The rivalry between Al Qaeda and Islamic State also creates a deep division among the foreign fighters from Belgium. Guys who marched together in the ranks of Shariah4Belgium, now threaten each other to chop off the head. Except for war and religion, they even quarrel about women.
When the first foreign fighters departed from Belgium, most of the Syrian muslim militias still fought side by side. The Belgians were spread across different groups, but remained friends. Nowadays, a bitter rivalry is raging between Jabhat al-Nusra — the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda — and its breakaway Islamic State. That causes heated debates between Belgian fighters who have ended up at different sides, but still find each other on social media.
Two of the biggest adversaries there are ‘Abu Haniefa’ and ‘Shaam Al-Mubarak’. The first is the alias of Hicham Chaib (33), a man from Antwerp once known as the bodyguard of Shariah4Belgium leader Fouad Belkacem. He was reportedly appointed chief of the religious al-Hisba police in ar-Raqqah, the Syrian capital of the Islamice State. The British ‘Daily Mirror’ portrayed him last week as the “killer cop” of IS. The second is presented as a collective account of several ex-Shariah4Belgium members fighting for Jabhat al-Nusra.
“IS conspires with dictator Assad. Or is it a coincidence that he attacked us at the same time as you have done?” they accused their former comrades within IS during a recent Facebook discussion. “You are fighting for America and you don’t apply the sharia in the regions you control. Drinking, music, prostitution… It is all allowed”, Chaib striked back, before threatening: “We stand on your doorstep and before you know it, your head will roll. It is time for revenge for what you’ve done to our brothers and our sisters.”
According to Chaib, one of the Belgians within Jabhat al-Nusra has already killed compatriots who were fighting for IS. He identified the man only by his alias ‘Abu Dawud’, while stressing that the Belgian is on the “black list” of IS. “Brothers of Jabhat al-Nusra who defected to us, all did tell the same story: that he came back one day with blood on his shirt after he had killed our brothers attacking them in the back.”
That the rivalry also extends to women, is proven by a lament of Chaib about “ex-wives of the true lions who are married now with apostates”. He didn’t mention names, but apparently he was speaking about widows of Belgians killed in the ranks of IS. “By Allah! Your previous men, who are martyrs now, have done everything for you to live in an islamic state. But you married apostates who in Belgium already sought the company of hypocrites, always critized the ones who were on the path of truth, and were playing 007 muslims instead of distributing the faith.”
Chaib himself was already married when he went to Syria, and his wife Kaoutar Bioui (28) tries to lure other women to Syria too. When asked on Facebook by a woman from Antwerp whether it’s permissible to leave against the will of her husband, she replied: “How can a muslim woman be satisfied by a man who loves the land of the infidels more than jihad? We see many sisters arriving after they have left their husbands. Recently, even one of 48 years old, who gave up nearly 30 years of marriage for the sake of Allah.”
NOTE: A first version of this article stated that ‘Shaam Al-Mubarak’ is the alias of Redouan Akdim, a former member of Shariah4Belgium who has joined Jabhat al-Nusra. That assumption was based on information gathered in former Shariah4Belgium circles some time ago. After publication though, several sources denied that there is an actual link between ‘Shaam Al-Mubarak’ and Akdim.
The Islamic State is in dire need of fighters, a prominent Belgian member admits. Listing the sixteen best reasons to join the jihad, he puts the lack of manpower at the second place.
PLEASE SEE UPDATE BELOW.
According to recent reports in western media, the Islamic State (IS) is so in need of additional manpower after weeks of hammering airstrikes, that it dropped most of its vetting of foreign recruits. In the past, new volunteers had to present recommendations of three established fighters before they were allowed to cross the Turkish border and enter Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s caliphate. “Almost any muslim who wants to travel now can”, a man responsible for a safehouse of IS in the Turkish town of Urfa told ‘The Daily Telegraph‘ last week.
Writing on his Facebook page, a prominent Belgian fighter within IS now explicitly confirms that the group is in shortage of fighters. Hicham Chaïb, a former leader of the extremist organization Shariah4Belgium, listed sixteen arguments to join the army of IS. “We call upon the muslims to fight for so much reasons”, he wrote, “with the following as the most obvious.” The first one he mentioned was “to prevent the infidels to dominate”, while the second already spoke about the “lack of manpower” his group is facing now.
