Paris Jihadist Manages to Grow More Radical in Prison

Paris Jihadist Manages to Grow More Radical in Prison

by Abigail R. Esman

Investigative Project on Terrorism


One year after jihadist commandos massacred 130 people in coordinated attacks across Paris, France remains under a state of emergency. Heavily armed gendarmes patrol the city streets, prepared for the next attack that even politicians admit is sure to come. And the one jihadist who survived the Nov. 13 attacks, Salah Abdeslam, rests in French prison, becoming more radicalized than ever.

This, at least, is what his former lawyer, Sven Mary, told Dutch newspaper the Volkskrant in a recent interview. “He has a beard now,” Mary said. “He has become a real fundamentalist Muslim. He had been just a street kid with Nikes.”

Abdeslam’s brother Mohamed had a similar reaction when he visited Salah recently. “I had the impression he had radicalized further,” he told French RTL radio, adding that Salah “was a different person now.”

But where Mohamed Abdeslam blames prison conditions for his brother’s retreat into radical Islam, Mary points to earlier influences. The Belgian-Moroccan Abdeslam, whose full role in the attacks has never been clearly determined, was arrested near his home in the Molenbeek district of Brussels on March 18, and extradited to France a month later. His Belgian jail cell was near that of Mehdi Nemmouche, the terrorist who murdered four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum in June 2014. The two were able to communicate between their cells, shouting to one another.

Still, Mary agrees with Mohamed Abdeslam that French prison conditions may have played a role. “They’re not physically torturing him,” he told the Volkskrant, “It’s not Guantanamo Bay. But they do punish horrors with mental torture.”

Media attention also has helped stimulate his former client’s radicalization in recent months, Mary believes. “People gave him a status of heroism by saying he’d been the brain” behind the attacks, he said, referring to early reports that Abdeslam may have been one of the organizers of the terror plot. “He’s come to believe it himself. He’s been placed in a position where he can only gain respect as a martyr. He’s become the stereotypical terrorist.”

As a result, Abdeslam refuses to speak to investigators. He won’t talk to his attorneys, including Mary, who consequently quit the case in October. “He said that Allah will watch over him,” Mary said at the time.

Fortunately, given the gravity of his crimes and the mass of evidence against him. Salah Abdeslam is unlikely ever to be released. But his silence leaves survivors of the attacks, and the families of the victims, struggling for answers they may never find. Worse, his deepened devotion to jihad means that he will likely never divulge what information he might hold of future plots. In this, a year after the attacks, the one surviving terrorist is not done fighting his jihad.


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