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 widely reported abduction of a Japanese citizen in Syria has put a previously little-known Belgian jihadi in the spotlights. Younes Bakkouy (20) apparently made most of the images during the first interrogation of Haruna Yukawa by terrorists of the Islamic State.
Bakkouy posted pictures (that can be seen here, here and here) and videos (here and here) of the captured Yukawa on his Facebook page last Friday already, a day before they started to spread all over the internet and came to the attention of the Japanese authorities. He explicitly mentioned that he made the images himself, stating that the Japanese was carrying a M-16 rifle and a camera. “But those things were are already taken from him by our brothers when I was filming”, he told. He also stipulated that Yukawa justified his presence in Syria by saying that he was a photo journalist and a doctor alternately.
When Facebook friends at home asked him whether the captive already was killed — “Please show us the video of his beheading” — he answered that Yukawa was handed over to “the security department of Dawla”, meaning the ‘Islamic State’. At the end of one of the videos, Bakkouy shortly is filming himself — but what he tells, is difficult to hear and in the version that was distributed officially by the Islamic State on Sunday, as the Belgian IS-expert Pieter Van Ostaeyen tweeted, that part was cut out. In the meantime, Bakkouy’s Facebook page has disappeared too.
Bakkouy is a Belgian of Moroccan descent who lived in the eastern city of Genk. He started his current Facebook account only two months ago, but has left for Syria already in April of last year. Reportedly, he travelled to the war with his brothers Mohamed and Ismaïl — and according to the mother of Isa Özdemir, a guy with Turkish roots from Genk, her son accompanied these three. The Belgian daily newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ and it’s online offshoot hln.be were the first to reveal the full identity of Bakkouy today.
Since he filmed the interrogation that apparently took place shortly after Yukawa was captured, Bakkouy can be regarded as an accomplice legally. It hasn’t happened often yet that a Belgian fighter in Syria could be implicated so clearly with a concrete crime — apart from being member of a terrorist group. Of the 46 accused at the trial that will start this fall against fighters and recruiters for the Syrian war from the now disbanded organization ‘Shariah4Belgium’, only six are indicted for abductions and murder — apart from the alleged captivity of their own comrade Jejoen Bontinck when he wanted to go home.
I do not elaborate about the background of Yukawa because of the excellent work others have published already — such as Storify. But because I’ve named him a mercenary in one of my first tweets about the case, I would like to raise the possibility he was in Syria for a much more innocent purpose than his position as CEO of ‘Private Military Company’ does insinuate. Japanese is not my thing, but the website of that firm seems to offer security for humanitarian missions in war zones too, naming Syria explicitely. That could be an explanation for Yukawa mentioning the profession of medical doctor during his interrogation. Some are saying that the firm only exists in the imagination of Yukawa himself, but Reuters at least has spoken to an adviser of it.