Tag Archives: Jihadists

The Belgium Question: Why Is a Small Country Producing So Many Jihadists?

Relative to its population, no other country in Europe sends as many young...

Relative to the size of its population, no other country in Europe sends as many young jihadists to Syria as Belgium does. But why? Some say one problem lies with the fractured nature of the country itself.

Chantal Lebon last saw her son at a bus stop in Brussels. That was two years ago in October “at exactly 10:25 p.m.,” she says. Abdel had driven his mother there in a car, stopped in a parking spot and lifted her suitcase onto the sidewalk.

“Au revoir, maman,” he said. “Au revoir, mon fils,” she replied. It was only months later that she would again see her son’s face — in a YouTube video. It showed him wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh and holding a Kalashnikov. The video was stamped with the flag used by the Islamic State in Syria.

Chantal Lebon is a small, energetic 64-year-old retired nursery school teacher with blue eyes and graying hair. She has come to a café to tell us the story of her son Abdel, the story of a Belgian child who became a radical Islamist fighter at the age of 23. Abdel had nothing to do with the attack plans in Belgium, his mother says. But, she confirms, her son is a jihadist.

On the way to the Brussels café, she saw the soldiers standing guard in front of police stations, court houses and the city hall. The Belgian government raised the country’s terror alert to the second highest level after officials were able to foil attacks targeting police and Jewish schools earlier this month.

At the European Parliament, events with more than 100 foreign guests have been banned and a military vehicle guards the entrance to the European Commission.

Since Jan. 15, the day two potential attackers died in Verviers during a police raid and the terror threat in the country became obvious to all, much has changed in Belgium.

Thirteen terror suspects have been arrested in the country this month, but the suspected ringleader of the alleged attack plans, a 27-year-old named Abdelhamid Abaaoud, remains at large and is thought to be in Greece. “I pray that Allah destroys all those who oppose Him,” he said in a video. Like Chantal Lebon’s son, Abaaoud also lived in Molenbeek, a district in western Brussels.

Because she is worried that her son Abdel could be behind the next terror plot in Belgium, she would rather remain anonymous and her name, as well as that of her son, has been changed for this story.

Belgian police block a street in central Verviers during the anti-terror raids...

Tiny Belgium and the Jihad

Up to 4,000 Europeans have joined the jihad in Syria, with 1,200 of them coming from France and between 500 and 600 each from Great Britain and Germany according to the most recent estimates by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization in London.

Tiny Belgium, with its population of 11 million, has sent fully 440 young men to the battlefields of Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. Relative to population size, no other Western European country has sent more.

Abdel grew up with his family in the Arabic quarter of Molenbeek. The Brussels region provides home to people from over 100 different countries: from Congo and Morocco, but also increasingly from the Middle East or Chechnya.

New immigrants arrive in a traditionally Catholic country whose Jewish and Muslim communities are growing — and a state that has been suffering from extremely high sovereign debt levels since the mid-1980s.

Abdel didn’t grow up in poverty — his father was a teacher — nor did he have any problems in school. But because his father is from Africa, he is dark skinned and his mother said he never really felt like he belonged as a result. Furthermore, other children made fun of him.

In the aftermath of the terror raids, Belgium raised its terror threat level...

Once he got his high school diploma, he moved into an apartment of his own, though his mother came by regularly to clean. It was then that he told her that he had converted to Islam and she noticed he had begun learning Arabic. His room was suddenly full of books and his mother was initially pleased because it seemed as though her son was pursuing something worthwhile.

But Abdel’s changes became increasingly pronounced. Before long, he began wearing a djellaba, the robe traditionally worn in the Maghreb, and when visiting his mother, he would use the bathroom carpet for praying. He no longer touched his favorite food, lasagna, because the meat wasn’t halal.

On Saturdays, he would take to the streets to hand out food to the poor. “Mother, please convert to Islam too,” he often asked, she says, “so that we will meet again in paradise.”

