‘Islamist Fighters’ children potentially brainwashed’

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Suspects weep as parents testify at Paris attacks trial

BERLIN, Jan 31, (Agencies): Germany’s domestic intelligence chief wants the government to review laws restricting the surveillance of minors to guard against the children of Islamist fighters returning to the country as “sleeper agents” who could carry out attacks.

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the BfV agency, told Reuters that security officials were preparing for the return of Islamic State fighters to Germany along with potentially “brainwashed” children, although no big wave appeared imminent. Nearly 1,000 people are believed to have left Germany to join up with the Islamist militants. As the group’s presence in the Middle East crumbles, some are returning with family members.

Only a small number of the 290 toddlers and children who left Germany or were born in Syria and Iraq had returned thus far, Maassen said. Many were likely to still be in the region, or perhaps moving to areas such as Afghanistan, where Islamic State remains strong. He said Germany should review laws restricting surveillance of minors under the age of 14 to prepare for the increased risk of attacks by children as young as nine who grew up in Islamic State schools. “We see that children who grew up with Islamic State were brainwashed in the schools and the kindergartens of the IS,” he said. “They were confronted early with the IS ideology … learned to fight, and were in some cases forced to participate in the abuse of prisoners, or even the killing of prisoners.” He said security officials believed such children could later carry out violent attacks in Germany.

“We have to consider that these children could be living time bombs,” he said. “There is a danger that these children come back brainwashed with a mission to carry out attacks.” Maassen’s comments were the first specific estimate of the number of children affected, following his initial warning in October that such children could pose a threat after being indoctrinated in battlefield areas.

The radicalisation of minors has been a big topic in Germany given that three of five Islamist attacks in Germany in 2016 were carried out by minors, and a 12-year-old boy was also detained after trying to bomb a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen. The German government says it has evidence that more than 960 people left Germany for Iraq and Syria through November 2017 to fight for the Islamic State jihadist group, of which about a third are believed to have returned to Germany. Another 150 likely died in combat, according to government data.

Maassen said Islamic State also continued to target vulnerable youths in Germany through the Internet and social media, often providing slick advertising or age-appropriate propaganda to recruit them to join the jihadist group. “Islamic State uses headhunters who scour the Internet for children that can be approached and tries to radicalise these children, or recruit these children for terrorist attacks,” he said. Meanwhile, grieving parents testified Tuesday at the first trial stemming from the 2015 Paris attacks, moving the two defendants to tears as they described losing their children to bombs and bullets.

Among them were relatives of the 90 people massacred at the Bataclan concert hall in the attacks that also targeted the national stadium, bars and restaurants. Jawad Bendaoud and Mohamed Soumah, accused of harbouring jihadists in the aftermath of the carnage that left 130 people dead, wept as a mother spoke of her pain. “Every time I talk about my son, the tears start fl owing,” said a woman named Iordanka, who like others testifying requested to be identified by only her first name. “My life is hard now,” she said, describing how her 37-yearold son was shot seven times. And she said the two accused — along with a third defendant on trial for failing to report the jihadists — deserved to be “punished severely”. “It’s not them who killed my son, but they more or less contributed to it,” she said.

The court has been packed since the trial opened Wednesday, with France closely watching the proceedings as the only survivor among the 10 attackers, Salah Abdeslam, prepares to go on trial in Belgium on Monday. Bendaoud, a 31-year-old drug dealer, is accused of renting his apartment to senior Islamic State jihadist Abdelhamid Abaaoud — the suspected coordinator of the attacks — and his accomplice Chakib Akrouh. Anti-terror police killed Abaaoud, Akrouh and Abaaoud’s cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen in a ferocious assault on Bendaoud’s fl at in Saint-Denis north of Paris on November 18, five days after the attacks.

Bendaoud became a national laughing stock after a now-notorious television interview outside the apartment in which he insisted, “I didn’t know they were terrorists”. His apparent lack of curiosity about the men, at a time when the country was on lockdown in the hunt for fugitive jihadists, spawned endless jokes and internet memes. He again told the court Monday that he did not know the men’s identity, and that he would not have hosted terrorists “even for 150,000 euros” ($190,000). Bendaoud, who has a long criminal record, said he had previously rented the grubby fl at to Eastern European gangsters without asking questions. Parents expressed anger over Bendaoud’s behaviour during the trial, which has in recent days seemed more like a sketch show due to his theatrical antics. On Friday he complained that most men forced to stay in their cell for as long as him would “cut off their testicles”, and accused one of the lawyers of being “psychologically unhinged”.

“What shocks me is the lack of seriousness with which Mr Bendaoud and Mr Soumah are taking this trial,” said a man called Abdallah, who lost both of his sisters. Meanwhile four men have been arrested as part of the enquiry into the weapons used for deadly attacks, also in 2015, on the office of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket, a judicial source said Tuesday. The men, aged between 30 and 36, were picked up on Monday and Tuesday and will be questioned “to determine whether they played any role in providing the arms” used in the attacks, the source said. Twelve people were killed when gunmen attacked the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, and four more died when a kosher grocery store was attacked two days later.

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