Belgium’s Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq ~ May 2016

 May  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 611. Since April 2016 we thus have an increase of 22 individuals, most of them were identified after they were killed or returned, arrested or tried. At this point it is impossible to assess how many people are still leaving Belgium on a monthly basis. Although based on statements by Jaak Raes (head of the Belgian security service ‘Security of the State’) the amount of people leaving seems to be stable these last few months (see De Standaard)  Since the last report on April 3 more Belgian fighters have been killed, the majority of them were involved in the Paris and Brussels attacks. This leaves the total number of Belgians killed in Syria or Iraq at at least 96.

The maximal headcount again points out 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 (more 52,01 per million inhabitants). The only European countries that beat us on this rather sad record are Kosovo (160,34 per million), Bosnia and Herzegovina (87,92 per million) (See Foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq – an updated per capita count by Guy Van Vlierden).

Of the 611 mentions in the database we identified 263 by name and surname (an increase of 17 individuals since April). Another 98 individuals are only known by their kunya or nom de guerre.

It might be possible that some of the anonymous mentions in the database overlap with known individuals. Our count however is slightly higher than the official numbers of the Belgian Government. These numbers were officialy released by the ministry of interior affairs after a question in the Federal Parliament (see

  • In total 451 individuals have been identified
  • 269 are still in Syria or Iraq (or elsewhere)
  • 6 individuals are believed to still be on their way to the warzone
  • 117 have returned
  • 59 tried to leave but were stopped


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 80 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 and relatives drew in more recruits by peer pressure. Yet, a whole lot of other networks were or are recruiting Belgian Muslims for The Islamic State. We know a network around Khalid Bouloudo (an AQ old-timer in Maaseik), we know a network that was recruiting young girls, we know the rather important network around Jean-Louis Denis ‘Le Soumis’, that was known as Resto du Tawheed. This cell counts at least 22 individuals. It was Jean-Louis Denis who was supposed to lead Sharia4Belgium after Fouad Belkacem was incarcerated, but the man eventually ended up in the network of Khalid az-Zerkani.

Most important was the recruiting cell active in Brussels around Khalid az-Zerkani. This network was responsible for the recruitment of at least 57 individuals from Brussels. 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. Furthermore, all of the attackers in the Brussels plot on March 22nd, knew Abaaoud personally. Even Mehdi Nemmouche, the alleged IS lone wolf had been in personal contact with Abaaoud a few months before he attacked the Jewish museum in Brussels and killed four people, back in May 2014. 

Zerkani, the recruiter 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 96 Belgians that have been killed thus far, 16 of them belonged to the Zerkani network.

In Syria and Iraq, as the statistics are showing today, at least 162 (an increase of 13 since April) 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.

9,32% of the Belgians (57 to be precise) are women. 14 of them have a proven affiliation with Sharia4Belgium, five of them with the Zerkani cell. At least 23 (an increase of two since April) 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 341 individuals (increase of 14 since April) we know where they originated from, as shown in next graph (in alphabetical order):

 Belgians May 2016


Group affiliations:

  • 75 individuals can be linked to Sharia4Belgium, the most important group in Belgium contributing to the high number of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. 32 of these have a proven affiliation with The Islamic State. 12,27 % of the total amount of Belgians were at some point affiliated with Sharia4Belgium.
  • The previous number was corrected due to the fact it has been pointed out that some of the Sharia4Belgium were more closely connected to the group formed around Jean-Louis Denis. At least 22 of his recruits have been active at some point in Syria or Iraq.
  • 57 individuals are directly linked to the network around Khalid Zerkani, including a few of the ones who attacked Paris on November 13, 2015 and Brussels on March 22, 2016.
  • 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 162 Belgians are fighters / members of The Islamic State (IS) (an increase of 13). 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 25 (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 95 individuals (an increase of 8) have already returned to Belgium, yet this number might be around 120 according to official sources
  • Killed:
    At least 96 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):

