One of the suspects in the case of the Belgian Syria fighters has died in a traffic accident. Abdelouafi Elouassaki (29) succumbed to his injuries after a crash with his motorcycle on monday evening in Brussels.
Abdelouafi was the elder brother of Syria fighters Houssien and Hakim Elouassaki. The latter came back to Belgium with serious injuries and is now in jail. The first, considered as a recruiter, still hasn’t returned.
It was Abdelouafi with whom Houssien has talked about plans for a terrorist attack in Brussels during an intercepted phone call. The contents of that call were confirmed by two separate security sources and reported ten days ago in the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’.
Abdelouafi didn’t show signs of religious extremism — he fancied parties with well known deejays and was pictured only last weekend with Djibril Cissé, the French-Ivorian soccer star annex deejay who converted from islam to christianity.
But because of the suspicion he has helped his brothers both practically and financially with their travel to Syria, Abdelouafi was jailed for a while after the large police operation against Syria fighters in Belgium last month. Both brothers belong to the radical movement ‘Shariah4Belgium’.
Abdelouafi for his part was a leading member of ‘Kamikaze Riders’, a Brussels motorcycle club known for illegal stunts on public roads. Once he boasted on Facebook about being caught in France driving at a speed of 235 km/h.
Coincidence or not, the founder of ‘Kamikaze Riders’ is also considered as a radical muslim with links to the case of the Syria fighters — as Abdelouafi’s brothers are. That founder is a youth friend of Abdelouafi living in the Brussels suburb of Anderlecht, Saïd S. (a.k.a. ‘Said Kamikaze’, ‘Said KR’ and ‘Said Delta Box III’).
Apparently, Saïd S. has been in jail already for burglary and weapon crimes, and still appears to be behind bars at the moment — according to messages of support friends have posted with his picture online. But the reason of that current arrest we don’t know.
Belgian security services seriously underestimate the number of radical muslims in the country, according to VUB researcher Bilal Benyaich in a new book published next Wednesday. In his opinion 10% of all the practicing sunni muslims can be considered as salafists. For the capital city of Brussels alone, that means 9,600 à 13,500 salafists — as I reported today in the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. While other radical currents of islam, the Muslim Brotherhood for example, aren’t included in that count.
In his new book ‘Islam en radicalisme bij Marokkanen in Brussel‘, political scientist Benyaich describes the radicalization within Brussels’ islamic community from it’s start in the eighties. Muslims of Moroccan descent, by far the largest group, before weren’t that religious at all. “They were certainly traditional, but not too much concerned with religion. And those who were, did follow the moderate Moroccan islam.” That was changed by the active proselytism coming from Saudi Arabia, where salafism/wahhabism is the state religion.
Belgian authorities lent a helping hand to the promotion of the radical Saudi islam in their country, giving the Saudi run ‘Grande mosquée de Bruxelles’ far-reaching powers in the appointment of imams and islam teachers. As a result, salafism — a form of islam that goes back to the 7th century and according to Benyaich can be characterized by it’s intolerance towards other beliefs — in Brussels defeated the moderate Moroccan islam.
Asked how many salafists there are nowadays in the city, Benyaich states: “Certainly more than the State Security Service’s head Alain Winants mentioned a few times in the press.” According to Winants, there are about 1,000 salafists in Belgium, of which about one hundred can be considered militant, and about ten jihadist. But the 10% rule of Benyaich means in Brussels alone they number several thousands.
Benyaich does not mention an exact figure, but earlier on in the book he estimated the number of practicing muslims in Brussels at 120,000 à 150,000. Given the fact that 80 à 90% of them must be sunni, salafists are in between of 9,600 and 13,500. Several hundreds of them are militant salafists, Benyaich writes. “They aren’t necessarily terrorists, but all are extremists who can prevent people from different backgrounds living together harmoniously. An estimate of jihadists in Brussels the book does not contain. Important though, is that other radical currents within islam also present in Brussels — such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Tablighi movement — are not included yet in the figure above.
Wednesday’s brutal killing of a British soldier in London is proving once again the dangers of the European shariah movement — as I wrote today in Belgium’s largest daily newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws‘. That movement was longtime considered as an annoying but basically harmless phenomenon within the islamist scene. As it was operating fully in the spotlights, nobody thought it ever would be the continent’s main recruiting ground for violent jihad. But now it is.
Michael ‘Mujahid’ Adebolajo (28), one of the two perpetrators from Nigerian descent who nearly decapitated and savagely killed Drummer Lee Rigby (25) on a Woolwich street, was a disciple of Anjem Choudary. No doubt — Choudary did confirm that the guy was one of his followers in the movement Al Muhajiroun, and the BBC unearthed video footage showing both men in one single frame during an islamist manifestation in April, 2007.
On top of that, I discovered that Abu Baraa — ‘nom the guerre’ of Mizanur Rahman, another British hate preacher — told about his own relation with Adebolajo on his Facebook account. “I remember Mujahid was protesting outside the court when I went to prison back in 2006”, he wrote shortly after the Woolwich attack. “He was arrested that day defending Muslims too. He always had the concerns of Muslims at heart.”
Both Choudary and Rahman are proponents of the European shariah movement with direct links to the Belgian chapter. Choudary was the mentor of Shariah4Belgium’s founder Fouad Belkacem and it is a public secret that Choudary pushed Belkacem to launch the organization in the city of Antwerp and thus expand the British born movement to the European continent. He did visit Shariah4Belgium in person for lectures, as did Rahman.
