Belgian authorities have added 37 names to the list of persons whose financial assets are frozen as part of the struggle against terrorism. All 251 people listed now are considered foreign terrorist fighters, mainly active in the Syrian-Iraqi conflict. This latest update does include Amor Ben Mohamed Sliti (57), a true veteran of the Belgian jihad.
In the nineties, Sliti was living in Brussels — coming from Tunisia, but naturalized as a Belgian citizen and working in his own automobile repair shop. Late in 1999, he left for Afghanistan with his wife and five children, then aged 2 to 13. It is said that he wanted to start a restaurant and butcher shop in Kabul. But finally he joined al-Qaeda while settling in Jalalabad.
Sliti quickly adapted to the moral standards of the terrorist group by offering his 13 year old daughter as a bride to a Tunisian fighter, Adel Hkimi. Soon the teenage girl became pregnant, but Hkimi never saw his newborn daughter. He was caught shortly after the American invasion of Afghanistan had started at the end of 2001, and by February 2002 he was imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay.
That same fate also met a cousin of Sliti. While living in Italy, Hicham Ben Ali Ben Amor Sliti badly became addicted to drugs. His family sent him to Brussels in order to work in his cousin’s car repair shop as a sort of rehab. But when Amor Sliti left for Afghanistan, he could persuade his cousin that there was no better place to become a decent man — which resulted in twelve years Guantánamo for Hicham.
Amor Sliti kept himself out of the American’s reach. He was caught in February 2002 at the Pakistani-Iranian border and extradited to Belgium. There he was tried in 2003 as an accomplice of Nizar Trabelsi and Malika El Aroud. The latter is the widow of a suicide bomber who killed the Afghan warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud — an ally of the West against the taliban — while Trabelsi planned to blow up an American air base in Belgium.
Sliti was convicted to five years in jail. In December 2010, he also was stripped from his Belgian citizenship — until today one of only four cases. When and how exactly he got involved again in the jihad remains unclear. But it is told that cousin Hicham also has become an ardent supporter of Islamic State after his transfer from Guantánamo to Slovakia in 2014.
Sliti isn’t the first veteran of Belgian jihad who has surfaced in the ranks of the Islamic State. Earlier, Abdelkader Hakimi was already added to the official Belgian foreign fighters list. Hakimi was a heavyweight of the ‘Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain’, convicted to eight years in jail by a Belgian court in 2006. In 2014, we revealed that he was in Syria, surrounded by a new generation of Belgian Islamic extremists.
It is well known by now that European veterans often play important roles within the Islamic State. Good examples are two former residents of France, Abdelnasser Benyoucef and Boubaker el-Hakim. The latter was considered as one of the leaders of the Amniyat — Islamic State’s security service — at the moment he was killed in November 2016, while Benyoucef is said to have lead Islamic State’s elite brigade Katibat al-Battar.
It was brought to our attention only very recently, that the Abdel Kader Hakim declared dead by coalition forces in December 2015 might be the Hakimi mentioned above. It would mean that this Belgian veteran also had an important position in the Islamic State’s external operations. The coalition’s press desk couldn’t confirm or deny however, when asked last month whether it was the Belgian Hakimi killed in 2015.
 Biographical details based on ‘The Forgotten Italian Residents in Guantánamo Bay’, a report from the London based organization Reprieve published in June 2008, but not available on their website anymore — and this article published by the Belgian newspaper Le Soir in February 2002
In his testimony before the ‘Commission d’enquête sur la surveillance des filières et des individus djihadistes’ within the French parliament, senior counterterrorism judge Marc Trévidic disclosed that a second veteran of the jihad in Western Europe with strong links to Belgium has joined the Syrian war.
“In recent months, a new phenomenon has surfaced”, Trévidic declared under oath. “The veterans have taken up their task again. I learned for instance that Farid Melouk has traveled to Syria with two other people. I know him since I handled the case of the first Afghan network, back in 2000. He headed a very important network for the recruitment of jihadists.”
Speaking only about that 15 year old case doesn’t justice to Farid Melouk. The Frenchman of Algerian descent, who was born half a century ago in Lyon, started his career in the violent form of islamism in the early nineties already. Reportedly trained in Afghan terrorist camps, he was one of the defendants at a trial held in Paris in 1997 against the ‘Groupe islamique armé’ (GIA) — a predecessor of today’s ‘Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’ (AQMI).
Melouk was sentenced in absentia for his role in a series of attacks that frightened France during the summer of 1995 and resulted in eight deaths and more than 200 injured. He got seven years in jail, but remained a free man until the 5th of March 1998, when he was traced to a house in the Brussels municipality of Ixelles. His arrest was preceded by an armed standoff that lasted all day, and a Belgian court convicted him to an additional nine years behind bars.
After the case in 2000 that Trévidic mentioned, nothing more was heard about Melouk. But after the bloody attack against the Paris weekly ‘Charlie Hebdo’ last January, his name has suddenly surfaced again. Chérif Kouachi, one of the brothers who murdered 12 people then in the name of Al Qaeda, turned out to be an acquaintance of several veterans of the jihad.
On the 11th of April 2010, French security services pictured Kouachi during sport exercises on a soccer field in the Auvergne region. He was seen there before with Djamel Beghal, a notorious terrorist who became Kouachi’s mentor after they had met in prison, as we know now. On that specific day, they got the company of two earlier convicts — Ahmed Laidouni and Farid Melouk.
Melouk is the second veteran of jihad with strong links to Belgium who turns up in Syria. In June of last year, we reported about the presence there of Abdelkader Hakimi, a convicted terrorist belonging to the ‘Groupe islamique combattant marocain’ (GICM). He posted pictures of his stay in Aleppo on his Facebook page, but has apparently returned to Europe since. Shortly before his Facebook account disappeared, he mentioned a village in the Netherlands as place of residence.
We didn’t find any footprint of Melouk on social media. But a woman who declares herself to be his spouse, has a Facebook account. The maiden name she mentions is Samira Ghamri, probably meaning she is the 28 year old widow of another French jihadist, Hamza el-Alami — a relationship mentioned in an Italian court document.
El-Alami was recruited by the network of the notorious Al Qaeda couple Moez Garsalloui and Malika el-Aroud, and he died fighting in Afghanistan at the end of 2009. It isn’t clear whether Ghamri has traveled to Syria too. On her Facebook page, where she was active until last month, the French town of Vénissieux is mentioned as her place of residence.
In his testimony, Trévidic emphasized the danger of veterans like Melouk joining the Syrian war. “Are the intelligence services able to find out what has become of all those people sentenced in the past for their implication in jihadist networks?” he asked. “They should, because those veterans have a tremendous address book, both in France and Belgium, and they can easily incite other people to join them in Syria.”