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Cant make this up, and it is an attitude and policy that is infectious especially with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
German army wants security checks for recruits after admitting more than 60 Isil suspects in its ranks
Telegraph: The German army has said it wants tougher security checks on recruits after admitting that more than 60 Islamists are suspected of infiltrating its ranks.
In a draft amendment seen by German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, senior Bundeswehr officials said all applicants should be screened by the intelligence services for jihadist links before they begin basic training.
And they disclosed that 64 Islamists are already feared to have embedded themselves within the armed forces, along with 268 right-wing extremists and six left-wing extremists.
Terrorists are attracted to the army because they can use the training to plot future terror attacks in Germany, the document added.
“The German army trains all of its members in the handling and usage of weapons of war,” it said, “[terrorists] could use those skills acquired in the army to carry out well-prepared acts of violence at home or abroad.”
The proposals would lead to a major overhaul of the country’s recruiting policy as under the current system soldiers are only checked for Islamist ties once they have enlisted.
They would also require an extra 90 military officials to be hired in order to carry out a further 20,000 checks per year.
The reforms, which would cost an estimated 8.2 million euros (£6.9m) per year, are expected to be approved by German commanders next week, Welt am Sonntag reported.
A Defence Ministry spokesman said the government was still in the process of debating the law, which if approved would come into force in July 2017.
Germany is on high alert following a spate of deadly attacks last July, two of which were claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
On July 18 an Afghan refugee attacked passengers with an axe on a regional train in southern Germany, injuring four people before he was shot by police.
Officials said they found an Isil flag in the 17-year-old’s room and it later emerged that he had pledged allegiance to the group in a video posted online.
A week later, on July 25th, a Syrian refugee blew himself up in the southern town of Ansbach, killing himself in the blast and wounding 12 others.
When police raided his flat they found violent videos, bomb making materials and a message on his mobile phone in which he said he carried out the attack on behalf of Isil leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Thomas de Maziere, the German Interior Minister, has already called for tougher security measures which would include a ban on the burka and legal reforms that would make it easier to deport terror suspects.
He is also in favour of a Europe-wide proposal to force the developers of encrypted messaging services such as Telegram to hand over data to the security services.
Telegram has attracted controversy in the past for being popular among Isil fighters, who use the network to trade weapons and plot attacks while remaining anonymous.
Newsweek: German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said in an interview on Saturday that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives had “underestimated” the challenge of integrating a record migrant influx.
Immigrants are escorted by German police to a registration center, after crossing the Austrian-German border in Wegscheid near Passau, Germany, October 20, 2015. Reuters
Gabriel is also leader of the Social Democrats (SPD)—the junior coalition partner in Merkel’s government—and his comments come as campaigning gets underway for a federal election next year and for regional elections in Berlin and the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants flocked to Germany from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere last year. Concerns about how to integrate them all into German society and the labor market are now rife and support for the anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has grown.
“I, we always said that it’s inconceivable for Germany to take in a million people every year,” Gabriel said in extracts of an interview with broadcaster ZDF released on Saturday.
The head of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees told newspaper Bild am Sonntag that Germany took in less than one million migrants last year and said he expected a maximum of 300,000 refugees to arrive in Germany this year.
At a separate news conference on Sunday, Gabriel said: “There is an upper limit to a country’s integration ability.”
He said Germany had 300,000 new schoolchildren due to the migrant influx and added that the country could not manage to integrate so many into the school system every year because there would not be enough teachers.
In the ZDF interview, Gabriel also criticized Merkel’s catchphrase “Wir schaffen das,” meaning “We can do this,” which she adopted during the migrant crisis last summer and has repeatedly used since.
Merkel used the phrase at a news conference she held in late July after a spate of attacks on civilians in Germany, including two claimed by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), that have put her open-door migrant policy in the spotlight. Her popularity has slipped since those attacks.
Gabriel said repeating that phrase was not enough and the conservatives needed to create the conditions for Germany to be able to cope, adding that the conservatives had always blocked opportunities to do that.
Merkel’s migrant policy also drew criticism from Markus Soeder, a senior member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).
“Even with the best will in the world, we won’t manage to integrate so many people from totally different cultures,” Soeder told German magazine Der Spiegel.
Soeder said Germany needed to send several hundred thousand of refugees back in the next three years rather than bring their families here.
The CSU tends to talk tougher on immigration than the CDU and the two allies have often been at odds over how to respond to the migrant influx.
TORONTO — Canada’s “principal terrorist threat” comes from those inspired by extremist ideologies to conduct attacks, the government said Thursday in its latest update on the security challenges facing the country.
Released by Pubic Safety Minister Ralph Goodale just over two weeks after a failed ISIL-inspired suicide bombing in Ontario, the report said ISIL and its sibling al-Qaida “continue to appeal to certain individuals in Canada.”
Some promote violence online, radicalize their peers, recruit and fundraise, it said. “Others may consider travelling abroad to join a terrorist group or conducting terrorist attacks themselves,” said the 2016 Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada.
As of the end of 2015, about 180 “individuals with a nexus to Canada” were suspected of participating in terrorist activities overseas, up from 130 the previous year, it said. More than half were thought to be in Turkey, Iraq or Syria.
About 20 per cent of Canada’s extremist travellers were women, the report said, adding that in Syria the women were not only serving as brides but were also training and fighting in some cases. Some have brought their children with them.
The report again raised questions about how authorities are dealing with the dozens of returnees — those who are back in Canada after taking part in overseas terrorism. The government was aware of about 60 such people.
It said they could use their “skills, experience and relationships” to recruit or plan attacks in Canada, noting that the recent terror killings in Paris and Brussels were carried out by former ISIL fighters who had returned to Europe.
But while the report said returnees could cause “serious security concerns for their home countries,” none of those who have come back to Canada from Syria and Iraq have been charged with terrorism offences. One who returned to Canada after being injured went back to fight with ISIL once he had healed in Windsor, Ont.
“Canadians can be assured that the RCMP is carefully monitoring these individuals who have returned to Canada as it is a top priority,” said Scott Bardsley, Goodale’s press secretary. He said the government was using “a number of tools,” including passport revocations.
The Canadian government has been struggling to deal with ex-foreign fighters since the conflict in Afghanistan in the 1980s and ’90s, said Larry Brooks, a former Canadian Security Intelligence Service counter-terrorism official.
The central problem is proving to the satisfaction of a Canadian judge that someone had engaged in terrorism in a foreign country, particularly the lawless ones where terrorist groups like al-Qaida and ISIL are based, he said.
“It’s tremendously difficult to collect credible evidence that would satisfy a Canadian court for prosecution,” said Brooks, who was the operational manager of the CSIS investigation of the Toronto 18. “The challenges are significant.”
He said Crown attorneys were also reluctant to prosecute. “Nobody likes to lose a case but federal prosecutors seem to be loath to do anything but an open and shut, iron case.” But he also said prosecution might not be the best option for some returnees.
