europe-spaceIntroductory remarks

Many open sources have noted recently that the E.U faces a considerable terrorist threat derived from the homecoming of foreign fighters from Syria. Even though there are considerable pieces of information to confirm this very trend one must bear in mind the fact that a terrorist threat coming from such a source is not by far the only one. As we tackle this growing and ever more present phenomenon we should not forget the fact that migratory routes and trends have a great deal to tell us about just as important threats coming from terrorism affected areas such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Shady progress in transferring security responsibilities and uncertain results in diminishing terrorist activities in such areas may result in further escalations of terrorist activities in the E.U. Exploring migrant group dynamics and understanding the role of second generation migrants in propagating terrorist ideals or threats across their adoptive countries might prove to be an answer for both problems. Nevertheless, it is highly probable that the complicated cocktail between terrorism in open conflict zones, the promise of a better life in Europe and the search for an identity within a foreign country suggests short, medium and long term threats in regard to terrorism activities within the E.U.

(This article has been written for the international conference “Intelligence in the Knowledge Society 2014” organized by “Mihai Viteazul National Intelligence Academy”, 17-18 October 2014. The paper has been written between July 1 and July 10. Data studied within the paper is available for this timeframe. However, the study tries to underline some long term threats derived from homecoming of foreign fighters and from migratory trends within the European Union. This is why we have decided to publish the article after the end of the conference.)

Homemade explosives on the French Riviera

On the 19th of June, 2014, CNN Europe reported the fact that French police officers “discovered soda cans converted into crude bombs”[1] right on the outskirts of the French Riviera. Furthermore “the devices contained nearly one kilogram of the high explosive TATP -- a substance used to make detonators in multiple al Qaeda bomb plots against the West in the years after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.”[2] TATP in itself is a highly dangerous compound. “The explosion of TATP is not a thermo chemically highly favored event. In conventional high explosives such as TNT, each molecule contains both a fuel component and an oxidizing component. When the explosive detonates, the fuel part is oxidized and as this combustion reaction spreads it releases large amounts of heat. The explosion of TATP involves entropy burst, which is the result of formation of one ozone and three acetone molecules from every molecule of TATP in the solid state. Just a few hundred grams of the material produce hundreds of liters of gas in a fraction of a second.”[3] The compound is further a security challenge since it is often referred to as a transparent explosive because of the fact that most explosive detectors are mainly constructed to detect conventional chemicals rather than non-organic compounds such as TATP.[4] It has been made rather famous by Richard Reid, known to the media as the shoe bomber. Reid boarded American Airlines flight 63 from Paris to Miami on December the 22nd 2001. Flight crew and passengers observed the fact that Reid was attempting to set fire to his shoe and managed to subdue him in time.[5] He later admitted to the fact that he had converted to Islam and was attempting a terrorist attack. His weapon of choice appears to have been TATP.[6] Worryingly enough, TATP, also nicknamed The Mother of Satan, can be made from household products such as drain cleaner, paint stripper and wood bleach, with a total price tag of roughly 134 $ and can be obtained in 1 to 2 hours.[7] Currently there are numerous sites that give away supposedly legitimate receipts on how to make TATP at home. Upon a short 2 minutes online research, I have actually been able to find a 5 minutes and 38 second YouTube video showing the process itself.[8] In short, it appears that the terrorist threat is as present as ever within the European Union, with terrorist cells appearing to plot and possibly even carry out attacks by using, as always in the post 9/11 era, simple receipts and instruments of violence in order to potentially cause massive destruction. The story of the terrorist plot disabled on the French Riviera may not at all be unique since many officials are underlining the fact that “threats of attacks have never been greater - not at the time of 9/11, nor after the war in Iraq -  never.”[9] The French Riviera bomb has been discovered within an apartment where a certain Ibrahim B was residing. He seems to have been a veteran with 18 months worth of fighting experience in Syria where he fought for Jabnat al Nursa, an al Qaeda affiliate.[10] “Jabhat al-Nusra is a Syria-based Sunni extremist group that adheres to the global jihadist ideology of al-Qaida. In late 2011, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) sent operatives to Syria for the purpose of establishing Jabhat al-Nusra to fight the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The group publicly announced its presence in Syria in a January 2012 video statement. In early April 2013, Jabhat al-Nusra pledged allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and confirmed the group has received funding and operatives from AQI. The group has received direct endorsement from online extremist forums aligned with al-Qaida and leading salafist/jihadist figures. Previously, Jabhat al-Nusra had attempted to play down its extremist ideology and conceal its links to AQI to avoid alienating the Syrian population.”[11]

