by Philippe Migaux, Phd in Ethnology
The French Republic, beyond its core values of Equality, Liberty and Fraternity, advocates the principle of Secularism. This principle is often misunderstood. The law separating the State from the Churches, passed on 9 December 1905, was first and foremost the outcome of a long-drawn historical debate on how much the Catholic Church played a major part in building the French nation. The principle of Secularism merely states that the fields of action of the State will be separate from Religion matters, thus advocating the fairness of public authorities towards
religious denominations. While ensuring that both political and religious domains remain ideologically duly separate, it warrants the equality of citizens in the face of the law: it protects worshipping liberty, within the framework of public order, while in parallel guaranteeing liberty of conscience.
In France, Islam is the second religion. The number of its followers may be assessed at five million people. A big part of these believers is, on historical grounds, coming from Algeria. Then we have believers with Moroccan, Tunisian, Turkish or Black African roots. We have to add to these numbers more than 130 000 converts who, for the most part, are motivated by the wedding to an immigration’s child. Since the late 1980s, those who are in favour of Muslim fundamentalism have laid claim to the acknowledgement of a form of communitarianism, opposed to the principle of secularism and to blending into French society. In parallel, and in a clandestine manner, determined individuals assisted
by relays in the society have definitely chosen to engage into a form of fighting violence in the name of Jihad. Forsane Alizza is, to this day, the first French fundamentalist association which drifted into terrorist action.
A) Muslim fundamentalism in France: a will to build up its structure
The first Muslim community in France is mainly comprised of labouring immigrants who were nominally religious. Actually, since 1926, this community had only one worshipping place on our territory, that is the Paris Great Mosque, were the pressure exerted by the Algerian regime was strong, both to monitor its immigrant population which was expected to come back home and to counter abroad the Moroccan Kingdom’s influence. The situation sharply changed from 1975 onwards with the migratory aftermath of a legislation advocating family reunion for the spouses or children of legal immigrants in France. In the early 1980s, the Muslim community was targeted by three currents influenced by fundamentalism: the Pakistani inspired movement of Jamaat al-Tabligh (the group of the message), which was initially active in work related environments but which soon began to aim at the less well socially integrated individuals of the second immigrant generation. Then we had the associations close to the Muslim Brotherhood circles and which tried to gain influence within the diaspora communities – in France as elsewhere – an influence that they could not lawfully exert in Egypt. Lastly there were the Wahhabi expansion hotbeds – whose originally weak message reach was offset by external financial resources which enabled them to reach out to unexpected audiences at the time – like prison inmates or needy students.
1) Looking for followers of a Muslim communitarian fundamentalism
In October 1988, the media began reporting on “the Muslim headscarf case”. The principal of a secondary school in the north of France(1), turned back three Muslim female students who had kept their headscarves on while practising sports, despite the warnings from their physical training teachers who alerted them to strangulation risks. The national press then opened a debate pitting against each other, those who advocated abiding by the secular values of our republic and those who advocated cultural identity. The Education Minister requested the advice of the highest administrative Body in France, the Council of the State. It ruled on 27 November 1989 that the wearing of religious signs at school “was not per se incompatible with secularism” on the condition that it should not be “worn as a protest or in an ostentatious manner”. Thus the local representatives of the national education in France, on a case by case basis, were to allow into school or not such students. In 2003, the problem resurfaced when two students were excluded from their school in the Paris area (2).
The President of the Republic set up a think-tank committee, on the manner in which secularism could apply in the French Republic. The findings of this committee led to a strong claim to the principle of secularism in our society. The media hype around this “headscarf case” had been steadily underpinned by marginal Muslim associations tempted by the communitarian model and which defied, as part of a strategy, French legislation. While laying claim to the practice of fundamentalist rules, they pursued a secret objective, that was their own rise in power. They had managed to find vociferous and reliable relays and echoes outside France. New demands were soon to be voiced. Some of these claims were legitimate: creating new mosques which would enable Muslims to practice in a regular and genuine manner their faith in places were they were not yet to be found, such as prisons and education centres where they advocated the presence of Muslim chaplains. Other demands were much less legitimate regarding our national identity standards, like the systematic separation of sexes in school swimming pools, the funding of studies in fundamentalist institutes in the Arab peninsula and free preaching for radical imams who had come to urge Muslims to reject the rules of our republic. Then a few thousand people, tempted by a strict communitarian approach, gathered together in a new structure close to Muslim Brotherhood circles, the Union
of Islamic Organizations of France This one, in the mid-1990s, managed to gather 15000 visitors to attend its yearly congress (3). It thus also claimed, through a very political form of intelligence, to have a monopoly of the training of French Imams, within its own education institute (4).
