Fezzani was born 23 March 1969 in Tunisia, and allegedly arrived in Italy in 1989. After being radicalized, he lived at an apartment at via Paravia 84, in the San Siro quarter of Milan, which became known as the “casa dei tunisi.” He shared this apartment with Lassaad Sassi. Under the influence of ICI head Anwar Shabaan, the apartment in Via Paravia became a base for about twenty former fighters (Tunisians, Algerians and Libyans) living between Milan and Bologna. Fezzani had a run-in with police in 1997 Fezzani, in which he was caught selling false banknotes in bars and shops between Milan and Cremona. He left Milan on 19 August 1997, arriving eight days later in Peshawar but was arrested for possessing a false visa. In 1998, DIGOS and Italian prosecutors triggered one of the first rounds of investigations against jihadists, called operazione Ritorno because it concerned those veterans from the war in Bosnia. Fezzani was a subject of interest in that case, and various other Italian investigations would encompass him, e.g. “Rakno Sadess” [Sixth Pillar], even linking him to the Meliani Group who plotted to attack the Christmas Market in Strasbourg.
The militant jihadist scene in Milan and various other Italian cities in the 1990s and 2000s has always been of interest to me, particularly after reading Evan Kohlmann’s Al-Qaida’s Jihad in Europe, and discovering Anwar Shabaan and the Islamic Cultural Center (aka the viale Jenner mosque) of Milan’s efforts on the Bosnian front with Odred El Mudžahid and NGOs in Zagreb supplying them. Then I found Lorenzo Vidino’s Al Qaeda in Europe, which I think is easily the best book on the Italian networks, and also Peter Nesser’s Islamist Terrorism in Europe: A History. I still regularly consult these three books when doing research, and they become more meaningful the more I learn over time. But the subject of the early Italian networks linked to al Qaeda and North African terrorist groups like the GIA/GSPC and MICG/Salafia Jihadia has continued to sit largely on the backburner so far as my own writing goes. Recently I was reading Aaron Zelin’s fantastic article “Tunisian Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria,” (and now his excellent book Your Sons Are At Your Service) and a small sentence in the beginning of the article reignited my interest. He mentioned the arrival of a small group of fighters at Zarqawi’s Kurdish base in the Fall of 2002—3 Iraqis and 8 Tunisians, all from Marseille*. Sad to say, I couldn’t dig up who these guys were, but I was quickly re-introduced to the largely Tunisian networks operating in the south of Europe during those days and my attention was quickly diverted. The source for his statement was Vidino’s book. Continue reading →
I’ve been half-heartedly working on a long piece on the Roubaix Gang for some time. The story has many twists and turns, and although their small outfit seems a relatively insignificant part of the jihadist mosaic, it plugs into so many other elements which are by no means unimportant. One of the frustrating aspects of trying to write such a story is the inner “need” by this author to go into detail on all those elements that play a supporting role, in order to drive home the importance of the main characters. I’m going to indulge that need and tell the story of one of the members of the Fateh Kamel network, Moustapha Labsi. That facilitation network provided the means by which surviving members of the Roubaix Gang were able to move around Europe and evade law enforcement. Labsi, for his part, became the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by France in 2000 in connection with attacks there between 1996 and 1998, suggesting he had more than a passing linkage to Roubaix. Continue reading →
Cherifi is an important name from the early-to mid-2000s in the European terrorism scene. I decided to write about him not because of recent revelations, but because a number of my previous articles have touched upon him. I think his story, what there is of it to tell, deserves a fuller treatment, because he cuts across groups and plots, and some from those days continue to appear in today’s conspiracies. Another reason has become apparent in the course of researching and writing it which I will touch upon in the conclusion. Continue reading →
When I wrote my article bemoaning the lack of information and progress regarding the case of Ayoub el-Khazzani on August 20, 2016, I thought I had done an exhaustive search of the available information on him. I think now that was largely true, but unfortunately, I missed something key. It’s been a long time since I published anything, and in light of the February release of Eastwood’s new movie, I’d like to take the opportunity of my return to go over what I missed and bring you up to speed on the handful of developments that have taken place.
In my last article I said that the story of Amir Meshal deserved its own article, and I thought I might do that here. But as Burns once wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men, / Gang aft agley.” Meshal’s ordeal in Africa will matter here, but in some senses it will serve as the backdrop of a much different facet of the jihad story, one fairly well known but surprising in its relationship. With respect to Meshal, it may simply be a series of unfortunate coincidences, but if it isn’t then it may say a great deal about him and the danger he potentially represents. To be clear, much of the detail surrounding his experience there is drawn from the court filing in the Higgenbotham case, so it represents Meshal’s point of view. What the government contends with respect to Meshal’s activities can’t be probed directly.
Omar Ahmed Ali Abdel Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh”, passed away at the age of 78 in a North Carolina prison hospital on February 18, 2017. For such an important character in the modern jihadist movement, the event passed with little fanfare—a few stories and no protests or celebrations to my knowledge. Yet, his story here in the US deserves more attention because he and his associates were at the epicenter of the burgeoning confrontation between the United States and some of its erstwhile allies in Afghanistan. Continue reading →
I was excited this morning to see a new article from CNN about Oussama Atar. For those of you who have followed my blog, you know I have written about him a number of times (5 to be precise). I initially stumbled upon him while trying to unearth more about the background of the El Bakraoui brothers, discovering his relationship to them, the Benhattals, and Yasin Atar. My findings were confirmed by the Belgian press the following month. I came back to his story briefly with the arrest of Moustapha and Jawad Benhattal last June. August brought forth the stunning development of a series of unsuccessful raids in Laeken, Anderlecht, and Evere aimed at capturing Atar. Meanwhile Belgian MP Alain Destexhe demanded an investigation into the role of Amnesty International and the deputies Zoe Genot (Ecolo), Jamal Ikazban (PS) and Ahmed El Khannouss (CDH) in the release of Atar from an Iraqi prison in 2012. The last time I mentioned the Atars was in connection to a neighbor of their aunt Khadouj, Jamal Alkhomaili, who was an old gang-mate of Moustapha Benhattal and an associate of the recently arrested Farid Kharkhach, a supplier of false documents from the Saint-Gilles “factory” to the El Bakraouis. Continue reading →
On Saturday German police sealed off the Limbecker Platz shopping center in Essen, one of the largest in the country, on the strength of a highly specific threat (a “konkrete Gefahr” in their words) consisting of a 3-man suicide attack team using backpack bombs at 4:30. The place was cleared out and surrounded by heavily armed men; hundreds of officers were involved in the operation. Continue reading →
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.