A Brussels mentor who taught ‘gangster Islam’ to the young and angry

The New York Times reports: He lived under the rafters in a small attic apartment in the Brussels district of Molenbeek, and became known to some followers as the Santa Claus of jihad. He had the bushy beard and potbelly, and generously offered money and advice to young Muslims eager to fight in Syria and Somalia, or to wreak havoc in Europe.

When the Belgian police seized the computer of the man, Khalid Zerkani, in 2014, they found a trove of extremist literature, including tracts titled “Thirty-Eight Ways to Participate in Jihad” and “Sixteen Indispensable Objects to Own Before Going to Syria.” In July, Belgian judges sentenced him to 12 years in prison for participating in the activities of a terrorist organization, and declared him the “archetype of a seditious mentor” who spread “extremist ideas among naïve, fragile and agitated youth.”

But only in the months since then has the full scale of Mr. Zerkani’s diligent work on the streets of Molenbeek and beyond become clear, as the network he helped nurture has emerged as a central element in attacks in both Paris and Brussels — as well as one in France that the authorities said last month they had foiled.

“Mr. Zerkani has perverted an entire generation of youngsters, particularly in the Molenbeek neighborhood,” the Belgian federal prosecutor, Bernard Michel, said in February. [Continue reading…]

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