February 2016 : A new statistical update on Belgian fighters in Syria and Iraq
Our high-end estimate of Belgians who at one point were active in Syria or Iraq has climbed to 562. Since December 2015 we thus have an increase of 8 individuals, most of them just identified after they were killed or returned and arrested. Since the last report in December 3 more Belgian fighters have been killed of who only one was identified. The unidentified men were killed in the Battle for Deir ez-Zor on January 20 and January 30, 2016. This leaves the total number of Belgians killed in Syria or Iraq at at least 81.
The maximal headcount means that Belgium’s Muslim population is playing a key role of sending a steady supply of fighters to groups like The Islamic State and Jabhat an-Nusra. At this point Belgium is, pro capita, by far the Western-European nation contributing the most to the foreign element in the Syrian / Iraqi war (41,96 per million inhabitants). The only European countries that beat us on this rather sad record are Kosovo (122,11 per million), Bosnia (84,62 per million) and Macedonia (69,52 per million).
Of the 562 mentions in the database we identified 222 by name and surname. Another 96 individuals are only known by their kunya or nom de guerre. And so, it might be possible that the total number mentioned is slightly overestimated. It is indeed possible that some of the anonymous mentions in the database overlap with known individuals. My count however is slightly higher than the official numbers of the Belgian Government:
- Maximum around 500
- Around 200 Belgians in Syria and Iraq
- About 80 killed
Recent numbers collected by @GuyVanVlierden and me are still a bit higher. One of the factors explaining this; Sharia4Belgium played an important role as an incubator. At least 79 members of this former Salafi-Jihadi movement have been active in Syria or Iraq. Furthermore, this group was able to reach new recruits via their social networks. More Belgians got recruited by their old friends on social media, friends, relatives. Yet, a whole lot of other networks were or are recruiting Belgian Muslims for The Islamic State.
A most important recruiting cell active in Brussels was the group around Khalid Zerkani. This network was responsible for the recruiting of at least 45 individuals. The best known member of this network is Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the IS-fighters who carried out the attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015. Zerkani himself was imprisoned in February 2014. His recruits not only traveled freely to Syria, they also came back as they liked. One of them, Soufiane Alilou, even managed to do so five times before he was caught. Traveling back and forth often seemed to serve the transfer of new recruits, the transport of cash and all of kind of materials, such as computer equipment. Out of the 81 Belgians that have been killed thus far, 13 of them belonged to the Zerkani network.
In Syria and Iraq, as the statistics are showing today, at least 140 of the Belgian fighters are members of The Islamic State, yet the overall count of IS-fighters is most likely a lot higher. It is, indeed, safe to assume that about 75% of the known Belgian fighters are affiliated with The Islamic State.
9,2% of the Belgians (52 to be precisely) are women. 14 of them have a proven affiliation with Sharia4Belgium. At least 21 of them are affiliated with The Islamic State.
Around 6% of the Belgian fighters are converts.
The ages of 234 Belgian fighters vary between 14 and 69; the average age is 26.
Origins in Belgium: Of 302 individuals we know where they originated from, as shown in next graph (in alphabetical order):
- 79 individuals can be linked to Sharia4Belgium, the most important group in Belgium contributing to the high number of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. 35 of these have a proven affiliation with The Islamic State. 15,5 % of the total ammount of Belgians were at some point affiliated with Sharia4Belgium.
- 45 individuals are directly linked to the network around Khalid Zerkani, including at least two of the ones who attacked Paris on November 13, 2015.
- 4 are linked to Shaykh Bassam al-Ayashi’s former network Centre Islamique Belge
At least one was a former member of the Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain (GICM)
- We know of at least 6 individuals who are fighting in pro-regime ranks
- At least 140 Belgians are fighters / members of The Islamic State (IS). Most remarkably at least 19 of them were members of the – now disbanded – Lybian branch Katibat al-Battar al-Libi (see Katibat al-Battar and the Belgian Fighters in Syria) 12 of the former Katibat al-Battar members have been killed.
