The swimming pool clue: how Islamic State’s worst bloodshed in Europe could have been avoided

A car theft in the Netherlands, a seemingly insignificant note that was found in Molenbeek, and a shop for swimming pool equipment in the North of France. These are the three ingredients of the best clue there ever has been to thwart the Paris and Brussels attacks — a new investigation by the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws reveals.

Bayroshock, a product against algae used in swimming pools

A lot has been written already about the clues that security services missed in the run-up to the Paris and Brussels attacks — clues that could have prevented the bloodshed by Islamic State. Could have. In hindsight, it is easy to list the mistakes. Yes, it was known to the police that Salah Abdeslam had started to radicalize. But at that time, it was the case with tens, if not hundreds of Belgian Muslims like him. And yes, only 22 days before the Paris attacks, a search took place in the house of Khalid El Bakraoui because he tried to obtain kalashnikov chargers. But he was known as a gangster and in the end no weapons were found.

Bayroshock without chlorine

About one clue, however, nothing has been published yet — and that clue is likely the very best chance authorities missed to detect the terrorist cell. It started with the theft of a car in a small village between the Dutch rivers Maas and Waal. It was a silver colored Audi S4 built in 2003 that disappeared in the night from August 10 to 11, 2015 at a parking lot in Rijswijk — part of the municipality of Woudrichem and not to be confused with the much bigger town of Rijswijk near The Hague. “Klerelijers”, a friend of the owner reacted at a notice on Facebook, using an equivalent for “assholes” that is endemic for the Netherlands — while another one hurled: “Your country will be proud of you”, easily assuming that the thief was of foreign origin.

The rightful owner got his car back after it was found in the Brussels municipality of Molenbeek, and during a subsequent house search a handwritten note was found. It seemed of little importance: “Bayroshock without chlorine”, it mentioned, followed by the addresses of two shops for swimming pool equipment in the North of France. Bayroshock is a product against algae that consists of hydrogen peroxide at a concentration of 34%. Apart from being recommended for the treatment of pools, that same substance is also a main ingredient of TATP. Triacetone triperoxide is the explosive often called ‘the Mother of Satan’ and known as a terrorist’s favorite since the failed attempt by ‘shoe bomber‘ Richard Reid to blow up a plane between Paris and Miami in December 2001.

Ahmed Dahmani, a naturalized Belgian citizen born in Al Hoceima, Morocco

Ahmed Dahmani, a naturalized Belgian citizen born in Al Hoceima, Morocco

The man in whose house the note was found, is Ahmed Dahmani — a naturalized Belgian citizen of Moroccan descent. He was born in 1989 in Al Hoceima, a town between the Rif mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. In 2015, he was living in a fourteen-storied building in the Molenbeek ‘Zone du Canal’ — not the kind of address where a swimming pool owner can be expected. He was mainly known to the judiciary as a multi-recidivist criminal, who was caught for theft already at the age of twelve. The latest of the 51 cases in which his name appeared, was about a massive traffic in hard drugs between Belgium, France and Luxembourg. But there were signs of radicalization too, much stronger signs in fact than those present at that time with his childhood friend Salah Abdeslam.

Blessing the expansion of Shariah4Belgium

With Abdeslam, he underwent an identity check on board of a ferry between Patras in Greece and Bari in Italy only a week before the car theft in the Netherlands. Now, we know that they conducted one of many travels along the refugee route that was used by the Islamic State to smuggle terrorists to the West, but then it understandingly did not raise a particular suspicion yet. Ten days after the search that uncovered the note, however, Dahmani was named in a report about radicalism. Written by a motorized patrol of the Brussels police that had apprehended a suspected candidate for the Syrian jihad. Friends of the suspect had tried rather brutally to prevent that arrest, and Dahmani was one of them.

At Facebook, Dahmani did not hide his beliefs. There, he complained in 2014 already that the word extremism was “invented by enemies of the Islam”, while posting a quote that the Islamic State often uses to recruit criminals like him for the jihad — the one in which the second caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab declared: “Sometimes the people with the worst past create the best future”. Dahmani also posted Islamic State videos, and three days before a terrorist attack was foiled in Verviers — in January 2015 — he threatened: “One day everything will be paid.” He did all of that under the cover of a pseudonym, but his contacts with a suspect in the Verviers case could have lead to his identification back then already.

Mohamed Dahmani, Ahmed’s older brother, known as a patron of Shariah4Belgium since 2012

In Dahmani’s family tree, radicalism became obvious almost a decade ago. His older brother Mohamed — who basically raised him instead of their always absent father and their chronically ill mother — was named in a terrorist case as early as 2009. He was investigated for his contacts with the suspects of a bomb attack in Cairo that killed a French teenager — the same suspects behind the earliest plot against the Bataclan in Paris. Mohamed Dahmani was never charged, but by the time his brother Ahmed entered the scene, at least three of Mohamed’s friends had left for Syria. One of them departed from Brussels in the company of the later terrorist commander Abdelhamid Abaaoud. And in 2012 already, Mohamed himself was known as a patron of Shariah4Belgium, asked explicitly for his blessings when leader Fouad Belkacem wanted to expand his recruitment from Antwerp to Brussels.

“Talking like youngsters, but not impolite”

Altogether, there were plenty reasons to raise the alarm when Ahmed Dahmani showed his interest in an ingredient for bombs. But that did not happen, and at the 8th of October 2015 — a month after the note of Dahmani was found — a BMW left Molenbeek towards the North of France. At 4h04 that afternoon, the car was caught by a speed camera at the A2 highway in Neuville-sur-Escaut. The license plate would later learn that the vehice was rented by Salah Abdeslam, and the GPS revealed two stops: at 5h02 in the rue Maurice Thorez in Saint-Sauveur, and at 5h44 in the rue Ferdinand de Lesseps in Beauvais — the two shops mentioned on Dahmani’s note.

Speed camera image of the car rented by Salah Abdeslam on its way to Beauvais

Both are branches of Irri Jardin, a chain “for your swimming pool, irrigation and spa”. The shop in Saint-Sauveur had ran out of Bayroshock, it seems. But the Beauvais manager recounted to the police how he sold his entire stock that day. “I had three jerrycans of five liters each, and they asked for more. When I told that half a jerrycan is sufficient for one pool, they claimed that they did the maintenance of several pools in the Paris area. Then they asked for a similar product, which I couldn’t offer. ‘Let’s buy these three then, we have to leave’, one of them said. They paid with cash and didn’t look tense, only a bit in a hurry.”

Receipt for 15 liters Bayroshock purchased in Beauvais on October 8, 2015

The manager described the two men as North-Africans between 25 and 30 years old. Both were of average build, had short hair and a short shaved beard. One of them was wearing a jacket over his sweater, the other one a bodywarmer. They spoke French — also when they talked to each other — without a particular accent. “They expressed themselves like youngsters do, but they weren’t impolite”, the manager said. Confronted with the pictures of known suspects, he thought to recognize Salah Abdeslam. But he wasn’t sure. Altogether, the two men spent no more than seven minutes in his shop, after which they made a fuel stop at the Total station of Hardivillers and returned to Molenbeek.

Forbidden in Belgium now, but not in France

French investigators are fairly confident that their purchase has served to fabricate the bombs that were used for the attacks in Paris on the night of 13 November 2015. There were eight explosive belts, of which two have failed to detonate. Each of them contained between one and two kilograms of TATP, and according to explosives experts of the French police, the terrorists could make ten kilograms with fifteen liters Bayroshock. In Belgium, the EU directive banning the sale of hydrogen peroxide in concentrations above 12% to private customers was passed into law in July 2016. But in France, a softened version entered into force last year, just requiring registration for private purchases.

The Belgian passport of Ahmed Dahmani that was seized during his arrest in Turkey

Ahmed Dahmani is in Turkish custody now. He took a flight in Amsterdam on the morning after the Paris attacks, with a ticket that was bought a few hours prior to the bloodbath — indicating that he knew what was going to happen. When he was arrested near Antalya on the 16th of November 2015, he was still in the possession of his Belgian documents, including membership cards of the Christian trade union CSC and the Grand Casino in Brussels. In the meantime, however, he had also bought a false Syrian passport with the name Mazen Mohamad Ali, and the WhatsApp conversations on his phone revealed that he had planned to reach the territory of Islamic State. In December 2016, a Turkish court convicted him to ten years and nine months in jail for membership of a terrorist organization. After he has served that sentence, Belgian and French extradition requests are awaiting him.


No omertà for jihad – Terror suspects often denounced by family members

Families of terror suspects often suffer from all kind of prejudice. It is thought that they are covering for their relatives, that they have contributed to the radicalization themselves, or that they quietly are proud. Sometimes that is true — but it seems rather rare, according to research published in the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’. We examined how people landed on the Belgian list of foreign fighters and recruiters — and found that on a total number of 450 cases where authorities acted on external tip-offs, family members who raised the alarm were the most important factor.

Screenshot from the official list of Belgian foreign fighters and recruiters we’ve obtained. Details are made illegible for privacy and security reasons

OF 450 TERROR SUSPECTS LISTED IN BELGIUM AFTER AN EXTERNAL TIP-OFF:

• 26% WERE DENOUNCED BY RELATIVES

At least 117 names were put on the official Belgian list of suspected foreign fighters and recruiters after relatives spoke out. Sometimes they confirmed suspicions that authorities already had, but often they alerted the police spontaneously out of fear for the departure of their relative to the Syrian-Iraqi conflict zone. We found 60 cases indeed of which security services wouldn’t have known (or would have known much later, at least) without cooperation from within the suspect’s family.

Marion van San, a criminologist who has talked with many families for her research into the motives of foreign fighters and the attitude of relatives, is not surprised at these figures. “Until now, I have never visited a family that was happy with the departure of a relative”, she says. “We should remain cautious when drawing conclusions, since relatives who are radicalized themselves are not willing to talk — and if a quarter of those families alerted the authorities, there are still three quarters who did not. But I also have to say that families often only realize what was going on after a relative has departed. It is almost unbelievable how they didn’t see the signs.