Canada is fundamentally a safe and peaceful nation, but we are not naive about the security issues that dominate the world’s attention
Twenty people have been convicted of terrorism offences since 2002, the report said. Another 21 have been charged and are either awaiting trial or are wanted on outstanding warrants. Several of those wanted are believed to be dead.
Militant video via APFoued Mohammed-Aggad, a Frenchman who was among the Islamic State fighters to attack Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, appears in an undated propaganda video. He had been among a group of 10 men from Strasbourg who joined the extremists in 2013, most of them acknowledging they knew little about Islamic Shariah law.
The annual public update on terrorist threats was launched by the previous Conservatives but no report was issued last year, and this was the first under the Trudeau government. Goodale has been under pressure to reassure Canadians on his government’s response to terrorism since the Aug. 10 police killing of an ISIL supporter in Strathroy, Ont.
Although he was the subject of a terrorism peace bond, Aaron Driver built a homemade bomb and recorded a martyrdom video saying his planned attack was a response to ISIL’s call for “jihadi in the lands of the crusaders.”
The FBI notified the RCMP about the video and Driver was quickly put under surveillance. Confronted by a police tactical team after he got into a taxi outside his house, the 24-year-old tried to detonate a bomb in his backpack and was shot dead.
“Canada is fundamentally a safe and peaceful nation, but we are not naive about the security issues that dominate the world’s attention,” Goodale said in a foreword to the report. Canada’s threat level is at medium, meaning an attack “could occur.”
Aside from ISIL and al-Qaida, the report singled out Hezbollah as a particular threat to Canadian interests and noted the Lebanese terror group was “supported by” Iran and “remains one of the world’s most capable terrorist groups.”
“Hezbollah has networks around the world, including in Canada, and uses the networks for recruitment, fundraising and procurement. Hezbollah terrorist operations abroad represent a threat to Canadian interests.”
He never returned. Documents released earlier this month show he became an ISIS fighter and was killed by Lebanese forces in January 2015. And during his four years, he and his family used federal and state welfare programs that The Boston Herald reports allowed him the time to self-radicalize over the Internet.
Maine Governor Paul LePage reacted strongly to the news. “I’m having [the Maine Department of Health and Human Services] look at our welfare rolls closer,” he said last week. “All the other states should look at the eligibility, too.”
According to LePage, the federal government is at fault for letting Fazeli in the country. “If people need to eat, I’ll feed them. But I want to keep Americans safe,” LePage said. “This is very embarrassing to the state of Maine, and I point the finger at the president and say, ‘How did this happen?’ If the federal government doesn’t do their job we don’t know what we’re getting.”
LePage’s comments drew criticism from Maine’s branch of the ACLU. The group’s executive director, Alison Beyea, accused him of violating federal laws requiring the privacy of welfare recipients after the Herald reported a LePage administration source disclosed the receipts.
“The LePage administration reportedly exposed a family’s private information in order to further its anti-welfare agenda. Who knows whom the next target will be – the elderly, people with disabilities,” said Beyea. “No one should have to worry about their personal lives being leaked to the press anytime the administration wants to score political points. But if it happened to one family, it could happen to any of us.”
A LePage spokesperson says that the governor’s office did not disclose the information to the newspaper. “The reporters [at the Boston Herald] already had the information when the governor spoke with them,” said the spokesperson.
Steve Robinson, the Executive Director of the Howie Carr show who previously worked at the Maine Heritage Policy Center, told TheDC, “This so-called ‘Freeport Man’ should not have been in the country. Cursory vetting would have flagged him as a risk.”
“Maine’s sanctuary policies and easy-money welfare system allowed him to spend his free time watching Anwar Al-Awlaki propaganda videos rather than working,” continued Robinson, who said that “LePage has been extraordinarily successful reforming Maine’s welfare system despite stubborn opposition from left-wingers in Augusta. The reforms he has implemented are helping Mainers move from welfare to work and reducing fraud throughout the system.”
The Portland Press Herald reported that 105 welfare fraud cases were sent to the state Attorney General’s office. A total of 36 convictions came from those cases, all against U.S. citizens, and restitution totaling $467,300 was ordered, according to a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office.
The Herald also examined Maine state records and found that “there were 35 non-citizen families out of a total of 4,854 families receiving TANF benefits, and 361 non-citizen families out of a total of 100,648 families receiving food stamps.”
“The most conspicuous example are the Tsarnaev brothers,” writes Johnson, “who collectively received in excess of $100,000 in welfare payments from food stamps and Section 8 housing. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a onetime Golden Gloves boxer, remained on food stamps until his family income — earned primarily by his wife — exceeded the amount Massachusetts allows for food stamp beneficiaries.”
Johnson also highlighted recently convicted terrorist supporter Anjem Choudary, who in Britain received “£8,000 pounds more on public assistance than soldiers fighting the Taliban,” according to Johnson. Likewise, 9/11 conspirator Zacarious Moussaoui received welfare in Britain.
According to recordings released in 2013, Choudary preached that jihadists should work as little as possible, and “take money from the kuffar [non-believers]” so they can be “be busy with jihad and things like that.”
A nephew of Fazeli says the deceased terrorist’s wife and children, as well as Fazeli’s extended family, were unaware of his radicalization. The family was taken off of welfare rolls after Fazeli left the country.
SofRep: Belgian financial investigators looking into recent terror plots have discovered a disturbing trend: Some of the suspects were collecting welfare benefits until shortly before they carried out their attacks.
At least five of the alleged plotters in the Paris and Brussels terror attacks partly financed themselves with payments from Belgium’s generous social-welfare system, authorities have concluded. In total they received more than €50,000, or about $56,000 at today’s rate.
The main surviving Paris suspect, Salah Abdeslam, collected unemployment benefits until three weeks before the November attacks—€19,000 in all, according to people familiar with the case. At the time, he was manager and part-owner of a bar, which Belgian officials say should have made him ineligible.
Many of the participants in a disrupted Belgian terror plot also had been on the dole, according to the judge who sentenced more than a dozen people in the so-called Verviers cell last month. Police thwarted the plot early last year, finding explosives, weapons and police uniforms after a shootout that killed two people.
The revelations raise a difficult conundrum for Europe.
Perhaps the countries of Europe should consider more aggressive sentencing for crimes as a starter. There are some real lessons here for America.
The Jihadi Joker, Anjem Choudary, Was a Terror Mastermind
For 20 years, long before ISIS, he abetted terror plots in the U.K. and around the world. Now that he’s in jail, will he continue his work there?
DailyBeast: LONDON — Perhaps the world’s most mainstream pro-ISIS Western media agitator, Anjem Choudary, finally has been convicted of terrorism in the United Kingdom.
It took 20 years to bring him to justice, but after jurors at the Old Bailey heard last week that he’d pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State, they were not going to let Choudary walk free again. He now faces up to 10 years in prison.
I first met Anjem in 1995 when I was 17 years old. Back then, we were both students of the pro-caliphate group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT).
