IS fighters from the Belgian town of Maaseik: A rare connection between actual networks and old school terrorists

Recently, a new Belgian fighter has surfaced within the ranks of the Islamic State (IS). The fourth already from Maaseik. The radical islamist community in that little border town is bridging the gap between the actual networks and old school terrorists — a rather rare phenomenon in Belgium.

IS fighter 'Abou Shaheed' from the Belgian town of Maaseik, shortly after his arrival in Syria in December 2014.

IS fighter ‘Abou Shaheed’ from the Belgian town of Maaseik, shortly after his arrival in Syria in December, 2014

He posted his picture a few days ago on his Facebook account, the Belgian fighter who’s using the alias ‘Abou Shaheed’. Standing beside the seemingly obligate pick-up truck and holding an impressive rifle. Little is told about the location, the date of his arrival and his true identity. But apparently he went to Syria somewhere last month, his friends at home are calling him ‘Fasil from Maaseik’ and his actual Facebook account previously has carried the name of Fayssal Oussaih.

The name Oussaih rings a bell for anyone familiar with the extremist scene of Maaseik. Back in 2006, several inhabitants of the town were convicted at a trial in Brussels for their membership of the ‘Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain’ (GICM), a terrorist organization held responsible for the bloody attacks of Casablanca (45 deaths at May 16, 2003) and Madrid (191 deaths at March 11, 2004). Later, it became a part of ‘Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’ (AQIM), the North African branch of Osama bin Laden’s network. More on its background can be read here.

One of the defendants was tried in absentia because he was imprisoned in Syria already. At that time, the country was known as main gate to the jihad against the US military presence in Iraq. Apparently, GICM was active in the recruitment of fighters for that struggle, and Khalid Oussaih — a man from Maaseik who was in his early twenties then — had lent his passport to a higher ranking GICM member in order to let the latter escape during one of their travels. While he was sentenced to four years in jail by the Belgian court, Syria responded to an extradition request of Morocco, leading to another sentence of three years there.

After being freed in Morocco, Khalid Oussaih spent some time in France. But in 2013, he decided to settle again in Maaseik. In November of that year, he was arrested in Belgium because he never had served his prison time here. But he appealed against the initial verdict — a case that is lingering on — and in the meantime, he’s free. The exact relation between Khalid and Fayssal Oussaih isn’t clear yet, but since they share their name and their rather tiny hometown, chances are high that they are relatives.

Fact is that Fayssal Oussaih has connections with at least two other convicts of the trial in 2006. On Facebook, he is friends with Khalid Bouloudo and Abdallah Ouabour — who were both sentenced to five years in jail for being members of GICM. The same is true for Jamal Elkoua, one of the other fighters in Syria with roots in Maaseik. And a third one, Rachid Iba, was convicted himself to three years in jail back in 2006.

So in Maaseik, there exists some kind of continuity between the ‘old school’ terrorists of GICM and the current networks recruiting for IS. That is quite exceptional in the Belgian context. The country has seen a very wide range of islamic extremism in the past decades, but nowadays everything seems to be centered around completely new organizations — of which Shariah4Belgium certainly has been the most important one.

Interestingly, there is a connection between the fighters from Maaseik and Shariah4Belgium too — since Rachid Iba has married the sister of Brahim El Mimouni, an important lieutenant of Shariah4Belgium founder Fouad Belkacem. El Mimouni was the webmaster of the organization until he left for Syria himself. Nowadays he seems to serve IS both in its propaganda department and in its foreign relations — more specifically by strengthening the ties between Syrian an Libyan cells. Apparently, El Mimouni grew that important that comrades now are calling him ‘sheikh’.

Finally, we’ve mentioned already another figure with roots in the ‘old school’ Belgian jihad, who currently is forging ties with the new generation of extremists. In April of last year, Abdelkader Hakimi posted pictures taken in Aleppo on his Facebook account — an apparent sign of being in Syria — while he too had friends already within the regiment of Belgian fighters recruited by Shariah4Belgium. Hakimi was considered as the European leader of GICM and sentenced to eight years in prison at the trial in 2006.

All those links may be results of merely personal acquaintances and coincidence, but it would be interesting to know whether there are similar patterns in other European countries too. We are very keen to learn about connections between the actual jihad in Syria and Iraq — not only IS — and former operatives of GICM.

Belgian fighters implicated in new atrocities in Syria

There is new evidence that implicates Syria fighters from Belgium in horrific atrocities, the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ reports today. Last weekend, images of a mass grave surfaced from the spot their militia had to abandon, and in the town where they have fled to, four beheadings occurred shortly after they arrived. It isn’t sure the Belgians participated in those crimes, but at least they did picture them.

The Belgian fighters are those who lived for several months in a luxurious villa near Aleppo and belong to the extremist ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Sham’ (ISIS). That group is now completely driven out of the area by rivaling rebel militias. “We even had to stage a martyr operation to break through their positions”, a French ISIS fighter hanging out with the Belgians told— referring to a suicide attack. “Two of our brothers were killed, but we did kill at least 90 of them”, dixit ‘Abou Shaheed’.

Shortly after the retreat of ISIS from the town of Hraytan, a mass grave was unearthed there. According to the source, it contained 40 to nearly 100 corpses, hastily buried under a thin layer of soil. You Tube videos show only victims in civilian clothes, and at least one of the bodies is showing signs of brutal torture, while the hands were bound together on the back. So, the victims clearly were not fighters killed in action, but executed prisoners.

All the ISIS fighters fled to Azaz, according to a Facebook conversation between one of them and an associate elsewhere in Syria. “No one has stayed behind in Hraytan”, Frenchman ‘Abou Mouthana’ confirmed to ‘Aba Souleyman’, a Belgian who apparently has left the place much earlier. “But all the members of your former group are sound and safe, including Abou Rayan.”

On the day of their arrival in Azaz, four beheadings were reported there. The victims were suspected to be members of a Kurdish militia fighting against ISIS. On Saturday, pictures emerged of their severed heads, exhibited under a signpost bearing the name of the town, and with a headless body put against it. Two of the dead were very young men, still teenagers probably. We do consider the images too graphic to show, but they are circulating widely on Facebook and Twitter already. So they aren’t hard to find for those who want to look themselves.

Images of the beheading itself hadn’t surfaced yesterday, so it is impossible to say who the perpetrators were. But several foreign combatants whose presence in Azaz is proven — including the seventeen year old ‘Abu Hudey Mhjrn Sham’, most likely coming from Belgium — posted pictures and videos of the result on their Facebook accounts. “They smelled like dogs”, nineteen year old ‘Abou Tayymia’ from Brussels commented. “Thank God for exposing the heretics that way!”

The horrendous images were rapidly shared on social media, also by like minded youths who have stayed at home. Their comments show how the ‘heroism’ of their friends in Syria is affecting their own ethics terribly too. “Bring me his jacket”, one of them told about the headless corpse, “It’s a Diesel, a genuine one.”