French Muslims vent frustrations on Iraq battlefields
PARIS, March 31, (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 US 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 US-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 US airstrike in 2006. At least seven French insurgents have died, some in suicide bombings, police say.
1) French Muslims vent frustrations on Iraq battlefields