The Washington Post reports: One perpetrator was an automobile thief before he got religion, and served time in a Belgian prison on a carjacking charge. Another was an armed robber who once shot a police officer while fleeing from a crime scene.
Others had convictions for burglary, drug-dealing, larceny and assault. Nearly to a person, all had been violent men, long before they became foot soldiers for the hyper-violent Islamic State.
As Belgian police delve into the backgrounds of the men behind Tuesday’s attacks in Brussels, they are encountering a pattern familiar to investigators in Paris and other European cities targeted by the Islamic State: The shock troops used in the terrorist group’s signature attacks are largely men already well known to local law enforcement — not as religious radicals, but as criminals.
As it has done for years in the Middle East, the Islamic State appears to be finding a fruitful recruiting ground among Europe’s street gangs and petty criminals, drawing to itself legions of troubled young men and women from predominantly poor Muslim neighborhoods, U.S. and European officials and terrorism experts say. Some recruits have scant knowledge of Islam but, attracted by the group’s violent ideology, they become skilled and eager accomplices in carrying out acts of extraordinary cruelty.
“Some of these guys are just looking for an opportunity to justify their violence and criminality,” said Ali Soufan, a former FBI counterterrorism official and a consultant to government agencies on terrorist threats. “Now, with ISIS, it is justified — because they can say they’re doing it for God.” ISIS is another name for the Islamic State.
Indeed, some European officials say the perpetrators in the most recent attacks appear to be part of a new wave of recruits that are not “radical Islamists” but rather “Islamized radicals” — people from society’s outer margins who feel at home with a terrorist organization noted for beheading hostages and executing unarmed civilians. [Continue reading…]