Han kaldes Papa Noel, eller julenissen. Men Khalid Zerkani var ingen vanlig julenisse, han var daddy for de unge mænd han rekrutterede til jihad og sendte til Syrien. Det er hans drenger som sprænger lufthavne og metroer i luften.

I juli blev Zerkani dømt til 12 års fængsel, men det er først i eftertid at det fulde omfang av hans “arbejd” har kommet for en dag.


When the Belgian police seized the computer of the man, Khalid Zerkani, in 2014, they found a trove of extremist literature, including tracts titled “Thirty-Eight Ways to Participate in Jihad” and “Sixteen Indispensable Objects to Own Before Going to Syria.” In July, Belgian judges sentenced him to 12 years in prison for participating in the activities of a terrorist organization, and declared him the “archetype of a seditious mentor” who spread “extremist ideas among naïve, fragile and agitated youth.”

But only in the months since then has the full scale of Mr. Zerkani’s diligent work on the streets of Molenbeek and beyond become clear, as the network he helped nurture has emerged as a central element in attacks in both Parisand Brussels — as well as one in France that the authorities said last month they had foiled.

“Mr. Zerkani has perverted an entire generation of youngsters, particularly in the Molenbeek neighborhood,” the Belgian federal prosecutor, Bernard Michel, said in February.


Det ligger ikke fulle portrætbilleder af Zerkani på nett. I dette tilfellet er han skyggelagt. Burde det ikke vært fjernet efter dommen? Er det rimelig å beskytte en så farlig mann?

Zerkani opererede ud fra Molenbeek. Bare det at så mange jihadister har vært samlet på ett sted, over så lang tid, sier noget om at noget er galt. Zerkani rekrutterede dem i tur og orden: Abdelhamid Abaaoud som ledet Paris-angrepene. Mohamed Abrini, den sidste profilerede som blev arresteret fredag, havde en bror Souleymane, der drog til Syrien ved Zerkanis hjælp og døde der.

Hawa Keita, an immigrant to Brussels from Mali, said her son, Yoni Mayne, had become radicalized in a matter of months under Mr. Zerkani’s influence. (She believes her son died in battle in Syria in 2014.)

“He is a sorcerer,” she said of the now-imprisoned Mr. Zerkani in an interview at her apartment in a Brussels high-rise. “He is Satan.”


En belgisk-marokkaner ved navn Hind Fraihi har studert jihadismen og observeret et kvalitativt skifte: fra boklærde der fordybet sig i teksterne til action-men, folk der er handlingsrettet og målrettet. Dvs IS. IS har vidst at rekruttere fra kriminelle miljøer, de har våbenkunnskapen, er vant til å leve udenfor loven, og ikke minst: De kan bruge vold.


Alle elementene var til stede i Molenbeek, derfor ble Molenbeek sentrum for fusionen mellom islam og gangstere.

The role in Molenbeek of Mr. Zerkani, a surly man more versed in the ways of the street than in those of the mosque, helps explain why a small and not particularly destitute district of the Belgian capital keeps cropping up in relation to terrorist investigations. It also highlights a pronounced shift over the past decade from the often arcane theological debates of an earlier generation of jihadists linked to Al Qaeda to what Hind Fraihi, who wrote a book about Molenbeek, called “gangster Islam.”

Ms. Fraihi, a Belgian of Moroccan descent, said that when she first started researching in Molenbeek more than a decade ago, the radical scene was dominated by extremist clerics well versed in religious texts. This has mutated under the influence of Islamic State propaganda, she said, into a criminal enterprise driven by “the synergy between banditism and Islam.”

The Islamic State recruits among “bandits and gangsters because it needs them for their knowledge of guns, safe houses and the underground scene,” Ms. Fraihi said. “Mix this with a little Islam, and this is what you get in Molenbeek.”

Ønsket om ikke at vide

Der var et andet forhold der i høj grad fasiliterede fremvæksten av radikal islam: Myndighedernes ønske om ikke at vide.

Some trace the roots of radicalism in Molenbeek to the 1990s, when Bassam Ayachi, a Franco-Syrian former restaurant owner, set up the Belgian Islamic Center, a makeshift mosque that promoted the dogmatic Salafi strand of the religion. Residents and some municipal officials repeatedly warned the authorities that it was sheltering extremists.

Molenbeeks borgermester gennem to årtier, Philippe Moreaux, afviste at gøre noget med problemerne. Hun lukket ikke bare øjnene.

Philippe Moureaux, Molenbeek’s mayor from 1993 until 2012, said that on meeting Mr. Ayachi, “it was clear he was an extremist,” but that he considered this the responsibility of the Belgian federal security service, not of municipal officials like himself.

Jihadistene havde frie hænder. At belgiere var inblandet i attentatet på Ahmed Shah Masooud, to dage før 9/11, sier noget om at Bruxelles allerede var blevet et center for jihad.

Johan Leman, an anthropologist and a Molenbeek community worker, said he had sounded the alarm over the center’s activities but received no response — even after it became known that Mr. Ayachi had officiated at the wedding of a Qaeda militant who took part in the September 2001 murder of Ahmad Shah Massoud, an Afghan warlord opposed to Osama bin Laden.

Lehman meldte moskeen til politiet og en domstol kom til at den havde spredt hatespeech.Politiet raidet Ayachis lejlighed og beslagla store mengder materiale. Ayachi forsvandt til Syrien med sin sønn, der senere blev dræbt.

Tilbage i Belgien forsøgte Zerkani en anden tilnærming. Der Ayachi havde praktiseret en streng islam, forstod Zerkani at appellere til de unge som godt ku’ li piger og sprut.

While the Islamic Center had championed an ascetic and rigid form of Islam that had only modest appeal to young people who liked to drink alcohol and carouse at night, Mr. Zerkani, Belgian investigators said, was able to bridge the divide by channeling the criminal energies of young delinquents.

Zerkani havde en ævne til at gå under politiets radar. De blev ikke opmærksom på ham, til trods for hans høje aktivitet:

He had been arrested carrying 4,397 euros (about $5,000) and $1,235, as well as currency from Singapore, Morocco and six other countries. The police also seized stolen passports and found multiple cellphones, computers and a device to foil shoplifting alarms.

And he had rung up large phone bills, making 47 calls to Islamic State contacts in Syria and 89 to others in Turkey in just 10 days in December 2013, according to court documents.

Borgermester Moureaux gør en dårlig figur i eftertid. Da en marokkaner blev stilt for retten for at have skudt på politiet, havde Moureaux en kommentar om at det kun var en bagatell.

Long before jihad became fashionable on the fringes, crime was endemic in parts of Molenbeek, a breakdown for which many blame Mr. Moureaux, the former mayor who won election after election.

He set off an uproar in 2010 when he joined the mayor of the Brussels region in dismissing a gun attack on police officers by a Belgian-Moroccan armed with a Kalashnikov rifle as a “fait divers,” or a titillating news item of no consequence.

Den kommentaren skulle han gerne trukket tilbage. Det hænder ord blir til boomeranger:

The gunman, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison but released after four, was Ibrahim Bakraoui, one of the two brothers who the authorities say staged suicide attacks in Brussels on March 22.