Never Complained

His mother pulls a tablet out of her bag to show the YouTube video. Five men with the black Islamic State flag are seen standing in a parched landscape.

One of the fighters says: “God willing, we will carry the flag of victory to Jerusalem and into the White House. God willing, this man from Belgium will show us what a good Muslim is.” Abdel looks happy in the video.

Abdel’s mother says he would call from time to time, saying that he was engaged in humanitarian aid in Syria. He also told her of friends who had been killed, but he never complained, she says.

Eventually, Abdel’s mother stopped asking when he planned on returning. Her son also told her about air strikes carried out by the US. And at the end of December, he said: “Because the telephone is being monitored, it is too dangerous to talk, mama.” He then hung up and they haven’t spoken since.

In Molenbeek, where Abdel used to live, the streets are full on this evening. Groups of men stand in front of the cafés and a vegetable seller is packing up his tomatoes. Here, on the fourth floor of a narrow row house, Montasser AlDe’emeh opens the door. AlDe’emeh has become a popular interview partner of late for those wanting to know why Belgium is losing its youth to the jihad.

Twenty-six years old, AlDe’emeh was born to Palestinian parents in a refugee camp in Jordan, but grew up in Molenbeek. He majored in Islamic studies in college and is currently writing his dissertation: “Western Fighters in the Context of International Jihadism.” There is likely no other academic in Belgium who is closer to the scene than he is.

“We are living in a divided country,” AlDe’emeh says. Many young Muslims lack an identity, he says, adding that they don’t feel Belgian because Belgium as a country doesn’t really exist. Flemish, Walloons and the German minority live side-by-side, he says, carefully segregated in regions and language communities following myriad state reform efforts. “The clear structures of an Islamic theocracy are thus more attractive for many,” he says.

Belgium has been in the spotlight this month after raids on Jan. 15 broke up an...

Nutella in Turkey

Furthermore, most Muslims in the country don’t really feel as though they are represented politically. They used to vote for the Flemish Social Democrats, AlDe’emeh says, but then the government implemented a ban on wearing the burqa and niqab in public.

Today, the influx of radical Islamists is particularly significant in Flemish cities like Antwerp, Mechelen and Vilvoorde in addition to Brussels. It is precisely the same region where the right-wing populist party Vlaams Belang has spent years hounding the Muslim population.

Islam, as practiced in Belgium, is also failing to reach young people, AlDe’emeh says. There are 150 mosques in Flanders, but Arabic is spoken in almost all of them, he says, a language that second-generation immigrant youth can’t understand. Instead, they stumble across hate preachers on YouTube and see the suffering of people in Syria. “They travel to Syria to heal themselves,” AlDe’emeh says.

In June 2013, he visited a group of Belgian jihadists in Syria; a middleman brought him to the western part of Aleppo. The Belgians were living there in a villa belonging to Syrians who had fled the country. AlDe’emeh spent 15 days with the fighters, who belonged to the Islamist group al-Nusra Front.

During the day, they patrolled the front lines and afterwards they would sit on pillows holding their AK-47s and talk about the fight against Bashar Assad. In the evenings, they went swimming or snuck across the border into Turkey to buy Nutella.

The structures inside the al-Nusra Front, AlDe’emeh says, are hierarchical. There is an emir who grants permission to those, like AlDe’emeh himself, who wish to visit. Beneath him are the regional heads who are responsible for specific provinces. They, in turn, control commanders who are responsible for Syrian and Western fighters.

“Everyone knew exactly what he was supposed to do,” AlDe’emeh says. “The Belgians were in good spirits. They liked the structures.” Likely also because al-Nusra, similar to Islamic State, made young men like Abdel full-fledged members of a nation, fictional though it may be.

One of the suspects in the Sharia4Belgium trial arrives in the courthouse in...

Dreaming of Lasagna

In the search for a sense of belonging, many Muslims joined Sharia4Belgium, a terror group that is currently the target of judicial proceedings in Antwerp. Forty-six alleged members of the organization have been charged, all suspected of having recruited fighters in Belgium for the jihad in Syria or of fighting there themselves.