2) The reaction of the French authorities
The authorities tried to prevent the expansion of backward themes which ran counter to basic Rights. The firm stance on the wearing of the headscarf, which primarily aimed at ensuring children’s safety, was reaffirmed in April 2004 with legislation proscribing the ostentatious wearing of any religious sign in the school system. In January 2007, a charter for Secularism in public services was promulgated. New criminal charges were adopted against incitement to racial hatred or to violence or even against domestic abuse on pseudo-religious grounds, while numerous news item being reportedly increasing on the French territory. Furthermore, the creation in 2003 of the Advisory Board of the Muslims of France enabled the Muslims living on our territory to get an autonomous expression entity and representation right after the example of what had long existed for the Protestant and Jewish faiths. In parallel, the authorities saw to it that religious or ideological arguments might not be used as a pretext to stir up law and order trouble. Fundamentalist imams who stealthily came to our territory were turned back and others who abused the very freedom they enjoyed in France – while condemning it in their preaching – were also sent back to their countries of origin to express themselves there.
In 2014, the fundamentalists remain largely a minority among Muslims in France even if they are particularly active when it comes to developing an underground space capitalizing on a crisis in values and on social marginality. Radical elements are even fewer in numbers as the salafist circles on the French territory are only numbering about 25 000 individuals (5). The majority of them is made up of pietistic salafists who are involved in a religious approach, withdrawn from society. Those who openly claim to belong to political salafism are a few thousands. But they engage into active proselytizing and their confrontationist propaganda denounces the fact that being law-abiding is betraying Islam’s precepts. This sectarian approach under the guise of an identity claim argues that it is meant to found a counter-society presented as a necessary bulwark for the community of believers. It leads to a sectarian ideology which calls upon the return to the Caliphate and to the application of Sharia law and it aims at islamicizing France. In parallel it keeps on denouncing “bad Muslims” who must be vigorously re-educated. It is all the more necessary today to combat this drifting off course which pseudo-legitimizes in a religious manner any temptation to violence.
B) A fascination for violent action with the followers of Jihad
In 2014, links exist between radical fundamentalists and Al-Qaida sympathizers but, since 9/11, recruiters for jihad have had much better results in prisons than in mosques. Various experiences appear indeed among French jihadists: a religious drifting off course, sometimes followed by some training in a foreign Koranic school; a recruitment by close relatives or friends from their neighbourhood; a justification of their criminal background, through acquaintances they make in criminal circles(6)6; self-radicalization through the web… All these experiences are often found mixed there.
The personal history of the thousand Jihadists who have been apprehended in France since 1995 shows that these individuals have first of all gone through various events building a path. Most of them were born in France or came to live in this country since early childhood. There are about 20% of converts among them, people who generally converted rapidly. The majority experienced a troubled adolescence, generally characterized by criminal involvement and delinquency, as well as family destructuring. Going over to violent activism is due most of the time to the confluence of what might be considered as two movements. The first one is of a psychological order: it is looking for one’s self. It goes through a quest for a visible identity which gives meaning to the very absence of meaning in one’s life. The second is of an ideological order: it is the quest for an integrating cause which provides an alibi for one’s own abandonment of social bearings. This cause is often external and becomes part of a new feeling, that of belonging to a martyred umma, chosen – at various times – either in Algeria or in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Mali or today in Syria. This rallying round is all the stronger if it is ushered in by close relatives, childhood friends or former inmates met in prison. It may also be the consequence of meeting charismatic figures like an older character compensating all of a sudden the father’s absence, an experienced criminal who thus religiously justifies his actions or a veteran fighter from Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria who stands as a fascinating and miscast figure. This will enable these individuals to satisfy a subconscious quest for authority, which had been hitherto denied. For most of them are young; two-thirds of them were in their early to late twenties when they were apprehended. The impact of murders which were committed in such cold blood for some of them, owes as much to memory lapses as to a media exposure that these very individuals sought after in their short-lived but vicious journey.
