James Foley, the American reporter beheaded last week, shared a prison cell with former Belgian fighter Jejoen Bontinck for at least three weeks. Reportedly, they were held at that time by Bontinck’s former comrades from Shariah4Belgium, who brandished Jejoen as a traitor because he wanted to go home.
It was CEO Philip Balboni of GlobalPost, the American news site for which Foley was working in Syria, who broke the news about his deplored journalist and Jejoen Bontinck knowing each other. “In September 2013, a young Belgian who had travelled to fight in Syria had befriended Foley and, once that jihadist went back to Belgium, offered excellent information on roughly where Jim was held and by whom”, he was quoted by NBC News. “It was the first time we knew that Jim was alive. It was a wonderful, wonderful moment.” Balboni didn’t mention the name of the Belgian — but that wasn’t hard to find for anyone familiar with the phenomenon of Belgian fighters in Syria.
Jejoen Bontinck (19) went to Syria in February, 2013. He converted to islam a few years before and joined the radical organization ‘Shariah4Belgium’. He says he didn’t want to fight, but provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. Disgusted by the violence of war, he wanted to go home already in March of that year. But his comrades from Shariah4Belgium with whom he teamed together, considered him as a traitor or even a spy, and imprisoned him for several months. He was held in Aleppo, the northern Syrian city which was the main stronghold of the radical islamic resistance at that time.
Bontinck was never a prisoner of the Islamic State, his lawyer Kris Luyckx explained to the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’. Although most of his Belgian comrades now have joined the extremely brutal group, at that time they were still active under the banner of ‘Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen’ or ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’. That Bontinck was held together with Islamic State victim Foley — as confirmed by Luyckx — is consistent with the claim that Foley’s abduction was carried out by of one of those groups. When the American got caught in November 2012, the Islamic State didn’t exist yet in Syria. It was founded in April 2013 as ISIS — the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Sham’.
“Bontinck and Foley shared a cell for at least three weeks around August of last year”, says Luyckx. “And they weren’t the only Westerners — there was a European journalist too. Apparently, the two reporters were later transfered to ar-Raqqah, and it must have been there Foley was held by the British fighters that are known now as ‘The Beatles’. Jejoen has never met the guy who killed Foley or one of his accomplices. He always stayed in the hands of his former comrades of Shariah4Belgium.” If that is true, it means that Foley too was held by the Belgians for some time.
It isn’t clear whether they were also involved in Foley’s abduction — and an important question that also remains, is whether it were Bontinck’s former brothers in arms who have delivered Foley directly to those who’ve killed him now. The Belgian judiciary has indicted thirteen people for taking Bontinck hostage — based on the names he reportedly mentioned himself — and at least some of those people can be suspected in Foley’s case too. All belong to a group of 46 that has to stand trial this fall — although for most of them it will be a trial in absentia, since they are still fighting in Syria or were killed in action there.
Of the thirteen former Shariah4Belgium members that are indicted for imprisoning Bontinck, at least four have died already: Houssien Elouassaki from Vilvoorde, Nabil Azahaf from Brussels, Noureddine Abouallal from Antwerp and Yassine El Karouni — a Dutchman that apparently has spent most of his last years in Antwerp. Of those who are considered still alive, the highest ranking is Hicham Chaïb, alias ‘Abu Haniefa’. He became one of the leaders of Shariah4Belgium after the imprisonment of it’s founder Fouad Belkacem. Chaïb is living in ar-Raqqah now, where he was seen already in the company of senior Islamic State commander Abu Waheed.
The remaining eight names are Azeddine Kbir Bounekoub, Said M’Nari, Brahim El Mimouni and Fouad Akrich from Antwerp — Zakaria Asbai and Magomed Saralapov from Vilvoorde — Rachid Iba from Maaseik — and Redouan Akdim from Naarden in the Netherlands. Noteworthy is that Iba was already convicted as a member of the terrorist ‘Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain’ back in 2006, that Kbir Bounekoub has appeared in a gruesome video with dead bodies in Syria, and that Akrich is one of the exceptions who stayed in the ranks of Jabhat al-Nusra — a fact that has ignited already vicious debates on Facebook, where he’s still a ‘friend’ of his former comrades who went to the Islamic State.
Jejoen was freed in September 2013 and after his return in Belgium, he was intensively interrogated by security services of several countries. According to his lawyer, the information he provided about the location where he and Foley were held, has been the motor behind the rescue operation undertaken for Foley by American elite soldiers. But the details Bontinck gave about his prison — “near a courthouse and a hospital”, for instance — were about the place where he was held in Aleppo. And apparently the raid took place at a time Foley was moved to ar-Raqqah already.
Today, the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ identified the 29th Belgian fighter who has died in Syria. Khalid Bali was 17 years old and lost his brother Mohammed last year already in the Syrian war.
“Breaking news: six fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham became martyrs last night near Deir Ez-Zor”, the Belgian ISIS member Hicham Chaïb — a.k.a. Abu Haniefa — announced last Sunday on his Facebook account. “One of them is Abu Hamza Al-Belgiki and another one Abu Usama Al-Hollandi. May Allah accept them as martyrs and grant them the highest rank in paradise!”