It has to be feared, according to van San, that the willingness to report a relative for radicalization has diminished over the years. “Because it didn’t help the families who did”, she says. “The police rarely acted adequate. They either told that whoever wanted to leave, could not be stopped — or they talked immediately about making an arrest.” In van San’s experience, radicalization often happens within families with rather too little than too much religion — raising their children as Muslims without really making an issue of it. “I wish that I had taught my son much more about Islam”, a father told van San. “So that he would have known enough to fend off these people with their wrong ideas.”

They do exist of course, families where children are raised as extremists — and where a departure for the jihad is a reason for joy. But in our research, we could only find a dozen examples of that. The list contains a Belgian citizen of Chechen descent, A.T. (21), about whom is stated that he radicalized “under the influence of his father”, while his mother’s family “seemed willing to facilitate his travel to Syria”. The parents of T.T. (21) were divided, since “he was encouraged by his father to get a military training as a preparation for jihad”, while his mother “took away his passport” to be sure he couldn’t leave. There is also an occasion in which a father was put on the list as a suspected recruiter while his son — an important member of Shariah4Belgium — had died in Syria.

• 25% WERE FLAGGED BY FOREIGN AUTHORITIES

For 112 suspects, the crucial information came from abroad. Most often from authorities in Turkey, where many would-be foreign fighters were stopped and sent back to Belgium. Morocco is another country sometimes more aware about the radicalization of Belgian residents than Belgian authorities themselves. While the latter were still struggling with vague indications about the Brussels-based Italian citizen Silvio Terranova (25), Rabat suspected him already of a terrorist plot against its royal family. It was on Moroccan soil that Terranova finally could be arrested and convicted to three years in jail. About the Belgian citizen of Serbian descent V.S. (30) it were Iraqi security services who raised the alarm. He was arrested in Iraq in 2014, while even his family seemed unaware of his conversion to Islam, and turned out to be a youth friend of a Belgian foreign fighter who had died in the Syrian conflict already.

• 13% GAVE AWAY TOO MUCH ON SOCIAL MEDIA

60 individuals are on the list after exposing themselves on social media. M.N. (20) from Brussels for instance, who tweeted three years ago that he would leave for Syria once he was eightteen years old. He named his account ‘Killer2chiites’, a clear indication of his will to commit atrocities there. T.D. (28), a convert to Islam from the Campine region, exposed his plans to travel to Syria on his Facebook account. There, he publicly asked to get in touch with someone speaking Turkish in order to communicate with a facilitator in Turkey. A.K. (54) from Brussels wasn’t known to Belgian security services until he posted a picture showing himself in military fatigues and carrying a kalashnikov rifle on his Facebook account — a picture that clearly was taken in Syria.

• 5% WERE EXPOSED BY PUBLIC SOURCES

21 names were put on the list after being exposed by public sources, such as mainstream media. “Residing in Syria according to Het Laatste Nieuws”, it is mentioned about Johan Castillo Boens (38), the son of a professor at Leuven University. Apparently, security services didn’t know about his departure when we revealed his whereabouts in October 2014. Boens had been captured by Turkish authorities while trying to sneak into Syria, but subsequently became a part of the infamous prisoner swap in which tens of Islamic State adepts were traded for Turkish diplomats taken hostage by the terrorist organization. Sometimes, public sources are the work of jihadists themselves. In the case of Arben Imishti (38) from Schoten near Antwerp, it was his appearance as an executioner in an Islamic State beheading video that confirmed his presence in Syria.

• 4% SPILLED THE BEANS THEMSELVES

18 people have to blame themselves for being on the list because they talked too much. Often, it happened in a fury unrelated to their extremist beliefs. Samir Chafik (45) from Charleroi shouted that he would leave for Syria and return to kill the “Belgian disbelievers” during a brawl in his Thai boxing club. He was arrested the following month, appeared to be linked with a man from Charleroi who had committed a suicide attack in Iraq, and he was sentenced to five years in jail. M.C. (65) from Huy went asking the police whether her criminal record would prevent her from obtaining a visa for Syria — and M.G. (31), an imprisoned Tunisian citizen, revealed his plan to wage jihad in “a rancorous letter” to the Belgian king Philippe.

• 2% WERE DETECTED AT SCHOOLS

Seven times at least it was from within a school that the alarm was raised. In the case of I.H. (20) from Brussels, that happened 3,5 years ago after he had glorified Islamic State in a student class paper. Z.A. (23) from the eastern province of Limburg was caught during lessons while searching the internet for weapons — and S.A. (27) was denounced by fellow university students suspecting that he had left for Syria because of his absence and previous signs of radicalization on his Facebook page.

• 1% REPORTED BY EMPLOYERS OR CO-WORKERS

Three people on the list were detected at their workplace. In the case of R.B. (30) from Brussels, it was virtually impossible to overlook his radicalism. He distributed Islamic State propaganda material among his co-workers, openly told that he wanted to leave or commit an attack at home, and reportedly uttered death threats against superiors who tried to stop his proselytism. Two of the individuals were working for companies at Brussels Airport — and luggage handler A.H. (41) even asked his colleagues for money in order to support the “struggle of Islamic State”.

***

We based our research on a list of 811 suspected foreign terrorist fighters, people willing to leave for jihad, and recruiters — compiled by the Belgian federal government’s Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis (CUTA, also known as OCAD in Dutch and OCAM in French). Since the allegations often haven’t been proven in court, we don’t mention full identities unless an individual was publicly named and/or convicted already for a terrorist offense. It is crucial to add that a single allegation like the ones we mention, never was enough to be put on the list. That happened only after further investigations resulted in additional evidence. Finally, it has to be stressed that the percentages do not refer to the total number of suspects, but only to the 450 cases for which the list explicitly mentions an external tip-off as first indication or decisive confirmation of the suspected radicalism.


Following the Facebook trail of Abdelhamid Abaaoud’s scouts

They look like students taking a gap year. Traveling through Europe to get a sense of its culture, to party, and to catch a holiday romance. But they are in prison now as suspected scouts of the Islamic State. The Belgian daily newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws delved deep into their Facebook accounts, and unearthed an alarming strategy.

Mourad Taleb posing in Rybnik, Poland, in August 2015

Mourad Taleb left his home in Casablanca on September 14, 2014. He had eagerly looked forward to his journey. Eight days earlier, he had posted a picture on his Facebook page which showed him looking through a half-open door. “Soon”, he wrote below it. On that photograph, he still wore the neatly ironed shirt of his job in the classy business hotel Le Palace d’Anfa. Once arrived in Istanbul, he had changed it for a groovy jeans and a hipster shoulder bag. Yes, he is a Muslim from Morocco. But no, he wasn’t on his way to Syria.

During the following months, Taleb did travel through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland. His journey can be reconstructed step by step thanks to the check-ins on his Facebook account, where he is alternately posing with historical monuments and in fancy discotheques. He shows how he went swimming, bowling, pooling, and attended a match of the soccer team Rapid Wien. In Poland, he picked up a girlfriend with whom he even posed while having a bath — and with whom he even has married, it seems.

Mourad Taleb posing with his Polish girlfriend in August 2015

She wasn’t an Islamic girl, and there are very few signs of religion on his Facebook page too. Very rarely, he posted something in Arabic like the “we all belong to Allah and to Him we shall return” that is recited when a relative has passed away. But anyway, on the 5th of September 2016, he was arrested in the Polish town of Rybnik for belonging to the terrorist group Islamic State. During his time in Turkey, he reportedly had met Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the notorious coordinator of Islamic State attacks from Molenbeek in Belgium.

According to the complaint, that was cited by the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita, they met in Edirne near the border with Greece. On his Facebook page, Taleb was pictured in Edirne on the 2nd of October 2014 waving a flag of ‘Raja Club Athletic’, his favorite Moroccan soccer team. Apart from Abaaoud, he is said to have met two other Belgians there: Khalid Ben Larbi and Soufiane Amghar. Both were killed a few months later in the Belgian town of Verviers, during a police operation that foiled a bloody attack.

Mourad Taleb posing in Edirne, Turkey, in October 2014

The journey of Taleb reportedly was nothing less than a reconnaissance operation. Commissioned by Abaaoud, who was already planning several Islamic State attacks in Europe by then. For that, he used several scouts. Most of them were traveling through Europe under the disguise of Syrian refugees, reporting back to Abaaoud about their means of transportation, places to stay, and most important: how they passed  borders and other controls.

Abaaoud had a special Facebook account to keep in touch with them. According to Le Monde, Bilal Chatra — a scout arrested in the German town of Aachen in April 2016 — had 429 messenger conversations with that account in one month time. While Abaaoud was killed shortly after the Paris Attacks of November 2015, his account is still online. It is called Protocole Walodiwalo (with ‘walodiwalo’ meaning ‘nothing for nothing’ in Moroccan Arabic) and doesn’t show anything of a religious nature. The profile picture is that of a black African man laughingly exposing his ruined teeth, with a protracted “hahaha” written in Arabic over it. Still on the friends list of the account is Mourad Taleb, while we found out that Taleb has also been in touch with Chatra using social media.

Talking about friends: apparently Taleb was acquainted with Redouane Sebbar in 2011 already. A rather unsuspicious time, but Sebbar — who also hailed from Casablanca — became a scout of Abaaoud too. He was arrested in a refugee center near the German city of Hamburg in December 2016 and in October of last year turned over to France. French investigators think Sebbar was implicated in the botched attack on a Thalys high speed train in August 2015. He traveled back and forth with that same Thalys between Brussels and Paris five days earlier, supposedly on the orders of Abaaoud.

Redouane Sebbar posing in Thessaloniki, Greece, in February 2015

The Facebook account of Redouane Sebbar is revealing that he left for Istanbul on December 16, 2014. He crossed the border with Greece on January 4, 2015 — three days after Taleb — and traveled through Serbia, Hungary and Austria to end up in Germany in May 2015. He wasn’t posing that much, but he also looked as a tourist. He too made friends everywhere along his way — not only Muslims — and his check-ins include fitness centers, shopping malls, ice cream parlors and a well-known gay bar in the Greek city Thessaloniki.

