What kind of religious extremism? “Salafist” appears in the headline but the article never says straight out what religion Djamel belonged to. We hear that he is “of Algerian birth,” and then that he was taken prisoner among “Islamists” — but AFP still can’t bring itself to say directly what kind of “religious extremism” he “drifted” toward. Anyway, Djamel’s life reflects something about which Hugh Fitzgerald wrote many times at Jihad Watch in years past: that in times of personal crisis, some Muslims will turn to religion, and their desire to please Allah will lead them to violent jihad, since Islam’s texts and teachings exhort believers to violent jihad numerous times and in numerous ways. Yet that fact remains unexamined, and unresisted, among Western authorities.
A French citizen caught in early March waging jihad in Mali against his own country was once a serving police officer, his sister claimed on Monday.
Named only as Djamel, the 37-year-old French national of Algerian birth led his family to believe that he had joined the gendarmerie, a national police force that is part of the French military, at the end of the 1990s.
He then told them that he had moved on to the plainclothes BAC (Anti-Criminal Brigade) and had ambitions of joining France’s notorious CRS riot police, his sister “Sonia” (not her real name) told RTL radio.
But on Tuesday France’s minister of Interior told French daily Le Parisien that Djamel had in fact never belonged to the police force, as his application was rejected twice.
When his marriage broke down, Djamel drifted towards religious extremism before finally setting off to wage holy war in Africa.
He was taken prisoner at the beginning of March during French-led operations in northern Mali to flush out Islamists who had occupied the vast semi-arid region for ten months.
“˜The worst thing possible”
Sonia told RTL she was “ashamed of what he has done, ashamed of what he has become”.
“He did the worst thing possible,” she said. “He fought French soldiers, soldiers from a country where he grew up, a country that educated him and a country where he worked, a country that gave him a wife. He has betrayed his family. He has betrayed France. He has betrayed himself.”
Sonia, 30, from Grenoble in south-eastern France where Djamel grew up, said that as soon as her brother turned 18 he had applied for, and was awarded, French citizenship.
His career in law enforcement ended after he was obliged to arrest his own brother, Sonia said, and in 2005 he got married and left Grenoble for Bonneville in the Haute-Savoie region.
“Back then Djamel was like everyone else,” Sonia said. “He liked to party. He went to the Mosque occasionally but that was all. After he got married he started growing a beard and spending more and more time with extremists who were indoctrinating young people.”
Djamel “˜spoke of joining al Qaeda”
When his marriage fell apart he moved back to Grenoble, leaving behind three children under six.
“He had become a Salafist,” Sonia said. “He sometimes spoke of joining al Qaeda, but as far as we were concerned it was just talk.”
In November 2012 Djamel told his family he was moving to Paris – but when he rang his wife and asked to speak to his children, she noticed that he was using a Malian number.
“We had no idea that he could have done something like that,” she said, sounding equally shocked and disappointed.
She concluded: “We live in France, we respect French secularism. And while we don’t deny our Muslim faith, going on jihad against your own country is beyond the pale. I hope he pays dearly for this, but above all he needs to explain to his family and to his country how it could have come to this.”
Djamel, whose wife and mother were interviewed at length by French police, is currently being detained by the Malian authorities and is expected to be extradited to France in the coming days.