Djamel Beghal

Djamel Beghal is an Algerian recruiter for al-Qaeda. Beghal was allegedly the mentor to Cherif Kouachi—one of the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015—and Amedy Coulibaly, the man who killed a policewoman and four shoppers at a kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015.Michael Birnbaum and Souad Mekhennet, “Djamel Beghal, the charming and chilling mentor of Paris jihadist attackers,” Washington Post, February 6, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/the-charming-and-chilling-mentor-of-the-paris-attackers/2015/02/06/2870f13c-a7dd-11e4-a162-121d06ca77f1_story.html.

An Algerian national, Beghal moved to France in 1987 to continue his studies, and in 1991 he married a French national, becoming a national himself on November 16, 1993.“BEGHAL c. France,” European Court of Human Rights, September 6, 2011, https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22languageisocode%22:[%22FRE%22],%22appno%22:[%2227778/09%22],%22documentcollectionid2%22:[%22ADMISSIBILITYCOM%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-106364%22]}. According to media sources, he has been under surveillance by French intelligence agents since the mid-1990s.“France expels alleged mentor of 2015 Paris attackers,” National, July 16, 2018, https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/france-expels-alleged-mentor-of-2015-paris-attackers-1.750915. In 1994, Beghal was arrested by French police for suspected membership in a group of armed Algerians. Beghal was released after serving a three month sentence.Chris Hedges, “A NATION CHALLENGED: POLICE WORK; The Inner Workings of a Plot to Blow Up the U.S. Embassy in Paris,” New York Times, October 28, 2001, https://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/28/world/nation-challenged-police-work-inner-workings-plot-blow-up-us-embassy-paris.html. Following his release, Beghal and his family moved to Leicester in the United Kingdom in October 1997.“BEGHAL c. France,” European Court of Human Rights, September 6, 2011, https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22languageisocode%22:[%22FRE%22],%22appno%22:[%2227778/09%22],%22documentcollectionid2%22:[%22ADMISSIBILITYCOM%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-106364%22]}.

Beghal became closely associated with a circle of radical clerics in Leicester and frequently attended London’s Finsbury Mosque where he became a close associate of radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri.Robin De Peyer, “Revealed: Charlie Hebdo suspect mentored by Finsbury Park Mosque lieutenant,” Evening Standard, January 9, 2015, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/revealed-charlie-hebdo-suspect-was-mentored-by-finsbury-park-mosque-lieutenant-9966920.html. As the head of Finsbury Mosque, Abu Hamza associated remotely with Yemen-based extremist figures, even claiming to serve as the “legal officer” for the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Army of Aden terrorist group.“Designation of 10 Terrorist Financiers Fact Sheet,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, April 19, 2002, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/po3014.aspx. Abu Hamza was later sentenced in New York for supporting terrorist organizations.Robin De Peyer, “Revealed: Charlie Hebdo suspect mentored by Finsbury Park Mosque lieutenant,” Evening Standard, January 9, 2015, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/world/revealed-charlie-hebdo-suspect-was-mentored-by-finsbury-park-mosque-lieutenant-9966920.html. While travelling to London, Beghal also became close to extremist preacher Abu Qatada, who often sent Beghal throughout Europe to collect donations and distribute recordings of his sermons that commonly espoused violent jihad.Scott Sayare, “The Ultimate Terrorist Factory,” Harper’s Magazine, January 2016, https://harpers.org/archive/2016/01/the-ultimate-terrorist-factory/2/. Given his association with Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada, Beghal came to be seen by U.K. and French intelligence as one of al-Qaeda’s leading recruiters in Europe, and Beghal was reportedly placed on France’s terrorist watch list in 1997.Josh Halliday, Duncan Gardham and Julian Borger, “Mentor of Charlie Hebdo gunmen has been UK-based,” Guardian, January 11, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/11/mentor-charlie-hebdo-gunmen-uk-based-djamel-beghal; “They Had A Plan,” CNN, August 5, 2002, https://edition.cnn.com/2002/ALLPOLITICS/08/05/time.history/.

Inspired by Abu Qatada’s teachings, Beghal and his family moved to Afghanistan in November 2000 where he allegedly trained with al-Qaeda.“BEGHAL c. France,” European Court of Human Rights, September 6, 2011, https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22languageisocode%22:[%22FRE%22],%22appno%22:[%2227778/09%22],%22documentcollectionid2%22:[%22ADMISSIBILITYCOM%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-106364%22]}; David Gauthier-Villars And Stacy Meichtry, “Algerian Terror Convict Links Paris Gunmen,” Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/algerian-terror-convict-links-paris-gunmen-1421119392. While in Afghanistan, Beghal and his family shared a home with Abu Iyadh, a Tunisian once considered the most wanted man in Tunisia. It was also alleged that Beghal spent some time with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of ISIS’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq.Scott Sayare, “The Ultimate Terrorist Factory,” Harper’s Magazine, January 2016, https://harpers.org/archive/2016/01/the-ultimate-terrorist-factory/2/. Months later on July 29, 2001, Beghal was arrested at Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) while attempting to fly with a fake French passport on his way to Europe. Beghal confessed to Emirati authorities that he was persuaded by radical preachers to plot an attack on the American embassy in Paris. While in Emirati detention, Beghal claimed he was tortured and provided false information under duress.“They Had A Plan,” CNN, August 5, 2002, https://edition.cnn.com/2002/ALLPOLITICS/08/05/time.history/.