Redouane Sebbar posing in Belgrade, Serbia, in March 2015

The cover that the scouts were using, is so convincing that it’s obvious to think: they can’t have been aware of what they were contributing to. Maybe they were fortune hunters, paid by Abaaoud without knowing what he was planning. They must have sensed that it wasn’t completely right, but the worst they could imagine may be that Abaaoud was trafficking drugs or something like that. If they knew the full extent of his intentions, how on earth they were able to keep up appearances while lying in their Western lover’s arms?

But if Polish investigators are right, at least Taleb knew very well that he was working for the bloodlust of the Caliphate. On his mobile phone, instructions for making explosive devices and pictures of potential targets were found —as the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita reported. On top of that, Taleb called Muslims who were grieving for the victims of the Paris attacks “bastards” and “dogs” in intercepted text messages.

It is highly disturbing that the scouts of Abaaoud have been able to conceal their true intentions so well, since Facebook is loaded with similar looking profiles. Browsing through the friends list of Sebbar for instance, we found P.L. — a young man from Casablanca who was in Greece in March 2015. One month later, he traveled through Hungary, in May 2016 he stayed in a German refugee center, and just one month ago he settled in Paris. He’s not only on the friends list of Sebbar, but also on that of a Moroccan living in München and linked to Abaaoud’s account.

There’s no evidence whatsoever that he too is implicated in terrorist activities. Most likely he’s a genuine fortune hunter, who may have left Morocco as a friend of Sebbar, but without being radicalized himself halfway. But because the scouts of Abaaoud were that efficient in building a cover, all similar migrants  are becoming a bit suspicious again. Shortly before he died, Abaaoud declared that 90 terrorists had entered Europe already. Was he only bragging? Possibly. But there’s still a lot of investigations to do, that’s for sure.


Drones, draft dodgers, and much more about Islamic State

Again, we have obtained some interrogation reports from a Belgian foreign terrorist fighter apprehended in the Syrian-Iraqi conflict zone. His name is Bilal El Marchohi and he was caught by Kurdish forces near ar-Raqqah (Syria) on the 29th of August 2017. Two articles based on what he told the US military were published already in the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’.[1] What follows is a factual account of the most relevant details.

Belgian IS operative Bilal El Marchohi after his capture in Syria in August 2017

Background information

Bilal El Marchohi (22) is a Belgian citizen of Moroccan descent, raised in the Antwerp neighborhood of Borgerhout. The earliest trace of militant activity we found, was his participation in a protest against the Israeli army in November 2012 — as can be seen in a picture report that the Belgian daily Het Nieuwsblad published at the time.[2]

He left for Syria with his wife — Ilham Borjani from Gouda in the Netherlands — in October 2013, apparently recruited by Shariah4Belgium. First they joined the then al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat an-Nusra, but very soon they switched sides to the Islamic State. El Marchohi’s IS entry file[3] mentions that he entered in November 2013, recommended by Abu Hamza al-Belgiki. That is likely Nabil Kasmi, one of the very first European fighters in Syria, who was also part of Shariah4Belgium.[4]

El Marchohi used the kunya ‘Abu Fudayl al-Belgiki’ and was an avid social media user. In September 2014, he posted a picture on his Facebook account, showing his foot on the logo of a Free Syrian Army faction with the words: “You are overrun, trampled like a cockroach.” In November 2014, he threatened Belgium and the Netherlands with a sort of poem on his Twitter account. “Oh Belgium, sweet and tender’, it went. “The moment of pleasure. The blade nicely blunt. Oops, head off. Fear in your heart. Keep your hands off from our brothers. Oh Netherlands, know that your people will end up in our hands. Blood will flow to compensate. Necks will be cut.”

El Marchohi was one of the Belgians for whom the Paris ‘Gare du Nord’ was completely cleared in May 2017. His picture had been circulating jointly with that of Belgian IS operative Tarik Jadaoun and an Afghan IS suspect, after which a counter clerck thought having recognized them on a Paris bound train.[5] After Jadaoun was caught in Mosul (Iraq) in July 2017, he stated that he doesn’t know El Marchohi, according to US interrogation reports we earlier obtained.[6]

***

Kaoutar Bioui, one of three European women trained to return for an attack

European women trained for an attack in the West

El Marchohi told his interrogators that IS intended to deploy three European women for terrorist attacks in the West. They received a training in the handling of explosives, and were prepared for a journey back to Europe over Turkish soil. Without indicating when exactly all of this happened, he identified the women as Umm Hanifa al-Belgiki, Umm Ibrahim al-Hollandi (aka Hafida) and Umm Nusaybah al-Belgiki (aka Rahmah). To his latest knowledge, the first two resided in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor, while the latter lived in ar-Raqqah — the Syrian capital of IS.

Umm Hanifa al-Belgiki almost certainly is Kaoutar Bioui (30), the spouse of Belgian IS operative Hicham Chaïb. Bioui uses that same kunya and she perfectly fits the description in which El Marchohi told that the three women “are not popular because they openly carry weapons and speak of Jihad”. After she had left for Syria in April 2013, Bioui was highly active at Facebook and in June 2014 she posted a picture of a disassembled assault rifle, stating in a mix of French and Dutch: “My baby has had a good cleaning.”

Umm Nusaybah al-Belgiki may be the widow of Abdelmalek Boutalliss, a Belgian foreign terrorist fighter killed in November 2015 committing a suicide attack in Iraq. He was known as Abu Nusaybah, but wasn’t married when he left in June 2014. At the time of Umm Nusaybah’s terrorist training, she was married with a certain Abu Harun, according to El Marchohi, while he later also named the Belgian IS operative Moustafa Ahjit (aka Abu Younes al-Belgiki) as husband of the same Umm Nusaybah.

***

Hicham Chaïb, the Hisbah officer from Antwerp who was too cruel for IS

A Belgian Hisbah officer too cruel for IS

El Marchohi did confirm a long-heard rumor about Hicham Chaïb: that he was a Hisbah officer in ar-Raqqah — although not the highest one. “But he was fired because he was too extreme and abusive”, the interrogation states — after which Chaïb started working as a logistician for the Purchasing Department. Al Marchohi admitted that he himself has also worked for the Islamic police. He served as the Hisbah emir for Mansurah, a town between ar-Raqqah and at-Tabqah, and he was subordinated to Abu Jafar al-Jazrawi, the Hisbah emir for at-Tabqah.

***

A Chechen IS emir sold weapons in Belgium

Highly interesting are El Marchohi’s revelations about a certain Abu Khalid as-Shishani. “He smuggled weapons into Belgium from Chechnya in order to sell them and send the money to extremists located in Eastern Europe”, he stated during the interrogations. He also mentioned that this Abu Khalid, who apparently was missing his right leg when El Marchohi knew him, later became the ‘Emir of Borders’ within IS.

Although not sure, Abu Khalid may be Aslan Sigauri, an ethnic Chechen from the Pankisi region in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, who is also known as Salman Variev. He was designated as one of the 54 most dangerous Caucasian terrorists by Russia in 2011 already, but still managed to settle in France the following year.[7] Belgian authorities, who refer to him as Aslan Sigaouri, have indications that he operated in their country indeed — while the judgment of a trial against Chechen jihadist recruiters in Belgium mentions that Sigauri used the safehouse that the Ostend based ringleader Chalil Man had established in Turkey.[8] Pleading against this identification is Al Marchohi’s statement that Abu Khalid was still alive last year, while Russian authorities declared Sigauri dead in May 2016.[9] But that was the second time he was said to be killed — leaving room for reasonable doubt.

***

A Belgian bought weapons for IS from the Free Syrian Army

Regarding the purchase of arms, El Marchohi also told about a fellow Belgian who “bought weapons with personal money from the FSA and sold those weapons to IS”. It isn’t clear however which faction within the Free Syrian Army was involved, nor whether they knew the destination of what they sold. But while it looks like Abu Hafs — the Belgian subsequently identifed by El Marchohi as Mohamed Mezroui from Antwerp — started dealing weapons on his own initiative, he later did it on demand. “IS gave him money in order to continue buying weapons”, the interrogations state. And while no further information is given about the suppliers, it is mentioned that Abu Hafs started to focus on “large weapons, to include tanks”.

***

A Dutchman trying to develop a heat-seeking missile

“IS has been attempting to build rockets that are capable of shooting down aircraft”, Al Marchohi revealed. Those rockets had to use “a heat sensor mechanism” and members of the project claimed a certain point that they were close to accomplishing their task. Al Marchohi knew two people in the team who have worked on it for approximately one year: a certain Abu Layth al-Jazrawi and a man that he alternatively named as Abu Bashir al-Belgiki and Muhammad Talby. The latter doesn’t match any of the Belgian fighters however, and it is more than likely that he meant the Dutchman Mohamed Talbi, who left for Syria in 2013 from Zoetermeer — a location from where other Dutch foreign fighters have landed in the very same Islamic State circles as El Marchohi. The detainee did not provide any detail about the location where the rocket research was done, but in another context he mentioned “the Research and Development Department in Mayadin” (Syria) as the place where rockets and mortars were made.

***

Ali El Morabit from Antwerp, emir of the drone department in Deir ez-Zor

Profound paranoia within the drone squad of IS

El Marchohi seems to have a fairly detailed knowledge of the drone activity by IS, thanks to at least four fellow Belgians involved in that. They all were part of the ar-Raqqah based ‘Observation Unit’, an entity that counted around fifteen members and was led by Abu Ramadan ad-Dagestani. “Most members of the Observation Unit are foreign fighters from Europe”, Al Marchohi told. “The unit has approximately thirty drones that are currently in operation. In addition to the quad-copters used for reconnaissance and attacks, IS has at least one large fixed-wing drone used to parachute supplies into ar-Raqqah from Mayadin.”

That this information must be fairly up to date, can be deduced from the trajectories of Observation Unit members El Marchohi knows. One of them is Azeddine Kbir Bounekoub, a Shariah4Belgium recruit who was best friends with the well-known Jejoen Bontinck before both left for Syria. Bounekoub was stationed as a fighter in Mosul (Iraq), but sent back to Deir ez-Zor (Syria) shortly before the siege of Mosul began. He went on to ar-Raqqah and became “the leader of a small UAS unit approximately three and a half months prior to detainee’s date of capture”, it is stated in one of the interrogation reports.

