An Unknown Terror Network Surfaces in Brussels
Until the November 2015 terrorist attack on Paris and the March bombings in Brussels, the most notorious Belgian Islamic terror network was Shariah4Belgium. It has recruited around 100 citizens and has sent them to Syria to fight alongside ISIS. But the two recent waves of attacks reveale a second group, the Zerkani network, which was not known until now to the French or Belgian intelligence services dealing with the war against terror.
The network takes its name from its founder who was sentenced to 12 years in prison last July. Before being caught, Khalid Zerkani, a Moroccan living in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, recruited and indoctrinated citizens for jihad.
Unlike Shariah4Belgium, known for its public demonstrations, Zerkani’s network attracted recruits through social activities that led to indoctrination sessions behind closed doors. It avoided the spotlight and did not operate a website or even have a logo. The Belgian court’s verdict said Zerkani has even urged recruits to engage in petty crime to subsidize their trips to the warzone. He was also linked to a group which members were convicted of cooperating with Somalia’s Al Shabaab terrorist organization, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.
Zerkani was assisted by Fatima Aberkan, who indoctrinated recruits and logistically arranged their journeys to Iraq and Syria until she, like Zerkani, was caught and convicted. Aberkan has dispatched four of her own sons to Syria for jihad missions.
Even though the Zerkani network was almost completely unknown a year ago, over the past few months it has become the most infamous Islamic terror network in Belgium. It is believed to have dispatched a minimum of 59 people to Iraq and Syria so far. Among them, at least three returned to Europe to engage in terror: Najim Laachraoui, who helped carry out the Brussels bombings, and Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Chakib Akrouh, who were among the Paris terrorists.
It is pesumed that other members of the network are back in Europe for the same purpose, but might be found out only after the next attack.