They also stand accused of having kept the US journalist James Foley prisoner. He was later decapitated by Islamic State. A verdict in the case is expected to come in February.

SPIEGEL was able to speak with one of the group’s members by telephone. His name is Younes Delefortrie, a 26-year-old who was born in Belgium and who speaks perfect English.

He says he spent two months in Homs, but insists that he didn’t kill anybody. He says he joined Sharia4Belgium because he was uninterested in an Islam that didn’t take its own rules seriously.

In Belgium, Delefortrie says, he felt discriminated against, specifically complaining that he hadn’t been allowed to pray at work.

He also said that there were so many regulations pertaining to the construction of mosques that when they were finished, they looked like garages. “If you spend years pounding on someone, it is only logical that he fights back,” Delefortrie says.

Abdel’s mother says that she now regularly meets in Brussels with 15 other mothers whose sons are also fighting in Syria. They met on the day after the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Abdel’s mother told the gathered women of a dream she had had after seeing so much blood on the television. “I saw my son walking on a street in Paris. He wasn’t carrying a weapon. He was peaceful.” In the dream, Abdel then came home. He sat down silently in the kitchen and put his hands on the table. She went over to the stove and cooked him his favorite meal. Lasagna.

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60 Germans died fighting for IS — intelligence chief

Undated photo of Islamic State fighters near the border between Syria and Iraq (screen capture: YouTube/Vice)
Undated photo of Islamic State fighters near the border between Syria and Iraq (screen capture: YouTube/Vice)

Head of domestic security agency estimates that 550 German nationals have joined jihadist group in Iraq and Syria

Some 60 Germans have been killed while fighting under the banner of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, the head of the German domestic intelligence service said Sunday.

“About 60 people from Germany have died or killed themselves, at least nine in suicide attacks,” Hans-George Maassen told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

“That’s a sad success for Islamist propaganda.”

In all, about 550 German nationals have joined IS in the conflict zone, and of these 180 have returned to Germany, he said.

In mid-October, Germany announced new measures to prevent its citizens from traveling to join the jihadist cause in Iraq and Syria, including confiscating their identity papers.

Concerns are mounting in Europe over the growing national security threat posed by jihadists returning from the war-ravaged countries.

Iran warns ‘Islamic State’: If you advance, we will attack!

TEHRAN – Iran will attack Islamic State group jihadists inside Iraq if they advance near the border, ground forces commander General Ahmad Reza Pourdestana said in comments published on Saturday.

“If the terrorist group (IS) come near our borders, we will attack deep into Iraqi territory and we will not allow it to approach our border,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Pourdestana as saying.

The Sunni extremists of IS control a swathe of territory north of Baghdad, including in Diyala province, which borders Shiite Iran.

The United States launched air strikes on IS targets in Iraq in August and has since widened them to Syria, where the jihadist group has its headquarters, as part of an international coalition to crush the group.

Iran is a close ally of the Shiite-led government in Iraq and has been unusually accepting of US military action in Iraq against the jihadists.

It has provided support to both the Iraqi government and Iraqi Kurdish forces fighting the jihadists and has dispatched weapons and military advisers.

But Tehran, a close ally of the Damascus government, has criticised air strikes on Syria, saying they would not help restore stability in the region.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said he rejected a US offer to join the international coalition it has been building against the jihadists.

Isil want to assassinate the Pope, says Iraq’s ambassador to Vatican

Pope Francis has told a group of teenagers in El Salvador to
Pope Francis could be vulnerable when he travels to Albania on Sunday, and also on his visit to Turkey in November Photo: AP

Habeeb Al Sadr warns that Isil’s “band of criminals” could have Pope Francis in its sights, ahead of the pontiff’s visits to Albania and Turkey

Pope Francis is at risk of an assassination attempt by the Islamic extremists of Isil, the Vatican has been warned, ahead of his first visit to a Muslim-majority country this weekend.