1) Mehdi Nemmouche
The whole French society, including its Muslim component, was justifiably shocked by the Brussels slaughter carried out on 24 may 2014 as an individual assassinated with a revolver and a Kalashnikov assault rifle, and in cold blood, in the Jewish museum, two Israeli tourists and two employees. The opinion was all the more in shock when it learnt that the presumed murderer was a French national of Algerian descent aged 29, Mehdi Nemmouche who had fought in Syria with Islamic State of Irak and Sham (ISIS). He had been arrested one week later in France, on the occasion of a customs control as he was in possession of a video in which he claimed he was responsible for the killing. He also had with him two weapons similar to these used in the attack. The presence of these weapons in his bag seemed to hint that Mehdi Nemmouche was planning a further murderous action on French territory. The investigation revealed a chaotic background and a destructured childhood characterized by his being in foster care and without any religious culture.
As he became a teenager, Mehdi Nemmouche engaged into violent acts of delinquency, sentenced seven times, lastly for armed robbery. His transition and changeover to religious radicalism only appeared during his fifth incarceration period as he felt the need to bring legitimacy to his violent habits.
The Paris prosecutor thus stated that “Mehdi Nemmouche had radicalized while he was last incarcerated, distinguishing himself by his extremist proselytizing and by associating with a group of radical islamist inmates” (7). In January 2011 he had been sentenced once again for violent acts against a prison warder. Released from jail in January 2013, he left for Syria, three weeks later, to join the ISIS fighters before traveling back to Germany one year on, through south-east Asia, as a way to cover his tracks.
2) Mohamed Merah
This criminal track record strikingly reminded us of Mohamed Merah, another French national of Algerian descent whose childhood has also been affected by the walking away of his father. In March 2012, he had carried out a series of targeted executions in the Toulouse area – assassinating in cold blood three soldiers who belonged to paratroopers’ regiments who had served in Afghanistan. He also killed a teacher and three children in a Jewish faith school. To the horrendous acts, which were rather to be ascribed to a psychopathic behavior than to jihadist resolve, he added his filming of these actions. Mohamed Merah was a former prison inmate who, on his own, had travelled twice to Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2010 and 2011. After he came back he succeeded in procuring weapons, funding these purchases thanks to the conveying of narcotics between France and Spain. Before staging his own death in front of the media, at 24 years of age, he claimed he belonged to Al Qaida and announced that he had wanted to “bring France down to its knees”. The mujahedeen circles were soon to take this over to their own ends. The Jund al- Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate), until now known for its actions in Kazakhstan, stated that “one of Islam’s knights, our brother Yussef the Frenchman has carried out an operation which shook up the Zionist and crusaders’ foundations worldwide and filled with awe the Muslims’ foes” (8). It is also to be noted that Mehdi Nemmouche who had always refused to have a TV set in his cell, had all of a sudden requested one in early March 2012.
3) Farid Melouk
Another instance of the phantasmagorical character of young jihadists is to be found with Farid Melouk. This French militant, who trained in explosive handmaking in Afghanistan in 1996, tried to prepare a terror attack, in France, during the 1998 football world cup. When he was apprehended in Belgium, the police seized his diaries, begun in Afghanistan and which featured drawings denoting genuine talent. The subjects depicted mainly the jihadist army, but in an idealized manner. These small sketches ran the gamut from visions of bearded men wearing kamis (tunics) and wielding weapons – classical symbols of the mujahedeen propaganda – to astonishing futuristic fighting machines. These latter drawings were clearly inspired from comic strips of Japanese origin, which were broadcast on a loop by French TV channels in the 1990s, so as to hook do-nothing teenagers – thus getting good ratings. This mix of genres, albeit frightening, accounted for many drifts off course.
4) Khaled Kelkal
Khaled Kelkal was one of the most violent members of the French Islamic Armed Group’s network which, from 11 July to 01 November 1995, had carried out on our territory a wave of terror attacks with explosive devices (13 casualties and 238 people wounded). This network had been broken up as it was about to park a car bomb on a market square in the Lille area, in which many Muslims used to shop around.
The investigation enabled the authorities to understand that this network had been thought through and implemented in Algeria, following the direct orders of the Islamic Armed Group national Emir, Jamel Zitouni. This network was made up of young individuals, mainly French nationals of Algerian descent, often recruited because of their family links or due to the fact that lived close by one another. They had all, initially, been tasked with logistical missions, particularly regarding the diffusion of propaganda through the Al Ansar magazine (9)which justified with a pseudo-theological mode the organization’s violence. Most of them had long ignored their parents’ customary religious practice – generally a broad-minded form of Malekism, and had come back to
Islam all the more in a radical manner, as they were recent in their faith, which enabled them to justify their wrath against French society. The militant commitment of these individuals had generally begun with their association, through a close acquaintance or relation, with a worshipping place where a rhetoric advocating solidarity with the Algerian brethren soon led to a rhetoric of hatred against the host country which was accused of supporting the Algiers authorities with their repression. A number of them were criminals who had been easily manipulated and had acquired a new legitimacy while accommodating undocumented people, trafficking in false documents or conveying weapons, before joining the attacks projects. It was then that French authorities launched a judicial enquiry into nationals who had travelled to the AfPak area to get military training there. These investigations were to allow to better take into account the magnitude of new threats.