Foreign fighters

The receipt for disaster seems to have a narrow explanation. “Westerners who have joined the ranks of radical groups fighting in Syria have been likened to time bombs—and in May one of them exploded in Brussels. Belgian police released chilling images from surveillance cameras of the lone gunman’s attack on Brussels’ Jewish Museum in Sablon, a neighborhood of genteel antique stores and chocolatiers. The gunman, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, is seen strolling to the museum before removing a semi-automatic rifle from a bag and blasting through the entrance. Four people died in the attack.”[12] In observing the latest trends, “The European Union’s police organization says the threat of terrorism across the 28-nation bloc is acute and diverse, despite a fall in the number of attacks last year. In an annual report on terrorism threats and trends published Wednesday, Europol says radicals who travel to fight alongside militants in conflicts like the Syrian civil war are posing an increased threat to all EU member states on their return.”[13]

It’s quite interesting to observe the fact that some analysts have failed to anticipate this growing terrorist threat. Analysts working at AON’s interactive risk maps have for example stated, in regard to France itself, that in 2014 “there also remains a moderate terrorism threat on French soil.”[14] Syrian trained radicals working to obtain and possibly use TATP can hardly be viewed as being a moderate threat by anyone’s standards. In an interview for Al monitor, Gilles de Kerchove, the E.U.’s counter terrorism coordinator, underlined the fact that “jihadists include more than 2,000 European citizens, more than 5,000 from North Africa, to my knowledge, and 500 people from the Balkans and thousands of people from the Arabian Gulf. Moreover, 20 to 30 al-Qaeda leaders were relocated from Pakistan to Syria.”[15] The situation is complicated by the fact that “the challenge of knowing which of their citizens have gone off to wage jihad is even harder for Europe’s smaller countries, as they have fewer intelligence resources and a narrower reach. The number of foreign Muslim fighters from Europe in Syria is historically unprecedented—far fewer took off for Afghanistan. While no one claims to have definitive numbers, France, which has Europe’s largest Muslim population of about five million, appears to lead the way, with anywhere from 200 to 700 young French Muslims believed to have fought in Syria. Britain follows closely behind, with 200 to 300, and German intelligence estimates that 200 young German Muslims have rotated through Syria’s front lines. Belgian authorities say that anywhere from 100 to 300 young Belgian Muslims have fought or are fighting in Syria, while Dutch intelligence’s high-end estimate is 100. But the overall and individual country numbers could be much higher.”[16] While being asked about the timeframe in which the threat would be active Kerchove replied “it is a long-term threat. We do not know when the fighting in Syria will end. It may last for months or years, and this is sad, of course. The fighting will attract new jihadists, who will return to their home countries at some point. Hundreds of them will return to Morocco, Tunisia, Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, Pakistan, Australia, Canada or the United States. It is a phenomenon that will last for a long time. I am not saying that they are all killers, but the vast majority will need psychosocial and social support. There might be small numbers of them leading radical movements in their own countries, because the veterans who fought with terrorist groups may inspire other people. It's a risk on a personal level. But some of them probably use the tools and knowledge that they acquire and tend to carry out small-scale attacks — as happened in Brussels — or are probably following orders of groups in Syria to attack the West, because this is the goal of al-Qaeda.”[17] In another interview, he was quoted stating that “Our intelligence services estimate that the risk is serious and largely down to the Europeans who leave to fight in Syria. I would say that the threat is more diversified and complex. On the eve of 9/11 we were confronted by Al Qaeda – an organization with a structure like a multi-national. And because of that it was perhaps a little simpler to identify who we had to pursue. Today we are seeing the proliferation of what you might call franchises. We have one or two such franchises in Syria and Iraq. We still have the heart of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and on the Arab peninsula, in the Sahel and in the north of Africa. The situation is much more complex.”[18]