Another Belgian who made it into a leading position in the IS drone department is Ali El Morabit. Also a Shariah4Belgium recruit from the city of Antwerp, El Marchohi named him as the “emir of the drone department in Deir ez-Zor”. Lower level drone operators he knew, are Taieb Oubahid and Ismaïl Iddoub, both from the Belgian town of Vilvoorde. El Marchohi also described the security measures drone operators had to observe. “They will launch a drone and then walk to another location before performing operations”, he told. “And they will land the drone and wait for some time before going to retrieve it. They are paranoid about airstrikes while doing their job.”

***

A French draft dodger in the ‘Second Chance Battalion’

Asked about other very specific entities within IS, El Marchohi explained that the ‘Saad Ibn Abi Waqqas’ unit consisted of highly skilled snipers. “The training is approximately six months long and very difficult”. Entering is far from easy and he doesn’t know a lot of members. “Abu Yahya al-Hollandi is one, while Abu Ibrahim al-Hollandi attempted to become a member, but failed the training course.” He has heard, but isn’t sure, that the commander is an Australian. Originally, it was located in at-Tabqah. “But in January 2017 approximately it was moved to ar-Raqqah, and two months later it was broken up to divide the members between the various fighting units there.”

El Marchohi also told about the ‘Second Chance Battalion’. Officially, it is called the ‘Khaybar Battalion’, and it is meant for IS members who have run away from the front. “Abu Muhammad al-Adnani created it in order to maintain retention among IS members in prison. Many times, they will be given the option to join the ‘Khaybar Battalion’ to get out of prison early.” El Marchohi said he knows only one former member: Abu Maryam al-Faransi — possibly meaning Kévin Chassin, a convert from Toulouse who has died in May 2015 committing a suicide attack in Iraq. “Abu Maryam became a member after being discovered sitting at home and collecting a paycheck without belonging to any unit.”

***

Nabil Kasmi from Antwerp, supposed member of external operations unit ‘Amin al-Askari’

New names involved in plotting terrorism abroad

Last but not least, two Islamic State entities supposedly involved in terrorist operations abroad were mentioned during the interrogations — with names not previously disclosed, as far as we know. The first one is identified as ‘Fawj al-Qaqa’, of which El Marchohi knew two members. The first of them was a Belgian foreign fighter called Abu Musab. That matches the kunya of Sammy Djedou, a guy from Brussels of partly Ivorian descent who was killed by an American drone in December 2016. At that time, the Pentagon stated that he had been involved in plotting the November 2015 Paris attacks.[10]

The second ‘Fawj al-Qaqa’ member El Marchohi named — and supposed to be still alive — is a certain Abu Mahmud al-Kurdi. According to his knowledge, ‘Fawj al-Qaqa’ is “a completely independent unit, which has no ties to other elements of IS”. He stressed that its sole mission is “to conduct attacks outside Iraq and Syria”, and mentioned that each “front and major city” has a ‘Fawj al-Qaqa’ representative, who acts as a recruiter.

A second entity possibly involved in terrorism abroad, is the ‘Amin al-Askari’ unit. El Marchohi indicated that he knew one member, a certain Abu Basir al-Gazawi, but could not say for sure whether the unit indeed was responsible for “external operations”. He did elaborate that this Abu Basir al-Gazawi had been the leader of his own acquaintance Nabil Kasmi — mentioned above — while they were based in Aleppo in 2014. But when asked explicitly whether Kasmi also belongs to the ‘Amin al-Askari’ unit, El Marchohi answered that he doesn’t know.

The suspicion that Belgium’s very first terrorist fighter in the current Syrian-Iraqi conflict may have entered the IS external operations department, is likely reinforced by El Marchohi’s knowledge about Kasmi’s latest job. He started making bombs for IS after he had joined the terrorist group in early 2013, but asked for something else “because Nabil thought the chemicals were keeping him from impregnating his wife”. So Kasmi became an intelligence officer in ar-Raqqah in 2015 already, a position fairly close to the plotters of foreign attacks in the Islamic State organigram.

 

[1] See https://www.hln.be/de-krant/-is-stuurt-belgische-vrouwen-terug-voor-terreur~acd282ce and https://www.hln.be/de-krant/belgen-hielden-drones-van-is-in-de-lucht~a6ff27a6

[2] El Marchohi can be recognized on the left at this picture: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nieuwsblad/8196721451/

[3] https://www.instagram.com/p/BFUgJUYvG_9/

[4] http://europeandemocracy.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Belgian_fighters-DRAFT8-webversion.pdf

[5] https://news.sky.com/story/manhunt-in-paris-following-gare-du-nord-evacuation-10870288

[6] https://emmejihad.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/confessions-of-belgian-is-terrorist-tarik-jadaoun-in-iraq/

[7] https://jamestown.org/program/hundreds-of-north-caucasians-have-joined-the-ranks-of-syrias-rebels/

[8] https://www.bellingcat.com/news/mena/2017/08/29/grozny-raqqah-stopover-brussels-eastern-contingent-belgian-foreign-terrorist-fighters/

[9] https://tr.sputniknews.com/ortadogu/201505221015608920/

[10] http://edition.cnn.com/2016/12/13/politics/isis-leaders-killed-airstrikes/index.html


Confessions of Belgian IS terrorist Tarik Jadaoun in Iraq

The Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ has gained exclusive access to the interrogation reports of Tarik Jadaoun. Better known as ‘Abu Hamza al-Belgiki’, he is a Belgian member of Islamic State detained in Iraq. Here’s a resume of  what we have in published in Dutch — with some additional notes about people Jadaoun confessed that he has met.

Tarik Jadaoun in Iraqi custody

Belgium has very good reasons to hope that Tarik Jadaoun (29) never will reappear in the country. According to his own confessions in Iraq, the Islamic State operative was extensively involved in terrorist plotting against the West. He even volunteered to return for an attack himself.

“Journalist’s talk.” That was Jadaoun’s reaction to reports about his involvement in terrorist plots when he was interviewed last month by Belgian state television. “It’s not my fault that there were attacks in Belgium and France”, he said. “I didn’t give the orders for that.” He tried to picture himself as a follower, whose only mistake was his choice for IS — full of regret and very much willing to cooperate with Belgian security services, if they help him to escape an almost certain death sentence in Iraq.

Interrogated by Americans however, Jadaoun told a different story. He admitted his involvement in several terrorist plots — two of which have lead to deaths on European soil — and he even confessed that he had volunteered for an attack in Belgium or France himself. According to the interrogation reports, Jadaoun was apprehended on the 12th of July 2017 at 6 AM in al-Farooq, a neighborhood in the west of Mosul liberated from IS a fortnight earlier. He was arrested without weapons, equipment or documents – suggesting  that he had gone into hiding. But he hadn’t suffered hardship yet, since his weight of 135 pounds is healthy for a man of 68 inches tall.

Jadaoun declared that he had worked as a medic in a makeshift hospital in the Hayy al-Maydan neighborhood from early June until two days before his arrest. On the 10th of July, that hospital was hit by a coalition air strike, causing the death of his pregnant wife and their one year old daughter. He had two spouses at that time – the one who died was a Belgian citizen of Algerian descent. The other is an Iraqi who had fled Mosul with her parents early last year, but was still in touch with Jadaoun via social media about ten days before his arrest.

If he is telling the truth, Jadaoun has worked as a medic for most of his time with IS. That was also the case in Kobanê, he said, the Kurdish town in Syria captured by IS in September 2014. At that time however, Jadaoun posted a picture on Facebook showing the mutilated corpse of a YPG fighter, commenting that it was his very first victim. “I could approach him while he kept the watch and shot the dog from within ten meters”, he boasted — not exactly what a medic typically does. What he told his interrogators about the hospital in Mosul, is confirmed by other sources however. He mentioned that it was lead by an Indian doctor known as Abu Hamza al-Hindi — while shortly afterwards an audio message by another Indian IS member eulogized an Abu Hamza al-Hindi who reportedly had died while the hospital the managed was bombed.

Jadaoun is clever. When he told his father, back in May 2014, about his plans to leave for Syria, the father threatened to inform the police. To make sure it had not happened, Jadaoun went a few days to Morocco first. Only after he experienced no scrutiny, he booked a flight to Bucharest, Romania, and from there to Istanbul. Another security measure, he explained during interrogations. “If I had booked a direct flight, I would have been arrested at the airport already.”

The Belgian has met at least one of the people suspected of directing the Brussels and Paris attacks: Abdelilah Himich, a former French soldier thought to be the ‘Abu Suleyman’ calling with the terrorists during the Bataclan siege. Jadaoun knew Himich by his nickname ‘Nescafé’ — “because he was hyperactive and consumed large quantities of caffeine” — but he did not confirm Himich’s involvement in the attacks. “Nescafé came to Mosul as the military emir of the Tariq ibn Zayid battalion mid-to-late 2016”, he only recalled. “He participated in the defense of Fallujah and after IS was defeated there, he was exhausted from fighting. He did not return to Mosul, but went to Syria instead without approval of IS” – which would mean that one of the most wanted European IS operatives became a deserter.

Jadaoun badly wanted to become a terrorist himself. In 2015, he heard that Abdelhamid Abaaoud – the Belgian field commander of the Paris attacks – was searching perpetrators for attacks on European soil. While Jadaoun insists that he has never met Abaaoud, he did submit his candidacy to Abu Abd al-Hamid al-Shishani, whom he identified as the emir of the Abu Mutaz al-Qurashi division, the entity in control of all IS foreign fighters. But his offer was refused. Apparently, Jadaoun was meant to become a coordinator instead. “He is groomed to be the next Abaaoud”, a former IS member told us in 2016. Jadaoun did not confirm that during his interrogations, but he told extensively about his use of social media to recruit attackers in the West.