The personality of Khaled Kelkal, who had directly participated in the network from the making-up of various explosive devices, to the carrying-out of two assassinations and to a car-bomb attack against a Jewish faith school, is enlightening. A few weeks after his demise, psychologists and journalists amply commented the visible part of his terrorist journey. He was a second generation child from a family of Algerian descent, a working class and industrious family whose religious practice was serene, in Chasses-sur-Rhône (10); his academic achievements had been no match for his criminal encounters. But nothing explained why, on this way which led to crime, Khaled Kelkal had all of a sudden taken the steep path of terrorism. The answer is to be found in two successive encounters he made. Incarcerated after taking part in break-ins with a car used as a battering ram, he had put himself under the protection of jihadist inmates who had all too easily converted him to a rigorist form of Islam as they blamed his incarceration on the pervading racism in French society, in all their rhetoric. After being released, his parents had sent him back to Algeria, wishing to cut him off his council estate bad relations. He thus has to share, for a few weeks in Mostaganem, the life of an uncle who was a grocer who regularly went to resupply with food the neighbouring maquis of the Islamic Armed Group. A number of youngsters in sports clubs undoubtedly identify themselves early on to a famous athlete. Khaled Kelkal had for his part chosen, in Algeria, as a role model, the darker character of Jamel Zitouni, a former criminal who had become, through violence the leader of the Islamic Armed Group. This explains why, once identified by the police, he had chosen not to flee but to keep on this jihadist adventure, finding with an associate a temporary hideaway in the forest, at fourty kilometers away from his home. It would only take a few weeks before the first Islamic Armed Group maquis disappeared and for Khaled Kelkal, who tried to perpetuate a terrorist action, to lose his life aged 24, while firing on the gendarmes who tried to apprehend him on 29 September 1995.
In 2014, as almost 800 French nationals are involved in the Syrian jihad and more than 30 of them have died in suicide attacks or while fighting, we better grasp the cultural chaos which underlies the ideological determination of French jihadists, often having lost their bearings regarding their roots and fallen victim to their home and family gradual decay, together with a refusal to blend into society. This ultra-religious rhetoric is a convenient garb for protest themes which, a generation earlier, would have been a semantic alibi used to defy the established order or to revolt against imperialism.
We thus observe the mediocre religious background of these newcomers to the faith who purport to be more Muslim than Muslims themselves; they have scant knowledge in theology and have a poor command and understanding of the Arabic language. The jihadist web may offer recipes but it does not open to the muslim faith.
C) Forsane Alizza, a voluntary drift from radicalization to terrorism
In early 2010, Mohamed Achamlane made a conspicuous entrance into the dark world of protest fundamentalism. This French national who had a Moroccan father had been in his youth superficially involved in Islam. He was then aged 35 and lived on welfare benefits with his converted spouse and his two children in the southwest of France. Using nicknames as Cortex or Sheikh Abou Hamza, he was a self-proclaimed imam, without any specific religious references but managed, thanks to his garrulous charisma to gather around him 15 or so sympathizers. The group had styled itself Sirat Alizza (the path to Pride). On 10 June 2010, his followers entered a Mac Donald’s restaurant in the town of Limoges to denounce, in a very vocal way, the links between this American fast food brand and the Jewish financial circles.
After this first step taken in the media arena, the foundation of the Forsane Alizza (the Knights of Virtue) association was a second stage on this journey. Registered on 25 June 2010, it aimed at “denouncing the oppressions against the real Muslims, whether in France or in the world”. Its statutes presented Mohamed Achamlane as the main man in charge of this structure and he was to implement a strategy to incrementally rise in power, acting on two parallel fronts. On the one hand, he was all-pervasive on the web and in the social networks, to increase the number of his followers and on the other, he staged unauthorized demonstrations, all the more disturbing the peace, so as to offend public opinion and to be highly visible, which would in turn enable him to portray himself as a figure of Islam ostracism.
