Wed, 10 Aug 2022

Wednesday, the 52nd day of the trial of 20 men suspected of involvement in the November 2015 Paris massacres, was devoted to Belgian police evidence, relaid by videolink from the office of the Attorney General in Brussels. Four of the accused continued to boycott proceedings. Sofien Ayari returned to the prisoners' enclosure for the first time since last Thursday.

Ayari picked a good day to come back. Wednesday's evidence from Brussels was partly devoted to his departure for Syria and the few details which have been established about his activities in the war zone.

A Tunisian national, Ayari worked in the clothing trade. His family date his increased interest in Islam to 2013-2014, but deny that he was ever radicalised.

He left for Syria via Turkey, telling his parents he was going on a business trip. He waited months before admitting to his mother that he was in Syria.

In messages to friends he explained his motivation as a desire to "do something to fight a criminal regime which destroys whole cities, killing women and old people".

He spent less than a year in the ranks of Islamic State. He claims he never took part in any battles, and was frequently ill.

The journey back

Sofien Ayari left Raaqa to return to Europe in September 2015. He was accompanied by another of the accused, Osama Krayem, and by Omar Darif, suspected of having supervised the making of the suicide vests used in the November 2015 attacks.

Darif returned to Syria just before the Paris attacks and is believed to have died in a coalition air raid in 2017. He is being judged in his absence since his death has never been confirmed.

On their way back from Syria, the three men were allegedly met in Germany by another of the accused, Salah Abdeslam, who drove them to Belgium.

It is known that Ayari and Krayem were at Amsterdam's Schipol airport on the day of the Paris attacks, but the court will not consider the question of what they were doing there, or of what they might have contributed to the November killings in the French capital, until a later phase of this complex trial.

From Sweden to Syria to Schipol

The Belgian police investigator had more to say about Osama Krayem, born in Sweden and who became seriously radicalised in his early twenties.

He was born to Palestinian and Syrian parents, and grew up in the Rosengard suburb of Malmö, famous for its high levels of crime and unemployment, and also as the birthplace of international football ace, Zlatan Ibrahimović.

Krayem claims he went to Syria as a humanitarian volunteer, not as a fighter. He admits he underwent arms training and took part in patrols and guard duties, but insists he was never a combatant.

He also admitted that he had met Mohammad Al-Adnani, the chief organiser of IS overseas missions.

In a message to his brother, Krayem wrote "the unbelievers are our enemies. Hate them but don't let them see it."

He told Belgian investigators that "as long as you bomb Islamic State, there will be terrorist attacks in revenge".

He said he had no difficulty with the punishments inflicted under strict sharia law.

He was among those present when a captured Jordanian pilot was burned alive by Islamic State in Syria.

The trial continues.

Originally published on RFI

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