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.”