Potential illegal migrating fighters

In other words, while being so focused on ongoing trends and constant surges in the level of threat coming from one direction, one must always still bear in mind the fact that the terrorist threat is highly diverse and has the tendency of being a result not only of the most recent developments but also of past trends to be observed. Although the terror threat coming from Syria is a considerable one, we must not forget that complicated situations to be observed, in Afghanistan and Pakistan for example, may have the potential of further adding fuel to the fire represented by emerging terrorist threats. In order to underline this very issue I have conducted a short study aimed at understanding what the most common security hazards are in terms of migratory routes and trends. I have done this by analyzing the data available on the European Migration Network’s official website which holds migration data for 2010-2012, gathered from all member states of the European Union, except Romania. Afterwards I have compared this data with latest trends observed by Frontex 2013 and 2014 reports on migration.

My short study shows, in Annex 1 of this paper, that most of the foreign citizens trying to obtain asylum in member states of the European Union have been Afghan (80.895 in total for the 2010-2012 period). Iraq occupies, within the given timeframe the 4th place, while Syria is only 5th even though, as shown in Annex 3, it has the most impressive surge in asylum applications of all nationalities, boosting its share of applications from 0.6% at E.U. level in 2010 to 12.7% at E.U. level in 2012. Overall, Annex 2 shows how asylum applications from countries which are known, or have been known, to have terrorist cells operating within, or to host structures collaborating with terrorist cells, mainly affiliated to al Qaeda, like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia and Iran,  account for approximately 47% of all asylum applications to the E.U. member states. There is no doubt about the fact that many of these asylum applications have not resulted in positive answers for the applicant. Even so, the tendency of nationals coming from terror infested areas of the globe to Europe is a considerable one. The risk of some terror threat leaking as a result is consequently always present. Afghans are also champions of spotted illegal border crossings in 2012 followed closely by Syrians (with a surge of 389% compared to 2011), Somalis and Pakistani citizens.[19] Most of the citizens of Syria trying to cross illegally to Europe in 2012 seem to have been detected at the Greek land border with Turkey, a commonly used route for many nationals of countries where the terrorist threat still exists.[20]

In 2014 a Frontex report, regarding the Eastern European borders risk analysis, underlined the fact that “migratory pressure on the EU’s external borders as well as EB-RAN countries’ borders is bound to continue as larger numbers of Syrian nationals, and those claiming to be of Syrian nationality, will seek different options beyond finding refuge in the countries immediately bordering Syria. In the CIS region, Armenia and the Russian Federation are the most likely destinations with possible secondary movements towards the EU. Therefore, continued inflows through multiple border sections should be expected.”[21] This means that besides having to cope with Syria’s foreign fighters returning home, Europe might have to also have to cope with actual fighters mingling among actual refugees in an attempt to cause chaos within the Union. Although Syrian illegal border crossing has spiked considerably in 2013, Frontex officials underline the fact that “it is likely that the problems encountered in all fields of transition will increase internal displacement, decrease voluntary returns and increase emigration from Afghanistan. In the past, a great majority of the Afghans leaving the country were able to find means of living in Iran or Pakistan. The current increasing reluctance of the governments of these two countries to receive Afghan migrants and refugees is, however, making this option less viable. This in turn is likely to increase the likelihood of attempts of secondary irregular movements out of the region, impacting among others the CIS region”[22] and possibly Europe, as in the case of Syrians. Although Afghan illegal border crossings into Europe declined within 2013, it is reasonable to think that a possibly worsening situation in Afghanistan might lead to future rise in illegal migration and thus to a potential rise in terrorist threats.[23] The situation in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan is still far from being ideal. A lethal cocktail of al Qaeda militants still being active across the Afghan-Pakistani border, as well as a shortage in development funds in Afghanistan because of corruption or other reasons, chronic problems in transferring security duties to the Afghan forces and severe drug related issues[24] might generate a situation in which the outflow of violence becomes severe via known migratory routes, especially considering the fact that Pakistani inflow of illegal border crossers has increased from about 1000 in 2012 to about 3000 in 2013 on the Western Balkan route alone.[25] The Central Mediterranean route has become most active in 2013 and with it a considerable risk of terrorists infusing themselves smack in the middle of the E.U.[26] All in all Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan illegal migrants account for 38.7% of all illegal crossings attempts on land, air or sea, in 2013.[27] The same three countries, in this order of importance, also account for 16.6% of all nationals found to stay illegally within the Union in 2013.[28]