- Another 24 (most likely much more) are fighting in the ranks of Jabhat an-Nusra
- 24 are linked to other rebel groups, the majority of them (12) joined Suqur as-Sham
- Returned: At least 75 individuals have already returned to Belgium, yet this number might be doubled according to official government sources. (mid July 2015 the official number was 120)
At least 81 Belgians have been killed thus far in Syria and Iraq or in IS-operations abroad. Most of them in combat, at least six of them conducted a suicide operation.
A List of Belgians fighters killed in Syria and Iraq – or in terrorist operations worldwide (in random order):
- Abd ar-Rahman al-Ayashi aka Abu Hajjar, 38, Idlib, Suqur as-Sham
- Abdalgabar Hamdaoui, 34. Jabhat an-Nusra
- Abdel Monaïm Lachiri aka Abu Sara, 33, Aleppo, he was an emir of a French-Belgin brigade in Jabhat an-Nusra. Declared killed early February 2014.
- Anonymous aka Abu al-Bara’ al-Jaza’iri, Saraqib
- Anonymous aka Abu Ali al-Belgiki, Idlib
- Ahmed Dihaj aka Abu Atiq, 32, Sharia4Belgium, Jabhat an-Nusra. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial. Left Belgium in April or May 2013, killed September 2013
- Anonymous, Ahmed Stevenberg, Lattakia
- Anonymous (Vilvoorde)
- Anonymous (Vilvoorde)
- Anonymous (Brussels)
- Faysal Yamoun aka Abu Faris al-Maghribi, 30, Antwerp, Sharia4Belgium, Jabhat an-Nusra. Left Belgium on December 7, 2012. Killed February 2014. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
- Hamdi Mahmoud Saad, 32, Latakkia
- Houssien Elouassaki aka Abu Fallujah, 22, Vilvoorde, Sharia4Belgium. Killed in Aleppo province September 2013. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial. Was an emir in the group led by Amr al-Abis, Majlis Shura al-Mujahidun.
- Isma’il Amghroud, 22, Maaseik, killed June 2013
- Khalid Bali aka Abu Hamza, 17, Antwerpen, Deir ez-Zor, Sharia4Belgium, IS, killed May 2014.
- Mohammed Bali aka Abu Hudayfa, 24, Antwerp, Sharia4Belgium, IS, killed September 10, 2013 in Homs province. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
- Noureddine Abouallal aka Abu Mujahid, 23, Antwerp, left Belgium on October 28, 2012. Sharia4Belgium, killed in July 2013. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
- Raphael Gendron aka Abdurauf Abu Marwa, 38, Brussels, Suqur as-Sham, Idlib, killed in April 2013
- Sean Pidgeon, Left Belgium in November 2012, killed in March 2013.
- Tarik Taketloune, Vilvoorde, 19, Sharia4Belgium, brother returned to Belgium and free under conditions, wife still in Syria, killed in May 2013. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
- Anonymous, known as Younis Asad Rahman aka Asad ar-Rahman al-Belgiki, Latakkia, killed in August 2013
- Saïd El Morabit aka Abu Muthanna al-Belgiki, 27, Sharia4Belgium, IS / Katibat al-Battar, killed in March 2014 in ar-Raqqa province. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
- Rustam Gelayev (son of Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev), Aleppo, killed in August 2012
- Nabil Azahaf aka Abu Sayyaf al-Belgiki, 21, Brussels, Sharia4Belgium, IS / Katibat al-Battar, killed in May 2014. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
- Yoni Patrick Abdoul Salam Mayne, known as Abu Dujana al-Mali, Brussels. Left Belgium first time in April 2013. Returned and briefly arrested. Returned to Syria on January 20, 2014 in the company of the Abaaoud brothers. IS / Katibat al-Battar, ar-Raqqa, killed in March 2014
- Anonymous aka Karim Azzam aka Abou Azzam, 23, Brussels, killed in April 2014
- Anonymous, known as Abu Salma Al-Belgiki, Deir ez-Zor province, killed in August 2013
- Anonymous, known as Abu Handalah, killed in Aleppo
- Anonymous, killed in clashes with tribal fighters on July 30th 2014 in al-Keshkeyyi, Deir ez-Zor province
- Iliass Azaouaj, 23, Brussels, beheaded by The Islamic State for alledged betrayal. It is believed he was a double agent working for the Belgian an Moroccan security forces. Raqqa, August 2014
- Anonymous aka Abu Jihad al-Belgiki, killed on August 31st in a regime counter-attack defending the Deir ez-Zor military airport.