On September 26, 2001, Beghal was extradited to France from the UAE.“BEGHAL c. France,” European Court of Human Rights, September 6, 2011, https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22languageisocode%22:[%22FRE%22],%22appno%22:[%2227778/09%22],%22documentcollectionid2%22:[%22ADMISSIBILITYCOM%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-106364%22]}. After arriving in France, he was indicted for terrorism-related offenses and placed in pre-trial detention. He was suspected of having prepared an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Paris.“BEGHAL c. France,” European Court of Human Rights, September 6, 2011, https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22languageisocode%22:[%22FRE%22],%22appno%22:[%2227778/09%22],%22documentcollectionid2%22:[%22ADMISSIBILITYCOM%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-106364%22]}. In 2003, Beghal was convicted in absentia in an Algerian court for membership in a terrorist organization.“Algerian militant suspect expelled by France will be retried: sources,” Reuters, July 17, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-algeria-attacks/algerian-militant-suspect-expelled-by-france-will-be-retried-sources-idUSKBN1K72L3.

On March 15, 2005, the High Court of Paris sentenced Beghal to 10 years in prison for preparing an act of terrorism. Prosecutors argued that Beghal was involved in a network of Islamic militants that spanned across five European countries and who reported to a base in Afghanistan.“France Convicts 6 In Terror Plot,” CBS News, March 15, 2005, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/france-convicts-6-in-terror-plot/. On September 19, 2007, a deportation order to Algeria was issued against Beghal following the completion of his sentence.“L'islamiste Djamel Beghal réclame son expulsion vers l'Algérie,” Le Parisien, June 27, 2017, https://www.leparisien.fr/faits-divers/l-islamiste-djamel-beghal-reclame-son-expulsion-vers-l-algerie-27-06-2017-7090224.php. On September 26, 2007, Beghal was stripped of his French nationality.“BEGHAL c. France,” European Court of Human Rights, September 6, 2011, https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22languageisocode%22:[%22FRE%22],%22appno%22:[%2227778/09%22],%22documentcollectionid2%22:[%22ADMISSIBILITYCOM%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-106364%22]}.

In 2005, while serving his sentence at the Fleury-Merogis prison in Paris, Beghal allegedly met Coulibaly and Kouachi. Coulibaly and Kouachi allegedly continued to visit Beghal following their release from prison and provided Beghal with food and money.Henri Astier, “Paris attacks: Prisons provide fertile ground for Islamists,” BBC News, February 5, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-31129398. On May 31, 2009, Beghal was released from prison and was placed under “judicial surveillance,” a form of house arrest where local police regularly checked on him while also monitoring his phone communications.David Gauthier-Villars And Stacy Meichtry, “Algerian Terror Convict Links Paris Gunmen,” Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2015, https://www.wsj.com/articles/algerian-terror-convict-links-paris-gunmen-1421119392.

Beghal was arrested again on May 19, 2010 as part of a plot to not only escape France but also free Smain Ait Ali Belkacem from prison. Belkacem was an Algerian who was involved in the 1995 Paris bomb attacks which killed eight people.“Djamel Beghal and his alleged accomplices still questioned,” L’Express, May 19, 2010, https://www.lexpress.fr/actualite/societe/djamel-beghal-et-ses-presumes-complices-toujours-interroges_893257.html. On May 22, 2010, the High Court of Paris indicted Beghal for acts of directing and organizing a criminal association with a view to prepare acts of terrorism while in a state of legal recidivism. Upon investigation of his living quarters, French police found a clipping about rocket-propelled grenades, maps of Afghanistan and Pakistan, printouts on suicide attacks, and music featuring titles such as “I, Terrorist,” and “Blow Them Up.”Michael Birnbaum and Souad Mekhennet, “Djamel Beghal, the charming and chilling mentor of Paris jihadist attackers,” Washington Post, February 6, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/the-charming-and-chilling-mentor-of-the-paris-attackers/2015/02/06/2870f13c-a7dd-11e4-a162-121d06ca77f1_story.html. He was remanded in custody.“BEGHAL c. France,” European Court of Human Rights, September 6, 2011, https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{%22languageisocode%22:[%22FRE%22],%22appno%22:[%2227778/09%22],%22documentcollectionid2%22:[%22ADMISSIBILITYCOM%22],%22itemid%22:[%22001-106364%22]}.

On July 16, 2018, Beghal was released from Venzin-le-Coquet prison and was put on a flight to Algiers.“Expelled from France, jihadist attacker 'mentor' Beghal to be retried in Algeria,” France 24, July 17, 2018, https://www.france24.com/en/20180717-france-algeria-terrorism-beghal-expelled-jihadist-attacks-mentor-retrial-charlie-hebdo. On July 17, 2018, Algerian authorities stated that they would retry Beghal who will face up to 20 years imprisonment for membership in a terrorist organization.“Algerian militant suspect expelled by France will be retried: sources,” Reuters, July 17, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-algeria-attacks/algerian-militant-suspect-expelled-by-france-will-be-retried-sources-idUSKBN1K72L3; “Expelled from France, jihadist attacker 'mentor' Beghal to be retried in Algeria,” France 24, July 17, 2018, https://www.france24.com/en/20180717-france-algeria-terrorism-beghal-expelled-jihadist-attacks-mentor-retrial-charlie-hebdo. As of September 2020, no new developments have been reported on Beghal’s activities or his trial in Algeria.

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