The Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ reports today about Mohammed C. — a Belgian-Moroccan father who took his whole family to the Syrian war. He pushed his mentally unstable son into the fighting, while he forced his minor daughter to marry an Algerian commander of Islamic State.
On October 6, 2013, a family of six took a plane at Charleroi airport with destination Turkey. That they didn’t leave for a vacation was proven by their one way tickets, the fact that their home had been re-rented and most of their possessions were sold. Mohammed C. had been in contact with radical muslims longtime already, and most of his acquaintances apparently knew that he wanted to move to Syria.
His wife, Maria G. — a woman from Italian descent who calls herself ‘Fatiha’ since being converted — largely agreed with that plan. During later interrogations, she told about her intent to stay in Turkey with her three daughters, while her husband and her son would travel on to Syria. But the Belgian judiciary casted doubt upon her declaration that her husband finally forced all of them to cross the Turkish-Syrian border and settle near the northern city of Aleppo.
After their arrival, Mohammed hastened to carry out his plans. “They were only a few days at place, when he started to push his teenage daughter H. to marry a local ISIS emir”, it is noted in the judgment of a terrorism trial that was held in Brussels last July. The Algerian born commander was 27, while the daughter was barely 16. “She agreed to the marriage”, the judgment states, “because she feared that any other choice of her father would be worse.”
The mother remained with her two younger daughters in an apartment that they hardly ever could leave. “They lived there like recluses, on the rhythm of their prayers, and in constant fear for the war that happened outside.” Father Mohammed and son Rachid meanwhile presented themselves as fighters. But for the latter, it likely didn’t happen voluntarily, since he was diagnosed as a mentally unstable young man.
Apparently, the son was used for the dirtiest jobs. According to his sister, who saw him only every now and then, he was forced to risk his own life during the battles by collecting the corpses of fellow fighters who were killed. Soon already, mother and daughters wanted to leave, but father Mohammed resisted to that. Only after daughter H. got pregnant, he allowed her a journey to Turkey. From there, she traveled back to Belgium, soon followed by her mother and her two sisters.
Nothing is known about the current situation of the teenage girl and her baby that should be born. But her father, her mother and her brother are convicted now. At the trial against a Brussels based cell of recruiters — to which the well known Abdelhamid Abaaoud also belonged — Mohammed was sentenced to ten years in jail for leadership of a terrorist group. Son Rachid got ten years for membership of that group, while mother Maria got two years with probation for the same crime. She was present in court, while her husband and her son were tried in absentia.
About Rachid, nothing has been heard recently. Certain is that he didn’t join his father when Mohammed left Islamic State in May, 2014. That was about a month after the departure of his wife and his daughters. Mohammed switched to the brigade of Bassam Ayachi, the self styled ‘Cheikh’ from Molenbeek that once was named a key figure in nearly every Belgian jihadist plot. Nowadays, Ayachi holds a much more moderate profile, and he even fights against Islamic State. Mohammed himself is still active on social media, where he posts paintings and poems that he has made in Syria.
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.
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.
PLEASE READ IMPORTANT UPDATE BELOW.
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.”
The Belgian newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’ had a look into the transcripts of the interrogations of Jejoen Bontinck after he came back from Syria. They learn a lot about the western hostages with whom he was imprisoned by the Islamic State last year — the now beheaded James Foley, the actual hostage John Cantlie and a German citizen that wasn’t mentioned before.
The background of Bontinck’s story can be found here. Below are some highlights of what he told to the Belgian police. Quotes sometimes are bundled from different interrogations about the same topics and can only serve to get a picture of the situation, not for legal means whatsoever
• ABOUT THE ORGANIZATIONS IMPLICATED:
When Bontinck arrived in Syria in February of last year, there were three organizations active near Aleppo, where he teamed up with the other Belgians he knew. He was part of Majlis Shura Mujahideen, while Jabhat al-Nusra and “the group of Omar Shishani”, as Bontinck described it, also kept a presence there. While he was already imprisoned on suspicion of being a spy, both his own group and that of Omar Shishani became part of the newly founded ISIS — “the State”, as he says. But several members of Majlis Shura Mujahideen left to Jabhat Al-Nusra at that point. It isn’t clear which organization held him captive directly after that split, since he kept seeing people of both groups.
