Following up my previous post, I’ve spent some time in the past week digging around into the criminal Underworld of Brussels in cases where it has exploded onto the pages of the Belgian press. Admittedly, I am at the mercy of what makes its way into freely available sites, so I’m sure there is a whole world of material I’m not seeing. Yet, I think the little bit I’ve done is already paying dividends in terms of my understanding of what is happening.
The point of interest is the surname Benhattal. In my last post, I mentioned that Ibrahim El Bakraoui’s stint in prison came as a result of an attempted theft and shootout with the police. His driver was a Jawad Benhattal, who received 6 years for his role in the crime. Unfortunately, I was not able to find anything further on him, specifically.
I also discovered a story talking about three men—Jamal Alkhomaili, Moustapha Benhattal, and an unnamed individual—involved in a 2000 robbery of Stessens jewelers in Grand-Bigard with accompanying shootout and car-jacking. The case was re-tried in 2011 with Benhattal being acquitted. Apart from this single story about the retrial, I could find nothing else on Benhattal or on the event itself.
This was not very promising until I discovered a March 24 story from the Italian daily La Stampa which describes the last will and testament of the El Bakraoui brothers discovered on the computer taken from the trash bin outside the Rue Max Roos safehouse. Previous news articles had mentioned the brothers’ father as being named Jamal El Bakraoui, a retired butcher. This is the only article where I saw the mother’s name mentioned: Khadouj Benhattal. I then discovered a couple other Spanish blogs regurgitating information on the Brussels attacks suspects from the French National Police. These named the parents of Khalid El Bakraoui as Jamal and Khadouj.
So now I had my first inkling that maybe the El Bakraoui brothers weren’t just brothers-in-crime with Jawad Benhattal, but possibly some family relation through their mother. This is interesting, but thus far coincidental. So I decided to research individuals with the surname Benhattal in Brussels to see if I could establish a family link. I found Khadouj, but nothing on Jawad or Moustapha. I worked my way through the remaining names to see if any of them would reveal anything of interest.
And one did.
Malika Benhattal of Place Joseph Benoît Willems 13 in Laeken. The name didn’t provide anything special, but the address divulged something unexpected. The building has a store downstairs so most of the links related to it are for Nour/Nouz boulangerie or Hollywood Night (probably a video store). The one other link that stands out is an urgent appeal in 2010 related to Oussama Atar, a Belgian citizen who was detained in Ramadi, Iraq on February 21, 2005, and subsequently spent time in Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper before being transferred to Rusufa prison. The sister of Oussama, Asma, is requesting people petition for his release and transfer. The petitions can be dropped off at seven locations, all of them businesses. The first three are in Laeken, and the first of those is the vidéothèque at Place Joseph Benoît Willems 13.
Atar maintains that he went to Syria to study language and that he crossed into Iraq with a group delivering medicines. One has to believe that the MNF capturing a Belgian in Ramadi without documents believes that this man is associated with Al Qaeda and its henchman Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Asma was a strong advocate for her brother back in Brussels. I read a number of articles and watched a few videos of her and her family’s efforts to obtain Oussama’s transfer back to Belgium. Therein, I was able to get a glimpse of the family. Mrs Atar shows up often enough in the videos, but never the father. Furthermore, she is never named anything beyond Mrs Atar or “Oussama’s mother.” Oussama has two other siblings besides Asma—a sister named Iman and a brother named Yassin.
Did you catch that? Yassin Atar.
If you’ve been paying close attention to the Brussels bombings story, you’ll recognize that name. That same laptop that gave me the name of Khadouj Benhattal also, according to the Wall Street Journal’s article of March 28, led investigators to the “nephew” of the El Bakraoui brothers, Yassine Attar. According to U.S. officials, Belgian authorities found traces of explosives on him in his hair and clothes.
I wrote nephew in quotes, because I believe the Wall Street Journal and its sources have this part of the story wrong. I’m going to suggest that Yassine Attar is Yasin Atar, brother of Oussama Atar. Furthermore, I say he is the cousin of the El Bakraoui brothers and not their nephew. To my knowledge Jamal El Bakraoui and Khadouj Benhattal do not have any daughters—only the two sons. Furthermore, there are ample numbers of Belgian press articles describing the El Bakraoui testament as being intended for their cousin “Yassine A.”
If Yassine Attar is the cousin proper of the El Bakraoui brothers, then it means one of two things: his mother is either the sister of Jamal El Bakraoui or the sister of Khadouj Benhattal. I have no information by which to judge the possibility of Attar’s mother being Jamal’s sister. On the other hand, I have petitions related to the transfer from Iraq to Belgium of potential foreign fighter Oussama Atar, whose brother is named Yassin, being delivered to an address whose only resident I can find is named Malika Benhattal.
That is not proof, mind you, but I am convinced in my own mind that cousin Yassine’s mother is named Malika Benhattal, making her the sister of Khadouj.
This adds a new dimension to the El Bakraoui story. If I’m right about all this, how does the story of Oussama Atar play into the radicalization of the El Bakraouis? That Yassin would be incensed at the perceived injustice towards his brother is understandable. But for Ibrahim and Khalid, was something that had been building over time?
I would greatly appreciate information others might have which would either confirm or deny my conclusions here. If I am correct, it would also be nice to figure out if Jawad and Moustapha do connect to Khadouj and Malika and how. Who can help me?