No further details were given about the identities of the deceased, but journalists from the Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ quickly discovered their compatriot was Khalid Bali, a teenager from the Antwerp suburb of Merksem who would have turned 18 at the end of July. Bali’s older brother Mohammed was one of the early members of Shariah4Belgium, an organization of radical muslims that is associated with a fair big amount Belgian fighters who went to Syria.
Reportedly, it was Mohammed who introduced the now imprisoned leader of Shariah4Belgium, Fouad Belkacem, to Brian De Mulder — the Flemish boy with a Brazilian mother who was raised as a christian, but became one of the most famous European fighters in Syria. Mohammed himself was killed in September 2013 near Homs at the age of 23. That same month, Khalid urged his comrades in Belgium to join him in a lengthy Facebook post.
“There’s nothing we can do in Belgium”, he wrote. “These days we are obliged to make hijra and revive our religion as in the time of our Prophet. That is only possible when we stand up and give our lives for Allah. This life is worth nothing, it is only a short period in which Allah is testing us. Be strong and grab your faith with both hands. I have merely come to Syria to seek the satisfaction of our Lord. You should know this life is short, while the life hereafter will last forever.”
There are at least two other Belgians with the name Bali who went to Syria: Brahim and Abdelaziz (both 27). They were mentioned in an affidavit of the Antwerp prosecutor’s office, charging 46 members of Shariah4Belgium with terrorist offences for recruiting or joining the jihad in Syria. Brahim and Abdelaziz are still supposed to be in Syria. Brahim appears to be a nephew of the deceased brothers. He was caught in Yemen while trying to join Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) back in 2012. After his expulsion to Belgium, he traveled to Syria with his wife Yasmina Zamrouni (23).
Belgian police meanwhile arrested two young women from Antwerp allegedly trying to leave for Syria. They were caught last week at Brussels Airport and are the first to be detained already in Belgium on the suspicion of wanting to join the jihad. Usually, it is very difficult to prove that intention. But thourough investigations, including telephone taps, seem to be sufficient in this case. The young women are 17 and 19 years old, one of them the sister of a young man already fighting in Syria, and according to extremist sources, their aliases are ‘Oum Abbas’ and ‘Oum Haneefa’.
UPDATE. Following details were released this morning about the two women by ‘Free Aseer Abu Imran’, the Facebook page supporting Shariah4Belgium leader Fouad Belkacem. The information is copy-pasted as published there:
“Oum Abbas is a young muslimconvert who had many trials from Allah Azzawadjal, but that she was not less firm. On the contrary, she was known for her strong will and Iman. And many sisters praise her for her fear of Allah (taqwa), honor and sincerity. That’s why Allah Azzawadjal chose her for this unique trial.
Oum Haneefa is the other dear sister, despite her young age, she had a huge ghierah for the deen that you rarely find these days with regular Muslims. She have been always active in helping and supporting the Muslims. She was known for her kheir towards the Muslim families of the usaraa (prisoners) and ofcourse the needy. If you were in need of something, she would be the first person you would like, whether it was her smile or phonecall or a visit to you. She was always there for you. And we wallahi we testify by Allah Azzawadjal that we will stand up for her, especially as she was always there for us, now that she’s a aseer.
From the Public Ministry is said they are arrested at the airport and they were prevented to travel to Turkey. They were as said on the radar and signaled to Interpol and that they were arrested immediately upon notification. Since then they are detained at the prison of Antwerp, Belgium. They were under suspicion in supporting the case of terrorism, because they supposedly were traveling to Syria.
May Allah ta3ala prevail the truth above all falsehood and lies.
For us, these sisters are truly innocent from the beginning till the end of this. Please keep share this information through your network and make alot of dua’a for them and all of the muslimprisoners.The exact age of the sisters is not mentioned, but from our sources we heard that they are around 18 years old. Oum Abbas is a belgian convert and Oum Haneefa is born in belgium with roots in Morocco.”
A few days ago, the well known Belgian ISIS fighter Hicham Chaïb published a video message on his Facebook account. ‘Abu Haniefa al-Belgiki’ was one of the leaders of Shariah4Belgium before he went to Syria for the jihad. Following are some excerpts, translated from Dutch.
“Dear brothers and sisters, I am your brother Abu Haniefa from Belgium. Since I get a lot of questions about Dawla Islamiya*, how we live and what’s the situation here, I wanted to give a little clarification.”
“I am in the city of Ar-Raqqah at this moment and my dreams have come true. The sharia is implemented, the salat is called and the zakat is paid. Amr bil maroof is done and nahi anil munkar is done. Many people think that Dawla Islamiya is an organization only bearing that name, but it truly is a state. Thank God he has given me the honour to be with the brothers of Dawla Islamiya and practice sharia every day. We do carry the sharia, even when the kuffar and the munafiqun hate it. We make no compromises.”
“All the world may be against us, but as long as we have the satisfaction of Allah, we don’t care what other people say about us. They come with a lot of lies about Dawla Islamiya, so I want to give a warning to the brothers and the sisters who are not here in Syria. You should fear Allah, and since you do not know what’s going on here, you should support your brothers and defend their honour or remain silent. Do as the Prophet taught us: say good or keep your silence. If the news comes from a miscreant, then make sure to verify it to avoid regrets.”
“I have never felt myself so much a muslim as I do now, and even if the death will come — with heart and soul.”
* Reference to the Arabic name of ISIS: Dawla Islamiya fi Iraq wa Sham — the Islamic State in Iraq and the Greater Syria