Although the most current threat does seem to be that coming from Syrian fighters returning home to the E.U., European law enforcement, national or transnational, should continue to take into account the fact that the terrorist threat in many regions of the world, combined with possibilities of illegal migration, can still prove a challenge for the medium and long term security of the E.U. In this regard we must also keep a close watch on ongoing situations such as the one in Iraq since complicated security environments derived from more recent events may have an impact on migration trends and consequently on the E.U.’s security environment.

We’re in it for the long haul

It is quite true that since they are coming from such conflict infested areas, most asylum applicants and illegal trespassers may not look forward to hit Europe with the avenging force of terrorism, but rather allow themselves to be charmed by the secure prospects of a more stable and fruitful economy than that which they have witnessed back home. After all, in viewing all the numbers presented within the second part of the text, it is obvious that desperation and the fear of conflict and violence, may lead migrants of all types to Europe. From this perspective it seems that the risk of propagating terrorism, outside contemporary foreign fighters trends, is not at all that high. It might seem that as soon as the conflict subsides abroad and as soon as Syrian fighters are welcomed back home, integrated and counseled, perhaps kept under the watchful eye of the due authorities which guard us against terrorism, that the risk will pass. Although this seems to be a reasonable point of view there are a lot of reasons for which we must not allow ourselves to be conquered by such a perception. In order to understand why, let us first have a look at the profiles of the 7 July 2005 London bombing perpetrators.

Mohammad Sidique Khan was actually born in Leeds on the 20th of October 1974 and was the son of Pakistani immigrants who had managed to obtain British citizenship. He was actually working at a school. “His role at the school was that of learning mentor, working with children who were struggling with their work, as well as those with behavioral problems. He was highly regarded by both teachers and parents, showing a real talent for encouraging difficult children, many of whom viewed him as a role model.”[29] Khan seemed to be esteemed by everyone and had a job that, at first glance at least, seems to imply a great deal of moral and personal satisfaction, since he contributed to offering new perspectives of development to the eager young minds of tomorrow. However, after skipping work for some time he “travelled to Pakistan, accompanied by Tanweer. It is unclear if the pair received any particular training while here, but they are thought to have had some contact with members of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.”[30] Shehzad Tanweer was a Pakistani descendant, citizen of Britain as well. His remains were actually taken back to Pakistan to be buried. Despite spending some time in Pakistan along with Khan, “the official report into the 7 July bombings found Tanweer, along with Hussain and Khan would have had the opportunity to attend lectures, watch videos and read material by extremists, but that it was not known if any did to a significant extent. Their indoctrination appears to have taken place away from places with known links to extremism, it said. “[31] Germaine Lindsay is even more interesting as he was not born a Muslim. “After spending the first year of his life in Jamaica, where he was born, Lindsay moved to the UK with his mother in 1986. The family settled in Huddersfield in West Yorkshire - thought to be the place where Lindsay met fellow bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan […] The year 2000 represented a watershed in Lindsay's life - as both he and his mother converted to Islam. He took the name Jamal. At around the same time, he started to associate with troublemakers and was disciplined at school for handing out leaflets in support of al-Qaeda. In Islamic groups around Huddersfield and Dewsbury, he was admired for the speed with which he achieved fluency in Arabic and memorized long passages of the Koran, showing unusual maturity and seriousness.”[32] Hasib Hussain “like two of the other bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, was a second-generation British citizen whose parents were of Pakistani origin. […] A year before leaving school, Hussain went to Mecca to do the Hajj pilgrimage and went to Pakistan to visit relatives. On his return to the UK, he was noticeably more religiously observant - he grew a beard and began to wear traditional robes - something he later stopped doing as he began working on the bomb plans. Not long after his return from the pilgrimage, someone noticed he had written 'Al Qaeda - No Limits' on his religious education school book.”[33] What we appear to have here is a brutal receipt that describes terrorist uprising not ensuing within families shortly after obtaining the right to legally stay within a certain country, but that of a terrorist that has become so after being apparently integrated into society. Second generation migrants have in this case been the ones to cause destruction and terror, not first generation ones. It is true that terrorism is now much more wide spread than back when  Mohammad Khan’s parents came to Britain, but still, terrorism was present in Europe at that time as well. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine for example was just in the process of pioneering airplane high jacks at the time and had managed, just two years after the birth of Khan, to capture an Air France plane flying from Paris to Athens.[34] But Khan’s parents and other thousands of migrants from all over the Muslim world proved to be peaceful migrants and trustworthy citizens. So why did Khan and his fellow fighters decide to hit the very country that was sheltering them long after the settlement of their parents?