As the 77-year-old pontiff prepares to travel to Albania on Sunday for a one-day visit, Iraq’s ambassador to the Holy See said there were credible threats against the pontiff’s life.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Church could also be vulnerable when he travels to Turkey in November, the ambassador said.

Jihadists from Isil have in recent weeks boasted of wanting to extend their caliphate to Rome, the heart of Western Christendom, and have talked of planting the jihadist black flag on top of St Peter’s Basilica.

Habeeb Al Sadr said there were also indications of a more specific threat against Pope Francis, who recently spoke out in favour of the US and its allies halting the advance of Isil in Syria and Iraq.

“What has been declared by the self-declared Islamic State is clear – they want to kill the Pope. The threats against the Pope are credible,” the ambassador told La Nazione, an Italian daily, on Tuesday.

“I believe they could try to kill him during one of his overseas trips or even in Rome. There are members of Isil who are not Arabs but Canadian, American, French, British, also Italians.

“Isil could engage any of these to commit a terrorist attack in Europe.”

The ambassador said the Pope had made himself a target by speaking out against the human rights abuses committed against Christians in Syria and Iraq, as well as by his approval of attempts by the US to try to roll back Isil.

“In cases like this, where there is an unjust aggression, then it is licit to halt the aggressor,” he said in an interview during his flight back from a visit to South Korea last month.

“But I stress ‘halt’. I don’t say bomb, or make war, but rather stop him,” the Pope said.

The ambassador, who has been stationed in Rome for four years, said:

“This band of criminals does not just issue threats – in Iraq they have already violated and destroyed some of the most sacred sites of the Shiite faith. They have struck at Yazidi and Christian places of worship. They have declared that whoever is not with them, is against them. Either convert or be killed. And they are doing it – it is a genocide.”

The Vatican downplayed the warning, saying that it had received no credible reports of a threat to the Pope’s life and that he would not be changing his daily routine or reviewing his trip to Albania.

“There are no specific threats or risks that would change the Pope’s behaviour or the way the trip is organised,” said Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman.

During the Pope’s trip to Tirana, the Albanian capital, on Sunday, he will celebrate Mass in the city’s main square and drive around in his open-topped Popemobile, as usual, Father Lombardi said.

The Pope wanted there to be “no obstacles” between him and the ordinary people he will encounter.

No extra security measures would be taken for the Albania trip, despite previous warnings that Albanian jihadists who had returned home from fighting in Syria or Iraq might be planning an attack.

Vatican security officials are “calm” ahead of the one-day visit, the Rev Lombardi said.

The trip to Albania is intended to celebrate the rebirth of Christianity after religious belief was crushed under the Communist rule of Enver Hoxha, and to demonstrate how Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims live in harmony in the country of three million people.

Hoxha, a hardline dictator, declared Albania the world’s first atheist state in 1967 and allowed the persecution of Catholics.

The Pope’s trip to Turkey, which will include events in Ankara and Istanbul, is expected to take place on Nov 29 and 30.

IS kidnaps 40 men in Iraq’s Kirkuk – In northeast Syria, Jihadists build a government

Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen fire at Islamic State group positions during an operation outside Amirli, some 105 miles (170 kilometers) north of Baghdad
Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen fire at Islamic State group positions during an operation outside Amirli, some 105 miles

BAGHDAD: Islamic State militants kidnapped 40 men from a town in Iraq’s northern province of Kirkuk yesterday, dragging the men into cars before driving off, residents said. Residents of the Sunni Muslim town of Hawija said by telephone they did not know why the men had been taken, from a district on the edge of the town.

They added that Islamic State, which controls Hawija, had not faced any resistance from its inhabitants. Islamic State has seized hundreds of Iraqi and Syrian soldiers as well as members of other insurgent groups, journalists and civilians. Some have been sold for ransom and others have been killed.

The group launched a lightning advance through northern and central Iraq in June, declaring an Islamic caliphate. With the help of US air strikes, Iraq’s army and Kurdish forces have been able to push the fighters back from some areas.