- Abu Mohsen at-Tunisi, further unknown, killed on August 31st in a regime counter-attack defending the Deir ez-Zor military airport
- Anonymous aka Abu Yahya al-Beljiki, reported killed on October 15, 2014.
- Ilyass Boughalab, left Belgium on November 13, 2012, killed in March 2014, Shariah4Belgium, IS / Katibat al-Battar. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
- Anonymous aka Abū ‘Umar al-Beljīkī, of Saudi origin, killed in Latakia province in the beginning of October 2014, Jabhat an-Nusra
- Khalid Hachti Bernan aka Abu Qa’Qa, IS – Katibat al-Battar member from Virton, reported killed in May 2014
- Anonymous aka Abu Muhammad al-Belgiki, IS, killed in Deir ez-Zor mid October 2014
- Oufae Sarrar, aka Umm Jarrah, Sharia4Belgium, IS, wife of Ilyass Boughalab, killed end 2013. First known Belgian women killed
- Anonymous aka Abu Sulayman al-Belgiki al-Maghribi, IS, killed in Kobanê mid November 2014
- Sabri Refla, aka Abu Turab, 19, Vilvoorde, left on August 12 2013 and killed in December 2013
- Although not confirmed one of the Bakkouy brothers from Genk presumabely got killed late September 2014.
- Yassine El Karouni, aka Abu Osama, 23, Dutch origin, killed in May 2014
- Zakaria El Bouzaidi, Laken (Brussels), friend of Sean Pidgeon, killed in September 2014
- Anonymous aka Abu Adnan al-Belgiki, Algerian origin, originaly affiliated with Jabhat an-Nusra, turned to IS late 2013, killed in September 2014
- Soufiane Amghar, aka Abu Khalid al-Belgiki, was in Syria between April and July 2014, one of the killed IS / Katibat al-Battar members in Verviers on January 15 2015
- Anis Bouzzaouit aka Abu Ibrahim al-Belgiki, 23. IS / Katibat al-Battar Brussels, left together with Younes Abaaoud (and hence with older brother Abdelhamid). Reported killed in the battle for Deir ez-Zor airport on February 26, 2015
- Khalid Ben Larbi, aka Abu Zubayr al-Belgiki, was in Syria between April and July 2014, one of the killed IS / Katibat al-Battar members in Verviers on January 15 2015
- Mohamed Said Haddad from Molenbeek (Brussels), left Belgium on September 14, 2012. Reported killed in April 2014. Brother of Verviers plot suspect Abdelmounaim Haddad, killed in Syria
- Hamza Kharbache, from Molenbeek (Brussels), brother of Younes Kharbache, killed in Aleppo province, February 2014
- Younes Kharbache, from Molenbeek (Brussels), brother of Hamza, killed in Damascus province, August 2013
- Anonymous, aka Abu Taymiyya al-Belgiki, killed in January 2015
- Anonymous, aka Abu Bakr al-Belgiki (IS), committed a suicide attack in Ramadi, Iraq, March 11, 2015
- Mesut Cankarturan, aka Abu Abdullah al-Belgiki (IS), killed March 25, 2015 in Deir ez-Zor
- Anonymous, aka Abu Muslim al-Belgiki (IS), from Antwerpen. Reportedly killed in June 2014.
- Sami Ladri, aka Abu Waliyya al-Belgiki (IS). Left Brussels in December 2013 together with Harris Cimpaka-Kapeta. Killed in a suicide attack June 22, 2015 in Iraq.
- Anonymous, Abu Turab al-Belgiki (IS). From Molenbeek, Brussels. Reportedly killed in May 2015
- Anonymous, Abu Handala al-Belgiki (IS). Reportedly killed in May 2015
- Mossi Junior Juma, 16. Left in November 2014 with his mother Reportedly killed in late June 2015. See here for details.
- Anonymous, Abu Ilyas al-Belgiki (IS). Reportedly killed in ar-Raqqa province on July 18, 2015
- Lucas Van Hessche, 19. aka Abu Ibrahim (IS). Left Belgium on June 11, 2014. Declared KIA on August 12, 2015 in al-Hasaka.