In his book regarding pluralism versus multiculturalism Giovanni Sartori offers an answer to such a question in a more generic manner. “It is understandable that, for the first generation migrant - in America but also in Europe - the arrival in a land flowing with milk and honey is regarded in general as a successful escape from the jaws of hunger or even from a living hell. However, the comparison between the past reality and the contemporary one is only done by the first generation, it constantly looses importance among sons and nephews. Or in other words, the euphoria of a new life within a new country fades rapidly. Consequently, by this, we will arrive to the city that no one can live in.”[35] In other words, a migrant will be more inclined to fully view his country as being home if he has just moved in. The reality of the every-day life and the lack of a term of comparison as in regard to what the former life looked like can cause a second generation migrant, of any origin, to lose the sense of identity associated with his new life and either try to integrate itself within a new one, like in the case of Germaine Lindsay, or reclaim past roots, like in the case of Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain . Since radical religious sentiments have been continuously rising in present day international warzones, claiming violence along with this past or new identity is a given. This trend is magnified considerably by other factors as well.

In understanding globalism, we tend to see ourselves as more connected than ever. We speak face to face with the aid of the Internet with loved ones that might be thousands of miles away, we share information faster than ever before. We seem to be part of an ever growing community of people which constantly share common means of communication, transport, living, and so on. But this does not mean that globalization has brought us closer. Quite the contrary. Robert D. Kaplan actually observes the fact that as we have moved closer together in fast expanding and constantly growing towns and mega cities, our sense of identity has been, to some extent, lost. The megalopolis does not bring more connectivity but rather more isolation, as strangers are a more common daily sight than people we may know. Thus “the profound impersonal quality of urban life among strangers is responsible for intense religious conceptions.”[36] According to him “migration towards the city has led the Muslims within the anonymity of existence and thus, in order to maintain family cohesion and stop youngsters to take the path of delinquency, religion had to be reinvented in tougher, more ideological forms […] This is why new communities appear which transcend traditional geography, by creating their own space models.”[37] First generation migrants will need to find a bearing on their surroundings even if the new life they have acquired, legally or illegally, is a better one than before. These bearings will probably often include realigning with religious and moral values to have been interiorized by the migrant within his past life and, as soon as one generation follows the other, the need for identity will lead to the obligation to fight contextually, as their communities face a perceived threat at a global level. This explains why foreign fighters have rallied with Syrian fighters but also why the London terrorists have decided to strike their adoptive surroundings. For as long as there will be religious led fighting, migrants trying to obtain belonging status to another group will find themselves charmed by a form of rebellion which will hurt their new areas of settlement. Even though cases of such potential terror fighters are not statistically representative, most migrants and their sons and nephews not being as dangerous as the 4 London bombers, they do not have to be. It is enough for a handful of them to decide to strike back in order to cause chaos.

We are in it for the long haul because the children of nowadays peaceful migrants are susceptible to become the potential terrorists of tomorrow, because of trends and historical developments, such as globalism, which cannot be stopped. Discriminating in any way against them would be a big mistake because this will further drive them away from non-violent identity statuses and into the arms of rebellious-insurgent ones. In order to avoid scenarios of destruction and civilian casualties within the E.U. we must find a balance between accepting them as different and integrating them within our communities better than ever, since the risk of terror attacks derived from modern-day conditions are ever growing and expanding in relation to both migration, identity status and religiously- connected conflict zone multiplication.              