A year before, HT had organized an international caliphate conference at Wembley Arena. In an unprecedented move, we gathered 10,000 people under orange banners proclaiming “Khilafah [caliphate]—coming soon to a country near you.”
Then, one of our associates, Saeed Nur, murdered the Nigerian student Ayotunde Obanubi on the campus of Newham College in London. This was probably Britain’s first jihadist street murder.
I was expelled from the same college due to my unruly Islamist activity, and I got in touch with Anjem because he was a lawyer, and I was seeking his legal advice. But our paths soon diverged.
Eventually, I left Islamism altogether, but after the murder at Newham the more extreme al-Muhajiroun broke away from HT, and Anjem was appointed its U.K. leader. They began to call openly for jihad.
During the two decades that followed, many of us, Muslim or otherwise, dismissed Anjem as an irrelevant fringe voice, almost a parody of an extremist. But like an evil clown, Anjem courted this jester brand while concealing beneath it an incredibly nefarious network. Our neglect and mockery of his manic call to enforce a burqa on the queen and fly the ISIS black flag over Downing Street suited him perfectly.
But evidence now shows that Anjem Choudary was one of the most dangerous extremists in Europe.
Over the course of his 20-year jihadist freefall, Anjem’s group al-Muhajiroun and its “Sharia For…” offshoots have been deemed responsible for half of all U.K. terrorist attacks. Anjem himself has been directly linked to the RAF Lakenheath plot, to radicalizing Jihadi John’s British successor Siddhartha Darr, the Anzac Day plot in Australia, the plot to behead a British soldier, the murder of drummer Lee Rigby at Woolwich in London, the Royal Wooten Basset plot, the London Stock Exchange Plot, and suicide bomber Omar Khan Sharif’s 2003 attack in Tel Aviv. Anjem has also been indirectly linked to London’s 7/7 bombings, the shoe bomber, the ricin plot, the fertilizer bomb plot, the dirty bomb plot, and the Transatlantic bomb plot.
Around 6,000 European citizens don’t just get up out of a vacuum and leave to join the worst terrorist group of our lifetime. Anjem Choudary was a key voice responsible for cultivating what eventually became this ISIS support network in Europe. And he acted with impunity.
No surprises, then, that police revealed his link to 500 British jihadists fighting with ISIS in Syria.
At my counter-extremism organization Quilliam, we had been warning about this for years, only to be suspected of taking the court jester too seriously.
But Anjem was the jihadist Fagin: the ideologue who produced the zombies; the battlefield standard bearer to whom they all rallied; the inciter who took them to the brink, while remaining just on the right side of the law to survive another day.
While we dismissed him as a clown, Anjem was no fool. His jester brand was cynical, deliberate, and planned. He was a trained criminal lawyer who stopped practicing law only because he came to believe that appealing to man-made law meant apostasy.
With hindsight, many may now be wondering how such flagrant incitement was tolerated in Britain for over 20 years. His story serves as a lesson in tolerating gross intolerance. But now that Anjem is in prison, another challenge confronts us. He will be held for a while at HMP Belmarsh, previously described as a jihadist training camp. How will he be stopped from playing his wicked tune through his crooked flute in jail? This time his audience is made up of hardened criminals.
As a society, we are that far behind in countering extremist propaganda that even jailing jihadists can exacerbate the problem. There are some, though, who work exclusively with incarcerated terrorists in order to deradicalize them. My friend and colleague Usman Raja’s organization The Unity Initiative specializes in just such a task. Usman has a track record initiating a certain change in people like Jordan Horner, a convicted member of the “Muslim Patrol” group that was prowling London’s streets enforcing its medieval take on Sharia, and Ali Beheshti, leader of the “Jewel of Medina” petrol bomb plot.
Both men had ties to Anjem’s group al-Muhajiroun but have now apologized for their past jihadist extremism. It may be slightly too optimistic to see this happening to Anjem anytime soon, but action to at least neutralize his recruitment efforts must certainly be considered. And any plan should form a blueprint for building such intervention to scale, globally.
The way in which my path eventually forked from Anjem’s symbolizes the split at the heart of the civil war playing out within Muslim communities, and beyond: Islamists against secularists. Muslims with varying levels of devotion, and even non-Muslims, sit on both sides of this divide. They straddle a largely passive Muslim majority that values its religion and culture but just wants to get on in life.
Islamist theocrats will not allow them to do so.
A civil war has unfolded within Islam, and none of us can any longer afford to remain neutral. First and foremost, this is an ideological war. The state, private companies, and civil society must intervene on behalf of secularists. A rally of thousands calling for a caliphate at Wembley in 1995 followed by a jihadist murder on London’s streets should have acted as a clear warning of the ISIS brutality that was set to follow.
Anjem’s story highlights the dangers of underestimating theocratic Islamist ideologues while allowing their ideology of Islamism to fester as it morphs into violent jihadism. We all stood by hoping it was just going to go away by itself. It hasn’t. And it won’t.
This cancer requires treatment.
Why Europe Can’t Find The Jihadis In Its Midst
BuzzFeed: A small, well-organized ISIS cell has been at work in the heart of Europe for years, recruiting criminals, exploiting freedom of movement, and evading counterterrorism efforts. This spring and summer, as multiple attacks rocked Europe, Mitch Prothero spoke to the people shuttling between investigating the crimes that had already happened, while struggling to prevent new ones.
BRUSSELS, Belgium — The assignment given to the Belgian police in the summer of 2014 was straightforward but high stakes: Follow two men suspected of involvement with ISIS through the streets of Brussels. Find out who they meet, record what they say. A court had approved wiretaps for the men’s phones and for the use of tracking devices, and a specialized team of covert operators from the secret service had broken into the men’s homes and vehicles and planted bugs and GPS devices without leaving a trace.
Rather unusually, there had been little problem getting senior police officials and the courts that oversee Belgium’s personal privacy laws to approve the mission. Partly, it was the two men’s history: They had long criminal records — drug dealing, petty theft, and the occasional violent robbery — and now, unbeknownst to them, had been placed on a terrorism watch list.
With hundreds of people suspected of having ties to ISIS and al-Qaeda, it would be impossible for the Belgian authorities to monitor all of them. But these two were believed to be linked to Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French-Algerian man charged with killing four people at the Jewish Museum of Brussels on May 24, 2014.
Belgian authorities knew there had been an alarming increase in violent rhetoric — as evidenced by the proliferation of online videos and public demonstrations, and by the criminal trials of members of Sharia4Belgium, a group advocating extremist ideology — much of it linked to the rise of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But even for trained investigators, let alone police officers typically assigned to financial fraud or money-laundering cases, getting an overall sense of what was happening remained elusive.
In part this was because of the transformation in the threat posed by ISIS militants; as nebulous as al-Qaeda had been, it was at least an organization with a defined leadership and network of followers. These new cases were much more challenging, seemingly organic in nature, with a more diffuse structure that was nearly impossible to pin down.
The cops hoped that the surveillance of the two suspects would shed light on what they feared was a new kind of international jihadist cell in the heart of the European Union’s previously sleepy capital.
