July 17, 2009
Volume VII, Issue 21
FRENCH CONVERTS TO ISLAM CONVICTED OF RUNNING IRAQI JIHAD NETWORK
Eight men from the Toulouse region of France were handed sentences of six months to six years on July 9 by a Paris magistrate’s court for their efforts to support or join the jihad in Iraq (AFP, July 9). The public prosecutor said the defendants “hide behind the argument of the fight against a war of occupation,” though this is just a veil to “conceal their hatred of unbelievers” (La Depeche, June 19).
The two were captured by Syrian intelligence officials at an al-Qaeda safe house in Syria in December 2006 as they prepared to cross the border into Iraq. They were questioned for two months by Syrian authorities and deported to France in February 2007, where they were arrested and charged as they left the airplane. Further arrests of members of the jihadi network were carried out in the following months.
Sabri Essid and Thomas Barnouin (a.k.a. Thomas Abdelhakim) were both convicted of “criminal conspiracy for terrorist purposes” and given five year sentences with one year suspended and additional terms of three years probation. Several of the other suspects, including a Moroccan national and five native French converts to Islam, were given six year sentences for their role in recruiting and supporting a jihadi network. One of the defendants, Miloud Chachou, disappeared in Iraq and was tried in absentia. He was given a five year sentence and his arrest warrant was renewed.
Twenty-eight-year-old Thomas Barnouin converted to Islam in 1999 and left his home in Albi (50 miles northeast of Toulouse) to pursue Quranic studies at the University of Medina. While there he became convinced it was his duty to fight the Americans in Iraq. A Saudi contact introduced him to a network that would take him from Jordan to Syria, where he would be infiltrated with other volunteers into Iraq. Barnouin left Medina in 2006 just ahead of a Saudi security sweep, but Saudi authorities had recordings of telephone conversations in which Barnouin described his plan to friends in Toulouse who were also planning to go to Syria. The Saudis alerted Syrian security forces and the safe house was raided in December 2006, leading to the arrest of Barnouin and Essid. Barnouin tried to open fire on the Syrians with an AK-47, but was tackled before he could deploy the weapon (Le Figaro, October 15, 2007). Both men expressed their desire to “die as martyrs.”
The spiritual leader of the jihadi network was Shaykh Olivier Qorel, a French citizen in his 60’s of Syrian origin. Sabri Essid, a friend of Barnouin, traveled separately from France to Syria via Turkey at the urging of Qorel, who told him; ”You will meet your girlfriend again in paradise, but before then sell your car and settle your debts” (Le Figaro, October 15, 2007).
An anonymous tip to the French embassy in Tunis alerted French authorities to Sabri Essid’s plan to attack a supermarket in Toulouse and the American consulate in Lyon. Police put Essid under surveillance, which soon led to the discovery of a group of militant young French converts to Islam, all members of the same mosque. Unknown to them, their phones were tapped and they were closely observed for an extended period – according to one investigator: “There are miles of literature on each of these guys” (Le Nouvel Observateur, June 21, 2007). The converts were in the habit of getting together to surf jihadi websites on the internet.
It is believed some 60 French citizens have left France to join the jihad overseas since 2003. At least 12 have been killed (including two suicide bombers) while another 30 have returned home to incarceration in French prisons (Le Nouvel Observateur, June 21, 2007).
Terrorism Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation and is edited by Dr. Andrew McGregor, who is also the director of Aberfoyle International Security in Toronto, Canada. The opinions expressed in it are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Jamestown Foundation. If you have any questions regarding the Terrorism Monitor, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of Terrorism Monitor is strictly prohibited by law.