Young French Muslims vent frustrations on Iraq's battlefields — and come home to recruit

( AP )- Boubakeur el Hakim traded his Paris neighborhood of boulangeries and halal butcher shops for the insurgent camps of Iraq. When he came home, he told his war stories to other young men on the forgotten edges of French society, allegedly persuading some to follow in his footsteps.

His younger brother did, and died fighting U.S. forces.

After years of investigation by French authorities, el Hakim, 24, went on trial this month in a case exposing how the Iraq war has sucked radical youths from Europe to a battlefield where they have learned skills that officials fear may one day be used in domestic terror attacks.

Along with four other young Frenchmen, a Moroccan and an Algerian, el Hakim is accused of funneling French Muslim fighters to Iraq. All the Frenchmen except suspected ringleader Farid Benyettou , 26, have acknowledged going to Iraq or planning to go. All deny inciting others to go.

All seven men are accused of criminal association with a terrorist enterprise, a vague charge that carries a maximum 10-year sentence, though the prosecutor only asked for between three and eight years.

The case is a delicate one in France, which strongly opposed the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq but has long struggled against homegrown terrorism. It also highlights a dilemma in many European nations with growing Muslim populations: Cracking down hard risks alienating or radicalizing moderate Muslims and betraying western ideals of tolerance.

The suspected nucleus of the network, janitor-turned-street preacher Benyettou , told the court the case against him was "fantasy" and an affront to his freedom of speech. He told the judge he had served only as a friendly ear to young people in his neighborhood, answering questions about Islam that went ignored by France's secular schools and institutions.

In one interrogation session with anti-terrorist agents, however, Benyettou said: "I taught that suicide attacks are legitimate under Islam."

"Jihad is justified," he said in another session in the days following his January 2005 arrest, according to the depositions viewed by The Associated Press.

El Hakim described placing and detonating roadside bombs with equipment that resembled a cordless phone, the transcript of one deposition says. He claimed 10 American troops were killed in the last three operations he took part in, it says.

In a French radio interview broadcast from Baghdad in 2003, he urged Parisian friends to join him on the battlefields. "I'm ready to set off dynamite and boom! Boom! We kill all the Americans!" he said on RTL radio.

In court, while he didn't deny his radio appeal, el Hakim said some of his statements to police were made under duress and that his role in Iraq was primarily "humanitarian."

Investigators say the alleged network funneled about a dozen French fighters to camps linked to al- Qaida in Iraq head Abu Musab al- Zarqawi , and sought to send more before he was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006. At least seven French insurgents have died, some in suicide bombings, police say.

The classified case file could fill a suitcase. It includes transcripts of taped phone conversations; suspects' family trees; extremist Islamic sermons; excerpts from a Web site explaining how to use Kalashnikov rifles; and grainy images of dozens of people questioned in the case.

Since the group was dismantled in 2005, young French Muslims wanting to fight abroad have largely steered clear of such organized cells, according to a senior French police official not authorized to be named publicly because of agency policy. Instead, youths are heading to war zones individually, to better avoid detection.

The key concern for French police is not where the fighters go but what they do when they come back to France, home to Europe's largest Muslim population, nearly 10 percent of its 62 million people.

There has been no mention in the Paris trial of any plan to attack French sites, but officials say they remain worried about the possibility - and that fear bolsters the prosecutor's case.

The so-called 19th arrondissement network is named for the Paris district where it was based, a multi-national neighborhood where families with roots in one-time French colonies in North Africa crowd into housing projects that rise above street markets offering Moroccan melons and pungent French cheese.

Frustration among youth of immigrant backgrounds over discrimination and bleak job prospects helped fuel riots in suburban housing projects around France in 2005. That same frustration, defense lawyer Dominique Many said, pushes some toward Islamic extremism.

Benyettou practiced a strict Salafist interpretation of Islam, and enjoyed credibility among radicals because his brother-in-law was a convicted member of an Algerian insurgency movement.

Benyettou exhibited little charisma during the trial, his gaunt frame hunched on the bench, occasionally brushing back his chest-length hair or nudging up his oversized glasses.

But back in the 19th arrondissement, he persuaded - by his own admission to investigators - about 10 young people to leave France for Iraq. In court, he acknowledged he had had "a role" in helping fighters who wanted to go to Iraq, but said there was no organized network.