Annex 1[38]


Annex 2[39]


Annex 3[40]



[1]Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, “Europe faces greatest terror threat ever from jihadists in Iraq and Syria”, CNN Europe, 19 June 2014, accessed 1July  2014 at


[3]“Triacetone Triperoxide”, Global, accessed 1 July 2014 at


[5]“Shoe Bomber: tale of another failed terrorist attack”, CNN, 26 December 2009, accessed 1 July  2014 at

[6]Global, op. cit.

[7]Graeme Smith, “Satan’s recipe: an hour or two and 135$”, The Globe, 1 August 2005, accessed 1 July  2014 at

[8]“Making TATP, acetone peroxide synthesis. Peroxide de acetona”, YouTube, 4 July 2013, accessed 1 July  2014 at

[9]Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister, op. cit.

[10] Ibid.

[11]Australian National Security, “Jabhat al-Nursa”, Australian Government, accessed 1 July, 2014 at

[12]Jamie Dettmer, “Foreign fighters in Syria and the threat of Domestic terrorism in Europe”, Epoch Times, 4 July 2014, accessed on 7 July 2014 at

[13]“EU police warn of increased terror risk”, The Times of Israel, 28 May 2014, accessed 1 July 2014 at

[14]France Synopsis, “Interactive Risk Maps”, AON Crisis Management, accessed 2 July 2014 at

[15]Wassim Ibrahim, “E.U. counter terror head warns about long term danger of jihadists”, Almonitor, 6 June 2014, accessed 2 July 2014 at

[16]Jamie Dettmer, op. cit.

[17]Wassim Ibrahim, op. cit.

[18]“Threat of terrorist attack in Europe still serious, warns EU security chief”, Euro News, 11 March 2014, accessed 2 July, 2014 at

[19]Frontex, “Annual Risk Analysis 2013”, Warsaw, April 2013, p. 20, accessed 9 July 2014 at


[21]Frontex, “Eastern European Borders Annual Risk Analysis 2014”, Warsaw, 2014, pp. 23; 24, accessed 9 July 2014 at

[22]Ibid., p. 25.

[23]Frontex, “Annual Risk Analysis 2014”, op. cit., p. 32.

[24]Major trends observed as part of a past study in which I participated as an intern at the Romanian Diplomatic Institute. See Romanian Diplomatic Institute, “Policy Study nr. 3/2014, Some comments on ongoing evolutions and future perspectives in Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak), November 2013-February 2014”, Bucharest 2014, accessed 2 July 2014 at

[25]Frontex, “Annual Risk Analysis 2014” Warsaw, May, 2014,p. 38, accessed 9 July 2014 at


[27]Ibid., p., 70.

[28]Ibid., p., 72.

[29]“Profile: Mohammas Sidique Khan”, BBC News, 30 April 2007, accessed 4 July 2014 at


[31]“Profile: Shehzad Tanweer”, BBC News, 6 July 2006, accessed 4 July 2014 at

[32]“Profile: Germaine Lindsay”, BBC News, 11 May 2006, accessed 4 July 2014 at

[33]“Profile: Hasib Hussain”, BBC News, 2 March  2011, accessed  4 July 2014 at

[34]“Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine”, BBC News, 26 January 2008, accessed 4 July 2014 at

[35] Giovanni Sartori, (Ce facem cu străinii? Pluralism Versus Multiculturalism) What to do with strangers? Pluralism versus Multiculturalism (Bucharest: Humanitas, 2007), p. 145.

[36] Robert D. Kaplan, (Răzbunarea geografiei, ce ne spune harta despre conflictele viitoare şi lupta împotriva destinului)The revenge of geography (Bucharest: Litera, 2014), p. 178.


[38] Values obtained after merging and calculating latest data available, for 2012, on European Migration Network’s official website, accessed 21 June  2014 at Please note the fact that there are several fields with the No data value inserted. This is because data was not available on the mentioned main source. No data has been equaled with 0 during the calculation phase.

[39] Values obtained after merging and calculating latest data available, for 2012, on European Migration Network’s official website, op. cit.

[40] Ibid.


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