The entire list reads as follows — as literally as possible translated out of Dutch:
1. To prevent the infidels to dominate
2. Because of the lack of manpower
3. Out of fear for the fire in hell
4. To fulfill the duty of Jihad and heed the call of the Lord
5. To follow the pious predecessors (the exemplary generations)
6. To build a solid base for Islam
7. To protect those who are suppressed in the countries
8. To hope for martyrdom and a high position in the Paradise
9. Because Jihad truly is a shield for the honor of the Ummah and a means to avoid humiliation
10. To protect the honor of the Ummah and to break the conspiracy of its enemies
11. To guarantee the earth and protect against depravity
12. To safeguard the islamic places of worship
13. To protect the Ummah against punishment, depravation and replacement
14. For the prosperity of the Ummah and the expansion of its means
15. Because Jihad is the culmination of Islam
16. Because Jihad is the most outstanding way of worship and the Muslim can obtain the highest degrees with it.
Before he went to Syria on the 19th of March 2013, Chaïb was known as bodyguard of Shariah4Belgium’s founder and leader Fouad Belkacem. But the role of ‘Abu Haniefa’ — as he was called in the organization — was much more important than flexing his muscles. That became clear when he took over the organization after Belkacem’s imprisonment in June 2012 together with two other core members, Feisal Yamoun and Noureddine Abouallal. They are both killed in Syria since. All four the mentioned men are currently on trial in Belgium for leadership of a terrorist organization — in absentia of course, apart from Belkacem.
In Syria, Chaïb apparently is trying to become the new public face of his group. He did appear already in several promotional videos describing the prosperous life in the caliphate, and frequently is launching new appeals to join IS in Facebook posts. His wife Kaoutar Bioui, also known as ‘Umm Haniefa Al Belgikiya’, has followed her husband to Syria and is as radical as he. In May of this year, she even called upon the muslims in Belgium to assassinate the far right politician Filip De Winter. “May Allah enlighten our eyes with the slaughter of this pig”, she wrote.
UPDATE: Chaïb’s list of arguments to join Islamic State comes literally from Al Qaida’s co-founder Abdullah Yusuf Azzam’s years old pamphlet ‘Join the Caravan‘, as Timothy Holman informed us today. So, it may be wrong to relate it to the current state of IS.
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
During the past few days, three Belgian fighters reportedly were killed in Syria. All of them belonged to the radical ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Sham’ (ISIS). One of their women, back from Syria herself since only two months, learned about her husband’s fate yesterday evening by seeing a picture of his dead body on a friend’s Facebook account.
The wife of ‘Abu Muthanna’, one of the Belgian dead, saw his picture (WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE) on the Facebook page of Hicham Chaïb (a.k.a. ‘Abu Haniefa’, a.k.a. ‘Muhajirien As Shaam’), the only remaining leader of Shariah4Belgium currently fighting in Syria. “My husband?” she reacted in panic. “Can anybody contact me please to tell what’s going on?”
Several hours later, still no visible answer was shown. It is unsure whether Hicham Chaïb is on the same spot where ‘Abu Muthanna’ had died, since Chaïb is mentioning Homs as his place of residence and the three Belgians were killed somewhere in between of Ar-Raqqah and Hasakah, according to the French ISIS fighter ‘Abu Abdillah Mujahid’ — who appears to be the original source of the picture that Chaïb has shared.
“On Tuesday, six of our people were killed in battles against the Free Syrian Army, Ahrar Al-Sham and Jabhat Al-Nusra near the village of Margada, two of them Belgians”, the Frenchman wrote. “On Wednesday seven, one of them from Belgium and another one from the Netherlands.” He didn’t mention any names, but apart from ‘Abu Muthanna’ and slain comrades from Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Indonesia, he also posted a posthumous picture (WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE) of an African man, telling the guy was a Belgian from Malian descent.
‘Oum Almuthanna’, as the woman mentioned above is calling herself, is a sister of Noureddine Abouallal (a.k.a. ‘Abou Mujahid’)— another member of the triumvirate that took over as leaders of Shariah4Belgium after the arrest of founder and public face Fouad Belkacem (a.k.a. ‘Abu Imran’). Abouallal was killed while fighting in Syria in July of last year (a video eulogy can be seen here) while his third colleague Feisal Yamoun (a.k.a. ‘Abu Faris’) has died there last month (video here). All of them were living in of near the Belgian city of Antwerp and share Moroccan roots.
In January, ‘Oum Almuthanna’ and Abouallal’s widow Tatiana Wielandt — a Flemish muslim convert — came back from Syria. They both appeared to be pregnant, and apparently they didn’t want to give birth in the midst of a vicious war. According to their parents, they got help from the Belgian authorities while traveling home. After their arrival, they were questioned by the police, but not arrested.
UPDATE: a partly French spoken video of the remains of ‘Abu Muthanna’ can be seen here — with a warning again for it’s graphic content.