"I really believed in the idea," said one of his students, defendant Cherif Kouachi , 25. He said he was motivated by his outrage at television images of torture of Iraqi inmates at the U.S. prison at Abu Ghraib .

Another alleged member of the group, Peter Cherif , was arrested by U.S. authorities and his mother says he was held in Abu Ghraib . He faces a separate trial in France.

Another, 25-year-old Mohammed El Ayouni , who lost an arm and an eye in 2004 in a U.S. tank shelling near Fallujah , described administering IVs and shots to injured fighters and keeping watch for American troops. He said Iraqi families welcomed the French fighters, preparing their meals and laundering their clothes.

The fighters said they traveled through Syria first, taking Arabic lessons and getting basic weapons training.

When Boubakeur's brother Redouane el Hakim was killed in July 2004 - found in an insurgent hideout in Fallujah bombarded by U.S. forces - his mother organized a memorial celebration of her son's martyrdom, according to court documents and two defense lawyers on the case.

It was American authorities who first confirmed the presence of French citizens among Iraqi insurgents, judicial documents show.

Other European countries have also fed fighters to Iraq.

Two men considered linked to Europe's deadliest Islamic terror attack, the 2004 bombings in Madrid, are believed to have later killed themselves in suicide attacks in Iraq. Spanish authorities have arrested dozens of people suspected of recruiting Islamic fighters for the Iraq insurgency.

Italian courts have convicted several North Africans of recruiting militants for Iraq in Italy in recent years.