He ran at least fifty different Facebook accounts and was active too on Telegram, where he was cautious enough to set the self-destruction tool for what he wrote at 30 seconds. At a certain point, he sent a detailed manual for the production of explosives to an IS supporter in Europe who told him that he had recruited a suicide bomber already. “I don’t know how that plot ended”, Jadaoun said. He also admitted that he was in touch with the two perpetrators of the July 2016 Normandy church attack, the murderer of a French police man (likely the June 2016 Magnanville attack) and with two of the women behind the September 2016 Notre Dame Cathedral bombing attempt. All these plots were previously attributed to the French ‘remote-controller’ Rachid Kassim, who also operated from Mosul — but Jadaoun didn’t mention Kassim and failed to confirm that these remote-controlled attacks have been a full-fledged part of the ‘external operations division’ within IS for which he closely worked together with Kassim.

In his interview with Belgian state television, Jadaoun proposed to cooperate with security services in order to avoid new attacks, because IS “still has people hidden in Europe”. The Belgian prime minister Charles Michel refused the offer immediately. “We don’t negotiate with terrorists”, he said. The interrogation reports suggest that Jadaoun has little to offer. Explicitly asked in November of last year, he denied any knowledge about future attacks or people still busy with that. But it is possible of course that Jadaoun wanted to keep his most valuable knowledge as a leverage.

It is suspicious at least how he remembered tiny details about individuals who are dead or defected already,  while he couldn’t recall elementary facts about other, often more important people. His description of the Egyptian emir who gave him a job in the Education department for instance, makes it fairly easy to identify the man as a well-known veteran of the jihad – the German citizen Reda Seyam. But Jadaoun pretended to know almost nothing about him. He flatly denied that he ever has heard about Ahmed Dahmani or Ahmad Alkhald, two suspects for the Paris attacks who are still alive — and the same goes for Abu Fudayl al-Maghribi, likely his compatriot Bilal El Marchohi, with whom he appeared on the same wanted notice that lead to the evacation of a Paris train station in May 2017.


From Grozny to Raqqah with stopover Brussels – The ‘Eastern Contingent’ of Belgian foreign terrorist fighters

The latest update of our database on Belgian foreign terrorist fighters added a significant number of Russian sounding names. People rooted in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are still a small minority — but worth a closer look.

By Pieter Van Ostaeyen & Guy Van Vlierden

Belgian authorities have started to disclose identities of foreign terrorist fighters who weren’t prosecuted yet, forced to do so in order to freeze their assets. Using a law from 2006, they can only impose “specific measures against certain people and entities in the fight against the financing of terrorism” when the names are published in the official journal ‘Belgisch Staatsblad/Moniteur belge’.

That has happened now for 251 individuals[1], and a well-informed security source confirmed to us that all of them are “related to the current foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon”. These disclosures have enabled us to fill a lot of blanks — or more precise: anonymous records in our own database. That consists of 621 individuals now, with a somewhat broadened definition as the one we earlier used — see below.

About 30 people seem to have roots in the former Soviet Union or Eastern Europe. 22 are certainly of Russian descent – including 12 from Chechnya, 4 from Kalmykia (including two children), 2 from Ingushetia, 1 from Dagestan and 1 from Kabardino-Balkaria. Furthermore, 2 have roots in Kosovo, 1 in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and 1 in Albania.

It may be small, this ‘Eastern contingent’, but it is likely underestimated too. It is extremely difficult to investigate, as was proven at the trial of some people belonging to what seems the most important ‘Eastern’ network in Belgium. In December 2016, the main defendant Chalil Man, pictured here in court, was sentenced to ten years in jail for being its leader. But at the trial in appeal in June 2017 even his identity wasn’t certain anymore.

“The defendant was known under the aliases Darra, Mohmad, Abdul Azis and Umar”, the written verdict states. “And his real identity is very doubtful, since an authentic Russian passport was found with the picture of the defendant and the name of Magomed Saidov, born on the 29th of April 1964. But possibly this name is also false.”[2] That uncertainty however didn’t prevent the court to raise Chalil Man’s sentence to twelve years.

At the trial, Man was described as an example of the people “who are the liveblood of the harrowing conflicts taking place now in Syria and Iraq”.[3] He was identified as a veteran of the jihad, often bragging about his experiences in Pakistan. He went to Syria himself in the early days of the war, but soon came back to act as a recruiter and an organizer. In order to facilitate the travel of fighers, he even bought an apartment in the Turkish town of Körfez.[4]

Man recruited for the Sunni Islamist militia Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa’l-Ansar (JMA), it was told, and he followed its leader Tarkhan Batirashvili – a citizen from Georgia with an ethnic Chechen background, better known as Abu Omar as-Shishani – when the latter joined Islamic State. “He acted as a leader of JMA abroad”, court documents state about Man, and his apartment has provided shelter to notorious people such as Aslan Sigauri, once named by Russia as one of the 52 most dangerous rebels in the Northern Caucasus.[5]

Chalil Man was also linked to Tourchaev Khassanbek, a man arrested in Greece on the 27th of January 2014 while he tried to cross the Turkish border with some military equipment. Khassanbek is listed as a foreign terrorist fighter in France[6] and apparently lived in Lingolsheim near the city of Strasbourg. During his many travels back and forth between Belgium and Turkey, Chalil Man even visited Malaysia once for a stay of only five days.

Undated image of Tourchaev Khassanbek

The network led by Chalil Man has all the characteristics that seem typical for the recruitment efforts in the Russian and Eastern European Muslim communities in Belgium. All of it is happening independently from other local organizations, where people with a Chechen background for instance are extremely rare. We know only one in the two major networks: Magomed Saralapov, a Shariah4Belgium recruit who was present at the foundation of Islamic State.[7] The so-called Zerkani network apparently has none.

Magomed Saralapov in Syria in 2014

Most of the Eastern contingent’s networks seem to operate in a very covert manner. They do not expose themselves with propaganda, as Shariah4Belgium did — and even its individual members rarely show themselves off on social media, as many Zerkani followers did. And if they do so, they are still protected by a language barrier. An example of that is the ‘Islamsko Romani Dawetsko Organizacija Belgija’ (IRDO-Belgija), an Islamist group within the Romani gypsy community.

That organization was put in the spotlights in 2013 already, when we exposed it as a platform for jihadist preachers from the Balkans.[8] A lot of its activity was openly announced and shown in YouTube videos. But because all communication happened in languages such as Albanian and Bosnian, it was difficult to assess – and only in December 2016 a series of arrests made clear that at least one member – the ethnic Kosovar Mahid Dibrani – had been fighting in Syria.[9]

Screenshot from an IRDO-Belgija video from 2012

Another characteristic of the Eastern networks is that they are very much spread throughout Europe. More than the major jihadist networks in Belgium, it seems — where the top of course has international connections, but people at the lower levels significantly less. The transnational orientation of the Eastern network is likely caused by the limited size of its respective communities, resulting in a more intense cross-border interaction not only in jihadist circles.

Jihadists of Chechen origin in Belgium quite often are  connected with like-minded Chechens in Austria, for instance. A recent example is Adam Abdulkhadzhiev, a Chechen native who had lived in Belgium since he was eleven years old. He married a woman of Chechen descent twelve years his senior in the Austrian town of Baden and planned to leave with her for Syria, it appeared when both were arrested by the Austrian police in the fall of 2016.[10]

An older case in which Chechens from Belgium and Austria were involved, was that of an Antwerp based group arrested in 2010. As an exception, it was made up of Moroccans and Chechens, recruiting for jihad and also plotting an attack “bigger than that in Madrid” – a reference to the March 2004 bombing in which 191 people died – intercepted phone calls learned.[11] One of the defendants was Aslambek Idrisov, a Chechen living in the Austrian town of Neunkirchen.

At the first trial in 2012, Idrisov was acquitted. But in 2014 he was sentenced on appeal to seven years in jail.[12] In 2008, Idrisov had been arrested in Sweden already while traveling in a car that was loaded with weapons. He was in the company of fellow Chechen Akhmad Chatayev.[13] That same Akhmad Chatayev was identified in 2015 as the commander of the Yarmouk Battalion, a Chechen faction of Islamic State,[14] and in 2016 he was named as mastermind of the Istanbul airport attack in which 44 people died.[15]

From a lot of ‘Easterners’ whose names are now on the official list of Belgian foreign terrorist fighters, very little is publicly known. That is the case with 70 year old Danga Youssoupger, a Chechen interviewed by a Belgian newspaper in 2007 about his work as a horticulturalist in a social project in Antwerp[16] — and with Bisera Gerasimovska, an 18 year old girl from Macedonia who told on social media a few years ago that her life in Belgium was “super cool”. Up till now, we have no clue about what has brought these people into jihad.

Bisera Gerasimovska on social media in 2011

An intriguing case is that of Ramzan Makhauri and Islam Borchashvili, who were reported missing back in 2010 while traveling together on a train from Belarus to Moscow[17], and now have their assets frozen in Belgium. The same goes for Aslan Chamutaev, who came back in Belgium in May 2013 after being arrested in Greece and threatened with extradition to Russia[18] – a move he could reportedly avoid thanks to interference by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.[19]

There are also ‘Easterners’ in our database of Belgian foreign fighters who haven’t appeared yet on official lists. An example is Denis Pershin, a native of the Kabardino-Balkar Republic within the Russian Federation, arrested there in December 2015. He reportedly converted to Islam while living in Belgium, studied at a religious school in Egypt and went to Syria for the jihad.[20] In August 2016, the man with dual Belgian and Russian nationality was convicted to four years in jail.[21] But again, we haven’t found any detail about how he would have been radicalized while living in Belgium.

Denis Pershin on social media in 2010

 

***

 

Belgian Foreign Terrorist Fighters Database – definition and new highlights

We do list now every person:

  • of Belgian origin, foreign origin but living in Belgium for a significant time, or clearly recruited by an entity operating from Belgium and departed to the conflict via Belgian soil;
  • having tried to reach the war zone of the Syrian-Iraqi conflict that started in March 2011 or having planned to do so according to official documents and/or court proceedings;
  • with a clear intention to join a local fighting party there, be it as a fighter themselves or in any other role – including family members who may have been forced into the conflict zone.

While it has to be stressed that this definition isn’t limited to Sunni Islamists, they are the main focus of our research and actually 612 (or 98.5% of all our 621 records) can be considered as such. 289 at least have joined Islamic State, while the last known affiliation of 50 individuals is Jabhat an-Nusra — the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate — or one of it’s subsequent forms.