“The system was finally somewhat working,” one of the cops who had been tailing the two men told me when we met in a café in Brussels two years later. He was half explaining to me and half trying to make his own sense of what happened, at a time when Europe — and France and Belgium in particular — was being convulsed by repeated terrorist attacks.
“We’d gotten the approval to place electronic surveillance all over these guys,” said the cop, who remains assigned to counterterrorism operations and cannot be identified. “That itself was pretty rare back then. And our covert teams had gotten in and wired them up without being seen. We even had the resources for once to follow them around the clock. It was as good an operation as we have ever set up, and we expected great things from it.”
As the suspects’ car weaved through Brussels’ workday traffic, the cops felt they could relax a bit. Normally, a proper surveillance effort for a suspect requires as many as 20 police officers to watch without being seen. But with tracking and listening devices in the cars and homes of the suspects, the police could simply follow at a safe distance and observe.
“It was going great until they switched from French to Arabic,” said the cop. “At that stage we lost everything. Do you know how long it takes us to get a translation [of a tape] into French from Arabic?”
In this case: three days, but by then they were gone.
“And that was pretty good because officials were motivated. It could be as little as 24 hours if we thought they were literally on the verge of an attack, but three days, one day, whatever — it’s too long.”
By the time translators had prepared a transcript, the men had fled Brussels by train for another European city — the officer refused to say which one — and eventually flew to Istanbul, where they easily made their way to southern Turkey and across the border into parts of Syria then controlled by ISIS.
Like thousands of other militant believers in jihadist ideology, they’d immigrated to the burgeoning proto-caliphate and abandoned their old lives in the “lands of the unbelievers.” In doing so, they disappeared from the eyes of an increasingly worried intelligence community, where many analysts were convinced citizens turned militants would return from training camps in Syria to exploit Europe’s open society and carry out attacks on the continent.
Since 2010, the Belgian and French authorities have been faced with a jihadist problem both more entrenched at home and more deeply interconnected to the international scene than had been previously understood. After last November’s attack on Paris, in which 130 people were killed, the full extent of the problem — not just for Belgium and France, but for the European Union — become tragically clear: An international network has exploited inherent security weaknesses of the EU’s open borders and brought French-speaking militants from Europe into the forefront of international terrorism. Between 2011 and the end of 2015, an estimated 12,000 people from 81 countries joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq, including 1,700 French and almost 500 Belgian residents, according to a comprehensive study of foreign fighters by the Soufan Group. The French S list — a database of suspected extremists and security threats — has grown to nearly 10,000 people, and those are only the people who have been identified.
ISIS militants threaten Europe with a wave of violence not seen since the heyday of 1970s political terrorism, and it appears to have the potential to be far more deadly. Previous terror campaigns led by Ireland’s IRA, Spain’s ETA, and Italy’s Red Brigades tended to have national aspirations and couldn’t exploit total freedom of movement between European countries. Those groups also had political considerations and patrons that forced them to calibrate their violence.
Nativist politicians from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to National Front leader Marine le Pen in France play up the notion of ISIS as an existential threat to capitalize on fears about terrorism. All the while, European counterterrorism officials seem overwhelmed by the thousands of names of suspects, stymied by a lack of integration across the EU, and caught on the hoof by perpetrators who often appear to lack any prior extremist links. And in the towns and cities where new jihadists are being recruited and cultivated most fervently, authorities lack the kind of surveillance techniques deployed by their American counterparts.
As the spring and summer of 2016 progressed with attacks and arrests across Europe — at one point in France, Belgium, and Germany, almost weekly — I met with investigators as they struggled to make sense of the new phenomenon, shuttling between crimes that had already happened and struggling to prevent new attacks.
This is what terrorism investigations in Europe look like today.
Police confront residents in Molenbeek, Brussels, April 2, 2016. Timothy Fadek / Redux
Samia Maktouf entered a small conference room in her chic Paris law office, holding a bundle of papers that contained a huge amount of information on ISIS’s international networks.
A French-Tunisian dual citizen, Maktouf works from her law firm on a classic Paris street not far from the Champs-Élysées. A member of the International Criminal Court’s bar, she moves easily between French, Arabic, and English, which serves her well as one of France’s most famous victim advocates, specializing in international terrorism. Precise in her language, she nonetheless sounded livid about the slow release of information by the government that she said hinders her work representing the victims of terror attacks in France and Tunisia, serving as their advocate in the official investigations.
“They’re covering something up,” she said of the investigations into the Paris attacks.
Maktouf is well-aware of the threat posed by this new era. ISIS makes its goals clear via social media and slickly produced propaganda videos: It wants a clash of civilizations that will force both Muslims and non-Muslims to accept that coexistence in Europe isn’t possible. France, with both the largest Muslim population in Europe, at over 6 million people, and a popular xenophobic right-wing political movement led by Marine le Pen, regularly figures in the exhortations of the group and its spokesmen, who often address the issue in French-language videos and online magazines.
Maktouf laid out the connections between various ISIS attacks, across both North Africa and Europe, which she has uncovered through the immense database she has built up on Francophone jihadists since she started investigating in 2010. The repeated links among the attackers have led her to believe that a handful of key figures in the ISIS hierarchy direct most of the international violence, with the European leadership mostly drawn from French-speaking countries.
“The Paris attack was committed by a Belgian cell, we know that,” she said, showing me a hand-drawn chart detailing the connections between people suspected of involvement in about a dozen successful or attempted attacks across France and Belgium since 2010.
The chart was filled with names, dates, and places that are all too familiar: the Bataclan in Paris, Verviers in Belgium, the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, and the suicide attacks in March that killed 32 people across the Belgian capital. And two men repeatedly connect to the others. The first is well-known from last November’s massacres in Paris: Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who masterminded the operations around the city that killed 130 people and died in a shoot-out with French police five days later. But Paris wasn’t his first attempt at international terrorism: Investigators put him at the center of at least half a dozen smaller or unsuccessful plots since he returned to Europe from ISIS-held territory in late 2014.
The second name isn’t as infamous as Abaaoud’s, but Maktouf argued he’s a more important figure: Fabien Clain, a 40-year-old French convert to Islam now believed to be in Syria or Iraq. It was Clain’s voice, in a recording released online by ISIS, that took credit for the operation. But according to Maktouf and French investigators, his role wasn’t limited to public relations as the voice of the massacre — he is in fact a leading figure inside ISIS’s foreign operations department.
“The Paris and Brussels attacks were directed by Clain,” said Maktouf, pointing at the direct personal links between him and virtually every attack undertaken in France since 2010. “Abaaoud was the man on the ground but … Clain ran the operation.”
Maktouf has been fighting hard to get French authorities to reveal more information about Clain. She wants to find out more about his role in attacks ranging from Brussels and Paris to the 2012 killing spree by al-Qaeda’s Mohammed Merah, which killed seven people, including schoolchildren, in Toulouse. But French authorities have so far rebuffed her requests, citing national security and intelligence concerns.
