Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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Europol study throws light on Belgian terror networks

Tuesday 30/July/2019 - 01:45 PM
The Reference
Ahmed Sultan

The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement, which is widely known as Europol, has recently released the findings of a study about Belgians who had joined the Islamic State (IS) group.

The study was released on the occasion of the conference of the agency, during which it discussed terrorism, extremism and the ways terrorist organizations recruit their fighters.

The conference also discussed the terrorist operations carried out in Europe in the last few years and the role Europeans played in turning IS into an international terrorist organization.

The study, which is titled "History and Influence of ISIS Belgian Teams", was prepared by researcher Peter Van Austin. Austin conducted studies on Ahrar al-Sham group as well as Nusra Front and ISIS since the eruption of the Syrian uprising in 2011.

Recruitment in Belgium

Belgian networks were active in the recruitment of fighters for the Syrian war since the eruption of the Syrian uprising in 2011. There were three main networks in this regard. They especially focused on those who harbored Jihadist thoughts.

Austin's study considers the period between 2012 and 2014 to be specified for what it described as 5-star Jihad. This period was all about foreign fighters who poured into Syria.

In 2013, IS caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, entered Aleppo and met Abu Athir al-Absi together with three Belgian terror leaders. Baghdad succeeded in convincing the group in swearing allegiance to his organization.

But this was not the only group that swore allegiance to IS.

Over time, the Battar Battalion became a special operations battalion of IS, and was joined by the Belgians who took part in the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris.

Among the fighters who joined the Battar Battalion, a Belgian of Moroccan origin Abdelhamid Abboud, mastermind of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Belgian terror networks

According to official Belgian estimates, in mid-2016, there were about 450 Belgian fighters among the terrorist groups in Syria, including 130 women and children.

The study considers that improper dealing with groups that espouse Islamic ideology has contributed to the growth of terrorist networks within Belgium.

Belgian officials initially refused to take action to prevent militants from reaching terrorist groups in Syria, despite warnings from the country's state security chief against the role of the Fouad Belkacem group in recruiting terrorists and sending them to combat zones.

The terrorist network Resto du Tawheed also recruited a number of terrorists residing in the capital and sent them to Syria. The most dangerous networks were Zerkani, whose members carried out attacks in Paris and Brussels.

The Zerkani group contained a total of 85 members. According to the study, the leader of the group, Khaled Rizkani, paid 60,000 Euros in cash to the members of his group who wanted to join terrorist groups in Syria.

According to reports issued by the investigation authorities following the attacks at Brussels Airport, Ibrahim Bakrawi, one of the perpetrators of the Brussels attacks, tried to steal an exchange office in 2010, was arrested later, and entered prison before being released in 2015.

When Bakrawi came out of jail in 2015, he tried to join a hasty organization in Syria, but was arrested in Gaziantep, Turkey, and deported to the Netherlands, not to Belgium.

After his deportation, Bakrawi took a train and moved back to the Belgian capital, Brussels, and then disappeared again for several months before appearing during the terrorist attack on Brussels Airport.

According to the study, 207 Belgian terrorists who traveled to join the organization were from the capital, Brussels, indicating that most of them were of Moroccan origin, while 115 elements of the Belgian city of Antwerp and a few individuals from the eastern province of Limburg, although in southern Belgium there were almost no cases of membership of terrorist organizations.

Downfall of caliphate

Last March, Syria's Democratic Forces known as QSD, took control of the village of al-Baghouz Faqani, the last stronghold of IS, or part of the so-called "spatial caliphate." Although a period of time passed on the end of the Caliphate, their fate is known so far.

Only six Belgian children have been repatriated, while the fate of hundreds of fighters remains unknown. The study shows that some of them may have been killed in the battles of the Syrian tenderness, hybrids and al-Baghouz, but the bulk of them do not have any information and indicates the trend in the opinion of the Belgian public today, stressing that he refuses to return the rush back to the country.

According to the study, Tariq al-Jadun, a Belgian fighter in the ranks of IS, was sentenced to death by hanging in Iraq.

The study considers the lack of knowledge to be the most worrying thing, especially in relation to the 150 terrorists who disappeared for some time.

It added that no one knows their fate, and whether they left the fighting with, or killed, or returned to Europe and preparing for new terrorist attacks?

According to the study, there is still no clear vision for dealing with the file of returnees. Will they be placed in prisons or reintegrated into society through rehabilitation programs? It also points to the problem of the Belgians and their children in the detention camps in Syria, considering that the tragic situation there could contribute to creating the new generation of intimidation, and confirms that the organization is not yet over, despite losing its strongholds, expanding its operations in India, Pakistan and South Asia, Africa and others.