While the share of women was 15% in our previous update, that has risen now to 18%. We do know about 38 children – not counting those who may have been born after their parents have left, and sometimes came back with them. In terms of recruitment, Shariah4Belgium remains the most important actor with 101 individuals in whose departure it was implicated. The so-called Zerkani network can be held responsible for 85 departures.

Since many of our recent additions weren’t detailed enough to assess their status of departure, we have introduced a category ‘unknown’ for that – and after a review of all our records, our estimate of people who have reached the battle zone was lowered to 478. Of those who certainly didn’t succeed, 45 were stopped abroad and 22 in Belgium.

Of those who reached the conflict zone, at least 102 have returned and 129 were reportedly killed. 119 of those deaths have happened in the conflict zone, while 10 individuals were killed after their return to Europe as part of a terrorist plot. A complete list of the deceased is added below – but it has to be stressed more than ever that most deaths cannot be verified, and examples are known of fighters who faked their death to lure security services.

 

***

 

List of Belgian foreign fighters reportedly killed in the current Syrian-Iraqi conflict

 

  1. Julian André Harinton, aka Abu Abdullah al-Belgiki, convert from Antwerp who most likely joined the Free Syrian Army and was killed in April 2012
  2. Hamdi Mahmoud Saad, a Syrian living in Brussels who joined the Free Syrian Army and was killed in Latakia governorate in August 2012
  3. Rustam Gelayev, son of Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev who lived a while in Belgium, killed in Aleppo governorate in August 2012
  4. Soufiane Chioua, Brussels recruit of Denis & Zerkani networks who left in October 2012, joined Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen and was killed at an unkown date
  5. Bilal Zinati, recruit of the Denis network who left in December 2012, joined Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen and was killed at an unknown date
  6. Younes Laabadi, fighter from Houthalen-Helchteren who was related by marriage to IS terrorist Mohamed Abrini. Left in 2012 and considered dead by Belgian authorities
  7. Sean Pidgeon, a convert from Brussels recruited by the Denis & Zerkani networks, killed in Aleppo governorate in March 2013
  8. Anonymous fighterfrom Mechelen, killed before April 2013 according to an imam who assisted his family
  9. Anonymous fighterfrom Vilvoorde whose death was announced in April 2013. He was barely eightteen years old and got killed by a sniper two weeks after his arrival in Syria
  10. Ahmed Stevenberg, the alias of an unidentified fighter of Jabhat an-Nusra, killed by the Syrian army in the Latakia governorate in April 2013
  11. Raphaël Gendron, aka Abdurauf Abu Marwa, a Frenchman raised in Brussels, killed in the ranks of Suqur as-Sham in April 2013
  12. Tarik Taketloune, aka Abu Khattab, figher from Vilvoorde who was recruited by Shariah4Belgium and joined Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen, killed in May 2013
  13. Saïd Amrani, Denis recruit from the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg who was killed in May 2013
  14. Ismail Amgroud, a fighter from Maaseik who joined Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen and was killed in June 2013
  15. Noureddine Abouallal, aka Abu Mujahid, a leader of Shariah4Belgium who joined Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen and was killed in July 2013
  16. Younis Asad Rahman, the alias of a fighter also known as Asad ar-Rahman al-Belgiki, killed in August 2013 in Latakia governorate
  17. Abu Salma al-Belgiki, anonymous fighter killed in August 2013 in Deir ez-Zor governorate
  18. Youness Kharbache, Denis recruit from Brussels and brother of Hamza Kharbache. Joined Islamic State and was killed in August 2013 in Damascus governorate
  19. Ahmed Daoudi, aka Abu Mochsin, Shariah4Belgium recruit who joined Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen, but reportedly soon switched to a hospital job. Was active as a medical worker during the Al Ghouta chemical attack in August 2013, went missing shortly afterwards and was reported dead
  20. Abdel Rahman Ayachi, aka Abu Hajjar, son of the Brussels-Syrian cheikh Bassam Ayachi, killed in the ranks of Suqur as-Sham in September 2013
  21. Abdelgabar Hamdaoui, a Shariah4Belgium recruit fighting for Jabhat an-Nusra, killed in September 2013
  22. Ahmed Dihaj, aka Abu Ateeq, a leading figure within Shariah4Belgium, who left early in 2013 to join Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen and was killed in the ranks of the Islamic State in September 2013
  23. Houssien Elouassaki, aka Abu Fallujah, Shariah4Belgium recruit who became the emir of the foreign chapter within Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen. Switched side to Jabhat an-Nusra and was killed in September 2013
  24. Mohamed Bali, aka Abu Hudayfa, Shariah4Belgium recruit coming from Antwerp, killed in the ranks of the Islamic State in September 2013
  25. Abdelmonhim R’ha, Sunni Islamist fighter from Antwerp, reportedly a relative of former Belgian Guantánamo detainee Moussa Zemmouri. Killed in September 2013
  26. Ibrahim El Harchi, aka Abu Ali, a recruit of Jean-Louis Denis fighting for Islamic State, killed in mid December 2013 during clashes with Ahrar as-Sham in Idlib governorate
  27. Sabri Refla, aka Abu Tourab, Denis recruit from Vilvoorde, who subsequently joined Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen and the Islamic State. Died in Iraq in December 2013. Indications but no proof that he committed suicide attack
  28. Abu al-Baraa al-Belgiki, an anonymous fighter of Algerian descent, who served as emir for Islamic State in the Syrian town of Saraqib and was killed there in January 2014
  29. Ouafae Sarrar, aka Umm Djarrah, wife of Shariah4Belgium recruit and Islamic State fighter Ilyass Boughalab. Reportedly killed around January 2014
  30. Abdelmonaïm Lachiri, aka Abu Sara, recruit of the Zerkani network and a son of its ‘pasionaria’ Fatima Aberkan, killed in the ranks of Jabhat an-Nusra in February 2014
  31. Feisal Yamoun, aka Abu Faris, a leader of Shariah4Belgium who left with wife and three young kids, killed in February 2014
  32. Hamza Kharbache, Denis recruit from Brussels and brother of Younes Kharbache, who joined the Islamic State and was killed in February 2014 in Aleppo governorate
  33. Brahim Labrak, Denis recruit from Brussels with French roots, who joined Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen, switched to Islamic State and was killed in February 2014
  34. Nabil Ajraoui, Denis recruit who left as a minor in November 2013 and was killed in February 2014
  35. Ilyass Boughalab, aka Abu Djarrah, Shariah4Belgium recruit killed in March 2014 and mentioned afterwards as a member of Islamic State’s elite brigade Katibat al-Battar
  36. Yoni Mayne, aka Abu Dujana al-Mali, Zerkani recruit from Brussels with Belgian father and Malinese mother, killed near ar-Raqqah in March 2014 and mentioned afterwards as member of Islamic State’s elite brigade Katibat al-Battar
  37. Saïd El Morabit, aka Abu Muthanna, Shariah4Belgium recruit from Antwerp, killed between ar-Raqqah and Hasakah in March 2014 and mentioned afterwards as member of Islamic State’s elite brigade Katibat al-Battar
  38. Abdelilah Jab-Allah, aka Abu Omar, Brussels recruit of Denis & Zerkani networks. Joined Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen and was killed in March 2014
  39. Karim Mahrach, aka Abu Azzam, recruit of Jean-Louis Denis from Brussels, killed in the ranks of the Islamic State in April 2014
  40. Mohamed Said Haddad, Zerkani recruit from Brussels and brother of the Verviers terrorist plot member Abdelmounaim Haddad. Killed in April 2014
  41. Khalid Bali, aka Abu Hamza, brother of Mohamed Bali, killed in the ranks of the Islamic State in May 2014 at the age of seventeen
  42. Khalid Hachti Bernan, aka Abu Mehdi/Abu Qa’qa, member of Islamic State’s elite brigade Katibat al-Battar, originally from Virton, who was killed in May 2014
  43. Nabil Azahaf, aka Abu Sayyaf, Shariah4Belgium recruit from Vilvoorde who became a member of Islamic State’s elite brigade Katibat al-Battar and was killed in May 2014
  44. Abu Handalah, anonymous Jabhat an-Nusra fighter who appeared in the video ‘Turning Point’ and was killed in May 2014 near Aleppo
  45. Yassine El Karouni, aka Abu Osama, Shariah4Belgium recruit coming from the Netherlands, but living in Antwerp. Joined Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen and was killed in May 2014
  46. Kiéran Luce, aka Abu al-Qada al-Faransi, recruit of Denis network coming from the French-Caribbean island of Martinique. Joined Islamic State and committed suicide attack in northern Iraq in May 2014
  47. Iliass Azaouaj, an imam from Brussels who left to get Belgian fighters back home, then joined Islamic State himself, but was executed on suspicion of being a spy around July 2014
  48. AnonymousBelgian fighter killed in July 2014 in al-Keshkeyyi, Deir ez-Zor governorate
  49. Adem Ben Amor, aka Abu Obayda at-Tunisi, Tunisian who lived as refugee in Antwerp, joined the Islamic State in July 2014 and committed a suicide attack in Kobanê at an unknown date
  50. Souleymane Abrini, Zerkani recruit and brother of Paris & Brussels attacks accomplice Mohamed Abrini. Joined the Islamic State and was killed in August 2014
  51. Abu Jihad al-Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State fighter, killed in battle for airport in Deir ez-Zor governorate on August 31, 2014
  52. Zakaria El Bouzaidi, best friend of Sean Pidgeon, who was recruited together with him by the Denis & Zerkani networks. Killed in September 2014
  53. Abu Mohsen at-Tunisi, anonymous Belgian fighter of Tunisian descent, fighting for Islamic State and killed in September 2014 during a battle near the airport of Deir ez-Zor
  54. Abu Adnan al-Belgiki, anonymous fighter of Algerian descent who switched from Jabhat an-Nusra to Islamic State at the end of 2013 and was killed in September 2014
  55. Abu Mohamed al-Belgiki, anonymous fighter killed in October 2014 in Deir ez-Zor governorate
  56. Abu Umar al-Belgiki, anonymous fighter of Saudi descent, killed in the ranks of Jabhat an-Nusra in October 2014 in Latakia governorate
  57. Abu Umar al-Belgiki, anonymous fighter mentioned on a list of deaths of Islamic State’s elite brigade Katibat al-Battar, published in October 20147. It was later confirmed that this kunya doesn’t refer to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who faked his own death around the same time
  58. Abu Sulayman al-Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State fighter of Maghribian descent, killed in Kobanê in November 2014
  59. Bilal Barrani, aka Abu Said, Zerkani recruit of French origin who was living in Brussels, joined Islamic State and was killed in December 2014
  60. Fouâd Bouhali Zriouil, aka Abu Ilyass. Brother of al-Qaeda veteran Hicham Bouhali Zriouil from Brussels. Likely left in 2014 and killed at unknown date
  61. Khongr Pavlovitch Matsakov, Sunni Islamist fighter from Ostend with roots in the Russian republic of Kalmykia, killed in January 2015
  62. Abu Taymiyya al-Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State fighter killed in Kobanê in January 2015