- Ahmed Daoudi, 31 from Turnhout. aka Abu Mohsin. Former Sharia4Belgium member. Left Belgium on August 22, 2012. Seems to have been a humanitarian worker. Killed after the chemical attacks in Eastern Ghouta on August 21, 2013. The last time he contacted his family in Belgium was in August 2014. Daoudi was sentenced by absence in the Sharia4Belgium trial to 10 years in prison.
- Anonymous, Abu Mariyya al-Belgiki (IS), Indian descent. Early 20’s. Left Belgium late October 2014. Reported killed around August 17, 2015 in Syria during his first battle. See here for details.
- Anonymous, Abu Ayman al-Belgiki (IS). Killed in the UK drone strike on August 21, 2015 over Raqqa, targetting British IS-fighter Reyaad Khan (see here for more info on the UK drone strike). Death confirmed by a French speaking foreign fighter on Twitter
- Fayssal Oussaih aka Abū Shahīd (IS) originated from Maaseik. Arrived in Syria in December 2014, killed in July 2015. http://t.co/YqP45mtZRo
- Brian De Mulder aka Ibrahim Abu Abderrahmaan aka Abu Qasim al-Brazili (IS) 21 years old. Former Sharia4Belgium member. Allegedly died in Syria on Friday October 23 of previously sustained wounds during a jet-strike. (see: De Standaard, De Morgen, Knack)
- Abdelhamid Abaaoud aka Abu Umar Soussi aka Abu Umar al-Belgiki. IS / Katibat al-Battar member. First left Belgium in March 2013. Returned. Left again on January 20 2014 with his younger brother Younes. Killed in Saint Denis, France on November 18 2015 in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris of November 13.
- Anonymous aka Abu Sabir al-Belgiki. From Borgerhout / Antwerp. Sharia4Belgium member. Arrived in Syria on May 2, 2014. Killed in March 2015.
- Abdelmalik Boutallis aka Abu Nusaybah aka Abu Huraira. From Kortrijk, left June 11 2014 in the company of Olivier Calebout and Lucas Van Hessche. Killed in a suicide attack in al-Haditha (Iraq) on November 11, 2015.
- Bilal Barrani aka Abu Said al-Belgiki. Left Brussels on May 9, 2014. Reported in ar-Raqqa in September 2014. Killed in December 2014.
- Khongr Pavlovitch Matsakov, originally from Kalmykia (Russia), lived in Oostende. Left for Syria in May 2013, reported killed in January 2015
- Karim Kadir, aka Abu Abdullah al-Belgiki. Charleroi. IS. Killed in suicide attack at Iraqi-Jordanian border on April 24 2015.
- Bilal Hadfi aka Abu Mudjad al-Belgiki aka Abu Mudjahid al-Belgiki aka Bilal al-Mouhajir. Brussels. In Syria beginning 2015. One of the suicide attackers in Paris on November 13 2015
- Julian André Harinton aka Abu Abdullah al-Belgiki, Antwerp. Left in January 2012, killed in April 2014.
- Brahim Abdeslam, Molenbeek. IS. Killed in a suicide attack in Paris on November 13, 2015
- Andy Bizala Lubanda aka Castor Ali Troy, Brussels. IS. Reported killed in November 2015.
- Anonymous female. Wife of a Saudi IS-leader. Killed in November 2015 near Deir ez-Zor
- Mohammed Hajji, left Antwerp in June 2015 presumably by bike and train. IS. Killed in ar-Raqqa in October 2015.
- Chakib Akrouh. Molenbeek. IS. Affiliated with the group of Zerkani. Left January 4 2013 in the company of Gelel Attar. One of the Paris attackers of November 13, 2015. Killed in Saint Denis on November 17, 2015 together with Abaaoud and his niece Hasna Ait Boulahcen.
- Younes Ahllal. Brussels. IS. Affiliated with the group of Zerkani. Left on February 11, 2014 in company of Andy Bizala Lubanza.
- Anonymous IS fighter. Killed January 20, 2016 in the Battle for Deir ez-Zor
- Anonymous aka Abu Umar al-Belgiki. Killed in al-Hawiqa near Deir ez-Zor on January 30, 2016.