• HOW BONTINCK BECAME A PRISONER OF IS HIMSELF:
That happened after being kept as a prisoner by his own comrades for several months. “It was completely unexpected that they relocated me the day after Eid al-Fitr. I was told that I had to appear in a court, and would be freed afterwards. They tied my hands and blindfolded me. I don’t know exactly where they brought me. But it was in Aleppo, about half an hour driving from Kafr Hamra. The court belonged to the State. It was lead by a Dutchman, Abu Ubaida. During the first days of my imprisonment there, he once came to my cell — just to have a look. At that time, I didn’t know who he was. I shared a room with a Jordanian man and two Syrian boys.” Bontinck says he heard people being tortured all the time, but wasn’t tortured there himself.
• ABOUT HIS FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH FOLEY & CO:
“After four days, they put me in another room. There were people looking like Westerners. Three men. James Foley, the American journalist who was already missing for more than a year, and John Cantlie who worked with him. They were caught about ten months before and spent the first five months with Jabhat Al-Nusra. They were tortured then. They were very thin, they didn’t get any food. There was also a German with them, Toni Neukirch. They told me their stories, and I told them mine. We exchanged our contact details and promised each other to meet again, once we would be free. I wrote the numbers of James’ mother and John’s wife in a booklet, but unfortunately I don’t have that anymore. We were together in that room for about three weeks.” The German Bontinck mentions, disappeared in June of last year, but was freed a few months ago.
• HOW THE THREE WESTERNERS WERE CAUGHT:
“John and James were captured together and moved to another location three or four times. One of the places where they were held, is Idlib. But I don’t know whether they were apprehended there. They were caught after visiting an internet cafe. They stood out as foreigners and always used the same taxi driver. When they left the internet cafe, masked men overpowered them. They told me it was a local brigade of Jabhat al-Nusra that acted without orders from the top.” About the capture of the German, Bontinck doesn’t tell that much. “At first, he had some kind of house arrest. He had access to internet at that time and even managed to inform his family about his fate.”
• ABOUT THE HOSTAGES’ CONVERSION TO ISLAM:
“I talked a lot with them about that”, Bontinck says. “They told me that they weren’t living really good lives before. That they didn’t respect their mothers enought, for instance. It was their conversion that made them see that. When I first met them, they were converted already five months.” It can be doubted that the conversion of the three Westerners was completely sincere. Probably they only obeyed to the demand of their captors, hoping it would save their lives. Prison director Abu Ubaida told Bontinck he should do ‘dawah’ — the preaching to non-muslims — when he sent him to the cell of Foley & co, so he wasn’t that convinced about the conversion of the Westerners himself.
• ABOUT THE CELL THAT THEY SHARED:
“It was an ordinary room with pale brown walls, a pale brown floor in stone and a ceiling of the same colour. There were mattresses and reed mats and we had some books. I think it was about four meters long and eight meters wide. There was electricity and light. It was half underground and the sash-window was overlooking a huge dead wall. We had to eat in our cell. Apart from going to the toilet, we had to stay there all day. But still I think of all the prisoners, we were treated the best.”
• ABOUT THE DUTCH-MOROCCAN PRISON CHIEF:
“Abu Ubaida is a tall, slender and tanned. He must be in his twenties. He graduated as an engineer, so I think he’s at least 22 years old. He is of Moroccan descent and I do not know his real name. I can’t tell how he came to Syria or how he has got his important position. But he speaks Arabic perfectly, that was surprising for me. He has two wives and three children, of which the oldest is about seven years old. They are also in Syria and his second wife was born there.” Bontincks description seems to match with the Abu Ubaida al-Maghribi named by other sources as the highest ranking security chief of IS near Aleppo. More about the possibility that we are speaking about the same person, can be read here.
For the first time, a Belgian fighter in Syria admits that he has murdered there — a scoop that my colleague Patrick Lefelon presents today in Belgium’s largest daily newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’. Hakim Elouassaki, repatriated badly wounded last year and still imprisoned, says he executed a man because he didn’t dare to disobey the orders of his commander.
Hakim Elouassaki, 22 years old today, is a younger brother of former Shariah4Belgium firebrand Houssien. Born and raised in Vilvoorde, a town on the outskirts of Brussels, both went to Syria at the end of 2012. They fought in the ranks of ‘Majlis Shura al-Muhajireen’, a militia that later would become part of the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Sham’ — now known as IS. Hakim returned in March of the following year, after being hit in the head by a grenade. He spent some time in a Belgian hospital — but in April 2013, he was arrested in his family’s home.