  63. Khalid Ben Larbi, aka Abu Zoubeyr, Islamic State fighter from Brussels who was killed during a police operation in Verviers (Belgium) on January 15, 2015
  64. Soufiane Amghar, aka Abu Khalid, Islamic State fighter from Brussels who was killed during a police operation in Verviers (Belgium) on January 15, 2015
  65. Anis Bouzzaouit, aka Abu Ibrahim, a Zerkani recruit who entered the Islamic State’s elite brigade Katibat al-Battar and was killed in February 2015 in Deir ez-Zor governorate
  66. Fahd Asamghi, aka Abu Sabir, Shariah4Belgium recruit from Antwerp who subsequently fought for Jaysh al-Muhajirin wa’l Ansar and Jabhat Ansar al-Din. Killed in March 2015
  67. Younes Bakkouy, aka Abu Aziz, Islamic State fighter from Genk who left with two brothers, one of whom (and most likely him) was reportedly killed in March 2015 near Tikrit in Iraq
  68. Abu Bakr al-Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State fighter from Brussels who committed suicide attack in Ramadi (Iraq) on March 11, 2015
  69. Mesut Cankurtaran, aka Abu Abdullah al-Belgiki. Islamic State fighter from Vilvoorde, recruited by Shariah4Belgium and the Denis network. Killed in March 2015 in battle for airport in Deir ez-Zor governorate
  70. Karim Kadir, aka Abu Abdullah al-Belgiki. Islamic State fighter from Charleroi, who committed suicide attack at the Iraqi-Jordan border on April 24, 2015
  71. Abu Tourab al-Belgiki, anonymous Sunni Islamist fighter from Brussels killed in May 2015 in Damascus governorate
  72. Abu Handala al-Belgiki, anonymous Sunni Islamist fighter killed in May 2015
  73. Abu Muhammad Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State fighter with roots in France and Cameroon. Military instructor within elite brigade of IS in Damascus & Homs governorates and reportedly killed in battle of Sokhna in May 2015
  74. Abu Muslim al-Belgiki. Anonymous Islamic State fighter from Antwerp. His death was announced in June 2015, but reportedly happened around a year earlier
  75. Sami Ladri, aka Abu Waliya, Zerkani recruit from Brussels who joined the Islamic State and committed suicide attack near an-Nukhayba (Iraq) on June 22, 2015
  76. Fayssal Oussaih, aka Abu Shaheed, Islamic State fighter from Maaseik, killed in July 2015
  77. Abu Iliace al-Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State fighter whose death was announced by an Islamic State source in ar-Raqqah in July 2015
  78. Mossi Junior Juma, teenager from Brussels with roots in Burundi, said to be taken to Syria by his mother and killed in July 2015 at the age of sixteen
  79. Lucas Van Hessche, aka Abu Ibrahim, convert from Menen with roots in Haiti, joined Islamic State and was killed in August 2015 in Hasakah governorate
  80. Sahil Ahmed, aka Abu Mariyya al-Belgiki, fighter from Ghent, apparently of Indian descent. Joined Islamic State and was reportedly killed during his very first battle in August 2015
  81. Abu Ayman al-Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State fighter, killed by British drone strike in ar-Raqqah in August 2015
  82. Brian De Mulder, aka Abu Qasim al-Brazili, convert from Antwerp with Belgian father and Brazilian mother, recruited by Shariah4Belgium. Died in October 2015 of wounds sustained by an air strike three weeks earlier
  83. Mohammed Hajji, Islamic State fighter from Antwerp, killed by an air strike in ar-Raqqah in October 2015
  84. Abu Abdullah al-Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State figher, killed in October 2015 by a French air strike on a training camp near ar-Raqqah
  85. Abdelmalek Boutalliss, aka Abu Nusaybah, Islamic State fighter from Kortrijk who committed suicide attack near Haditha (Iraq) on November 11, 2015
  86. Andy Bizala Lubanza, Zerkani recruit from Brussels with Congolese & Rwandese roots, joined Islamic State and was killed in November 2015
  87. Anonymous, Belgian wife of Islamic State emir ‘Abu Khabab’ from Saudi Arabia, killed with her husband in November 2015 in Deir ez-Zor
  88. Bilal Hadfi, aka Abu Mujahid al-Faransi, Islamic State fighter of French origin living in Brussels, who committed suicide attack in Paris (France) on November 13, 2015
  89. Ibrahim Abdeslam, aka Abu Qa’qa al-Belgiki, Islamic State fighter of French origin living Brussels, who committed a suicide attack in Paris (France) on November 13, 2015
  90. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, aka Abu Omar al-Belgiki, Zerkani recruit from Brussels, who joined Islamic State’s elite brigade Katibat al-Battar and was killed on November 18, 2015 during a police operation in Saint-Denis (France) linked to the Paris attacks
  91. Chakib Akrouh, aka Dhul-Qarnayn al-Belgiki, Zerkani recruit from Brussels, who joined the Islamic State and was killed on November 18, 2015 during police operation in Saint-Denis (France) linked to the Paris attacks
  92. Nour-Eddine El Mejdoubi, aka Abu Issa. Spanish-Moroccan IS fighter who resided in Belgium prior to his departure. Appeared in video from Syria in July 2014 and killed at unknown date according to Spanish press report in November 2015
  93. Mohammed Jattari, Sunni Islamist fighter from Tienen, killed at unknown date in 2015
  94. Dniel Mahi, aka Abou Idrissi. Zerkani recruit from Brussels who likely was the ‘Padre’ codenamed leader of the Verviers terrorist plot. Presumed dead by Belgian authorities according to documents dating from 2015
  95. Younes Ahllal, aka Abu Taymiyah al-Belgiki. Zerkani recruit from Brussels, killed in the ranks of IS according to court documents dating from 2016
  96. AnonymousBelgian fighter killed in the ranks of the Islamic State in Deir ez-Zor governorate on January 20, 2016
  97. Abu Umar al-Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State fighter, killed in al-Hawiqa near Deir ez-Zor on January 30, 2016
  98. Umm Shérazade al-Belgiki, anonymous woman from Brussels who joined the Islamic State and was reportedly executed for witchcraft in February 2016
  99. AnonymousBelgian fighter in the ranks of the Islamic State, reportedly executed for treason in Deir ez-Zor in February 2016
  100. Salahuddin al-Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State fighter, who was killed as an important battle commander in Deir ez-Zor governorate in March 2016
  101. Mohamed Aziz Belkaïd, aka Abu Abdulaziz al-Jazairi, Islamic State fighter of Swedish/Algerian descent who was killed on March 15, 2016 during a police operation in Forest (Belgium) linked to the Paris attacks
  102. Najim Laachraoui, aka Abu Idriss, Brussels recruit of the Denis & Zerkani networks, who joined the Islamic State and committed a suicide attack at Brussels Airport (Belgium) on March 22, 2016
  103. Ibrahim El Bakraoui, aka Abou Souleymane. Islamic State fighter from Brussels who was stopped on his way to Syria, but committed suicide attack at Brussels Airport (Belgium) on March 22, 2016
  104. Khalid El Bakraoui, aka Abu Walid. IS fighter from Brussels who returned from Syria and committed suicide attack at the Maelbeek metro station in Brussels (Belgium) on March 22, 2016
  105. David Robinsonova, aka Abou Souleyman Belgiki. Fighter from Molenbeek who was stateless prior to his naturalization as a Belgian citizen in 1985. Zerkani recruit who switched side from IS to Jabhat an-Nusra and was killed near Idlib in April 2016, reportedly by an American drone
  106. Abu Anas al-Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State fighter, killed near Mosul (Iraq) on April 8 or 9, 2016
  107. Abu Dawoud al-Belgiki, anonymous fighter with Jabhat an-Nusra, identified as deputy emir of its foreign fighters in August 2013. Killed by an air strike in May 2016, targeting a meeting of Jabhat an-Nusra leadership at Abu Adh Dhuhur air base in Idlib governorate
  108. Abu Abdilah al-Belgiki, anonymous Jabhat an-Nusra fighter of Maghribian origin, killed in June 2016 by a tank attack of the Syrian army near Aleppo
  109. AnonymousBelgian fighter, killed as Islamic State commander in a battle near Deir ez-Zor in July 2016
  110. Redwane Hajaoui, aka Abu Khalid Al Maghrib, fighter from Verviers who appeared in Islamic State video threatening Belgium and France and 2015, reported death in August 2016
  111. Nasser Azzouzi, fighter from the city of Verviers who left in August 2014, killed at unknown date according to information gathered in August 2016
  112. Zakaria Asbai, aka Abu Zubair, Islamic State fighter from Vilvoorde whose death at undisclosed time and location was reported in August 2016
  113. Abu Miqdad al-Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State fighter, killed in battle near Deir ez-Zor in August 2016
  114. Lotfi Aoumeur, aka Abu Noor al-Jazairi/Abdullah al-Belgiki/Abu Anwar al-Belgiki. Fighter from Verviers who appeared in IS video threatening Belgium and France in 2015. Committed suicide attack in Qarrayah (Iraq) on August 9, 2016
  115. AnonymousBelgian fighter, said to be a leading figure in the media department of IS and killed on August 24, 2016 by an air strike in Qaim according to local media
  116. Abu Abdallah al-Belgiki, anonymous fighter reportedly killed in the ranks of Jabhat Fath as-Sham, the former Jabhat an-Nusra, near Hama on September 29, 2016
  117. Abu Omar al-Belgiki, anonymous fighter reportedly killed in the ranks of Jabhat Fath as-Sham , the former Jabhat an-Nusra, in November 2016
  118. Hicham Naji, aka Abu Mehdi, Shariah4Belgium recruit from Antwerp who was reportedly killed in Islamic State ranks in November 2016
  119. Sammy Djedou, aka Abu Musab al-Baljiki, an early Zerkani recruit who was reportedly involved in the planning of the 2015 Paris attacks. Killed by coalition drone strike in ar-Raqqah at December 4, 2016
  120. Abu Umar al-Belgiki, anonymous Islamic State fighter reportedly killed on January 15, 2017 in al-Andalus neighborhood of Mosul
  121. Kamal Eddine Aharchi, aka Abu Jinaan al-Belgiki. Zerkani recruit from Brussels who left in April 2013. Reportedly killed in the ranks of IS in Aleppo governorate on January 31, 2017
  122. Zacharia Iddoub, aka Abu Yahya Beljiki, Islamic State fighter from Vilvoorde reportedly killed by air strike on January 17, 2017 at undisclosed location
  123. Mohamed Abdel Rahman, aka Abu Hashim. Belgian of Algerian descent killed by coalition air strike in al-Tanak near Mosul on March 28, 2017 according to the Iraqi Ministery of Defense. Reportedly a senior leader overseeing the recruitment of fighters for IS
  124. Anonymous Belgian fighter reportedly killed in the ranks of IS during clashes with the Syrian army near Deir ez-Zor around May 10, 2017
  125. Anonymous Belgian fighter, said to be in Syria since 2014, reportedly killed by Russian air strikes on Hawijah neighborhood of Deir ez-Zor on May 11, 2017
  126. Anonymous Belgian fighter, said to be in Syria since 2014, reportedly killed by Russian air strikes on Hawijah neighborhood of Deir ez-Zor on May 11, 2017
  127. Yacine Azzaoui, aka Abu Abdelhadi al-Belgiki. Molenbeek recruiter of the Denis & Zerkani networks who left himself in August 2014. Reportedly killed near Deir ez-Zor on May 26 or 27, 2017
  128. Abu Umar al-Belgiki, anonymous Belgian IS fighter, killed near Deir ez-Zor during clashes with the Syrian army on June 6, 2017. Said to be a “top field commander” and implicated in planning of terrorist attacks abroad
  129. Tarik Jadaoun, aka Abu Hamza al-Belgiki. IS fighter from Verviers who arrived in Syria in June 2014 and became involved in plotting terrorist attacks abroad. Reportedly killed at the end of the battle for Mosul (Iraq) in July 2017

