Belgian weekly Knack is coming out with a series of articles about the radical Islam in Antwerp. The first article is titled “The Jihadis of Antwerp-North” (De jihadi’s van Antwerpen-Noord).
Following is a translation of the first half. I will post the rest soon.
Every year dozens of Muslim youth depart Antwerp for madrassas in Pakistan. But in addition small groups of extremists prepare themselves here in Belgium for Holy War. Flemish convert P. didn’t fall into the trap several years ago, became an informant for the security services, and now tells his story.
“In 2001, I was then seventeen, I didn’t feel good with myself. In my quest I felt more and more attracted to Islam. I had many Moroccan friends. I opposed Israel and supported a Palestinian state. Unwittingly I ended up in a radical community.” Speaking is P., a 25 year old Flemish, who converted to Islam seven years ago. “Newcomers without any background in Islam are the easiest prey for the extremists. They don’t know the religion and believe that what they are taught is the only right way.”
The recruiters who look for new recruits for the radical ideas leave no opportunity unused. Like a type of Jehovah’s Witnesses they go out to win new youth for the ‘true Islam’. They hang around non-profit (VZW), go to football matches and approach youth on the street. “When they hear that I wanted to be Muslim they checked up who I was, how were my relations with my parents, and what friends I had. Then it followed again and again in the same vein: they try to substitute your existing contacts by faith and the mosque. Internet and other cafes are the devils. Contact with infidels is only justified if you get an advantage from it. That I calculatingly wanted to convert in the year of the September 11 attacks yet speeded everything up.”
The whole time P. concealed his new religion and way of life from his nearest surroundings. At the beginning of 2002 his parents did learn about it. Mother couldn’t understand it. Father was afraid of radicalizing.
“Islam was omnipresent in my daily life. Evenings during the week I stayed sometimes till 10pm in the mosque to talk politics. The Americans were the great bogeyman, but also the Pakistani government must be fought because they collaborated with president George W. Bush.”
More and more Antwerp Muslim youth are approached to to go to the Middle East. P. was also told that he should go for forty days to Pakistan in order to become a better Muslim and better man.
Luckily for P. a Pakistani friend then convinced him not to go so far. “In that period I got a tape from an imam where Osama Bin Laden was glorified. The federal police in Antwerp found it interesting and wanted to collaborate with me further. It was 2003 and they had then yet little information about the Pakistani extremists in Antwerp.”
The Pakistani mosque Khatim-Al-Anbia on Oranjestraat in Antwerp-North counts already for years as one of the most radical of Antwerp, particularly due to the presence of the extremist movement Khatme Nubuwwat. In 2004 and 2005 two famous Pakistani religious leaders came there. Although the security services were aware of the arrival of Sammy-Ul-Haq and Fazlur Rehman, heads of the Islamic party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, the two couldn’t be stopped at the border due to their parliamentary mandate.
Rehman is the son of Mufti Mahmood, who died in 1980, a supporter of the Afghan Jihad against the invasion of the Russians in 1979. Junior pronounced his fatwa against the whole West in 1998 in the Pakistani media, but was yet a few years later named a serious favorite for his country’s premiership. That he didn’t become prime minister had to do particularly with the presence of the US, which couldn’t tolerate an outspoken Taliban friend like Rehman in that position.
The Antwerp youth that each depart to Pakistan by the dozens spend their forty days without exception in the madrassa of Ul-Haq. Haqqania, as the big Koran school is called, is one of the most wide-known in Pakistan. Ul-Haq is principal and declared in 2005 in the Asia Times that whenever the Taliban put out a call for fighters, he would simply close down the madrassa and send his students off to fight.
P. knows a Kyrgyz who is known in Antwerp as Abdul Aziz. “He had lost his family in his homeland and let himself be carried away by imam Abdul Hameed. Day and night he was back in the mosque. One time I saw him back after a long time. He was just back from the madrassa in Pakistan. Later he departed again. The Pakistanis who come to Belgium during Ramadan confirmed to me that he’s again in Pakistan. But now he’s away already much longer than forty days.”
There was a large scale observation operation of the Belgian security services during the visits of Rehman and Ul-Haq. Since then the extremists in the area of Khatim-Al-Anbia are thoroughly aware that they are being watched by the security services. Imam Abdul Hameed, representative of the Pakistani Jamaat Tabligh, lives in Antwerp and in Athens. A number of British terror suspects appear in his address-book. Jamaat Tabligh or Tablighi Jamaat is an international organized fundamentalist movement that according to the anti-terrorism cell of the Belgian federal police often functions as a step on the way to a terror group.
In the big Moroccan mosque El Muslimin on Jan Palfijnstraat Nordin Taouil was an imam till 2006. Due to his numerous appearances in the media Taouil is one of the most famous imams of Flanders. In the Great Mosque of Brussels he keeps occupied with teaching Belgian converts. Less known is that he’s the man to which the faithful turn to for learning in the madrassas in Pakistan and Algeria. That’s why the infiltrators of the Moroccan intelligence service are also very interested in ins and outs of El Muslimin. Taouil was elected to the Muslim Executive in 2005 with 1360 votes, but he did not get a seat because the State Security Service delivered negative counsel.
Saïd Aberkan is the imam there for the past two years, but he’s not much more than a straw man. Behind the scenes Taouil holds the reins tight.
Nevertheless the presence of Taouil is perhaps one of the top reasons why El Muslimin missed recognition by the Flemish government and the matching subsidies last year. Flemish Minister of Internal Affairs Marino Keulen did not receive counsel from the State Security Service. Just like negative counsel, that means that the mosque cannot be recognized.
Each of the 36 Antwerp mosques has its own community. But for the faithful who wish it so the dividing wall between most prayer houses is nonexistent. Fuad Ellouzati, a young man whom P. met a year and a half ago in Omar mosque on Tulpstraat (Antwerp-North) is a good example of that. Moderate Muslims who know him see with regret how in the past months he exchanged the Moroccan branch of the worldwide organization Jamaat Tabligh for the Pakistani in Oranjestraat.
“Abdul Hameed has Fuad completely in his power,” says P. “Fuad even lives in his house and is on the point of going to learn in a Pakistani madrassa.” Recently the security services have been onto Ellouzati. P. interviewd him at the beginning of this year with a camera while he was cleaning the Omar mosque and thereafter put the movie on YouTube.
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Posted By Esther to Islam in Europe