One of the perpetrators of the mass beheading that was shown in the latest video of Islamic State (IS) allegedly is Belgian. Sources within the security services are quite confident they recognized a member of Shariah4Belgium who is currently on trial in absentia.
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The most gruesome part of the video message in which IS confirmed last weekend that it has killed Peter Kassig, wasn’t the murder of the American aid worker himself. That act wasn’t shown. But the movie did contain chilling footage of about 20 Syrian soldiers beheaded by IS terrorists. One of them was the notorious Briton ‘Jihadi John’. He was masked and dressed in black, similar to the previous videos. His accomplices however, wearing camouflage suits, did show their face.
French authorities confirmed already that Maxime Hauchard (22), a muslim convert from Normandy known within IS as ‘Abou Abdallah Al-Faransi’, is one of them. And British media identified another one as Nasser Muthana (20), a medical student from Cardiff in Wales. While those names were coming out, the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ was looking into rumours that a third one comes from Belgium.
We didn’t get complete certainty, but a source within Belgian security services told about his confidence that Abdelmajid Gharmaoui (28) — a.k.a. ‘Abu Dujana Al-Muhajir’ — is one of the executioners indeed. Another senior official confirmed that the presence of the former Shariah4Belgium member is investigated since Sunday already, and the highly respected independent IS specialist Pieter Van Ostaeyen also thinks is it him.
Apart from the striking physical resemblance, there are some other facts that make it a probable case. Gharmaoui indicated already that he is active within the propaganda department of IS and his Facebook account mentions Dabiq as current place of residence. That Syrian town north of Aleppo is rarely mentioned as such by European fighters, but it is there that the Kassig video was filmed — according to its own caption and independent Syrian media activists who pinpointed the exact location on satellite images.
Gharmaoui was one of the most active Shariah4Belgium members from of the town of Vilvoorde, frequently accompanying his local leader Houssien Elouassaki at gatherings in Antwerp, the main base of the radical organization those days. He left for Syria in October 2012 with Elouassaki’s brother Hakim and fought in the ranks of Majlis Shura Al-Mujahideen, an Aleppo based militia that was led by the Syrian brothers Firas and Amr al-Absi before becoming part of ISIS during the first half of 2013.
At the trial that is currently held against 46 members of Shariah4Belgium, the public prosecutor has demanded ten years of imprisonment against Gharmaoui for membership of a terrorist organization. Like most of the defendants, he is tried in absentia. Lately, we mentioned his name when we reported about allegations of murder against a Belgian fighter who has returned and is free on conditions, Elias Taketloune. It was Gharmaoui who spread those rumours, probably as an act of revenge because Taketloune had cooperated with the police.
If Gharmaoui’s implication in the recent mass beheading sufficiently can be proven, the possibility exists he will be tried for that seperately at a later stage. There are already six defendants facing such a second trial, since the most serious complaints — abduction and murder — were left out of the current case. Those complaints are still investigated and of course they can result in far more severe punishment.
UPDATE (November 18, 2014 – 11u30 PM Brussels time) – In reaction to the story above as it was published in the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ this morning, the mayor of Gharmaoui’s hometown of Vilvoorde stated that it certainly isn’t him who can be seen in the video.
“People within the security services initially thought so indeed, but in the meantime they are telling me it was a mistake”, politician Hans Bonte told. Asked for their assessment again, several sources — including a specialist in the matter within a Belgian security service — denied that their meaning has changed. So, the only conclusion is that even authorities do not agree yet on the question whether it is Gharmaoui or not.
The federal prosecutor’s office confirmed it is investigating the case, but declined any further comment. And in circles of radical muslims different meanings also occur. The brother of another well known IS fighter from Vilvoorde wrote on Facebook: “That isn’t Majid”, while acquaintances from Brussels anonymously told the opposite.
UPDATE (November 19, 2014 – 1u30 PM Brussels time) – According to the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office, the man in the Kassig video isn’t Abdelmajid Gharmaoui. “The physical resemblance made us think so”, spokesman Eric Van Der Sypt just told us, “but technology is pointing to the contrary. For us, the investigation is closed.”
Supporters of ISIS — the terrorist group that once was a branch of Al Qaeda and still is fighting in Syria — run an ironic Facebook group. It is called ‘War Crimes of The Islamic State of Iraq and Shaam’ and only shows innocent actions by ISIS members, asking: “Are they criminals? You be the judge.”
At first sight, the Facebook group that was established three days ago, seems critical for ‘al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham’ — as ISIS is named in Arabic. But the reference to war crimes committed by ISIS in the name of the group is clearly meant to ridicule such accusations.
The pictures that are posted, show ISIS members distributing food, teaching children, playing in the snow and even taking care for a kitten — always with a comment such as: “ISIS visits little injured boy in a hospital. Oh what a crime he has committed! Off with his head! How dare he comfort a child!”
A look at the more than 700 people who had liked the page today already, also learns a lot about it’s real purpose. Most of them are muslim extremists openly supporting ISIS in it’s struggle for an islamic state and in cruelties such as random killings and beheadings — as their profiles and other likes show.
They come from all kind of countries, with a significant share from Belgium and the Netherlands. Among them is at least one of the actual Belgian Syria fighters — ‘Abu Dujana Al-Muhajir’ from Brussels — and remarkably enough also Jejoen Bontinck, aka ‘Sayfullah Ahlu Sunna’, the young convert from Antwerp who was recently released from jail.
Bontinck joined the ranks of ISIS, but returned to Belgium after the much publicized search his father undertook in Syria. At first, he denied he had been fighting, but later he apparently cooperated with security services, testified against his former comrades and told he doesn’t support ISIS anymore — which resulted in death threats against him already.
One of the conditions for his release was refraining from contacts with his former extremist companions, and after the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ today reported his adherence to the Facebook group, his ‘like’ has quickly disappeared.