The police confronted him with an intercepted phone call he made with his girlfriend while staying in Syria. “Guess what?” investigators heard him say. “I have killed a man today. He was an unbeliever that was captured long before. His family only raised 30,000 euro’s for him, while they had to pay 70,000 to set him free. I killed him with a bullet in the head. Bang! I wanted to film it, but my camera was badly placed so that went wrong.”
In front of his interrogators, Hakim denied having executed someone. He insisted that he made up the story to impress his girl, and he sticked to that version until about two weeks ago. Then, all of a sudden, he informed the police he had a declaration to make. He confessed the crime, saying that he was driven by fear. He would have signed his own death warrant by ignoring the orders of his commander, he told.
For the prosecution, Hakim’s confession came as a pleasant surprise. They mainly relied on the phonetaps and some shaky videos from other murders by Belgian fighters to prove the worst crimes of the 46 people from Shariah4Belgium that will stand trial at the end of this month. Therefore, the murders already were separated from the list of accusations — so they can be investigated further and be the subject of a second trial at a later time.
According to his lawyer, Hakim’s confession is meaningless though. He says his client cannot make a reliable statement anymore because his brains were irreversibly damaged by the grenade — a fact that is confirmed by a panel of medical experts. Lawyer Abderrahim Lahali also insists that the murders have to tried at the same time as the other accusations — such as membership of a terrorist organization — since they all were committed in a same context, and thus are interrelated.
A well known European fighter within the ranks of the Islamic State has posted practical guidelines for those who want to travel to Syria these days. “Don’t behave like warriors, but like tourists”, he says. We publish some excerpts, not to assist the future fighters (they still will need the necessary contacts of course), but to illustrate how the journeys are made.
Bismilahi Rahmani Rahim
Message to all those who want to come…
1) Rumours that the borders are closed are completely false.
2) Take as little luggage as possible with you. Maximum one or two large pieces each. Try to take something that is easy to carry. Nothing without handles – LOL
3) Crossing the border is done by foot. It’s about 200 metres and it is quiet.
4) For the sisters it is necessary to avoid the niqab. Just wear a hijab and dress yourself the Turkish way.
5) For the sisters, avoid to come on your own, unless you really have no choice. Minimum two sisters is good.
6) For couples and families, mentally prepare yourself to be separated for a month to six weeks after your arrival. Since the men will immediately depart to a training camp, while their relatives go to a villa where other families are staying. For those who know brothers or sisters able to take their family in, arrange with them that they pick up your wife or family at the villa. But hey, that’s very rare.
7) Take all your precious belongings with you in a handbag, not in your luggage.
8) For those who are coming by car, at this moment cars cannot enter. It is necessary to park the car at a spot where you don’t have to pay, take a picture of it, write down the address and give that to the brothers. It’s possible that this problem will be solved in the near future and the cars can enter again.
9) Avoid to take your entire house with you! Everything you need is available here, be it clothes or things for your home, we have everything. It’s better to carry cash with you and buy it here.
10) I have all the information about the route to follow and the phone numbers to call. But expect a series of questions and excuse me if I don’t answer the phone. We cannot trust everyone.
11) Buy an anonymous phone card at home that lets you make a phone call in Turkey.
12) Don’t behave like a warrior. Shave your beards, behave like tourists and buy tickets back and forth.
13) Say the prayers of the voyager, and bismilah, may Allah guide you and blind the kuffar.
Three young muslims from the Belgian city of Kortrijk who left to Syria in June, seem to become new poster boys of the ‘good life’ in the Islamic State.
Olivier Calebout (27, aka ‘Abu Sayfudeen’), Abdelmalek Boutalliss (19, aka ‘Abu Nusaybah’) and Lucas Van Hessche (19) are very active on social media these days, showing more joy than cruelty or war. Below are some of their most recent pictures — while two movies can be seen here and here.
Apparently, they are living in ar-Raqqah at the moment (after a short stay in Deir ez-Zor) and recognizable in their company is Azeddine Kbir Bounekoub from Malle near Antwerp — who has threatened Belgium a while ago with terrorist attacks and will be tried in absentia later this month.
Is the Dutchman that was named this week as chief of the prison where James Foley was held in Aleppo, in the meantime executed himself? That seems very likely, as pointed out today in Belgium’s largest daily newspaper, ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’. That source, by the way, should be explicitly mentioned when reporting about what is told below.