The Ministry of Defense said yesterday on state television Iraqi forces had killed three “leaders” of Islamic State in three separate attacks on Mosul and Tel Afar in the north.

Meanwhile, in the cities and towns across the desert plains of northeast Syria, the ultra-hardline Al-Qaeda offshoot Islamic State has insinuated itself into nearly every aspect of daily life.

The group famous for its beheadings, crucifixions and mass executions provides electricity and water, pays salaries, controls traffic, and runs nearly everything from bakeries and banks to schools, courts and mosques.

Merciless tactics While its merciless battlefield tactics and its imposition of its austere vision of Islamic law have won the group headlines, residents say much of its power lies in its efficient and often deeply pragmatic ability to govern.

Syria’s eastern province of Raqqa provides the best illustration of their methods. Members hold up the province as an example of life under the Islamic “caliphate” they hope will one day stretch from China to Europe.

In the provincial capital, a dust-blown city that was home to about a quarter of a million people before Syria’s three-year-old war began the group leaves almost no institution or public service outside of its control. “Let us be honest, they are doing massive institutional work.

It is impressive,” one activist from Raqqa who now lives in a border town in Turkey told Reuters. In interviews conducted remotely, residents, Islamic State fighters and even activists opposed to the group described how it had built up a structure similar to a modern government in less than a year under its chief, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

Reuters journalists are unable to visit the area for security reasons. The group’s progress has alarmed regional and Western powers. Last month US President Barack Obama called it a “cancer” that must be erased from the Middle East as US warplanes bombarded its positions in Iraq.

But Islamic State has embedded itself so thoroughly into the fabric of life in places like Raqqa that it will be all but impossible for US aircraft – let alone Iraqi, Syrian and Kurdish troops – to uproot them through force alone.

Bride of revolution Last year, Raqqa became the first city to fall to the rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Al-Assad. They called it the “Bride of the Revolution.”

A variety of rebel groups ranging from hardline Islamists to religious moderates held sway in the city, although Islamists clearly dominated. Within a year, Islamic State had clawed its way into control, mercilessly eliminating rival insurgents. Activists critical of the group were killed, disappeared, or escaped to Turkey.

Alcohol was banned. Shops closed by afternoon and streets were empty by nightfall. Communication with the outside world, including nearby cities and towns, was allowed only through the Islamic State media centre.

 

Those rebels and activists who stayed largely “repented”, a process through which they pledge loyalty to Baghdadi and are forgiven for their “sins” against the Islamic State, and either kept to their homes or joined the group’s ranks.

But after the initial crackdown, the group began setting up services and institutions – stating clearly that it intended to stay and use the area as a base in its quest to eradicate national boundaries and establish an Islamic “state”.

“We are a state,” one emir, or commander, in the province told Reuters. “Things are great here because we are ruling based on God’s law.”— Agencies

France bans Muslim worker from nuclear sites

There are an estimated five million Muslims living in France

French court upholds ban citing “religious radicalisation” but his lawyer calls it a case of Islamophobia.

A French court has upheld a ban on a Muslim engineer from accessing nuclear sites, citing his links with what it termed as “jihadist networks”, but his lawyer called it a case of Islamophobia.

Lawyer Sefen Guez Guez told AFP news agency on Monday that he was looking at launching an appeal.

The 29-year-old working for a firm subcontracted by energy giant EDF had been granted access to nuclear installations as part of his job throughout 2012 and 2013.

But in March this year, the man – who cannot be named according to French law, had his pass to enter the Nogent-sur-Seine nuclear power station revoked.

Officials said he had links with a violent armed group and that he was in touch with an imam involved in recruiting people to fight in Iraq.

A court in the north-eastern town of Chalons-en-Champagne upheld the ban saying the management could prevent those “undergoing a process of political and religious radicalisation” from accessing sensitive sites.

The lawyer for the man cried foul and argued that his client had no police record.

“There is no proof of these supposed links,” Guez Guez said.

