From the New York Times via the IHT, an eye-opening look at how one family moved from “moderate” to “radical” Islam. (Thanks to all who sent me this link.)
When Chellali Benchellali moved to France 41 years ago, his path seemed clear enough. Escaping the misery of his native Algeria, he hoped to get a job, marry, raise a family and blend into the French melting pot.
He got part way there. But for the last six months, Benchellali has been in a high-security French prison, along with his wife and two of his sons, all accused of helping to plot a Qaeda-style chemical attack in Europe. A third son has just been released from the U.S. detention center at GuantÃ¡namo Bay, Cuba, one of four Frenchmen handed over to the French authorities last week.
The family’s journey from yearning immigrants to alleged Islamic militants – accused of harboring a makeshift laboratory in their suburban Lyon apartment where one son was said to have been trying to make biological and chemical bombs – is an extreme but still emblematic manifestation of a quiet crisis spreading through Europe’s growing Arab underclass.
Such dramatic deviations are rare, but they point to a dangerous ideological drift in many of the Continent’s immigrant neighborhoods, a drift that is stigmatizing Muslims, alarming antiterrorism officials and shaping government policies….
… as the 1960s economic boom ended and Benchellali’s finances faltered, his Muslim faith increased, neighbors say. He brought his wife, a nonpracticing Muslim, to religion….
In 1993, Benchellali began raising money and traveling to Bosnia to distribute food and clothing to besieged Muslims.
On his fifth trip there, Croatian soldiers seized him and two other men from Venissieux and held them in brutal conditions for five months. He returned with even stronger religious convictions and began preaching in the ground-floor activity room of his apartment block, which became known as the Abu Bakr mosque. His sermons took on an increasingly radical tone.
Menad, the oldest boy, received a certificate in electronics from a vocational high school in 1991. By all accounts he was dominated by his father and took a job washing windows for the same cleaning company. His father’s Bosnian ordeal and growing radicalization clearly had an effect on him, his mother and friends in the neighborhood said.
By the mid-1990s, with a civil war in full swing in Algeria, supporters of the violent Armed Islamic Group carried the battle to the Continent. The police say the Abu Bakr mosque became an occasional halfway house for members of the group passing through France.
Menad had quit his job by then and was dismissed from a string of others. In 1995, he left for Syria to study Arabic and the Koran. He spent several months in Sudan, where the Al Qaeda network was coalescing. He returned to Venissieux in 1996 a bearded fundamentalist.
After Menad’s return, his father took a second wife, illegal in France but permitted by Islam. The marriage caused a rift between Benchellali and his children, particularly Menad. Then Menad’s own marriage, to the daughter of one of the men with whom Benchellali had been imprisoned in Bosnia, fell apart.
“It was at this time that he became more radical,” Hafsa Benchellali told the police. Menad’s brother Hafed told investigators: “I think we need to educate people, and in that way we can install the Sharia,” speaking of the Islamic legal code. “But Menad believes it should be done by force.”
Read it all.