1) Chosing radical protest
a) An increasing vocal presence in the social networks and on the web:
The association soon developed a website, www.forsanealizza.com, which drew the media’s attention, as its rhetoric was particularly venomous. The Shahada (profession of faith in Islam) was to be found on its homepage and conferred to it a warlike tone as it was framed with riders galloping with their swords drawn. On 13 September 2010, Forsane Alizza called upon people to denounce, on its website, the legislation banning religious signs from the public square. Mohamed Achamlane rapidly multiplied verbal provocations and in an interview broadcast on France-Maghreb radio, on 20 September 2010, he denied Al Qaida being involved at all in 9/11, denouncing an American anti-Muslim plot: “let’s talk about this 9/11: the relatives’ victims were the first ones to denounce these accusations. It was said that Muslims were at the origin of these attacks but nobody believes this, absolutely nobody does. Some scientists took a keen interest in this issue and evidence was unearthed. But we have to acknowledge the fact that journalists insist on making propaganda out of it and on spreading lies”. After this first media stunt on the radio, Mohamed Achamlane managed a second one, posting on his website part of the conversation which had not been broadcast and in which the journalist concurred with him, while mentioning the fact that he could not openly express himself in this way at his workplace.
The topics to be found on this website could actually be read in four different manners.
The first reading interpretation was of a publicity stunt or approach of the same kind as that of the far right groups he claimed to be denouncing. He thus provided links to external websites, made an extensive use of video, allowed people to share in his approach and steadily called upon financial donations. The French political scientist Gilles Kepel duly noted in 2012 : “we observe a kind of mimetic rivalry as each camp strengthens the other in its fantasy representation”(11)10 The second reading interpretation was the strengthening of the feeling of belonging to a radical umma, capitalizing on the permanent denunciation of sanction abroad against fundamentalist associations, the French Muslims having thus to feel collectively subject to such sanctions. This Forsane Alizza was soon to advertise its ideological closeness to the British Islam4UK association(12). Numerous protests made it widely known after only one year of existence.
On 16 October 2009, its members had displayed placards on the occasion of the Dutch Prime Minister’s visit proclaiming “Shariah is the solution, freedom go to Hell!” and “ Geert Wilders deserves Islamic punishment”. In December 2010, its leader Anjem Choudary announced a solemn march in the town of Wootton Bassett where regular ceremonies were held on the return home of British soldiers killed in action. He wanted to “carry ‘symbolic coffins’ in memory of the Muslim civilians murdered by merciless coalition forces”(13). The Muslim Council of Britain had issued a communiqué which officially condemned this announcement, stating that “ Like other Britons, Muslims are not opposed to Britain’s armed forces … therefore we are putting the record straight and letting the media and the general public know that the vast majority of Muslims have nothing to do with this group”(14) . On the following 14 January, Islam4UK was officially banned in the wake of anti-terrorist legislation. The British association issued a statement proclaiming its breaking up claiming that “ the struggle for Khilafah (The Caliphate) will continue regardless of what the disbelievers plot against the Muslims. It is the duty of all Muslims to rise up and call for the Khilafah wherever they may be” (15).
Forsane Alizza’s website posted also regularly the scathing statements of the Belgian association sharia4belgium. Very close to islam4UK, it had been set up on 3 March 2010 by the Belgian-Moroccan national Fouad Belkacem. He denounced democracy and called upon a reform of Belgium into an Islamist State, while multiplying provocative diatribes. He thus preached once for the death penalty against homosexuals and declared having prayed for Usama Bin Laden. He also uttered death threats against the Belgian Defence Minister for the participation of his country to the intervention in Libya.
These verbal slip-ups had led the Executive structure of the Muslims of Belgium to disapprove of this initiative (16). In June 2012, as he was subjected to an extradition request from the Moroccan authorities for drug traficking, Fouad Belkacem was condemned for the fourth time, for incitement to hatred against non-Muslims, after the court showed some of his videos posted on YouTube. Two days later, a French national,
Brahim Bahrir, who had come to Brussels to take part in a demonstration in support of Fouad Belkacem, wounded three police officers with a knife. This association was finally banned officially and broken up on 7 October 2012 and in April 2013, three of its former members were apprehended for their involvement in the recruitment of volunteers for the Syrian jihad.
The third way of reading this website was to find incitement to violent action in its postings. In a press conference held outside the Omar mosque in Paris on 21 may 2011, Mohamed Achamlane assumed a warlike stance and tone of speech in front of the TV cameras: “our revolt will translate into acts … we are soldiers of the faith … we are preparing ourselves physically for potential aggressions and we are not hiding this fact … it might happen some day. As hatred against Muslims is stimulated, it will be automatic”. A few months later the website claimed “our organization is increasing, has got momentum and we need manpower fissabililah (on Allah’s path). We are looking for any kind of skills but primarily for soldiers. Thus if you appreciate combat sports and if you are in a position to act rapidly when you are requested to do so, then your profile corresponds to us, inch’allah”. Meanwhile militants were called upon, internally, to take part in collective physical training sessions.
