Source: Washington Post/San Fransico Chronicle
Religious converts are playing an increasingly influential role in Islamic militant networks, having transformed themselves in recent years from curiosities to key players in terrorist cells in Europe, according to counterterrorism officials and analysts.
The arrests this month of two German converts to Islam - Fritz Gelowicz and Daniel Schneider - on suspicions that they were plotting to bomb American targets are just one example of terrorism cases in Europe in which converts to Islam have figured prominently.
In Copenhagen, a convert is among four defendants who went on trial this month for plotting to blow up political targets. In Sweden, a Webmaster who changed his name from Ralf Wadman to Abu Usama el-Swede was arrested last year on suspicion of recruiting fighters on the Internet. In Britain, three converts - including the son of a British politician - are awaiting trial on charges of participating in last year's transatlantic airline plot.
"The number of converts, it seems, is definitely on the rise," said Michael Taarnby, a terrorism researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies. "We've reached a point where I think al Qaeda and other groups recognize the value of converts, not just from an operational viewpoint but from a cultural one as well."
Religious converts are sometimes more prone to radicalization because of their zeal to prove their newfound faith, analysts said. They are also less likely to attract police scrutiny in Europe, where investigators often rely on outdated demographic profiles in terrorism cases.