In the spate of raids and arrests following the Friday the 13th attacks in Paris, authorities focused intensely on the Brussels district of Molenbeek-Saint-Jean (Sint-Jans-Molenbeek), with one house receiving special scrutiny. Police conducted an operation at 47 rue Delaunoy on November 16 beginning at 10:15 in the morning and continuing for over 4 hours. The reported target was fugitive Salah Abdeslam, but he was not discovered. One person was brought in according to reports, but authorities stated that it was for administrative purposes and no information was given about who lived at that location [Note: I subsequently discovered an article from LaCapitale.be about a raid on the home of Mohamed Bazarouj, friend of the Abdeslam brothers, on the rue Delaunoy dated November 17].
Later it was confirmed that authorities were searching for Abdeslam in the house. In mid-December reports emerged that traces of Abdeslam had been found in the home. Stories swirled in the media about whether Belgian police had let Abdeslam slip through their fingers again by delaying their raid for five hours due to a law banning night raids. Some said he had been spirited out of the home in a cabinet placed into a removal van driven by friend Lazez Abraimi—but still nothing more about who lived at Number 47.
Shortly after cancelling the Brussel’s New Year’s celebrations and fireworks, Belgian authorities detained six individuals in connection with an alleged plot to attack those celebrations. One of those arrested on December 30th was Ayoub Bazarouj, a resident of 47 rue Delaunoy.
Ayoub Bazarouj, born November 16, 1993, was well known to police for a string of drug use/trafficking offenses and theft. He is also an accomplished boxer having trained at the Brussels Boxing Academy* along with his younger brother, Brahim, and another of the suspects in the attacks, Ahmed Dahmani. He admits to knowing Abdeslam but denies having had any role in the Paris attacks or of helping Abdeslam in any way afterwards. He explains the 10 mobile phones taken from his home as belonging to family members and not surprising giving he comes from a large family.
Yet it is understandable if authorities are skeptical of these explanations, because the Bazarouj family has indisputable connections to the Islamic State. An older sister, Fatima, was the subject of reporting early in 2015 when she departed Belgium in February with her two small children and two of her younger brothers, Brahim and Bilal. They made their way to Syria via Turkey to join another brother already fighting with the Islamic State. The press reportedly has pictures of the younger brothers already posing with Kalashnikovs.
The brother already in Syria is likely, Youssef. Until the recent revelation that Chakib Akrouh was the other member of the team that hit the string of cafes during the Paris attacks, Youssef’s name was consistently proposed as the third shooter. Youssef had apparently communicated quite regularly with Fatima over Facebook, according to her husband, Faouzi El Boukabouti. Boukabouti came home from work one day in February to find his family’s things missing and immediately alerted the authorities, who were unable to locate and detain the travelers before they completed their journey.
So that leaves only two of the six identified siblings still in Belgium at the time of the attacks, Ayoub and his older brother, Mohamed. With no information about the parents, Mohamed, seems to be the only member of this family not involved somehow with jihadism and the Islamic State, and that may be only because we simply haven’t been given the information about him, yet.
What the story of the Bazarouj family illustrates is how important family often is to radicalization and operationalization. The French and Belgian contexts are especially replete with examples of siblings “joining the caravan” together: the Clains, the Merahs/Essids, the Abdeslams, the Abaaouds, El Abdis, Kouachis, etc. Once they are radicalized, intermarriage within the radical community starts to build families of families, encouraging and reinforcing violent dispositions. With the recent establishment of the Islamic State with a significant territory, there is now a location to where these families of families can migrate. The Clain brothers, Fabien and Jean-Michel, departed France with their wives for Syria. Fellow members of their Toulouse/Artigat group preceded them, including their brother-in-law, Mohamed Megherbi. Authorities would do well to take a hard look at the families of known or suspected terrorist subjects and those marrying into the family as possible vectors of recruitment and alliance.
*There are many YouTube videos of Bazarouj and Dahmani fights to view. Their team at the Brussels Boxing Academy was the subject of an interesting 2012 documentary called ‘Champions’ about that club.