On 9 September 2011 www.forsane-alizza.com relayed one of its web users, Muhammad57salaf, who called for revenge after someone forcibly removed the niqab from a woman in the street. The address and personal details of the person who allegedly carried out this act of aggression were followed by an unequivocal request: “we are looking for brethren to punish physically this man and his daughter so that they never recover from it. This sister needs you. This is a call to all the young people in the district to look for both these miscreants and to bust their heads.”
The fourth reading interpretation was that of the spreading of jihadist theses. The web administrators, who initially advocated the instauration of Sharia law and of the Caliphate also advertised over time their interest for radical thinkers, while multiplying references to their writings. Thus, the Jordanian Mohamed Al Maqdissi was regularly mentioned(17). But they also mentioned first rate terrorists like Usama Bin Laden or Anwar al Awlaqi (18), showing here an underlying and unhealthy fascination for armed struggle.
This readiness for armed action was explained by a former Forsane Alizza member, who talked to the French magazine Le Point in March 2012: “we were against violent actions but we got ready to fight within jihad.(…) we practised a lot of sport and had training on the ground; we even engaged in paintball activities and matches to learn how to shoot straight. All our activities were to enable us to get ready; yes, I prepared myself to fight; there were weapons and some of us were especiallygetting ready to have a good command of them. To remain low-key, we had an “on” rhetoric to reassure the media, the politicians and so on. But we had, among ourselves, an “off” discourse: we talked about Bin Laden, Afghanistan… We watched videos as we had to be combat-ready, at all times”. (19)
b) The protests on the streets
With a view to strengthening and increasing his following, Forsane Alizza rode regularly on the wave of current affairs to call for demonstrations which caused undeniable disturbances on the streets. The agit prop approach became obvious as these street protests unfolded. As the French researcher Samir Amghar observed “we are dealing with people who are in their early to late twenties, it is an Internet generation (…); they know pretty well that to spread their message on the web they got to act in a very confrontational and visible way. (20)19 On 17 September 2010, Mohamed Achamlane had a first publicity stunt of his own, denouncing, in Limoges, the American pastor Terry Jones who, six days earlier had stated that he wanted to burn a copy of the Koran, to mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11. (21) Fewer than fifty people were at his side, but he had filmed himself up close with, surrounding him, about twenty women wearing niqabs. As the demonstration was coming to a close, Mohamed Achamlane had his followers chant “Allah Akbar”, before setting a criminal code on fire, claiming: “the penal code we do not respect as it does not defend us … it has to be burnt”. The posting of this video on Forsane Alizzza’s website led, five days on, an association against racism to press official charges.
On the next 27 September, he called upon demonstrating against a Parisian seminar named “ International general meeting on the islamicization of the European countries”, hosted by various far-right small groups. Here again, he only managed to gather together about 30 people but became confrontational with the police forces which had been sent there to prevent any clash. At his behest, the Forsane Alizza members went through the motions of a military parade, marching in close order, before obeying an order inviting them to leave the street in quick time and on the double.
On 9 April 2011, Mohamed Achamlane took part in Paris in a protest which was organized by “ Around the Tawhid oneness”. This French small association was officially devoted to gathering funds for humanitarian activities in Somalia on behalf of zakat (charity). The fact that the man in charge of this association, Samir Ameur, was close to Forsane Alizza led the press to envisage the existence of embezzlement schemes. As this demonstration had been prohibited by the authorities, the police apprehended about sixty people, among whom there were protestors of Belgian or British nationalities.
On 9 June 2011 Mohamed Achamlane was summoned before the Limoges Tribunal for “incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence”, for his actions on 17 September 2010. The debates were postponed until four days later as the police forces were called in after about twenty of his followers, looking very threatening and their faces concealed by scarves, stormed the court building. Mohamed Achamlane appeared then before the court with, this time, about forty individuals brandishing placards which read “Secularism to the devil” and “Sarkozy go to Hell”. He was sentenced in October 2011 to four years in jail and to a 2 000 Euro fine. On 6 August 2011, a few days after woman wearing a niqab was stopped by the police on the streets in Aulnay-sousbois, this was used as a pretext for a new demonstration. Several of the protesters carried placards and banners of the association islam4uk and belgium4sharia. After denouncing “the diabolical values of the West” and calling for a boycott of “Zionist products”, Mohamed Achamlane once again set on fire a copy of the criminal code doused with petrol.
