Radical youths from Europe and the Arab world are getting military training at insurgent-run camps in Iraq, Europe's anti-terror chief said. He warned that such clandestine camps could multiply in unstable or failed states anywhere in the world.
"There have been individuals from Europe who went to Afghanistan in the past. There are some who have gone to Iraq, as indeed there have been youngsters from outside Europe, from Arab countries, who have gone there to receive military training," EU counterterrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries said in an interview on Tuesday.
De Vries refused to elaborate on the specifics of numbers or countries of origin, saying the information was strictly classified.
In the Iraqi city of Fallujah, a former insurgent stronghold, US troops last month found numerous bomb-making workshops and a makeshift classroom for training militants that included flight plans and instructions on how to shoot down aircraft.
De Vries said terrorist violence in Iraq could quickly spread to the whole region.
"It is extremely important to help Iraq develop into a stable country at peace with its neighbors. That will help stability not just inside the country but also peace and the maintenance of security outside Iraq," he said.
But he warned that action had to be taken to stop instability from breeding terror.
"This is incidentally not just the case just in Iraq," he said. "Instability elsewhere in the world, in Africa for example, always makes it more difficult for the law to be upheld, for democracy to function and therefore makes it easier for terrorists to hide and train."
De Vries said the immediate threat was difficult to assess.
Another trend De Vries highlighted was al-Qaeda's transition into something less palpable after being weakened by the Afghanistan invasion, and he warned that it was now perhaps even more dangerous.
"Al-Qaeda has in a sense revamped itself so that it is no longer only an organization but it has simultaneously become a kind of movement inspiring individuals and loose small networks," he said.
"So there has been ... a kind of franchising of the message of al-Qaeda which makes it a more complex phenomenon," he said.