Osama Atar, the “underground” of the Paris and Brussels attacks


On April 29, 2019, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, “caliph” of an almost defeated Islamic State (IS), delivered his last message and thanked the fighters and “Martyrs”. Among the latter, he cites a military leader, “Abou Yassir Al-Belgicki”. Who is this stranger? The conviction is, today, that it is about Osama Atar, a former kid of the Brussels district of Laeken, strangely passed under all the radars until April 2016, a few days after the attacks which, on March 22, killed 32 people and injured 340 others in Belgium.

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Atar, the main coordinator of the attacks at Zaventem airport and at the Maelbeek metro, was also directly involved in those in Paris in 2015. “Emir” of the European IS fighters, responsible for external operations, how this man, arrested in Iraq in 2005, imprisoned in this country, clearly identified by the Americans, could he return to Belgium in 2012 and continue his murderous journey there? Thanks to an extraordinary series of chances that could be just as many blunders. To a clever campaign led in particular by Islamist organizations, to the blindness of political leaders, to the naivety of NGOs. Perhaps, also, to the error of the Belgian intelligence services which were looking for an informant and hoped to “return” him.

Until now, we only had rather scattered elements on the incredible journey of this radicalized Belgian-Moroccan, whose terrorist journey would have ended in 2017, during a drone strike in northern Syria. On the Belgian official side, no comment, no regret, no explanation has been made so far. They may come after the revelations of a book written by a centrist deputy, Georges Dallemagne, and a journalist, Christophe Lamfalussy.

Their investigation (Daesh’s Clandestine, Kennes Editions, 208 pages, 19.90 euros) does indeed allow to conclude, as they write, that Atar was the central figure of a case “Gone by the wayside, a state affair that we would like to conceal”.

A campaign for his repatriation

The life of the teenager Atar is ordinary, in the district of Laeken. Goodwill educators and police officers try to frame young people with chaotic, sometimes violent, school paths. A mosque is near, preachers work the spirits. In 2001, conquered by an imam from Molenbeek whose name would appear later in numerous files, the young Atar, 17, set off to discover Syria in a motorhome. He does not like food but is conquered by the country, where he will return in 2004 to attend a Koranic school.

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