    1. Abd ar-Rahman al-Ayashi aka Abu Hajjar, 38, Idlib, Suqur as-Sham
    2. Abdalgabar Hamdaoui, 34. Jabhat an-Nusra
    3. 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.
    4. Anonymous aka Abu al-Bara’ al-Jaza’iri, Saraqib
    5. Anonymous aka Abu Ali al-Belgiki, Idlib
    6. 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
    7. Anonymous, Ahmed Stevenberg, Lattakia
    8. Anonymous (Vilvoorde)
    9. Anonymous (Vilvoorde)
    10. Anonymous (Brussels)
    11. 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.
    12. Hamdi Mahmoud Saad, 32, Latakkia
    13. 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 Abu Athir / Amr al-Absi, Majlis Shura al-Mujahidun.
    14. Isma’il Amghroud, 22, Maaseik, killed June 2013
    15. Khalid Bali aka Abu Hamza, 17, Antwerpen, Deir ez-Zor, Sharia4Belgium, IS, killed May 2014.
    16. Mohammed Bali aka Abu Hudayfa, 24, Antwerp, Sharia4Belgium, IS, killed September 10, 2013 in Homs province. One of the accused on the Sharia4Belgium trial.
    17. 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.
    18. Raphael Gendron aka Abdurauf Abu Marwa, 38, Brussels, Suqur as-Sham, Idlib, killed in April 2013
    19. Sean Pidgeon. Member of Suqur as-Sham. Born March 11 1989. Left Belgium on October 28, 2012, killed in March 2013.
    20. 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.
    21. Anonymous, known as Younis Asad Rahman aka Asad ar-Rahman al-Belgiki, Latakkia, killed in August 2013
    22. 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.
    23. Rustam Gelayev (son of Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev), Aleppo, killed in August 2012
    24. 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.
    25. 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
    26. Karim Mahrach aka Karim Azzam aka Abou Azzam, 23. Recruited by Denis. IS-related. Molenbeek, Brussels. Left on June 16, 2013,was reportedly in Aleppo in December 2013 and likely killed in April 2014
    27. Anonymous, known as Abu Salma Al-Belgiki, Deir ez-Zor province, killed in August 2013
    28. Anonymous, known as Abu Handalah, killed in Aleppo
    29. Anonymous, killed in clashes with tribal fighters on July 30th 2014 in al-Keshkeyyi, Deir ez-Zor province
    30. 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
    31. Anonymous aka Abu Jihad al-Belgiki, killed on August 31st in a regime counter-attack defending the Deir ez-Zor military airport.
    32. Abu Mohsen at-Tunisi, further unknown, killed on August 31st in a regime counter-attack defending the Deir ez-Zor military airport
    33. Anonymous aka Abu Yahya al-Beljiki, reported killed on October 15, 2014.
    34. 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.
    35. Anonymous aka Abū ‘Umar al-Beljīkī, of Saudi origin, killed in Latakia province in the beginning of October 2014, Jabhat an-Nusra
    36. Khalid Hachti Bernan aka Abu Qa’Qa, IS – Katibat al-Battar member from Virton, reported killed in May 2014
    37. Anonymous aka Abu Muhammad al-Belgiki, IS, killed in Deir ez-Zor mid October 2014
    38. Oufae Sarrar, aka Umm Jarrah, Sharia4Belgium, IS, wife of Ilyass Boughalab, killed end 2013. First known Belgian women killed
    39. Anonymous aka Abu Sulayman al-Belgiki al-Maghribi, IS, killed in Kobanê mid November 2014
    40. Sabri Refla, aka Abu Turab, 19, Vilvoorde, left on August 12 2013 and killed in December 2013
    41. Although not confirmed one of the Bakkouy brothers from Genk presumabely got killed late September 2014.
    42. Yassine El Karouni, aka Abu Osama, 23, Dutch origin, killed in May 2014
    43. Zakaria El Bouzaidi, Laken (Brussels), friend of Sean Pidgeon, killed in September 2014
    44. Anonymous aka Abu Adnan al-Belgiki, Algerian origin, originaly affiliated with Jabhat an-Nusra, turned to IS late 2013, killed in September 2014
    45. 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
    46. 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
    47. 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
    48. 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
    49. Hamza Kharbache, from Molenbeek (Brussels), brother of Younes Kharbache, killed in Aleppo province, February 2014
    50. Younes Kharbache, from Molenbeek (Brussels), brother of Hamza, killed in Damascus province, August 2013
    51. Anonymous, aka Abu Taymiyya al-Belgiki, killed in January 2015
    52. Anonymous, aka Abu Bakr al-Belgiki (IS), committed a suicide attack in Ramadi, Iraq, March 11, 2015
    53. Mesut Cankarturan, aka Abu Abdullah al-Belgiki (IS), killed March 25, 2015 in Deir ez-Zor
    54. Anonymous, aka Abu Muslim al-Belgiki (IS), from Antwerpen. Reportedly killed in June 2014.
