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 →
Friday and Saturday have brought new arrests and charges in Belgium, one definitely connected to the March 22nd attacks. Youssef E.A. (b. August 4, 1985) was arrested on Friday and had the book thrown at him: participation in the activities of a terrorist group, murder in a terrorist context and assassination attempts in a terrorist context, as author, co-author or accomplice. Nothing further was given regarding his identity or the particulars of the activities of which he is accused. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
Hind Fraihi, a journalist who went undercover and wrote En immersion à Molenbeek ten years ago, described the district even then as a hotbed of Islamic extremism. Yet the emergence of the Islamic State and the extension of its influence in Belgium has created something different. Whereas earlier preachers and recruiters had sought to legitimize their violent ideology with carefully constructed justifications, the recruiters who aligned themselves with the Islamic State have eschewed all of this in favor of grafting a few basic religious ideas onto the existing career paths of its potential soldiers—a fusion some are calling “gangster Islam.” This serves the needs of an organization that seeks to attack the very heart of Western Civilization by supplying it with a ready-made network of facilitators already schooled by the Underworld. Continue reading →