The Man Behind The Paris Attacks and Belgian Connection
Abdelhamid Abaaoud. His name is on the cover of most newspapers across the world, today, alongside the Belgian town of Molenbeek where he originates from. Abdelhamid Abaaoud left Belgium for Syria where he joined ISIS in 2013, quickly rising through the ranks of the terrorist organisation.
While his role in the Paris attack is not established, it is known he was friend with Salah Abdeslam, the brother of one of the suicide bombers who perpetrated the terror attack on Paris on Friday the 13th 2015. Abdelhamid and Salah shared a cell in a Belgian prison in 2010.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud is considered by the French intelligence services as the architect of several terror plots aimed at France and Belgium. He has known links with jihadis and terror attacks perpetrated and/or attempted on French and Belgian soil in the past 18 months and his name is often mentioned in the intelligence community as one of the driving force behind trying to bring ISIS’ war to the heart of Europe.
He often pops up on social media encouraging young Muslims from all over Europe to join the Islamic state or to strike at the non-Muslim population of Europe.
He is sadly enough only one of the many jihadists coming from or transiting through the small town of Molenbeek. So what is it with this town ?
Molenbeek is a very old borough or district of Brussels (one of 19). It used to be called “Little Manchester” when it was thriving during the industrial revolution, thanks to manufacturing and the canal that linked it to the sea, bringing in raw materials and sending away manufactured goods.
Delocalisation of manufacturing activities to other areas of Brussels, WWI and the great depression that followed it brought poverty to Molenbeek.
After WWII, Belgium went through an economic boom and needed workers.
A lot of them. So immigrants from Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco and Algeria came around and settled in Belgium. Molenbeek saw a small Algerian and Moroccan community take its quarters there. The different communities settled easily in Belgium. Those sharing the same religion as the Belgians integrated Belgian life.
Others stayed amongst themselves but there was no problem with that first wave of immigrants, the first generation. It was thought that their children, going through the Belgian education system, would grow up to become integrated Belgian citizens.
The problem is now with the 3rd or 4th generation. A lot of young people born in this community, of Muslim descent but of Belgian nationality, do not have any love or loyalty for the country they were born in. They represent the biggest share of school drop outs, the biggest share of prison population, and the biggest share of unemployment. There are exceptions, not all young Muslims have turned bad, of course.
Some have become TV anchors on national television, some have made career in politics. But the success stories are exceptions rather than the rule.
Over the past 30 years, Molenbeek -alongside other districts in Brussels and other towns and cities throughout Belgium- has become a ghetto full of religious extremism.
Ruled during 25 years by a socialist mayor that was as lenient as possible toward that community so as to reap votes and re-elections, Molenbeek has become a place white people and the police avoid at all cost.
This tiny borough covering an area of only 6 square kilometres counts 97.000 people and 22 Mosques (4 times more mosques than churches, in fact). Most of those Mosques have been financed from abroad and a brand of Salafism or Wahhabism Islam is usually preached on those.
So that community, living almost in total autarky, which cut itself off from the rest of the capital and the other communities has fallen victim of hate preachers. And many infamous names or terror attacks originated from or transited through this small town.
– In 2001, Ahmed Shah Massoud , the famous Afghan commander fighting the Talibans was killed by two people from Molenbeek under order from Osama bin Laden.
– In 2004, two of the terrorists that took part in the Madrid bombings also came from Molenbeek.
– On the 11th of March 2011, a young Frenchman called Mohammed Merah opened fire on French soldiers on the streets of the French city of Toulouse. He had resided in Molenbeek for a while.
– In May 2014, a lone gunman broke into a Jewish museum in Brussels and opened fire on the crowd. He was from Molenbeek.
– In January 2015, Belgian Special Forces led a raid in the town of Verviers against a group of jihadists that was preparing terror attacks in Belgium. They were from Molenbeek.
– More recently, in August 2015, a terror plot was foiled by US soldiers in the Thalys train linking Brussels to Paris. The gunman intercepted by the US soldiers as he was getting ready to open fire on the passengers was from Molenbeek.
– And last weekend, on Friday the 13th of November 2015, in Paris, at least 2 of the 8 terrorists that took part in the attack that killed 129 people and wounded over 300 of them were French but had resided in Molenbeek for a while before driving to Paris on that night to commit their attacks on innocent civilians.
Molenbeek also holds the record in Belgium for being the town that saw the most volunteers leave the country and go to Syria to fight for ISIS. Belgium and Molenbeek are the visible part of the Iceberg. Many European countries are struggling with Muslim communities that have somehow not integrated into European ways of life. We are not talking about recent immigrants struggling to adapt to a new environment.
We are talking about home grown people, born in Europe, gone through European education systems, cared for by European healthcare systems.
People born, educated and raised in Europe but who grew with their heart and loyalties elsewhere, people who fell victim of religious radicalisation, who grew up to nurture a hatred of their environment, the country they grew up in and its culture.
Most terror attacks on European soil have been perpetrated by home grown terrorists, including the London bombings of 2005. And many countries European countries have seen a lot of their young men go to Syria and fight for ISIS or Al-Quaeda.
We can fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We can and must do so. But the solution must also be found at home. It is multiculturalism in Europe that is also at stake. A solution must be found very quickly, involving all communities or this war on terror will very quickly look like a global war of civilisations.