Antwerp: The Jihadis of Antwerp North (2)

Belgian weekly Knack is coming out with a series of articles about the radical Islam in Antwerp. The first article is titled "The Jihadis of Antwerp-North" (De jihadi's van Antwerpen-Noord).

A few days after this article appeared, the Belgian federal police moved to act against a suspected local terrorist cell.  Abdessatar Dahmane's widow (the imam marrying them is mentioned in the article) was arrested this week.  See Belgium: Al-Qaeda cell apprehended and Belgium: "Mother of al-Qaeda in Europe" saved by Belgian secret service.

I had already translated the first half.  Following is a translation of the second half. 



The 'Gazet van Antwerpen' published two weeks ago in its regional edition a photo of several member of the Rissala non-profit organization.  That youth center with premises in the area of the Omar mosque on Tulpstraat, had a booth in the neighborhood party at the nearby Van Kerckhovestraat.

Chairman Jemal Fellous, a notorious member of the Moroccan branch of Jamaat Tabligh, sees in that the opportunity to represent his association as clean.

"We organize various internal and external activities for the youth.  Last week we had even gone orienteering in the Ardennes."  That is true, only the nightly journey in the woods of Agimont next to Dinant wasn't specifically proposed to the members of Rissala as an orienteering trip, which youth movements organize by the hundreds every weekend.  On Friday, October 24, P. got notice that he was 'invited for the day afterward to go to Jihad training with the Rissala youth to the woods of Agimont'.

He decided not to go, but promised that before the departure on 6pm he'll pass by the mosque.  At 5:40pm he walked in from the Stuivenbergplein into the mosque.  The faithful trickled in.  Not only youth who were going to Agimont, but also many older people who came to pray for a good outcome.  We were parked a few streets further up, in the Viséstraat, several dozen meters from a bus which we suspected was waiting for the young Muslims.  This turned out to be right.  Our informant kept us informed from the mosque via SMS.

At the moment that they were to depart, we got a notice that it would still take a while.  Afterward they must still pray. The youth were apparently waiting for the falling darkness in order to leave the mosque.  An hour later than planned we finally saw the driver appear.  He stepped in, shortly followed by two young men who each stepped onto the bus with large backpacks.

Twenty minutes later the rest of the group also came around the corner.  Within a minute fifteen youth in thick clothing sat with their backpacks and other materials in the bus.  P. waved them goodbye.  An hour and a half later he would yet get a telephone call from Fellous.  He asks P. if he hadn't seen anything suspicious.  He suspects that the bus was followed after departure.  At that moment the youth of Rissala are almost in Agimont.

"Those men were already indeed here various times," says Jan Cuylits of Agimont strategy.  "They were guided but from a distance."   Cuylits, originally from Antwerp, has no problems that some of those youth roam the Ardennes woods in mujaheddin clothing.  "If they walk with their beards and djellaba through the streets of Antwerp, I also have no problems with it.  Those men do nothing wrong here.  If I refuse them, then I would just have problems.  Because then there would be immediately talk of discrimination."

Most residents of Agimont, a village of 400 people, clearly have a different opinion about it.  When the youth of Rissala, during another adventure night in 2007, made too much racket in the parking lot where their minibuses stood, several neighbors called the police.  "According to them they were on a warpath," says inspector Thierry Meinguet of the Haute-Meuse police.  "But besides one of those fellows in camouflage clothing, we saw nothing special then."

"We drove there that evening with rented minibuses" says P., who was then there.  "Those men incited themselves with anti-Jewish slogans.  From that also the residents of Agimont were seized by fear.  In the woods we had to lay a difficult course.  We were with our group underway for six hours in total.  Halfway through our journey we were suddenly stopped by the police.  We had to show our identity cards.  There was clearly a communication error between the security services and the local police.  While we waited for our buses, [our] pictures were taken out of a car.  I suspect that that was the federal police.  In any case I had to keep the State Security Service informed by SMS of what took place in the woods."


Whoever went on a weekend to the Ardennes was written down in the notebook of Jemal Fellous, whose brothers Achmed and Nordine were also active by Rissala.  The Fellous family had already gotten in trouble with the law several times and were already sentenced for illegal trade and possession of weapons.  In the notebooks which were found in Oma mosque you can see who of Jamaat Tabligh's members attended training in recent years outside Antwerp.  Countless weekends in sites both local and abroad are reported there, but also surprisingly many trip of forty days to Pakistan, the aspiration of every radical Muslim who grows up in the West.

