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.