Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Molenbeek

Molenbeek’s gangster jihadis – BBC News

Molenbeek is a place full of contradictions.

It’s just a few minutes away from the heart of the European Union, but this densely populated district of Brussels has 40% youth unemployment.

It’s been in the spotlight ever since the Paris attacks in November when it was revealed that the ringleader, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, and three of the other attackers grew up in Molenbeek.

In the poor inner-city areas of Brussels, deprivation, petty crime and radicalisation appear to have gone hand in hand.

The BBC’s Secunder Kermani has been finding out how drinking, smoking cannabis and fighting – combined with resentment towards white Belgian society for its perceived discrimination against Arabs – prepared some young men for a role as fighters in Syria, and terrorists in Europe

Stef Kuypers shared this link
Poverty, petty crime, beer and cannabis – and a deep mistrust of the Belgian authorities – helped prepare ordinary losers in Brussels for a role as jihadis.

How did he manage to stay hidden for so long? And why have so many young people from Molenbeek ended up as jihadists?

Most people in Molenbeek are rather sick of journalists – they resent the way they are portrayed in the media as a “jihadist capital of Europe“.

But one phrase you often hear when foreign journalists attempt a vox pop is that “terrorism has nothing to do with Islam”.

Certainly, many of those who joined IS from the area did not come from particularly religious backgrounds.

Salah Abdeslam and his elder brother Brahim – who blew himself up in the Paris attacks – used to run a cafe in Molenbeek that sold alcohol and was closed down for drug offences.

One friend of the brothers who used to hang out there told me he would regularly see Brahim Abdeslam “watching IS videos, with a joint in one hand, and a beer in another”. He said Brahim would spout off radical statements but that no-one took him seriously.

Another friend showed me a video from a Brussels nightclub of the two Abdeslam brothers on a night out with girls, drinking and dancing – this was February 2015, just months before they started to plan the attacks in Paris.

The network that the Abdeslam brothers had around them – based as much on personal loyalty, disenchantment and petty crime as radical ideology would be key in helping Salah escape after the Paris attacks.

The network was not just in Molenbeek but stretched across the so-called “croissant pauvre” (poor crescent) of Brussels – a semi-circle of deprived inner-city neighbourhoods including Schaerbeek, where Salah had a safe house, and Laeken, where some of those who helped hide him grew up.

While making a documentary for Panorama, I read the transcript of the interrogation of two of Salah Abdeslam’s friends, whom he called on the night of the Paris attacks asking for help.

Hamza Attou and Mohammed Amri tell police Abdeslam said he had had a car accident and needed to be picked up. Attou claims that once they arrived Abdeslam threatened “to blow up the car if we didn’t take him to Brussels”.

But Amri then goes on to describe how the three men drive around Paris for about “the time it took to smoke a joint” before attempting the journey back. According to Attou, they try to drive along smaller, quieter roads – but end up lost and back on the motorway. Then they smoke a further three joints on the drive back to Brussels – they are stopped at three separate police checkpoints but allowed to pass.

At one, according to Attou, a police officer “asked Amri whether he had drunk. Amri said, ‘Yes’… The police officer told Amri it wasn’t good to have drunk, but that wasn’t their priority today.”

Back in Brussels Abdeslam changed his clothes and his appearance. According to Attou, he went to a barber’s where he “got himself shaved, trimmed his hair and shaved a line on his eyebrow”.

He then called another friend and told him to drop him off in another neighbourhood. These three friends were all arrested a few hours later. According to another of the circle, “they are all in jail for nothing – just because they helped Salah without thinking”.

Abdeslam would remain on the run for the next four months before being arrested.

It may be hard to imagine anyone agreeing to help someone involved in an atrocity like the Paris attacks – but it seems Abdeslam was able to draw upon both a network of IS supporters, and also a small network of people who were not necessarily extremists, but who felt a sense of personal loyalty to him – and a mistrust of the Belgian state.

There is certainly a sense of disaffection among many in Molenbeek. I spent an evening on a street corner talking to one young Muslim man who had been accused of attempting to travel to Syria.

He alternated between fixing me with an intense stare, and refusing to make any eye contact – exuding an air of slight volatility. Initially when I told him I wanted to understand why someone would commit an attack like the one in Paris – he told me I should travel to Raqqa, and ask people there. For him Western air strikes against IS were the answer.

But then he changed his mind. It was the fault of domestic conditions. He railed against the Belgian government – against white Belgians, who hated those of Arab descent, he said. And he would repeat “there is no democracy here” – a feeling that you can’t express any view dissenting from the mainstream without being labelled extreme.




January 2022

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