Thursday, December 9

The banal life of the Bataclan jihadists

Exterior of the Bataclan room during the attacks of 13N.

Exterior of the Bataclan room during the attacks of 13N.

Happy childhood, youth as small delinquents and their subsequent conversion to jihadism. The similarity of the profiles of the perpetrators and alleged accomplices of the attacks of November 13, 2015 in Paris. After a few weeks marked by the testimonies of the victims, the trial, which began in September, dealt with the first interrogations of the accused throughout this week. These were limited to his childhood and youth before his immersion in the jihadist nebula. His involvement in the attacks on the Bataclan hall, the Stade de France and the Parisian terraces will not be examined until January.

“I was in public school in Belgium, I imbued myself with western values and I lived as you taught me to live in the West, “said Salah Abdeslam, the only living member of that Islamist command, which killed 131 people and injured 413 in the largest massacre of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in Europe. Abdeslam’s provocative phrases already marked the beginning of the trial and this time he also had to open this round of interrogations. He had a “happy childhood,” said the jihadist, who appeared with a shaved head and a long black beard. “He was a good student. (…). My teachers loved me“added this Frenchman of Moroccan origin, who lived most of his life in the Molenbeek district of Brussels.

Abdeslam, 32, was shortly lacking to present himself as the perfect son-in-law, beyond recognizing that “he liked speed” and for that reason he was fined multiple times for road traffic offenses. Like many young Belgians, in his younger years he alternated temporary jobs with alcohol-watered nights in bars and discos. “He was leading the life of a libertine,” said the terrorist, who in the first hearing presented himself as a “servant of the IS”. “I didn’t care about God. I did what I wanted, I ate what I wanted, I drank what I wanted.”

They did not lack for anything

His career began to be cut short in 2011, when he was sentenced to a one-year prison sentence after trying to rob a home with some friends, among whom was Abdelhaamid Abaaoud, the head of the Bataclan command, killed by the police. French a few days after the attacks. Far from the cliché that social marginalization led them to Islamist fundamentalismMany of the accused vindicated their happy childhood, in which they did not lack for anything. They are children of a first or second generation of migrants well adapted to the Old Continent.

“We did not come out of our mothers’ wombs with a Kalashnikov. We were children, we went to school, we grew up in Europe,” said 36-year-old Mohamed Abrini, on trial for having accompanied the IS cell to the French capital and having financed the attack. After a “normal” childhood, the life of this childhood friend of Abdeslam was marked by “failure”. “I failed in school, I failed in sports, failure and checkmate“.

Sentenced for the first time to a prison sentence when he was 18 years old for the theft of a vehicle, Abrini has since alternated the periods of his life behind bars and those that he was committing crimes. His conversion to radical Islamism was triggered by learning that one of his brothers had died in Syria and that led him to join the ranks of IS. While Abrini specialized in busting safes, another of the defendants, Mohamed Bakkali, was engaged in trading fake products. “I lived well, I did not deprive myself of anything“said this Salafist, considered one of the instigators of the attacks.

“My heart hardened”

More than half of the 20 defendants (14 of them present in court) were part of the ecosystem of Molenbeek, the multicultural district of Brussels that was stigmatized after these attacks. But some of them do not have Belgian or French nationality. This is the case of the Tunisian Sofien Ayari who joined the ranks of the IS in Syria and Iraq in 2014 after the “disappointment” with the Arab Springs.

Another of the defendants with a prominent participation in the attacks is the Swede Osama Krayem, 29, involved in the Paris attacks, but also in the Brussels attacks in March 2016. This jihadist, accused in his country of a crime against the humanity for participating in the media killing of a Jordanian pilot burned alive in Syria in 2015 by IS men, he came out when he was 12 years old in a film in which he was presented as a example of integration in Sweden. Having started doing “illegal things” since he was 19 years old, in 2014 he joined the ranks of ISIS in Syria. “Before I had no problems like now. But after the war my heart hardened“he assured the court on Thursday.

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