Sometimes a story that looks like it’s about to explode (no pun intended) just sort of fizzles out. That’s what happened recently with the arrest of some family members in Clichy-sous-Bois on February 28 and their subsequent indictment and imprisonment for criminal association in relation to a terrorist enterprise. The story broke on March 1 some details spilled out over the next few days before going totally quiet after March 6.
Here is what has been reported so far. Two brothers (ages 22 and 20) and two cousins (ages 20 and 15 and brothers themselves) were arrested, along with a 42-year-old uncle. The uncle has since been released. During an inspection of the apartment bloc Residence des Bois du Temple, the anti-criminality brigade (BAC) discovered several bottles, a thermometer and an aluminum foil in some of the ductwork. Analysis revealed that the bottles contained acetone and sulfuric acid; taken together the materials could be used in the manufacture of explosives. DNA samples taken from bottles led the authorities to the individuals arrested.
The results were not entirely surprising for authorities. Members of the family had been in their sights for over a year and a half. One of the men “arrested” was actually already in detention and had been so since July 31, 2015! He is accused of helping to finance the travel of two young girls to go to Syria. This 22-year-old young man and his 20-year-old brother have since been named as the brothers Belmir; the cousins have not been named at all. The young man in detention is described as having a strong influence over his family members. Two weeks after the Paris bombings in November 2015, the apartment of the Belmir family in the Bois du Temple was targeted by an administrative search on the 28th in the framework of the state of emergency. Nothing compromising was found that evening.
So who are the Belmir brothers? I took two avenues to try and figure this out, and I believe I have one of them. First of all, I looked at Belmirs resident in Clichy-sous-Bois and found four males: Larbi, Amar-Islam, Abderrahim, and Ouassini. Larbi and Amar-Islam are both resident in the Bois du Temple apartment tower where the items were discovered. That’s promising but not definitive. My next approach was to find news items about the Belmir brother arrested in July 2015. Nothing emerges when searching on Belmir in that time frame. However, I looked for any arrests taking place in Clichy-sous-Bois or with respect to anyone from there, and I did find something. On July 28, authorities arrested a 21-year-old ‘Ouassimi B.’, resident of Clichy-sous-Bois, at an Airbnb in Boulogne-Billancourt, Hauts-de-Seine. He had been staying there since the 26th after unwisely expressing online his willingness to engage in jihad in France if he couldn’t make it to Syria, then realizing he might be visited by the authorities in short order. Authorities were interested in his alleged links to IS individuals in Syria.
Although the arrest dates given then and now are slightly different (3 days) and the reasons given for arrest are different, the age is right, the location is right and the given name is spot on apart from the one letter. I believe our 22-year-old already in custody is Ouassini Belmir. If we accept that, it opens up a bit more to us about who he is and the family out of which he emerges.
One finds very quickly that Belmir appears to be something of a scam artist. A very detailed account is given of his ruse to acquire a Nikon D810, one that gives a number of data points with respect to aliases and contact information, confirms his incorporation as a business, gives us his actual birthdate (4/12/1994)—which corresponds perfectly with the ages given in the articles, and places him within a family that was troubled and in the news well before these terrorism charges. I’ve discovered a couple other scam reports that might be his, so don’t buy your tickets Disneyland Paris from him, or any other tickets for that matter.
He comes from a completely destructive family. His father, also named Ouassini, is an incredibly abusive man who’s faced prison multiple times for violence against his family, having put one son in a coma, and been sentenced to seven years for aggravated violence against his two daughters in 2008. He was stripped of parental authority, and his wife, Pascal Coget, was also sentenced for not preventing his behavior.
So we’ll see what else eventually emerges with respect to this story. Were they really planning to produce explosives? If so, was Ouassini their recruiter or do they collectively have influences “bigger” than him? Who are Ouassini’s connections within Islamic State? Are they also from Clichy-sous-Bois? To what extent did his disturbing family life influence his drift to jihadism? How extensive were his fraud activities, and to what degree were the proceeds used to fund militants and their recruits?
One other question that’s bothered me, and might be lost in the shuffle given the other facts, is this: on what basis is a person kept in pre-trial detention for 1.5 years? Are the authorities so unsure of themselves that they can’t bring it to trial?