Following the arrest of Mehdi Nemmouche, a French citizen who is suspected of killing four people at a Jewish museum in Belgium two weeks, the “big eye-opener … is that he had recently returned from Syria,” writes Jason Ditz at Antiwar.com.
Seemingly, the oft-repeated predictions that Western Muslims, radicalized in Syria, are destined to come home and terrorize their fellow citizens, are coming true.
The Jerusalem Post reports:
French President François Hollande confirmed that a suspect had been arrested and repeated his country’s determination to do all it could to stop radicalized youths from carrying out attacks.
French media reports said Nemmouche was also suspected of having stayed with jihadist groups last year while in Syria, where Islamist insurgents have been playing a major part in the three-year uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Muhammad Merah, the Franco- Algerian who died in a police shootout in Toulouse in March 2012 after killing three soldiers and four Jews, three of them children, also had links with Islamist insurgents. His sister, Souad, has since disappeared and is believed to be in Syria with a companion and her four children.
Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said that “there must be a lot of Merahs coming back [to France] from Syria.”
According to intelligence specialists, the largest number of European jihadists is in Belgium, a country with a sizable number of North African Arab immigrants.
It’s disturbing that the perspective of some members of the antiwar movement, the Western political mainstream, and the anti-immigrant European far right have come into such close alignment.
But buried in the Jerusalem Post report is a detail that should have garnered more attention: Nemmouche’s own attorney’s explanation about the radicalization of his client.
Salifa Badaoui said that Nemmouche “was not frequenting the mosque [and] was not talking about religion at all….He became radical only in jail, after falling into minor criminality during his adolescence.” Nemmouche served time in prison in 2009 and 2012.
In other words, if we are to understand the process of radicalization that may have led to the murders in Brussels, we should be giving as much if not more attention to Nemmouche’s experiences in France rather than those in Syria.
Last year, Reuters reported:
In France, the path to radical Islam often begins with a minor offence that throws a young man into an overcrowded, violent jail and produces a hardened convert ready for jihad.
With the country on heightened security alert since January when French troops began fighting al Qaeda-linked Islamists in Mali, authorities are increasingly worried about home-grown militants emerging from France’s own jails.
But despite government efforts to tackle the problem, conditions behind bars are still turning young Muslims into easy prey for jhadist recruiters, according to guards, prison directors, ex-inmates, chaplains and crime experts interviewed over the last few months by Reuters.
“I have parents who come to me and say: ‘My son went in a dealer and came out a fundamentalist’,” said Hassen Chalghoumi, imam of the mosque in Drancy, a gritty suburb north of Paris.
As petty criminals become radicalized in jail, the society to which they return is inclined to reinforce their experience of alienation and solidify their ideological conclusions.
In 2012, France 24 reported:
French Muslims have become the target of a marked increase in Islamophobic violence and actions, as well as incendiary statements by politicians, over the last two years, according to a report by a leading anti-racism observatory.
The number of racist acts against Muslims in France is increasing “alarmingly”, according to the country’s National Observatory of Islamophobia, whose president has called for overt Islamophobia to be taken as seriously as anti-Semitism, which is a criminal offence in France.
According to a report by the Observatory, which claims to fight “all forms of racism and xenophobia”, “in 2011 the number [of anti-Muslim attacks] was up 34% on the previous year … but what is happening in 2012 is alarming. Between January and the end of October there were 175 reported Islamophobic acts, a 42% increase compared with the same period in 2011.”
The report highlighted the occupation of a building site of a new mosque in Poitiers, near Paris, by 74 members of the extreme-right splinter group “Generation Identity”, who chanted hostile “warlike” slogans against Islam and Muslims.
The Observatory’s President Abdallah Zekri told FRANCE 24 that the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in France could be partly explained by “the tense socio-political atmosphere in France being driven by a resurgence of the far right”.
The huge success of Le Pen’s National Front in this May’s elections suggests that European leaders have less reason to highlight the threat posed by jihadists returning from Syria than they should fear the huge wave of xenophobia now sweeping the continent.