Iran continues to import COVID-19 vaccines
Iran continues to import COVID-19 vaccines
Iran reveals COVID-19 data for May 17
Iran reveals COVID-19 data for May 17
Iran receives 2nd delivery of Covid-19 vaccines through COVAX Facility
Iran receives 2nd delivery of Covid-19 vaccines through COVAX Facility
Loading Bars
Latest
Saudia Airlines eyes return to profitability by 2024
Azerbaijan Innovations Export Consortium eyes to expand co-op with Turkic-speaking countries
EBRD's net profit declines in 2020
Activity of Heydar Aliyev Foundation today covers all important spheres of life in Azerbaijan - Russian MP
Novatek to complete Arctic LNG-2 construction one year earlier
Kazakhstan boosts trade with Turkmenistan despite COVID-19
Turkish ŞINLAK HOLDING eyes building solar power plant in Kazakhstan
Uzbek-Chinese JV opens tender for welding electrodes
Turkmenistan's Turkmengas opens tender for purchase of chemical products
Iran's FM discussing international issues with Pope (PHOTO)
Turkmenistan’s Railways open tender for construction of railway station
Azerbaijan's oil exports decline in 4M2021
Uzbek-Chinese JV opens tender for electrical spares parts
France, Germany and Spain strike deal over joint combat jet
Iran’s Bahar Azadi gold coin price again falling
Azerbaijan reports sharp increase in 4M2021 gas exports
Uzbek currency rates for May 18
Uzbekistan Railways notes decrease in net loss
Azerbaijan Economy Ministry cancels requirement of several taxpayers for non-cash payments
EBRD approves working capital loan to Kazakhstan companies operating chromium mine
WTL talks construction of DC, SDA units at Turkmenbashi Complex of Oil Refineries
Uzbekistan, S. Korea eye enhancing bilateral co-op in public security
Kyrgyz Republic’s SMEs Sector to Benefit from ITFC’s US $4 Million Line of Trade Financing Facility
Iran unveils production data of steel products
Germany implementing pilot agricultural project in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan announces number of citizens vaccinated on May 17
Azerbaijan's 4M2021 revenues from gasoline, diesel retails disclosed
Azerbaijan confirms 426 more COVID-19 cases, 515 recoveries
Iran has potential to become hub for home appliances export
Railway freight traffic between Kazakhstan, Lithuania grows despite COVID-19
Russia ready to assist Armenia, Azerbaijan in border delimitation issue - FM
Volume of Georgian wine exports and its value up
Iran continues to import COVID-19 vaccines
Majority of mobile communication operators in world to support eSIM by 2025 - GSMA Association
Several types of COVID-19 vaccines delivered in Turkmenistan
Active work underway on construction of Pskem HPP in Uzbekistan
Uzbekneftegaz repairs unit for gas purification from sulfur at Mubarek Oil & Gas Production dep’t
Money transfers to Georgia up in April 2021
Lithuania looks to resume regular flights to Kazakhstan - ministry
Kazakhstan boosts mining of iron ores
Unemployment rate down in Azerbaijan
Turkish ambassador meets with head of Turkey-Azerbaijan Interparliamentary Friendship Group (PHOTO)
Baku Boulevard to remain open during 2021 F1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix competition - Baku City Circuit
‘Nar’ team progresses to semifinal in ‘Brain Ring’
Value of chargeable services rendered to Nakhchivan's population in 4M2021 drops
Turkmenistan‘s Turkmenbashi oil refinery develops its industrial potential
Value of Azerbaijan's 4M2021 industrial production down
Kazakhstan’s Pavlodar Oil Chemistry Refinery to buy valves via tender
Indian Shilpa Medicare signs deal to produce Sputnik V
Petrochemical plants to be put into operation in Iran
Kazakhstan boosts imports of Belgium-made goods
EU agrees partial truce with U.S. over Trump tariffs
Dubai eases COVID-19 restrictions, allows full hotel capacity
Azerbaijan announces 4M2021 investments in fixed assets
Azerbaijan to hold auction for shares of joint stocks companies
Azerbaijan announces tasks for using renewable energies in electricity production
Georgia's electronics market shrinking
Cargo transportation volumes surge in Kazakhstan
GPON-based technology being introduced in villages of Azerbaijan (PHOTO)
Iran anticipates another JCPOA Joint Commission Meeting - MFA
No alternative to implementation of trilateral statement on Karabakh - Russian president
Azerbaijan preparing to vaccinate citizens with Russian 'Sputnik V' COVID-19 vaccine
Convention on simplification of customs procedures enters into force for Uzbekistan
Iranian Oil Minister talks about exports, contracts in oil sector
GSMA predicts growth in number of mobile service users in Azerbaijan by 2025
Polish company eyes producing packaging materials for automotive industry in Uzbekistan
Iran reveals COVID-19 data for May 17
Weekly review of Georgian's capital markets (May 10 through May 14)
Azerbaijan continues military exercises, with extensive use of maps (VIDEO)
Iran’s trade turnover with UK announced
Kyoto Convention enters into force in Turkmenistan
Investment in Iran's industrial sector increases
Georgian microfinance organizations reveal data on their profits
SOCAR Ukraine resumes premium fuel sales
Turkmenistan introduces changes to customs system
Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic sees annual increase in GDP
Train in Iowa hauling hazardous materials derails, catches fire
BTA announces extension of bicycle roads in Baku
Iran to determine condition of its joint oil fields with other countries
Armenian side reacting inadequately to process of clarifying border - President Aliyev
Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan reveals 4M2021 cargo transportation data
Weekly review of Azerbaijani precious metals market
Azerbaijan continues mine clearance in liberated lands
Saudi Arabia lifts quarantine requirement for COVID vaccinated foreign visitors
Three people killed after knife attack in Urals
FGP-WPMP implementation progresses at Kazakhstan’s Tengiz field
India's Cumulative Vaccination Coverage Crosses 18 Crore Mark: Centre
Azerbaijani Nakhchivan's 4M2021 manufacturing value of agricultural products grows
Crude production at Kazakhstan’s Tengiz revealed for 1Q2021
Investment proposal submitted for White Dragon project involving TAP
Georgia reports 504 new cases of coronavirus for May 17
Uzbekneftegaz updates electricity supply systems at Shurtan oil and gas production dep’t
Kazakhstan-Romania trade down amid COVID-19
Weekly review of Azerbaijani currency market
Iran shares data on trade turnover with US
Azerbaijan allocates funds for construction of school in Nij settlement of Gabala district
Kazakhstan’s Air Astana halting flights to Maldives
Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan raises investments in fixed assets
Azerbaijan allocates funds for construction of highway in Gabala district
Iranian Oil Minister talks dev't of Iran-Saudi Arabia joint Farzad B gas field
All news