    55. 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.
    56. Anonymous, Abu Turab al-Belgiki (IS). From Molenbeek, Brussels. Reportedly killed in May 2015
    57. Anonymous, Abu Handala al-Belgiki (IS). Reportedly killed in May 2015
    58. Mossi Junior Juma, 16. Left in November 2014 with his mother Reportedly killed in late June 2015. See here for details.
    59. Anonymous, Abu Ilyas al-Belgiki (IS). Reportedly killed in ar-Raqqa province on July 18, 2015
    60. Lucas Van Hessche, 19. aka Abu Ibrahim (IS). Left Belgium on June 11, 2014. Declared KIA on August 12, 2015 in al-Hasaka.
    61. 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.
    62. 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.
    63. 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
    64. Fayssal Oussaih aka Abū Shahīd (IS) originated from Maaseik. Arrived in Syria in December 2014, killed in July 2015.
    65. 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 StandaardDe Morgen, Knack)
    66. 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.
    67. Anonymous aka Abu Sabir al-Belgiki. From Borgerhout / Antwerp. Sharia4Belgium member. Arrived in Syria on May 2, 2014. Killed in March 2015.
    68. 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.
    69. Bilal Barrani aka Abu Said al-Belgiki. Left Brussels on May 9, 2014. Reported in ar-Raqqa in September 2014. Killed in December 2014.
    70. Khongr Pavlovitch Matsakov, originally from Kalmykia (Russia), lived in Oostende. Left for Syria in May 2013, reported killed in January 2015
    71. Karim Kadir, aka Abu Abdullah al-Belgiki. Charleroi. IS. Killed in suicide attack at Iraqi-Jordanian border on April 24 2015.
    72. 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
    73. Julian André Harinton aka Abu Abdullah al-Belgiki, Antwerp. Left in January 2012, killed in April 2014.
    74. Brahim Abdeslam, Molenbeek. IS. Killed in a suicide attack in Paris on November 13, 2015
    75. Andy Bizala Lubanda aka Castor Ali Troy, Brussels. IS. Reported killed in November 2015.
    76. Anonymous female. Wife of a Saudi IS-leader. Killed in November 2015 near Deir ez-Zor
    77. Mohammed Hajji, left Antwerp in June 2015 presumably by bike and train. IS. Killed in ar-Raqqa in October 2015.
    78. 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.
    79. Younes Ahllal. Brussels. IS. Affiliated with the group of Zerkani. Left on February 11, 2014 in company of Andy Bizala Lubanza.
    80. Anonymous IS fighter. Killed January 20, 2016 in the Battle for Deir ez-Zor
    81. Anonymous aka Abu Umar al-Belgiki. Killed in al-Hawiqa near Deir ez-Zor on January 30, 2016.
    82. Anonymous IS-fighter, presumably killed by IS. See
    83. Anonymous, known as Umm Shérazade Al Belgikiya, 23 years old, from Molenbeek, Brussels. Presumably left in January 2015, executed by The Islamic State under the suspicion of sorcery in February 2016.
    84. Anonymous male IS-fighter
    85. Abu Abdulah al-Belgiki, killed in a French airstrike on October 8, 2015
    86. Bilal Bouit, aka Abou Saad. Zerkani-recruit from Schaarbeek, Brussels, reportedly killed in Syria in June 2014 at the age of 23
    87. Abdelilah Jab Allah, aka Abou Umar. Zerkani-recruit from Schaarbeek, Brussels, reportedly killed in Syria in June 2014 at the age of 22
    88. Soufyane Chioua, Brussels, born February 21, 1991. Recruited by Zerkani
    89. Mohamed Aziz Belkaid, aka Abu Abdulaziz al Jazairi aka Samir Bouzid, born July 9, 1980. Killed in Forest by police forces on March 15, 2016
    90. Anonymous. Salahuddin al-Belgiki. Supposedly an IS military leader in Deir ez-Zor. Reported killed on March 22, 2016
    91. Najim Laachraoui aka Soufyane Kayal / Abou Idriss. One of the suicide bombers in Brussels on March 22, 2016
    92. Ibrahim al-Bakraoui, born October 9, 1986. Brussels. One of the suicide bombers in Brussels on March 22, 2016
    93. Anonymous, Abu Anas al-Belgiki. IS-fighter killed in battle near Mosul on April 8 or 9, 2016
    94. Kieran Luce, Abu al-Qada al-Faransi. Born July 18, 1993. Recruited by Denis, IS-fighter. Left for Syria on December 8, 2012. Killed in a suicide attack in May 2014 in Northern Iraq.
    95. Said Amrani. Born November 9, 1991. Originated from the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg and lived in Brussels. Was recruited by Denis, IS-fighter. Tried to leave on November 17, 2012. Left on January 6, 2012. Killed in May 2013
    96. Abdelmonhim R’ha. Lived in Hoboken, Antwerp. Left in August 2013, killed in September 2013. Nephew of Guantanamo prisoner Moussa Zemmouri.

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