It is Jejoen Bontinck (19), a former foreign fighter from the Belgian city of Antwerp, who revealed that Foley’s prison near Aleppo was led by a Dutchman at that time. Bontinck was imprisoned there for a while together with Foley because he wanted to leave and his former comrades concluded that he was a spy — as mentioned earlier. Belgium’s federal prosecution office and GlobalPost CEO Philip Balboni — for which Foley was working in Syria — confirmed the fact that Bontinck shared a cell with the US journalist beheaded last week by the Islamic State (IS).
The true identity of the Dutchman isn’t known, but reportedly he’s using the alias Abu Ubaida al-Maghribi, indicating that he has Moroccan roots. A man with the same ‘nom de guerre’ recently was executed by the Islamic State. Beheaded, according to several sources, while others reported that he was shot. The Jordanian news site al-Kawn published the story with the picture of a dead body that is shown above — without mentioning explicitly that it is the executed Abu Ubaida al-Maghribi, though.
It it isn’t sure that the two Abu Ubaidas are one and the same, since the name is rather common at the Syrian front. But the executed man was described as the security chief of the Islamic State in the region of Aleppo, which seems to fit with supervising the prison there. Remarkably, his execution was announced one day after the video of Foley’s beheading was posted on the internet. And the reason of his punishment also suggests that he has been involved in the imprisonment of Westerners.
According to most news reports, the Islamic State suspected him of passing secret information to a foreign intelligence service — of a European country that had a hostage in the hands of the Islamic State together with Foley, to be precise. It is known already that the militants who guarded Foley were allowed to negotiate themselves with Western authorities about the conditions for a release. They only needed permission of Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi, the highest leader of IS, for setting someone free in case an agreement was reached. So, it is very well possible that the alleged betrayal happened in the course of those talks with the West.
The Abu Ubaida that was executed, is described as having been one of the most powerful men within the Islamic State. Reportedly, he was responsible for the assassination of Abu Khalid al-Suri, the highest commander of the somewhat less extremist salafist rebel group Ahrar al-Sham. That occured last February and contributed to the vicious war within the Syrian resistance between the Islamic State — at that point still known as ISIS — and most of the rest.
An additional clue that the executed Abu Ubaida and Foley’s prison chief from the Netherlands were the same, can be found in a recent interview done by Souad Mekhennet for the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. She met a man described as “one of the few with direct access to al-Baghdadi”, the self-declared caliph of the Islamic State. The man with whom Mekhennet spoke, was a security chief of IS near the border with Turkey, most likely meaning the governorate of Aleppo.
He used another alias — Abu Yusaf — but Mekhennet explicitly mentioned that he had several pseudonyms. His parents are North African, but he was born in one of the countries together known as Benelux: Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. At the age of 18, he went to Iraq and joined the terrorist group of the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — which is in fact the predecessor of the Islamic State. Mekhennet understandably declined to tell us whether ‘Abu Yusaf’ is Dutch, and said she doesn’t know whether he is the Aleppo security chief that recently was executed.
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.
The number of Belgians in the ranks of the Islamic State can be as high as 270. That’s the estimate I published yesterday in the newspaper ‘Het Laatste Nieuws’, showing two of the most recent recruits.
The estimate of 270 compatriots within the Islamic State is based upon the database of Belgian fighters in Syria that arabist Pieter Van Ostaeyen and I maintain using several open sources. It has to be stressed that the number is an extrapolation, since we do not know for sure the affiliation of all 385 entries already on our list.
We do have that information for 72 of the Belgian fighters, and identified 50 as members of IS. What means that in this sample, the share of the Islamic State amounts to almost 70 percent. Details about the others can be found at Pieter’s blog. The ratio can be different in the total figure of course, but seemingly there are no reasons to assume that difference is significant. So it’s fair to say that the Belgian presence within IS can amount to 270.
In the meantime, new images emerged of two Belgians who traveled to Syria last June to join IS. They already posted pictures on Facebook from halfway in Turkey, but these are the first that show them in Syria — more precisely Deir ez-Zor. The guy wearing sunglasses is Olivier Calebout (27), also known as Abu Sayfudeen, while the Dolce & Gabbana adept is Lucas Van Hessche (19), who was born in Haiti and adopted at young age by a Belgian couple.
Van Hessche was an amateur boxer who converted recently to islam. He and Calebout went to Syria with Abdelmalek Boutalliss (19) — alias Abu Nusaybah — a Belgian of Moroccan origin. Al three lived in the western city of Kortrijk, where Calebout reportedly was known by the police as a possible recruiter for jihad. The fathers of Boutalliss and Van Hessche traveled to Syria themselves already to bring their sons home, but apparently they failed.