Belgian police launch probe into ‘jihadist training camp’
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Belgian law enforcement officials opened an investigation Friday into an alleged jihadist training camp in the Ardennes region of northeastern Belgium, according to local media reports.
Photos of so-called combatants at the site were recently posted on Facebook.
Sporting combat fatigues, balaclavas and bullet proof vests, the men stomp around the sylvan Belgian countryside, wielding what appears to be dummy guns and looking incongruously menacing in the Western European forest.
But in a tiny European nation that has seen a disproportionate percentage of its population joining jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq, the photographs sparked alarm, prompting a police investigation into the possibility that Belgium’s Ardennes region was being used to train would-be jihadists, Belgian media reported on Friday.
“This looks nothing like a simple game of paintball with friends, but more like a radical training camp,” Belgian newspapers Het Nieuwsblad and De Standaard quoted a police source as saying.
The photos were posted on the Facebook page of a man named Abd Al Wadoud Abu Daoud under the title, “A Beautiful Day Among Brothers”.
An investigation by FRANCE 24’s Observers team found little information available on Abu Daoud and that his Facebook page has been suspended since September 29, the same date the photos were uploaded.
However, Belgian newspapers Het Nieuwsblad and De Standaard reported that Abu Daoud is a Brussels-based Muslim with links to known jihadists from the infamous Elouassaki family, whose members have joined Islamist groups battling President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria.
Hussein Elouassaki was believed to be the leader of a Belgian “katiba” – or brigade – that has been fighting in Syria before being killed in battle in August, according to media reports.
His brother, Hakim, returned to Belgium from Syria in March after being seriously wounded and is now awaiting trial on terror charges.
Belgium’s jihadist problem
The phenomenon of foreign fighters travelling to Syria to take up arms alongside extremist Islamic groups has been a cause for alarm for many Western governments, but has been a particular problem for Belgium.
According to research by the UK-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), of up to 11,000 foreigners fighting in Syria as of December 2013, as many as 296 were from Belgium, giving it the highest per capita level among western European countries.
Belgium has already witnessed the deadly blowback that can result from the return of radicalised fighters from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.
Four people were gunned down in May at the Jewish Museum in the capital Brussels in an attack allegedly carried out by Mehdi Nemmouche, a Frenchman who authorities say fought with Islamic State group in Syria.
Last week, the country opened its biggest ever terror trial against Islamic extremists when it launched court proceedings against 46 members of the Sharia4Belgium group, a now disbanded organisation that wanted sharia law adopted in Belgium.
Prosecutors claim the group was a terrorist organisation that brainwashed young Belgians into fighting in Syria.
It is also not the first time the Ardennes, an extensive region of forest and hills popular with tourists, has served as an alleged training ground for jihadists.
Last year, Belgian media reported that a radical Islamist named Abu Moussa had used Facebook to recruit young people to take part in a training camp in the region.