The weekends begin mostly with a lecture at the Tulpstraat.  The youth mostly don't know then yet where they are going.  Often it's mosques in the Netherlands or the suburbs of Paris.  But just as well the trip can lead to Liege or Brussels.  For tourism there is no time.  The youth stay the whole weekend inside the mosque.  At night they sleep on the ground in the house of prayer, by the example of the prophet Muhammad.  During the day they can expand their network through contact with like-minded people.  The rest of the time is spent by praying and listening to the message of the local imam.  The discourse is invariably anti-Western, for strengthening their own faith community and against any form of integration.

Two weeks ago the men of Jamaat Tabligh left Tulpstraat to Anderlecht, for a weekend in the mosque where the Centre Islamique Belge is set up.  They got lessons from the followers of the famous French imam of Syrian origin, Bassam Ayachi.

Ayachi, beter known as "Sheik Bassam" has been one of the most important radical preachers in Brussels for years.  Two years ago his son Abdel Rahman Ayachi and webmaster Raphaël Gendron were sentenced to 10 months in prison, half deferred.  Additionally both had to pay a fine of 15,000 euro each and 2,5000 euro to the Center for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism that had lodged a complaint.  They were found guilty of historical revisionism, minimalism of the Holocaust and inciting to racial hatred, in particular against Jews.  Meanwhile it isn't going well for the sheik too.  He was arrested on November 11th in the Italian port city of Bari.  He must answer for being an accomplice to illegal immigration.  Five non-EU citizens were found in a hidden compartment of his camper, he had wanted to bring them from the Middle East through Greece into Western Europe. 

Bassam is known by the French security services as the man who conducted the marriage of Tunesian Abdessatar Dahmane in Brussels, the fake journalist who together with a companion murdered Afghan rebel leader Ahmed Shah Massoud on the eve of September 11.


P. didn't take up the invitation of Fellous to go together to Anderlecht.  "The atmosphere was completely different than that time when they went to Agimont.  They asked me then also several times to get on the bus, but they didn't make a point of it that in the end I didn't join.  Now it was much more forceful.  I didn't trust the issue at all.  The possibility existed that they wanted to test me or physically attack me.  Some radical Muslims in Antwerp know that I was yet an informant.  For that last weekend in Anderlecht I really had to think up an excuse in order to keep them off me."

That Muslims that after a certain time wanted to leave the radical group to which they had belonged were made very uncomfortable.  "The pressure is very great," says Dutch journalist Patrick Pouw, who for 13 months learned by Suhayb Salaam and wrote a book about it.  Suhayb Salaam is the son of the imam who refused to shake hands with Rita Verdonk when she was a minister.  He is manager of the Islamic Institute for Upbringing and Education (Islamitische Instituut voor Opvoeding & Educatie), a school which educates young men and women to be preachers of Islam.  "By me it was than just a regular course by Salafists (radical, anti-Western Muslims).  Students who wanted to debate with the teacher or didn't want to come to the lessons any more were told that they didn't fulfill the obligations of Allah.  While they just learned that there is no greater crime than that."

Those who dropped out didn't need to fear physical consequences.  "But I can imagine, and that also appears in the crime files, that by groups who commit attacks, such as the Hofstad group here in the Netherlands, such reprisals could well follow."

That it doesn't always need to keep to a fistfight or kicking can be seen by the ease with which extremists can get weapons.  "At the end of October I myself yet witnessed a weapons deal in which we were collected by two Algerians and a Moroccan contact person in the area of the Brussels Zuid (South) station," says P.  "The merchandise which was put out for us in a garage box contained Kalashnikovs, magnums, and bulletproof vests among other things."

Why did P. get it into his head to appear in Knack with his photo and initials?

"I was anyway discovered.  A couple of years ago I had anonymous contact with several other media.  The stories then didn't change anything in the radicalization of the Antwerp Muslim youth.  By stepping forward, I hope that other moderate Muslims will speak aloud against radicalizing."

"Some of my brothers who are now leaving for Pakistan, will be chosen after intensive education to travel to military training camps.    Till they are ready for the war in Afghanistan or an attack elsewhere in the world.  I want that those recruiters will no longer have free reign.  As for me: everyone from the radical community knows that I'm that, with or without a photo.  The State Security Service dropped me a while back because I communicated with the media.  I therefore don't need to expect much protection any more.  If I maintain my anonymity and something happens to me in the coming weeks nobody will be the wiser.  Above all, for me it's a way to definitely stop in one stroke.  I'm exhausted, emotionally and psychologically.  I've provided good work for years for the federal police and the State Security Service.  I can look at myself in the mirror."

See also: Antwerp: The Jihadis of Antwerp North (1)

No comments: