Paris Terrorist was Radicalized by Bush’s Iraq War, Abu Ghraib Torture

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) —

Sharif and Said Kouashi, the two brothers for whom the French police are searching, were born in Paris of Algerian parents, Mokhtar et Freiha Méguireche, according to a profile published by Le Monde. Said was born in 1980. Sharif was born in 1982. The brothers were poor and unemployed. Sharif did not finish school. The Kouashi brothers sometimes delivered pizza to make a little money. They were involved in petty crime as teenagers.

Then in early 2003 at the age of 20, Sharif Kouashi and his brother Said started attending the al-Da`wa Mosque in the Stalingrad quarter. They had showed up with long hair, smoking, and lots of bad habits. The mosque gave them a sense of purpose. Sharif told his later lawyer, “Before, I was a delinquent.”

One member of the congregation at the al-Da`wa Mosque was Farid Benyettou. He was only a year older than Sharif, but was learned in Muslim texts, and taught informal classes at his apartment after prayers at the mosque. The boys began spending time with Benyettou. They stopped smoking, stopped getting high. At his apartment, Benyettou took them on the internet, and showed them images from Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. Sharif said, “It was everything I saw on the television, the torture at Abu Ghraib prison, all that, which motivated me.”

Benyettou ran a recruitment ring targeting young French Muslims that sent them to fight US troops in Iraq. They jogged in a park to get in shape and got rudimentary training in how to handle a Kalashnikov semi-automatic. They would tell their families that they were going to study in Syria. And they would spend some time in hard line Salafi schools. But then they would slip across the border into Iraq.

Sharif was about to go to Iraq in 2005, himself, to fight Bush’s troops there (which he saw as aggressive foreign occupiers), but he and a friend were arrested and interrogated by the French police.

In 2008 he and three others were tried as members of the 19th Arondissement Cell, on charges of funneling a dozen young French Muslims into Iraq from 2003 to 2005 (one ended up in Falluja). They typically joined al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, then headed by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. There had been no al-Qaeda in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, whose secret police issued an APB for Zarqawi in summer, 2002. Bush’s invasion and occupation led to the founding of ‘al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.’

Sharif Kouashi was sentenced to 3 years but only served about 18 months.

When he got out, Sharif Kouashi became involved around 2010 in a plot to break Ismail Ait Ali Belqasim, a notorious Muslim fundamentalist, out of prison. Belqasim was a member of the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, an al-Qaeda affiliate that Usama Bin Laden supported from Sudan, and was responsible for a 1995 bombing of the French Metro (subway).

At some point after 2011, the Kouashi brothers went to Syria to fight the regime of Bashar al-Assad (which the French government also said it wanted to see overthrown). They are said to have returned this summer. Given their past with Zarqawi, they might have been fighting for Daesh (ISIS or ISIL). But since it was kicked out of al-Qaeda, it is also possible that they fought with another group, perhaps Jabhat al-Nusra, the main al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

They also may have had experience in, or contacts in, Yemen. Sharif told someone at the scene of the crime that it was done by ‘al-Qaeda in Yemen.’ That would be al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the most active affiliate in attempting to pull off operations in the West. It was behind the 2009 underwear bombing attempt over Detroit.

Without Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, it is not at all clear that Sharif Kouachi would have gotten involved in fundamentalist vigilanteism. And if he hadn’t, he would not have gone on to be a point man in murdering out the staff of Charlie Hebdo along with two policemen.

Iraq is a major Arab, Muslim country. Its capital, Baghdad, is special to Sunni Muslims because the Abbasid empire built it and ruled from it. Having American troops occupy it for 8 years, humiliate its citizens, shoot people at checkpoints, and torture people in military prisons was a very bad idea. Some people treated that way become touchy, and feel put down, and won’t take slights to their culture and civilization any longer. Maybe the staff at Charlie Hebdo would be alive if George W. Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney hadn’t modeled for the Kouashi brothers how you take what you want and rub out people who get in your way.

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34 Responses

  1. why would police find a passport in a car used by trained mercenaries? there are a couple of scenarios thinkable
    I would assume that an commando would not go on any mission and carrying something identifiable

      • have you link to some oficcialy(!) dokument/report that attas passport founded by the towers?
        and the oficially french report about founding kouash brothers passports?

      • there is no need of the passport as there was enough evidence of him being on the plane…passport? not significant

    • never assume the stupidity in any given human is beyond the perfect mistake….look at movie Lone Survivor had they killed the kid they all would have lived…..

  2. Just as the Europeans would not like Muslim countries come to occupy Ukraine, Greece, Italy, and station their troops (there) for years and murder citizens. So, what makes these Europeans believe that Muslims would accept that a non-Muslim countries (40 non-Muslim countries are stationed in Afghanistan) countries invade our countries and station their troops???

  3. Nothing is ever quite that simple. You can plot a route from B to A but you cannot extrapolate that there is no other way to get from A to B.

  4. I guess we are lucky that people here in the US who have had their contrasts sharpened have either not had them sharpened enough to cut through the last shreds of decency and fellow-feeling (other than a Tim McVeigh and that sort, or theatre or school-shooter-uppers or…) to produce that Terrorized ™ Experience the French seem to be addressing pretty well as a polity, or maybe some part of our police investigative apparatus actually does something other than build a police state and more acute “degrees of separation.”