Mohamed Achamlane tried a new provocative act on his website with a video posted on 23 January 2012, with Koranic songs in the background: “I am totally flabbergasted by this masquerade that the Prime Minister staged today on French TV channels, saying we were a terrorist group getting ready to fight and armed struggle, with terrorist plans. So I say to this mister: how come terrorists remain free?”
It was undoubtedly a statement too many and the association was broken up on 29 February 2012 by the Interior Minister, in compliance with an Act passed in 1936 prohibiting “combat groups and private militias”. The newspaper Le Figaro mentioned an internal Interior ministry memo in which it was observed that the Forsane Alizza group “is in constant touch with islamist movements based abroad or has relations with
people involved in acts of terror (…) This group offers its most active members training sessions in close combat and even in paintball shooting with simulations of hostage-takings”.(22)
2) Over to terrorist action
Mohamed Achamlane appeared to be all the more incensed as this dismantling and banning of his association only mirrored criticism voiced within the group. Choosing constant media exposure has been deemed dangerous for the strategic line of the association and as Mohamed Achamlane chose this headlong flight, some of his initial sympathizers had broken off with him in late 2011, weary of his whims and ego. Achamlane then isolated himself with the hard core of Forsane Alizza, to only devote himself to clandestine action.
The actions he planned on carrying out were mainly against Jewish targets in France. The first was the assassination of an examining magistrate who had indicted one of the group’s figures, Baroudi Bouzid, as the latter had abused both his children. Another action was the planned abduction of a member of the Jewish Defence League. (23)22 The murders carried out by Mohamed Merah in early March 2012 in the name of jihad and the neutralisation of this individual by the police further radicalized the will prevailing inside the close circle around Mohamed Achamlane on the way to terrorist action and the group soon decided to purchase weapons.
On 30 March 2012, the police made arrests and found jihadist documents together with decommissioned Kalashnikov rifles and a pistol, which were to be remade into their original condition for future armed actions. Among those of the militants apprehended was the French convert Willy Brigitte, a veteran from a Pakistani training camp who had been incarcerated for seven years in France for his preparation of an attack in Australia. Mohamed Achamlane and eleven Forsane Alizza members were then formally charged with “ criminal conspiracy with a view to carrying out terrorist actions and for procuring,
keeping and transporting weapons”. Nine of them have been remanded in custody pending their trial. On an administrative level, 35 persons saw their assets frozen by the Ministry of Finances.
* * * * *
In June 2014, the Advisory Board of the Muslims of France declared itself “concerned about the new impact of extremist these with a reaction of our youth”. It then appealed solemnly to the French muslim community to better fight this drifting off course and to enhance the existence of a pacified form of Islam.
In a text titled “A citizen’s convention of the Muslims of France to live together”, the Council, after reaffirming its hostility to racism, anti-Semitism or any form of xenophobia, stated its rejection of violence and of fanaticism. It condemned any subversive act, whether it be criminal or terrorist while calling upon the authorities to keep on acting in this way; it also urged the “Muslim families and religious leaders to quell any radical and subversive actions which misrepresent the message of Islam and denature the Muslim’s life”. With this goal in mind, the Advisory Board of the Muslims of France has committed to developing two approaches within the Muslim community.
The first approach is political in nature and denounces communitarian withdrawal, reaffirming that the principle of secularism is a major achievement of this living-together and of non-discrimination. Consequently “ each Muslim citizen must abide by his citizenship obligations as these were laid down by the laws of the French Republic”. The Council thus acknowledges a hierarchical order when it comes to social affiliation: “Muslims are first and foremost citizens and then may assert, or not, their religious affiliation”.
The second approach is religious. It defends the Muslim concept of “contextualization” which allows an adjustment of how we adapt religion to a certain time and society in which the believers are living. The Council then went on indicating a certain number of necessary adaptations, reminding the believers that wearing a religious veil is not a religious obligation but a simple prescription.
(1) In the town of Creil.
(2) In the town of Aubervilliers.
(3) In the town of Le Bourget.
(4) In the town of Bouteloin.
(5) Le Salafisme aujourd’hui – mouvements sectaires en Occident, p.36
(6) One of the main charms for criminal elements is the excuse of ghanima (authorization) which allows carrying out unlawful acts in Islam, like theft or murder, if they are perpetrated against Infidels and if part of the proceeds is devoted to jihad.