Clain had first drawn the attention of authorities when he returned to France in 2004, having studied Islam and Arabic in Cairo. He quickly garnered respect within militant circles for his religious scholarship and command of radical Islamic jurisprudence, and in 2009, a French court convicted him of recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor to ISIS. Upon his release from prison in 2014, he somehow managed to slip away from house arrest and is believed to have escaped to Syria and joined ISIS.
The opaque nature of ISIS’s command structure makes it almost impossible for investigators to know the exact nature of each person’s role. But a French intelligence official and Belgian investigators told me that Clain is now thought to be a top deputy of Salim Benghalem, a French-born jihadist increasingly believed to command European operations for ISIS from Syria. Benghalem — who has called on French-speaking Muslims to support the proto-caliphate via online videos — is himself thought to have risen to an operational command role after starting out as a guard of Western hostages in Raqqa, ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital in Syria.
In stark terms: Clain, Abaaoud, and Benghalem connect to every single successful or failed terror attack in France or Belgium in the last 10 years, according to the chart in Maktouf’s office.
Maktouf also told me something that wasn’t known to the Belgian investigators with whom I was talking. She has discovered that before he went to Cairo in 2004, Clain had lived in the central Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek — a mainly immigrant and heavily Muslim suburb where the Paris attackers plotted the massacre. It was here, investigators believe, where he became an associate of another senior figure — Khalid Zerkani, a street preacher dubbed “Papa Noel” by the media for his Santa-style beard. In April, a Belgian court sentenced Zerkani to 15 years in prison for radicalizing and sending fighters to Iraq and Syria.
A French intelligence official confirmed to me that a link between Clain and Zerkani was formed back then in Molenbeek, and that it could provide the origin story for one of the most dangerous terror cells in Europe’s history — the Brussels cell that masterminded the Paris and Belgian attacks.
Zerkani’s influence is at the heart of this cell. According to sealed sentencing documents obtained by BuzzFeed News, Zerkani’s recruits included Abaaoud, seen as his star pupil, as well as both Najim Laachraoui and Mohamed Abrini — suspects in both the Paris and Brussels attacks.
A week after speaking with the official, I went to a café in the Belgian capital to meet with a member of the security service to ask him about Clain’s role in the Brussels cell. Clain’s name was well-known to the authorities because of the ISIS statement he issued on the Paris attacks, but the security official I spoke to didn’t seem to make the connection to Brussels until I told him that Clain briefly lived in Molenbeek and knew Zerkani.
“Shit,” he said, taking a sip of his whiskey. “That wouldn’t surprise me at all. It makes sense.”
Rue Max Roos 4 in in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels, rented by brothers Khalid and Brahim el-Bakraoui. Timothy Fadek / Redux
The construction of the Brussels cell reveals how ISIS manipulates criminal mentality in its recruiting and exploits existing underground networks in the heart of the EU to carry out its attacks. Its members were mostly small-time thieves and drug dealers who had been converted to the radical cause by Zerkani.
But the operations carried out by the Brussels cell also reveal how ISIS is capable of taking advantage of the political climate in Europe. Nine attackers carried out the Paris attack, seven of whom have been identified as EU citizens. At least six of them are thought to have traveled to Syria, and then exploited the migrant exodus as cover to re-enter Europe under false names. ISIS had even gone so far as to falsely announce Abdelhamid Abaaoud’s death in Syria in early 2014, shortly before he returned to Europe using faked paperwork.
Not a single European security official would tell me when exactly they realized Abaaoud was in fact still alive and planning attacks in Europe. But by the time of the Paris attacks in November 2015, they were well-aware that he was walking free around Europe and involved in planning operations. Wiretaps and phone intercepts confirmed that he was in contact with other jihadists, but authorities had no idea where he was. Despite an international arrest warrant, he was able to move around as he pleased.
A Belgian military intelligence officer told me earlier this summer that he had tried to track Abaaoud using NATO surveillance in Syria and Iraq, but got nowhere. And he was angry at the bureaucratic chaos at the heart of EU counterterrorism efforts: Member states would file notices with Interpol or Europol about dangerous radicals, but then leave the investigations to be conducted locally on an ad hoc basis. There was no joined-up thinking, he said.
“The police blew it,” said the operative, who works internationally undercover in the Middle East and Africa on terrorism and organized crime issues. “That [Abaaoud] was able to get back in [from Syria] and run things in Brussels, Paris, shows up the UK in August and is seemingly everywhere moving freely … inexcusable.”
The apartment in Paris where Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Chakib Akrouh died during a raid. Christophe Ena / AP Photo
The authorities’ inability to keep track of Abaaoud’s movements is indicative of the complexity of counterterrorism challenges presented by an underworld in which gangsters, jihadists, and ex-convicts come together to share false paperwork, contacts, and safe houses. Abaaoud and his friends were comfortable walking the constantly shifting line between newly minted jihadists and small-time criminals dealing drugs, stealing cars, and selling weapons.
Infiltrating criminal organizations in this world is nearly impossible given their diffuse nature, but sometimes even language is an obstacle. Each European city has developed its own Arabic dialect among local teens and young men, which even fluent speakers can have trouble understanding. Police translators who are comfortable listening to a wiretap of targets from Brussels describe the nightmare of trying to understand a cell based in Antwerp, or outside of Paris.
And there’s little in police textbooks on how to identify suspects in the new jihadist environment, typically but not always first- or second- generation Belgians of North African descent, who often have little religious education or history of piety. If the militants’ own families are often caught off guard by the sudden transition to extremism, police have had little luck predicting who might make the jump from petty crime to brutal ideological murders. And given that so much of the radicalization happens online, or among small groups of friends hanging out together in tight-knit neighborhoods, it is very difficult for police to monitor.
One Belgian investigator tried to explain how ephemeral the situation feels, and how hard it is to distinguish between a criminal and a jihadist, when he described the behavior of a young militant who had returned home after fighting with ISIS. “We have one guy who comes home from Syria to visit people on breaks,” he said. “We know he’s in Syria and he’ll sneak back into the town, see his friends, and go clubbing. We have CCTV of him sniffing lines of coke and drinking in a club on one break before he goes back to Syria.”
The investigator said it felt like he was watching a tape of a soldier on R&R. The kid can take drugs, drink, and have sex all he wants on his break because his inevitable death on an operation will absolve all his past sins.
That’s the gospel that “Papa Noel” Zerkani preached, according to his sentencing documents, and he offered easy redemption from a life of crime and low-rent hedonism. The only catch, of course, is this redemption will often end in murder, or at best, a pointless death in the service of what most people consider the ultimate nihilism. It’s not simply that ISIS offers redemption to a criminal looking to change his ways; it’s that ISIS knows how to target criminals and turn them into jihadists. These young men don’t need to seek redemption — it seeks them out.