In June 2014, Guez Guez successfully had the ban revoked by an appeals court. But when the engineer turned up for work, he found he was once again refused access – this time by EDF – to his place of work, and his lawyer appealed again.

France is home to some five million Muslims – the largest Muslim population in western Europe.

Like a number of European countries, France has expressed concern over young people leaving the country to fight in Iraq and Syria, and who could pose a risk to domestic security on their return.

According to official estimates, about 800 French nationals or residents, including several dozen women, have travelled to Syria, returned from the conflict-ridden country or plan to go there.

Captured IS Suicide Bomber Reveals Threat

The first Islamic State suicide bomber caught in Iraq tells Sky News there are more foreign fighters like him, including Britons.

A wing of Sulaymaniah’s military hospital has been sealed off and 24-hour security has been posted at the door of a ward.

Inside lies an injured young man; a very special patient and prisoner.

He is 23-year-old Horr Jaffer, from Chechnya, and he is an Islamic State (IS) suicide bomber.

His capture has been a secret until now.

Sky News is the first to get access to this man who was caught in the southern Kurdish town of Jalula after his bomb part exploded.

He had been attempting to destroy a Kurd checkpoint by driving a bomb-laden car into their midst.

IS suicide bomber talks to Sky News
The 23-year-old militant killed four people in his bomb attack

Four people died and many others were injured, but he was captured attempting to escape.

Under questioning he admits that he joined IS in Syria after his father, mother and six family members were killed there.

He says they had moved from Chechnya to Pakistan before going to Syria.

The Kurds believe his father and brothers were to all intents and purposes professional jihadists; moving to countries where they could ply their trade.

That trade is killing people.

“I want to be a martyr. I decided after they killed my family,” he says in barely audible Russian.

“They didn’t tell me anything about what I was doing or where I was. I just had to press the button.”

The killer claims that Syria is filling with foreign fighters; a constant stream from all over the world.

David Cameron will give a Commons statement on the terror threat.

“There are nations from all over the world there. There is British amongst them. They are from Asian countries, Europe and America. From everywhere,” he told me.

He says that they used to talk together and mix together but didn’t understand a lot of what was said.

Spending an hour with him it was striking how little he knew about what IS is doing across swathes of Syria.

He denied any knowledge of the creation of a caliphate by IS for example.

He struck me as a rather stupid boy, upset by the loss of his family and totally open to indoctrination by his IS handlers.

He was just the guy prepared to die and kill others with him and it seems there are lots like him.

When asked if he regretted what had happened he broke down.

Terror threat level raised
Britain is growing increasingly concerned about the threat from IS

Arching his back in pain and misery, saying he just wanted to live a normal life that he did not mean to do what he did.

It is hard not to be moved by his anguish. Hard but not impossible. He is a killer.

Like many western governments and security services, Britain is growing increasingly concerned about both IS and the numbers of young men being radicalised and coming to Syria and Iraq.

Out here the Kurds say they are right to be concerned.

“It is almost like super-terrorism and this is the frontline,” Bafle Talabani, the British-born founder of the Kurds’ elite Counter Terrorism Group, told me in the grounds of his father’s house, which happens to be the Presidential Palace.

“It is more aggressive, more merciless more brutal. This is the front of the war on terror,” he says.

“If we don’t stop this here they will come for the West, for England, for Europe or the United States. They need to be stopped.”

Terror threat warning
Bafle Talabani says IS represents a super-terrorism and needs to be stopped

IS, he believes, is the most dangerous single entity in the world today.

He is urging western governments to allow the Kurds to buy their own weapons or supply them.

“The special forces have good equipment. The peshmergas’ weapons go back to the Iran-Iraq war. They are fighting against good weapons and a well-organised outfit with lots of money,” he says.

With so many willing jihadists available IS is unlikely to missthis single bomber.

When he is treated and well, he will go to prison and rot there for the rest of his life.

He will be denied martyrdom. The Kurds want the foreign fighters to know that.

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