Rahman was four years imprisoned in Britain for inciting to murder — but freely traveled to Antwerp in June 2012 in order to initiate Shariah4Belgium’s members in “Military Tactics”, as his lecture published on YouTube was titled (the video has been removed, but I have it in my archives — see a screenshot here). Nowadays, one of Rahman’s Facebook friends is Fakkul Aseer — campaigner in Dutch to “Free Abu Imran”, a reference to Belkacem’s second arrest in short time — and another is the Antwerp neighborhood Borgerhout’s resident who changed his name as I was writing from ‘Ansaar Antwerpen’ to ‘Soufian Soufian’, and is clearly a member of the same scene.
There is not the slightest proof yet that the Woolwich murderer Adebolajo had significant contacts abroad. But he clearly did belong to an international orientated part of the British islamist scene. Last example: Abdulrahman Al-Mujahir, a Facebook friend of Abu Baraa, Fakkul Aseer and Soufian Soufian. He too knows Adebolajo rather well, as he wrote: “He is a very polite, courteous and caring brother from my experience with him.”
The Woolwich attack is a new example of the small scale terrorism that Al Qaeda is promoting nowadays, with perpetrators not necessarily belonging to a well organized network. But they are not as lonely as the often used expression ‘lone wolves’ seems to implicate. They do find encouragement and practical help on the internet — in the notorious magazine ‘Inspire’ for example, that already explicitly called for attacks against soldiers in western countries.
‘Lone wolves’ often find their inspiration in real life too. In groups that cannot be pinpointed as terrorist organizations, though they are not far from that and do facilitate the way towards the real jihad. Such as Shariah4Belgium, with it’s knife wielding follower attacking two police officers in Brussels last year — a case which easily could have been as serious as the Woolwich one. It surely is remarkable how often groups related to and sharing the same dna as Shariah4Belgium, appear to be the circles were lone wolves do come from.
That was the case with Mohamed Merah, the French muslim who killed seven people last year — clearly targeting soldiers too. He was at least loosely associated with Forsane Alizza, the French equivalent with personal links towards Shariah4Belgium. It was also the case with Arid Uka, the guy who killed two American soldiers in Frankfurt, and is said to be inspired by ‘Millatu Ibrahim‘, the German sister organization. And now the same can be told about the London attack.
For European security services, this new reality is a nightmare. Apart from the difficulties to detect a terrorist plot that is not that organized — as often is highlighted when speaking about the characteristics of ‘lone wolf attacks’ — with this kind of recruiting ground it is also terribly hard to distinguish were bluff and provocations end and real threats start.
The biggest fear surrounding the case of western Syria fighters is coming true: a war-hardened extremist that wants to commit violence on western soil. A recently intercepted phone call between Syria fighter Houssien Elouassaki and one of his brothers in their Belgian home town of Vilvoorde has made clear that the first one is plotting a terrorist attack against Brussels’ main court house. Apparently, the needed weapons and explosives are gathered via contacts in the world of serious crime.
The revelation that was confirmed by two independent security sources to Belgium’s largest newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ and published last weekend, is a serious one. Within a few weeks there could be a major terrorist attack in the country, probably against the landmark Brussels court house.
That is what police has learned from the phone call that Houssien Elouassaki made from Syria to one of his brothers. Weapons and explosives are sought abroad via contacts within Brussels’ serious crime community. But nobody wanted to tell whether they are already obtained.
Also an open question is whether Houssien Elouassaki wants to return from Syria to commit the attack himself. Another possibility is recruiting terrorists within the large group of followers he got as a leader of the now disbanded extremist group ‘Shariah4Belgium’. Fact is that his Facebook account recently was removed, as was the case with that of some of his friends. As if their contacts suddenly had to be hidden.
Houssien Elouassaki was one the most notorious members of ‘Shariah4Belgium’. He has already spend some time in jail after violent street protests in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek last year, and was convicted to compulsory community service for that. In February of this year, he went to Syria and according to the latest information he is still fighting there.
His younger brother Hakim also fought in Syria, but he was gravely wounded and returned. Last month, Hakim was arrested when Belgian police conducted a large operation against the network of Syria fighters that has grown out of ‘Shariah4Belgium’, as was the case for their oldest brother Abdelouafi. He is suspected of aiding the Syria fighters, both practically and financially. Abdelouafi was released on May 8th, and it seems it was with him that Houssien has talked about his terrorist plot.
The Elouassaki family, originally from the Moroccan town of Nador, is well known for violence. At the age of 16, Hakim already wounded three cops so badly they all had to be hospitalized, while Abdelouafi threatened to attack a female journalist of ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ when she asked about the extremist background of his brothers about a month ago.
Shortly after publication in ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’, the Belgian federal prosecution office told the Belga press agency that the story isn’t correct. But it didn’t want to elaborate — Entirely false? Wrong in a particular detail? — “in order to protect the investigation”. The journalists stick to their story, explaining that their second source was genuinely appalled that a newspaper had heard about it — since it was highlighted in the dossiers as strictly confidential.That could be the reason why authorities want to stop the media attention for the case as soon as possible. But the acknowledgment that there is an investigation, tells at least there is something to investigate…