    Souviens L’Anomie! link to

  5. It is still important to note that most of the harm inflicted on Iraqi civilians was done by Mercenaries.
    The majority of murders by Mercenaries, in turn, was mostly by those quasi-military armed forces under contract to the US Army Corps of Engineers,
    but also included those like Blackwater that were under contract to the State Department and the Occupation Authority,

    Those Rules of Engagement that Chickenhawks complained about,
    standing orders that prohibited abuse of civilians (ROE still allowed soldiers to use lethal force when needed to fight armed opponents,)
    were instrumental in helping NCO’s and Officers of our uniformed military to keep soldiers from committing war crimes.
    Nobody thought to constrain the Dogs of War.
    It was these Mercenaries that lost the war by turning the civilians against us.

  6. Many years ago, when there was still a draft – and just at the time Vietnam was starting, I had a fearsome sergeant in basic training at Fort Dix (Sergeant Chisom) who explained things very clearly to us young troops: You f–k with me…I f–k with you. The lesson plays at every level.

    • After 9/11, 70% of the American public including many of the leading Democrats were itching to go f..k with Muslims in the Middle East. Claiming Saddam’s WMD were a real threat was just a clever way the public could join the “CRUSADE” and get some PAYBACK. After invading Iraq turned into a disaster, American washed their hands by blaming dumb George for lying to them. They are free of guilt, but supporting such a BONEHEADED move will haunt this country for decades.

      “You f-k with me…I f-k with you” is also called the chickens coming home to roost.

  7. Juan, the direct causality you propose between the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and the radicalization of these two Algerian-French men seems to me only part of a more complex web of factors. This could include France’s, and possibly Europe’s, inadequacy in integrating its Muslim immigrants, compared to the US, such that the radicalization you describe is far more prevalent among some European Muslims. Less directly, one could point to the absence of truly progressive and satirical Arab journals (as Roz al-Yusuf used to be) or other venues for satire that could respond to Charlie Hebdo on the same platform. There is now a handful of comedy troupes that have taken on Da’ish and Islamic extemists, and they should be supported; that is, to respond to satire by satire not by killing and terror. There’s also the question of personal responsibility (I know, a tricky one!): these two brothers led a life of petty crime before being radicalized by some ignorant cleric who had been radicalized by watching Abu Ghraib torture on TV. I, for one, wish that they and others like him would continue their petty thievery and pot smoking way, if the alternative is what we’ve witnessed two days ago.

    • You mention the possibility of criticizing the powers that be from an angle other than the corporate-approved zaniness of Charlie Hebdo. But France has already seen what happens when a comic criticizes what is truly the powers-that-be with Dieudonne. He started mocking Jewish politics, and his career was almost destroyed by “the powers that be.” It’s just so easy to make fun of the poor like Charlie Hebdo did.

  8. Their story doesn’t sound much different from the Tsarneyev (sp) brothers who carried out the Boston terrorist attack. Losers with little going for them are often easy pickings for mass movements. Shooting people for expressing their views is an absolute disgrace and only cowards would walk into a newspaper office with machine guns and murder the staff.

  9. Rachid Nekkaz was born in France of Algerian parents. He made his fortune with an internet startup. Which white man gets the credit for Rachid’s career?

    • Which white man gets the credit for Rachid’s career?

      Probably, Rachid is more suited to answering that question, but if he is honest he (like most of us) most likely could name several people who helped along the way. Presumably, the founders of Microsoft and Google had some input. I’m white, but I acknowledge that many people of different races helped me along the way.

      • Rachid was fortunate and had help. But he made choices, acted, and deserves credit. Almost everyone is able to make choices and so is accountable for their behavior. There are a billion Muslims who have reasons to be angry, but do not choose to kill pointlessly. Arabs and Muslims have agency. They should be blamed every time they’re blameworthy.

  10. Actually I would say that they were probably radicalized not by the war itself but by the media and the public’s insouciance towards it.

    • link to

      One perpetrator was allegedly trained in Yemen by AQAP … however, these two brothers had an associate apparently now pledged to DAESH… but there are reports this was an Al-Qa’ida hit list.
      If this is “signs of life” from Al-Qa’ida or AQAP, things could get doubly interesting.

  11. In promoting his new hero, Clint Eastwood appears to not be persuaded by Chalmers Johnson’s theories of blowback.

    “How Clint Eastwood Ignores History in ‘American Sniper’: The film makes no attempt to tell us anything beyond Chris Kyle’s limited comprehension of what was happening in Iraq. But a war movie that is true of one American’s experience can be utterly false to the experience of millions of Iraqis and to the historical record.” By Peter Maass – link to

  12. I feel very sad about all the lives lost and all the grudges people hold for past wrongs. I wonder when we are going to stop being so divisive as a world and start working together. I wonder why it is so hard for people to realize that we all share the same joys and struggles in life and we are more similar than dissimilar as a human race.

  13. How about “al-Da`wa Mosque and Farid Benyettou.” Or the people who armed them with machine guns and rocket launcher or the vaunted French intelligence who left killers deliver pizza unattended. To blame everything on one man or his administration for all the ill will in the world is passé. You might as well go back to genghis khan.

  14. Thanks for reminding Americans that those “other” people have hearts and minds and souls. We have murdered plenty over there.

  15. I watched an idiot terror “expert” (Neuman?) on PBS Newshour this evening. He lectured (w/o challenge by the respectful interviewer) they were radicalized by their “identity” crisis after being born in Christian France!

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