(7) Press conference by François Moulins, Paris prosecutor, 3 June 2014
(8) Communiqué posted on the Shumukh al Islam website, 22 March 2014.
(9) The Al Ansar magazine had been set up in London in 1993 by an Afghan veteran jihadist, the Jordanian Imam Abu Qutada. Under the guise of a global defence of all the salafist struggles through a religious rhetoric, it was mainly focusing on external propaganda for the Islamic Armed Group. Furthermore, Abu Qutada was suspected of being the author of the fatwa issued by the Islamic Armed Group in 1995, which excommunicated and sentenced to death all the Algerians who did not support the terror organization. Among the contributors to this magazine was the Algerian national Rachid Ramda who, from London, was in charge of funding the French network. This magazine was no longer published as from 1996.
(10) A suburb of the town of Lyon.
(11) Quatre-vingt treize, p.47
(12) The new face of the Al-Mujahirun (the immigrants) movement, since Omar Bakry was expelled towards Lebanon.
(13) The Muslim Cleric Anjem Choudary admits Wootton Bassett march is publicity stunt, The Telegraph, 4 January 2010.
(14) WICC calls for ban on Wootton Bassett march, Wiltshire Islamic Cultural Centre, 3 January 2010.
(15) Al Muhajirun/Islam4UK ban a victory for Islam and Muslims, islam4uk.com, 12 January 2010.
(16) Celstraf voor Belgische moslimextemist, De Volkskrant, 10 February 2012
(17) Mohamed Al- Maqdissi is an Afghan veteran who fought the Soviets. Upon his return in Jordan, he displayed in his writings and public preaching his determination to combat Islam’s foes. He was thus jailed twice, in 1992 and 1999, for inciting his followers in Jordan to prepare attacks against Westerners. It was upon following his orders that Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the future Al-Qaida in Iraq Emir, left in 1989 to get military training in Afghanistan. He was also Abu Qutada’s first ideological reference. Mohamed Al Maqdissi is still under house arrest in the Jordanian capital city.
(18) Anwar al Awlaqi was born in New Mexico (USA). His mother was an American national and his father was a Yemeni engineer from a fundamentalist tribe from the south of the country. He spent his teenage years in Yemen, as his father had been appointed president of the Sanaa university, where he enrolled in a theological class. He went back to the USA in 199, where he completed his studies in university. He became an Imam in San Diego and gradually radicalized himself, preaching in favor of Jihad, preaching attended by three of 9/11 terrorists as they arrived to the US. In December 2002, so as to avoid FBI monitoring, he left for Great Britain where he became one of the authoritative Londonistan imams. He then went back to Yemen in 2004, where he was taken care of by Afghan jihad veterans. Jailed for 18 months in 2006 for his involvement in the abduction of an American military attaché, he went underground to devote himself to jihadist propaganda on the web, using social media like Facebook or YouTube. His activism enabled him to recruit foreign volunteers – to launch attacks against the USA. In 2010 he launched on the Al-Malahem website (the Epics) the magazine entitled Inspire, with the assistance of Samir Khan, an American computer specialist of Pakistani descent. Both were to be killed in an American UAV strike in southern Yemen on 30/9/2011.
(19) Samir, un ancien membre de Forsane Alizza parle, Le Point, 07 April 2012.
(20) Forsane Alizza, une forme grotesque ou dangereuse du jihadisme, Les Inrocks, 11 April 2012.
(21) Terry Jones is an American pastor belonging to the Dove World Outreach Centre, a Christian fundamentalist cult based in Gainesville, Florida. In the 1980s, after several professional experiences, he became a missionary in Germany where he founded the Cologne Christian Church which the evangelical Alliance of Germany soon decried for its “theological ranting”. He was also condemned by the German justice system for allegedly having a Phd. Upon his return to the USA, he rapidly appeared to be in dire need of funds and to have a mere lunatic craving legitimacy. He took part in February 2011, in Great Britain, to a gathering set up by the English Defence League, a far-right organisation which shares his raving rhetoric against Islam. In October 2011 he stated that he wanted to run against President Barak Obama in the 2012 presidency, but as an independent. In September 2012, after being condemned by the US justice system for burning a copy of the Koran, he tried to get centre stage again, in support of the movie entitled “The innocence of Islam” His actual pseudo religious circle membership is assessed to comprise of thirty-odd faithful followers.
(22) Forsane Alizza, a small group dismantled in February 2012, Le Figaro, 3 March 2012.
(23) Thirteen Islamists from Forsane Alizza are formally indicted , Le Figaro , 4 April 2012.