 

[1] The names were published in seven separate Royal Decrees, which can be found here:

[2] Hof van Beroep Gent – Achtste Kamer Correctionele Zaken, Arrest C/928/2017, 28 June 2017. Not publicly available, but in the possession of the authors

[3] Rechtbank van eerste aanleg West-Vlaanderen – afdeling Brugge – sectie correctionele rechtbank, Vonnis 2889/2016, 23 December 2016. Not publicly available, but in possession of the authors

[4] All statements about Chalil Man are taken from the court documents mentioned in the preceding two footnotes

[5] Mairbek Vatchagaev, Hundreds of North Caucasians Have Joined the Ranks of Syria’s Rebels, Eurasia Daily Monitor volume 10 issue 166, Jamestown Foundation, 19 September 2013. Available online at http://jamestown.org/program/hundreds-of-north-caucasians-have-joined-the-ranks-of-syrias-rebels/

[6] According to a French investigation document in the possession of the authors

[7] Pieter Van Ostaeyen & Guy Van Vlierden, The Role of Belgian Fighters in the Jihadification of the Syrian War – From Plotting Early in 2011 to the Paris and Brussels Attacks, European Foundation for Democracy – Counter Extremism Project, 28 February 2017. Available online at http://europeandemocracy.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/The-Role-of-Belgian-Fighters-in-the-Jihadification-of-the-Syrian-War.pdf

[8] Guy Van Vlierden, Romani Gypsies recruiting for Jihad, Emmejihad, 11 December 2013. Available online at https://emmejihad.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/romani-gypsies-recruiting-for-jihad/

[9] Kristof Pieters & Guy Van Vlierden, Uit Syrië teruggekeerde Romazigeuner gevat, Het Laatste Nieuws, 7 December 2016

[10] Alexander Bischofberger-Mahr, Sali S.: “Dann gibt es mich nicht mehr”, Kronen Zeitung, 29 October 2016. Available online at http://www.krone.at/oesterreich/sali-s-dann-gibt-es-mich-nicht-mehr-kroneat-reportage-story-536589

[11] Mark Eeckhout, De terroristen van het Sint-Jansplein, De Standaard, 30 March 2012. Available online at http://www.standaard.be/cnt/a53o5dqi?s=1

[12] Kristof Aerts & José Masschelin, Van vrijspraak naar 8 jaar cel, Het Laatste Nieuws, 9 January 2014

[13] Per Gudmundson, Efterlyses: enarmade tjetjener, gudmundson.blogspot.be, 2 March 2009. Available online at http://gudmundson.blogspot.be/2009/03/efterlyses-enarmade-tjetjener.html

[14] US Department of the Treasury, Treasury Sanctions Individuals Affiliated With Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and Caucasus Emirate, 5 October 2015. Available online at https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl0199.aspx

[15] Faith Karimi & Steve Almasy, Istanbul airport attack: Planner, 2 bombers identified, report says, CNN, 2 July 2016. Avalaible online at http://edition.cnn.com/2016/07/01/europe/turkey-istanbul-ataturk-airport-attack/index.html

[16] Thea Swierstra, OCMW Antwerpen stelt leefloners tewerk in tuinbouw, De Morgen, 20 April 2007

[17] Anonymous, Ingusthetian and Chechen disappear on their way to Moscow, Causasian Knot, 23 August 2010. Available online at http://www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/14226/

[18] Inge Ghijs, Erkend politiek vluchteling door Griekenland uitgeleverd, De Standaard, 27 March 2013

[19] Inge Ghijs, Belgische politieke vluchteling weer thuis, De Standaard, 18 May 2013

[20] Anonymous, Nalchik resident converted to Islam in Belgium, trained as militant in Syria detained in Kabardino-Balkaria, Interfax, 11 December 2015. Available online at http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=news&div=12599

[21] Lyudmila Maratova, Житель Кабардино-Балкарии осужден за причастность к сирийским боевикам, Кавказский Узел, 18 August 2016. Available online at http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/287786/


Amor Sliti, yet another veteran on list of Belgian foreign terrorist fighters

Belgian authorities have added 37 names to the list of persons whose financial assets are frozen as part of the struggle against terrorism. All 251 people listed now are considered foreign terrorist fighters, mainly active in the Syrian-Iraqi conflict. This latest update does include Amor Ben Mohamed Sliti (57), a true veteran of the Belgian jihad.

Amor Ben Mohamed Sliti

 

In the nineties, Sliti was living in Brussels — coming from Tunisia, but naturalized as a Belgian citizen and working in his own automobile repair shop. Late in 1999, he left for Afghanistan with his wife and five children, then aged 2 to 13. It is said that he wanted to start a restaurant and butcher shop in Kabul. But finally he joined al-Qaeda while settling in Jalalabad.[1]

Sliti quickly adapted to the moral standards of the terrorist group by offering his 13 year old daughter as a bride to a Tunisian fighter, Adel Hkimi. Soon the teenage girl became pregnant, but Hkimi never saw his newborn daughter. He was caught shortly after the American invasion of Afghanistan had started at the end of 2001, and by February 2002 he was imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay.

That same fate also met a cousin of Sliti. While living in Italy, Hicham Ben Ali Ben Amor Sliti badly became addicted to drugs. His family sent him to Brussels in order to work in his cousin’s car repair shop as a sort of rehab. But when Amor Sliti left for Afghanistan, he could persuade his cousin that there was no better place to become a decent man — which resulted in twelve years Guantánamo for Hicham.

Amor Sliti kept himself out of the American’s reach. He was caught in February 2002 at the Pakistani-Iranian border and extradited to Belgium. There he was tried in 2003 as an accomplice of Nizar Trabelsi and Malika El Aroud. The latter is the widow of a suicide bomber who killed the Afghan warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud — an ally of the West against the taliban — while Trabelsi planned to blow up an American air base in Belgium.

Sliti was convicted to five years in jail. In December 2010, he also was stripped from his Belgian citizenship — until today one of only four cases. When and how exactly he got involved again in the jihad remains unclear. But it is told that cousin Hicham also has become an ardent supporter of Islamic State after his  transfer from Guantánamo to Slovakia in 2014.

Sliti isn’t the first veteran of Belgian jihad who has surfaced in the ranks of the Islamic State. Earlier, Abdelkader Hakimi was already added to the official Belgian foreign fighters list. Hakimi was a heavyweight of the ‘Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain’, convicted to eight years in jail by a Belgian court in 2006. In 2014, we revealed that he was in Syria, surrounded by a new generation of Belgian Islamic extremists.

It is well known by now that European veterans often play important roles within the Islamic State. Good examples are two former residents of France, Abdelnasser Benyoucef and Boubaker el-Hakim. The latter was considered as one of the leaders of the Amniyat — Islamic State’s security service — at the moment he was killed in November 2016, while Benyoucef is said to have lead Islamic State’s elite brigade Katibat al-Battar.

It was brought to our attention only very recently, that the Abdel Kader Hakim declared dead by coalition forces in December 2015 might be the Hakimi mentioned above. It would mean that this Belgian veteran also had an important position in the Islamic State’s external operations. The coalition’s press desk couldn’t confirm or deny however, when asked last month whether it was the Belgian Hakimi killed in 2015.

 

[1] Biographical details based on ‘The Forgotten Italian Residents in Guantánamo Bay’, a report from the London based organization Reprieve published in June 2008, but not available on their website anymore — and this article published by the Belgian newspaper Le Soir in February 2002