one-month deadline to bring your soldiers out from the land of Mesopotamia.”
– Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, July 16

BRUSSELS – The European Union will be waiting, breathlessly, for this deadline set by the al-Qaeda-connected Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades – which has claimed responsibility for the Istanbul, Madrid and London bombings. After August 15, “It will be a bloody war in the service of God,” or the dreaded possibility of more attacks against “the crusaders who are still present in Iraq – Denmark, the Netherlands, Britain, Italy and … other countries.” The Brigades seem bent on avenging “blood that has been shed in the land of Islam – in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.”

EU counterterrorism analysts are not taking the threat lightly – even if its authenticity is not yet proven. This “message” means that Salafi-jihadis are officially proclaiming that the attacks on London on July 7 were blowback caused by Iraq – a connection also established by two-thirds of Britons answering a Guardian/ICM poll and by a report conducted by the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government – toeing the Bush administration line – denies everything.

EU officials and European parliamentarians, not to mention Europe-wide public opinion, are starting to confront a very serious question: how to fight jihad inside the EU without infringing on civil liberties. A curtailment of civil liberties is exactly what Salafi-jihadis would want. One measure is to toughen anti-terrorist laws, something that Britain is about to do. Another, immensely more complicated task, is to coordinate policy among the 25 EU member states.

As EU diplomats have assured this correspondent, Europe by no means is going to vote the adoption of a US-style Patriot Act. Nor is anybody contemplating an EU Guantanamo. Germany’s Constitutional Court, for instance, has just nullified the law transposing to Germany the European-wide arrest warrant – a decision, the court says, taken to protect German citizens. The European Commission was quick to point out that this decision does not affect the European-wide arrest warrant itself. But the affair left a scent of malaise – especially because Germany is one of the key Salafi-jihadi bases in Europe. Human-rights watchers, on the other hand, salute the fact that German judges preferred to pay more attention to civil rights than to mere repression.

Everyone for himself

After an extraordinary meeting last week in Brussels of all interior and justice ministers in the EU, the fact is that each member-state is still fighting terrorism a la carte – apart from some common measures like stricter control of cellphone calls.

France, for instance, via its populist Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, is now back to rigid control of its borders – scrapping at least temporarily the EU’s Schengen accords which allow free circulation of people. The Danish populists love the idea too, as well as the semi-fascist Northern League in Italy, which is in favor of totally closing Italy’s borders.

Another Sarkozy initiative – extreme vigilance over radical imams – has also delighted the interior minister in Bavaria, Gunther Beckstein, who is now calling for video cameras inside and outside mosques. Debate is raging in Germany over the installation of video cameras in the metro – something quite common in London and Paris. Just as in Britain, the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will create an anti-terrorist file. Angela Merkel – the East German-born Christian Democrat who may grab Schroeder’s job in the next elections – wants to go one step further and use the army to prevent terrorist attacks.

The next two targets supposedly on al-Qaeda’s list are Italy and Denmark. Nothing has been decided in Italy yet – although the Northern League is making a lot of noise calling for a Patriot Act. Spain, already stricken in Madrid, has announced more police and military surveillance of “strategic” targets.

Much more than in the US, in the EU the balance to be struck between anti-terrorism policies and respect for individual rights is an extremely touchy affair. Germany, Austria and Finland, for instance, refuse that phone logs be kept for more than three months: most in the EU want the period extended to one year.

Great Britain holds the EU presidency until the end of 2005. For all the acrimony caused by Blair during the recent budget discussions – where Britain stuck to getting its rebate when even the poorest eastern Europeans were settling for a deal – one thing is certain: the British are keen on recommending to the EU a much tougher approach to fighting terrorism inside Europe.

As for the Salafi-jihadis, the only thing that matters is who remains inside Iraq.