Belgium: Muslim convert involved in prison escape

Belgium: Muslim convert involved in prison escape

Three criminals escaped last week from the Bruges prison, in a daring escape.  One of the accomplices involved in the escape was caught.  The second accomplice, a Muslim convert, together with the three criminals, are still at large.

For more on this story sere here and here.


The court in Bruges identified the woman who rented a helicopter under the pseudonym "Kelly Verstraeten" last Thursday and freed three criminals from the Bruges prison.  The woman is Lesley D. (24) from the Hoboken suburb of Antwerp, who converted to Islam in 2004.

The court already knew the identity of the person responsible several days after the daring helicopter escape from the Bruges prison. The young woman who rented the helicopter, coerced the pilot and fled with the escaped criminals is a 24 year old woman from Hoboken.  Lesley D. is known as a girlfriend of Mohamed Johri, the 23-year old criminal from Antwerp who escaped.  Her voice was recognized by acquaintances.  The young woman wasn't found yet and has gone into hiding.

The revelations throws new light on the escape.  Until now it was supports that it was contrived by the Mechelen criminal Ashraf Sekkaki, the most well-known of the three escapees.  The suspcion was that the operation was carried out by people from his entourage.  Now it appears to have been a cooperative partnership.  Lahoucine El Haddouchi, the hijacker who was left behind during the rescue mission, is an old acquaintance of Sekkaki. The young woman who set up the operation did it for Johri.  How the cooperative effort came to be is still a mystery.  It is also still unclear what was the role of Abdelhaq Melloul-Khayari (42), the third escapee.

Lesley D. (24) from Hoboken appeared to the helicopter pilot as a 'jovial, easy-going Flemish girl' Thursday.  Ludwig Louwagie (51) said that the black-haired girl carried out small talk.  Until her accomplice Lahoucine El Haddouchi took out a pistol, put it to the pilot's head and forced him to land inside the prison.  During the hijacking the young woman took the pilot's headphones so that he wouldn't be able to inform anyone.

Lesley D. was exposed last weekend when acquaintances recognized her voice on the tape that a helicopter company from Wettern made on July 17th, when she tried to rent a helicopter.  The owner thought her call was suspicious and had kept it.  After the hijacking he made the connection.  Lesley D. had also visited her friend Johri in jail.

Last week detectives served the house in Hoboken where D. lives with her mother.  They fond several indications that Lesley D. was indeed involved in the planning of the helicopter escape.  She appeared to have studied the plans of the prison well.

According to Het Nieuwsblad, Lesely had a childhood like other children.  She played soccer, went to the Chiro youth group, went to school in Hoboken.  When she was about 18, she suddenly changed direction. She converted to Islam.  She began to wear a headscarf and observe the strict rules of Islam.  She made no secret of her choice, which she defended openly in the papers and on TV.  In interviews she appeared as a calm young woman, who wanted to keep away from violence and aggression.  "Sometimes friends think that I don't side enough with my Muslim brothers, but I don't side for somebody who attacks Jewish youth," she said.

It is still a mystery how she became the girlfriend of the violent young robber Mohamed Johri.  The young man is the least important of the three escapees, but had already committed several robberies.  Johri, also from Hoboken, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2008 for robbing a toy story and a supermarket.  His family describes him as a 'playboy', who liked having a lot of money and lavishly scattered it.  The family does not want to speak about the escape.  The older brother already announced that Mohamed should give himself up as quickly as possible.  The mother and father of Mohamed Johri have broken by the misery that their son had caused.

It's unclear if Lesley had already been in touch with the police.  But the daring escape doesn't appear to be the work of experienced criminals.  Leaving her voice on an answering marching was a serious beginner's error. Moreover, it appears that the escape route was badly prepared.  The escaped criminals had to land faster than planned then hastily car-jack a car.  Additionally, the Bruges prosecution already announced that the criminal who was left behind, Lahoucine El Haddouchi, was quickly identified because his had his ID with him.

Lesley's family did not want to make any comment.  The Bruges prosecution also did not want to confirm or deny the news about the identification.

Source: Het Niewusblad (Dutch)

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