Heightened security after the March 22, 2016, attack that killed at least 30 and injured hundreds at the airport and Maalbeek metro station in Brussels. Timothy Fadek / Redux
On an overcast afternoon in early March, the family and friends of Chakib Akrouh gathered together for his funeral at a cemetery in Brussels. The 25-year-old son of Moroccan immigrants had blown himself up in November 2015 alongside his childhood friend Abaaoud, five days after the Paris attacks, but it had taken months for authorities to identify him. The blast had shredded his body so completely that only after comparing Akrouh’s DNA with his mother’s were investigators certain enough of his identity to release the remains to his family.
What those in attendance at the funeral didn’t know was that they were being monitored by a special unit of Belgian intelligence officers.
That’s because police hoped that tracking them would help lead them to Salah Abdeslam, one of the team members who had carried out the Paris attack but who did not blow himself up. The subject of one of the largest-ever manhunts in Europe, Abdeslam, for the past four months, seemingly had no trouble hiding out in Brussels — a city of just over 1 million people.
Abdeslam was no terrorist mastermind. He hadn’t trained in Syria, had only been entrusted with a minor logistical role in the Paris attack by Abaaoud, and had left behind a trail of evidence. There was CCTV footage of him before and after the attack, there were car-rental records, and the police had even arrested a friend who had picked him up from Paris and driven him back to Brussels — but despite all this, he remained at large.
“Some of these guys were pretty good but we were surprised it was taking so long to get Salah. He’d left clues all over Europe preparing for the Paris attack,” according to a Belgian cop involved in the search. When asked why Salah was so careless, the detective responded bluntly: “He was supposed to die, so why bother covering tracks on car rentals?”
Finding Abdeslam, police hoped, would also lead them to whoever built the suicide vests used in the Paris attacks, a critical concern. Homemade explosives aren’t that hard to manufacture, but making vests stable enough to explode at the right time is far from easy.
The Belgian authorities were at their wits’ end. But it was the funeral that provided the breakthrough in the hunt for Abdeslam. While normal wiretaps and mobile phone surveillance can be done by small intelligence and police services such as those in Belgium, grabbing huge amounts of phone data and electronic signal intelligence — and rapidly processing it — was beyond their capabilities.
The Belgian authorities knew they needed help, and had made a decision, which has not been previously reported, to involve an ally with a vested interest in dismantling a dangerous ISIS network: They called on the US National Security Agency (NSA).
“We had the NSA hit that phone very hard.”
“We called the American NSA before the funeral,” said one state security official, whose account was later confirmed by a Belgian police official. “As Edward Snowden has so helpfully explained to everyone, the NSA are the best at signal intercepts and [with their help] we grabbed all the information about all the phones present.”
The two officials described the scene at the funeral, where a known suspect was filming on his cell phone: “The guy is filming on a smartphone — that tells us he’s going to send that file to someone, right?” the security service source said. “We had the NSA hit that phone very hard.”
The NSA refused to comment on the operation, but a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence forwarded an article in which James Clapper said: “The NATO Alliance faces an increasingly complex, diffuse threat environment. Consequently, we are always striving toward more integrated intelligence to stay a step ahead.”
On March 15, just a few days after the funeral, Belgian police made a move based on the information they had garnered from the NSA. Alongside French investigators, they raided an apartment in the Brussels neighborhood of Forest. It ended in a firefight; four officers were wounded and one of the occupants was killed. But investigators learned from fingerprint and DNA evidence that Abdeslam and a co-conspirator, Mohamed Abrini, had been there, although the two men escaped over city rooftops during the shoot-out.
It was an embarrassing blow to the investigation, but the NSA was at least now helping the Belgians track the suspects via their phones. Having lost his safe house, Abdeslam was forced to move around and communicate with people outside his rapidly shrinking network. Abdeslam and Abrini called a friend searching for a new place to hide out.
That’s when, according to the military intelligence official, they got him: “Finally … we have this asshole.”
Armed Belgian police apprehend Salah Abdeslam in Molenbeek. Vtm Via Reuters
“He went to ground in the only place he knew well,” said the official. “Molenbeek.”
Within days, Abdeslam was arrested just 100 meters from his childhood home in Molenbeek. But amid the relief at his capture, police remained worried: The bomb maker for the Paris attacks remained at large.
Police officials around the EU described themselves as being unable to sleep until they had the bomb maker in custody. DNA and fingerprint evidence on one of the abandoned vests used in Paris pointed to Najim Laachraoui, a 24-year-old Belgian-Moroccan engineering student who had disappeared into Syria to fight for ISIS in late 2013. Yet another petty criminal turned jihadist from Molenbeek, Laachraoui was considered by police to be more dangerous than Abdeslam, and far more intelligent.
In the hours after his arrest, Abdeslam initially cooperated with police as he was treated for a gunshot wound to his leg, identifying photos of Laachraoui and two gangster brothers known for trying to join ISIS in Syria, investigators at the time told me. He warned that a plot to bomb Brussels was underway. The target date, according to Abdeslam, was the day after Easter, two weeks away.
But just four days later, bombs tore through Brussels Airport and a metro stop servicing the European Union headquarters complex. DNA evidence concluded Laachraoui and two brothers, Khalid and Brahim el-Bakraoui, died in the blasts. Two more suspects, including Abrini, evaded police until they were arrested on April 8.
The aftermath of the attack gave counterterrorism a series of leads to follow, resulting in a flurry of arrests across France, Germany, and Belgium that authorities claim disrupted a major plot. On March 25, French police arrested Reda Kriket, a French national convicted in Belgium as part of the Papa Noel cell in Molenbeek, in an apartment laden with explosives on the outskirts of Paris. Authorities refused to comment on whether NSA assistance led to his arrest, but French officials described his plot as advanced.
A memorial for the people who died in the attack on Brussels on March 22. Timothy Fadek / Redux
Guns are supposed to be hard to obtain in Europe. Strict laws, especially compared with the United States, tightly limit their sale — a would-be killer can’t just head to a local Walmart and purchase an AK-47.
But automatic weapons have played major roles in the attack on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, the massacres in Paris, as well as in failed attacks on a church and a high-speed train. Police have recovered them in raids on multiple locations in Belgium and France, including the Forest safe house where Abdeslam was hiding shortly before he was caught.
In mid-March, I met with “Eddy,” an Albanian man in his forties, at a bar about a mile from the central Brussels tourist district. It was a small, shabby place; red fluorescent lighting clashed with the green vinyl barstools. It was the sort of bar frequented only by a handful of regulars, some of whom had met to drink beer and Balkan schnapps while music videos blared out from TV screens. Everyone was smoking in open defiance of EU regulations. They appeared unused to strangers coming in for a beer.
Slim, but with an emerging middle-age paunch, Eddy slipped comfortably between English, French, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, and Albanian. He gleefully described his family as “big and notorious” in the former Yugoslavia, which he fled during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.
Within a few years of arriving in Western Europe, Eddy and his family had set up a variety of “import-export” businesses in Brussels, drawn to its central location in the heart of Europe and because of the ease of entering illegal markets compared with the Netherlands and Germany, where older, more deeply entrenched gangs run the show.
“Brussels is sort of wide open for business.”
“Brussels is sort of wide open for business,” he said. “Everyone is here, but nobody is in complete control of business. It’s considered neutral ground because it’s so close to the big ports and so much of Europe.”
“The cops are really hopeless [in Brussels],” he said. “Changing neighborhoods if you’re wanted for something is usually enough to get away, because there’s so many different police districts and the whole government is disorganized.”
And if it’s a serious charge, you can always jump off to Paris, Antwerp, Berlin, or any of a number of large cities easily accessible by train without showing any identification, he pointed out.
“I love Schengen — it’s the best thing to ever happen to businessmen like me,” he said of the European treaty that allows for virtually free travel between EU member states to the delight of businesses, tourists, and criminals alike. It made me laugh because a European cop recently had told me the same thing: He loves the visa-free travel of Schengen while on holiday, but at work it’s a constant obstacle to investigations.
The Balkan Wars left the former Yugoslavia and Albania awash with weapons from Cold War–era stockpiles, poorly monitored by corrupt law enforcement, he said. “To get guns, drugs, even people from the Balkans or Turkey into the EU, you’ve just got to get past maybe one border post before you’re free,” he said, describing the only difference between Austria and France as “a trucking matter.” Investigators of the Paris attacks — as well as the Charlie Hebdo attack — have said in both cases that the automatic weapons used came from the Balkans or Eastern Europe via Brussels.
Guns, heroin, and human trafficking follow the overland routes, but cocaine comes through Rotterdam and Antwerp, two of the huge ports nearby, according to both Eddy and police detectives. “You just get it off the ship,” Eddy said. “You always lose some [to police], so you just send more. Anything that gets through, you just charge more to make up what you lost.”
This breakdown of the European underworld was interesting, but didn’t seem to immediately connect to ISIS and how it recruits would-be militants. That was until Eddy started explaining the ethnic hierarchy of transnational gangsters in Western Europe.
According to him, the North Africans of the Netherlands, Belgium, and France are close to the bottom of the drug-trafficking networks — which tend to be run by Italians, British, and South Americans — particularly immigrants from Suriname in the Netherlands.
“These idiots who become terrorists, they’re just the small-time guys — maybe they’ll buy a car or something,” he said. “They sell each other some hash or coke, sell on the street to people, get arrested fast. Maybe that’s why they go to Syria … they’re not able to become rich gangsters.”
“Albanians are usually in the middle,” he joked. “We’re the enforcers because nobody fucks with Albanians.”
“These idiots who become terrorists, they’re just the small-time guys … They sell each other some hash or coke, sell on the street to people, get arrested fast. Maybe that’s why they go to Syria … they’re not able to become rich gangsters.”
I agreed to return to Brussels in the near future so he could prove how easy it would be to find an automatic weapon in Belgium. He quoted a price of between 3,000 and 4,000 euros (about $3,300 to $4,500), depending on the condition, model, and amount of ammunition and clips included.
He knew I wasn’t actually buying, but said it wouldn’t take much effort and that I could photograph the weapon if I wanted.
Ten days later, though, the bombs exploded in Brussels; shortly afterward, Eddy’s mobile phone stopped working. But his claims about the scattered nature of the Belgian police forces rang true with European law enforcement officials.
“Brussels has 19 administrative police districts that operate independently and three separate administrations for the government, NATO, and the EU,” said one of the Belgian cops involved in hunting Abdeslam. “And our government is deeply divided between the Dutch and French, so there are parallel bureaucracies for everything on the local level and dysfunction at the highest level. No wonder guys get missed.”
He was talking about the string of mistakes that police made monitoring the Brussels cell: One local official had been told the house where Abdeslam was finally caught had ties to the Paris attack, but failed to send the information up the chain of command. Another police officer visited the bomb factory — a central Brussels apartment where Abrini, Laachraoui, and Bakraoui caught a taxi to the airport on the day of the bombings — on at least two occasions because neighbors repeatedly reported a terrible chemical smell. But with at least 470 Belgians known to have gone to join ISIS in Syria, and hundreds more either on watch lists or indicted for various plots and cells, the Belgians were already overwhelmed and appeared unable to process this information.
This was also happening in a country that in 2011 set the world record for failure to form a government after an election, taking 541 days. The previous record of 249 days had been held by Iraq.
The jihadi problem, however, goes much further than the Belgian dysfunction, according to EU experts, spies, and law enforcement officials.
“Coordination by law enforcement when there’s a specific arrest warrant or manhunt is pretty good,” according to a high-ranking police official in an EU country, who works on terrorism and organized crime cases. (He is not authorized to speak openly about the matter to the press.) He said cooperation between EU member states also depends on the severity of the crime.
The problem, according to an official with the French Defense Ministry who has worked on a wide range of intelligence matters, from organized crime to nuclear proliferation to terrorism, is the age-old concern about agencies being reluctant to share information without a very specific reason.
“You’ll never get information to help you build a picture from anyone,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t get that from your own agency.”
The official, who is so restricted from speaking to the press that he wouldn’t let me identify myself as a journalist when I visited him in his office in a French military compound in Paris, described a situation in which major countries will share information to further their own goals.
“Liaisons sit in each other’s offices from the major powers, the UK, the Americans, the French,” he said. “If the Americans get specific intercepts about a plot in France, it’s easy to cooperate.”
What’s impossible for the EU to fix, he argued, is a system where anyone can move across Europe without showing identification, but the police and intelligence services remain nationally focused. And the current system, where centralized databases at Interpol and Europol are supposed to flag the movements of fugitives, relies on the individual member agencies to do the actual police work.
“Europol and Interpol are desks that file notices,” said one EU detective with a long history in organized crime and terror investigations. They serve as clearinghouses for warrants and notices, but local police often lack an incentive to check on warnings from other countries unless it applies to a case of their own.
And even as the EU dismantled much of what had previously seen as the hallmarks of a state — border and immigration controls, a national currency and reporting regulations, monitoring trade in goods and services — it didn’t replace these mechanisms with any unified oversight. The removal of all these regulatory obstacles have been a boon for all business and international activity, both legal and not.
Fixing it would require national institutions — law enforcement, the military, and intelligence services — to give up some local autonomy in favor of further integration, something both the current political dynamic, as seen by the UK’s vote to leave the EU, and the entrenched mentality of the security establishment make very unlikely.
“No intelligence service in its right mind will regularly share intelligence with 27 other countries, because then it stops being intelligence if everyone else knows about it,” the French official said.
“Share one-on-one for a specific case, like France and Belgium on these terrorists? Sure, now that people are dead. But remember the biggest problem here is we’re all still spying on each other inside the EU.”
***** Molenbeek, Belgium Timothy Fadek / Redux
On a quiet evening this spring, a few weeks after the bomb attacks in Brussels, I visited Molenbeek. I’d spent a lot of time in the area over the previous weeks, but always in the company of translators, activists, and other journalists, and I felt frustrated at the impossibility of getting a sense for the place during such a tense time.
Despite its common portrayal in the international media as the dirty heart of terrorism in Europe, Molenbeek is a tidy, working-class neighborhood. But weeks of military-style raids and arrests by SWAT teams had cast a chill over the area. That night, the streets were quiet.
But on one corner, I found two young men smoking pot. They seemed bemused by a journalist walking around by himself looking for people to chat with.
Zak, 21, was skinny and scruffy, bearded with baggy, oversize clothes and a backwards baseball cap. He said he was a stand-up comedian — and claimed to have a YouTube following — and, in the words of his buddy Brahim, “is an idiot.”
“We don’t call it Daesh here. We call it Dawlat. The State.”
Short-haired and clean-shaven, Brahim was 23, muscular, handsome, and more serious than Zak. He had recently graduated from university as a civil engineer. They were both unemployed, and Brahim said his prospects didn’t look good unless he lucked out on a civil service exam.
Zak proceeded to roll another joint while Brahim questioned me about why I was reporting on ISIS and Molenbeek. I tried to explain in a general sense, but he interrupted me.
He pointed to the ground: “No! Why are you here? Here in Molenbeek?”
“Nobody will talk to you because they will resent that you want to talk to them about it,” he said, in a mix of English, French, and Arabic. “The young guys will think you’re a cop or CIA and the older people are just sick of it all. But why did you choose Molenbeek as a place to figure this out?”
He and Zak were stoned and sort of enjoying the conversation now, so I pointed out that around 80 young people from within one kilometer of where we were standing had left for Syria to join “Daesh,” using the Arabic acronym for ISIS, considered by the group’s members to be insulting.
“We don’t call it Daesh here,” Brahim answered, puffing on the joint. “We call it Dawlat,” directing me to use the proper Arabic term. “The State.” ●
Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Chakib Akrouh died in a raid five days after the Paris attacks. An earlier version of this article erroneously said they died three days after the attacks.
Abu Nassim was arrested in Libya just days after the State Department claimed that very few Gitmo detainees ever return to terror.
Nassim, whose full name is Moez Ben Abdulgader Ben Ahmed Al Fezzani, was reportedly trying to travel to Tunisia, where he is an ISIS commander and most-wanted terrorist.
He was arrested along with approximately 20 other ISIS supporters between the Libyan towns of Rigdaleen and Al-Jmail.
Nassim is considered a top jihadist recruiter in Italy.
ForeignNewsDesk: Zintani forces loyal to the internationally-recognized Libyan National Army arrested Moez Ben Abdulgader Ben Ahmed Fezzani 47, known by his nom de guerre Abu Nassim, last week as he was trying to flee Sirte, Libya for Tunisia.
A commander of ISIS militants in Libya since 2014, Fezzani had been sought by Tunisian authorities in connection with the March 2015 Bardo Museum attack in Tunis.
Twenty-two people including 17 foreigners were killed in the attack later claimed by the Islamic State.
Fezzani, along with 20 Islamic State operatives, was arrested by a police patrol while travelling between the towns of Rigdaleen and Al-Jmail.
News of his purported arrest comes just days after Libyan authorities warned their Italian counterparts about the possibility of an Islamic State cell in Milan with connections to the wanted militant.
Following the capture of ISIS’ headquarters in Sirte last week, officials discovered a cache of documents linking the Italian cell to Fezzani.
Fezzani, who arrived in Italy in the late 80’s, disappeared in 1997 after authorities suspected him of involvement in jihadi activities, later resurfacing in Pakistan before joining Osama Bin Laden’s war in Afghanistan.
Arrested by the U.S. in 2001, Fezzani was held at Bagram’s detention facility before the Obama administration approved his transfer to Italy in 2009.
Fezzani stood trial in Italy for his earlier terror offenses, cooperating in terror activities in Bosnia in 1995, but was acquitted.
Upon appeal, he was sentenced to six years in jail, but by this time had already fled; first to Tunisia where he joined Al Qaeda’s Ansar Al Sharia and then to Syria joining the terror group’s Al Nusra affiliate.
In 2014, he transferred allegiances to ISIS’ Caliph Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, before moving to Libya where he was reportedly appointed a leader of Katibat al-Battar, described as ISIS’ special operations unit in the volatile country.
“If the information on Fezzani proves to be true, it is very disturbing. Just like the head of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, this was a man we had in our detention facility and let go,” terrorism analyst Dr. Sebastian Gorka told The Investigative Project on Terror in March about Fezzani’s ISIS appointment.
There has been no confirmation of his arrest from Tunisian authorities, but Fezzani’s capture comes just days after the Obama administration announced its biggest release of Guantanamo Bay detainees as the President attempts to fulfil his pledge to close the detention camp.
The Tunisian Ministry of Interior issued a search warrant on Monday February 8, 2016 for Moez Ben Abdelkader Ben Ahmed Fezzani also known as ‘Abu Nassim’ born 23/03/1969, son of Fatma Chihaoui, from Ezzahrouni, Tunis. The Ministry of Interior classified Moez Fezzani as a dangerous terrorist in its statement:
في إطار تعاون المواطنين مع الوحدات الأمنية بوزارة الداخلية وتوقيا من الأعمال الإرهابيّة، تطلب وزارة الدّاخلية الإبلاغ ال…
Location of the Ezzahrouni neighborhood in Tunis
An older picture of Fezzani
Photo provided by the Ministry of Interior of Tunisia in the search warrant for Fezzani
Moez Fezzani’s has a long history within the sphere of global terrorism that stretches back to both the Bosnian war and the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan, jailed for 7 years at the ‘Baghram Prison’. Fezzani’s journey brings him to Italy where he’s is tried together with another Tunisian and former Guantanamo prisoner Riadh Nasri for providing logistical support in 2007 to a terrorist cell in Italy linked to the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which evolved into Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. He was acquitted from charges of terrorism in 2011, but Tunisian authorities demanded his deportation, although Italian autorities already considered him a security threat. The first time his deportation was supposed to be carried out he managed to escape and went into hiding in Varese, Lombardy, to be cought once again and deported to Tunisia.
Fezzani joined Ansar al-Sharia Tunisia (AST) in 2012 and was reportedly active in various confrontations, in 2013 Fezzani left for Syria where he joined Jabhat al-Nusra and later ISIS. He reportedly moved to Libya in 2014 as a leader for Katibat al-Battar and according to sources he now holds a key role in Sirte. Fezzani is suspected for being the mastermind and supervisor of the planning processes behind the high-profile attacks against the Bardo Museum and Sousse.
The search warrant for Fezzani by the Ministry of Interior comes at a critical time when Libya facing the threat of foreign intervention, an intervention which will have significant consequences for Tunisia. We can not exclude that the MOI tacticly issued this warrant to raise public awareness facing both the terrorist threat and additional consequences linked to an eventual Libya intervention, we can also assume that MOI on purpose issued this warrant knowing Fezzani is in Libya, thus framing him as a high-profile target for the international coalition.