2 readers online now  |  69 million page views

Converts take on larger roles in Militant Islam

Reader comment on item: Converts to Terrorism

Submitted by Sophie (Canada), Jan 1, 2006 at 10:17

Converts take on larger roles in militant Islam
Trial of French radical sheds light on latest recruits to terror organizations

By Craig Whitlock
The Washington Post
Updated: 3:02 a.m. ET Jan. 1, 2006


DOUAI, France - Despite his history as a convicted killer and radical Islamic fighter, Lionel Dumont had a real knack for charming the ladies.

Flashing a tender smile and soft brown eyes, the former French Catholic schoolboy seduced women in many parts of the world, using them as unwitting accomplices as he dodged arrest warrants and met clandestinely with Islamic radicals in at least 10 countries.

Two female German tourists whom he wooed separately on the beaches of Thailand served as cover for his travels as he secretly developed plots to transfer weapons and launder money, according to court testimony and European terrorism investigators.

At Dumont's trial in this northern French city in December, both women testified that they still could not believe their smooth-cheeked Romeo was an Islamic radical, even after they learned he was arrested two years ago in Munich in an international counterterrorism operation. "He's open and warm," said Celia dos Santos, 37, a travel agent who married Dumont, now 34, in a ceremony in Malaysia and brought him home to meet relatives in Germany and Portugal. "I would never think that he was involved in a terrorist act."

European counterterrorism officials and experts say Dumont is a prime example of how al Qaeda and other radical groups are drawing heavily on Islamic converts, who are increasingly taking on leadership roles in plotting strategy and launching attacks.

After converting to Islam in 1991, according to investigators, Dumont fought in Bosnia, was involved in a plot to bomb a gathering of leaders of the Group of Seven industrial nations in France in 1996 and spent years raising money and organizing cells in Europe and Asia.

Organization's changing face
Converts are prized by radical Islamic groups because they can usually operate freely in Europe, Asia and North America without arousing the suspicion of police. They are also often eager to accept dangerous assignments as a way to prove their devotion, experts said.

"What is new is that with al Qaeda, converts are now considered full members," said Olivier Roy, research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research and an authority on Islamic radicalism. "For al Qaeda, converts are not just tools to get past security. It's a way for them to become a global movement. In just about every al Qaeda cell over the past eight years, we have seen converts. It's structural, not just accidental."

Many converts have become trusted operatives at the highest levels of al Qaeda. Christian Ganczarski, a Polish-born German who trained in Afghanistan and met Osama bin Laden, was arrested in Paris in June 2003. Investigators said he was in direct contact with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, organizer of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, and helped plan at least two attacks in Africa.

Dhiren Barot, a British citizen and alleged ringleader of a scheme uncovered in 2004 to attack financial targets in New York and Washington with weapons of mass destruction, was born to Hindu parents but converted to Islam at age 20. U.S. investigators say Barot took orders from Abu Feraj Libi, a high-ranking al Qaeda planner captured in Pakistan last year.

Other converts who allegedly reported to the top tier of al Qaeda include Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, and Binyam Mohammed, an Ethiopian-born resident of London, both of whom are accused by Pentagon officials of planning "dirty bomb" attacks and other plots against the United States. Richard Reid, convicted of trying to blow up an American Airlines jet in December 2001 with explosives stuffed in his shoes, is another convert who was assigned his mission by top al Qaeda leaders.

'More radical'
Converts are still commonly recruited as foot soldiers as well. On Nov. 9, Muriel Degauque, a 38-year-old Belgian and former Catholic, achieved the distinction of becoming the first female Muslim suicide bomber from Europe when she attacked a U.S. patrol in Iraq, wounding one soldier and killing herself, according to Belgian officials.

In France, which has 5 million Muslims, the most in a European country, authorities have dealt with radical Islamic converts for years but say the problem is becoming worse, fueled in part by a religious and political backlash over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"The converts are undeniably the hardest ones," anti-terrorism magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere told the French newspaper Le Figaro in October, a few days after police arrested two converts in a town south of Paris on suspicion of terrorist activity. "The conversions today are more rapid, and their engagement is more radical."

Estimates vary on the number of Islamic converts in the country -- from 30,000 to 100,000 -- but only a small percentage are believed to embrace radicalism. Experts said many of the converts adopt Islam as a way to confront personal problems, such as drug addiction or involvement in crime, but others see it as a political cause akin to the radical left-wing terrorism that took root in Europe in the 1970s.

Pascal Mailhos, director of the French national police intelligence agency, said in an interview with Le Monde newspaper in November that there were about 5,000 Muslims in France who had adopted extremist beliefs. Of those, about 400 are converts, he said.

"The phenomenon is on the rise, and we are very alarmed," Mailhos said. "The process is often very quick and offers these dysfunctional young adults a new way of organizing their lives."


'No explanation' to decision
Lionel Dumont was 20 years old and living an aimless life in the industrial rust belt of northern France when he decided to renounce his Catholic upbringing and become a Muslim. Friends said he was looking for spiritual reassurance, but during his trial, Dumont brushed aside efforts to explain his decision. "There is no explanation," he testified.

His beliefs deepened in the early 1990s while he performed his obligatory French military service as an armorer and sharpshooter in the army, based in Djibouti and Somalia. On his return to France, he became more active in a mosque in the town of Roubaix, where he met Christopher Caze, a medical student.

Ethnic wars were raging in the Balkans at the time, and Caze, a fellow convert, persuaded Dumont to join him on a mission to Bosnia, where the pair enlisted in an international brigade of Muslim fighters. A charismatic but deeply violent man, Caze made an impression on Dumont and others by playing soccer with the severed heads of Serbs killed in battle, according to French court documents.

Dumont testified that he also traveled to military camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the mid-1990s, although little is known about his time there. Returning to France, he joined a radical group led by Caze known as the "Roubaix gang," which robbed armored cars and attempted a car-bomb attack on a G-7 jobs summit in the city of Lille in March 1996. Most of the gang members, including Caze, were killed in shootouts with police. But Dumont fled to Bosnia.

Escape from prison
In 1997, he was arrested in the town of Zenica and sentenced to 20 years for fatally shooting a Bosnian police officer at a gas station. Around the same time, he was convicted in absentia in France for his role in the Roubaix gang's activities. Five days before he was scheduled to be extradited to France, he escaped from his jail cell while his guards were watching a European Cup soccer match on television.

At his trial this month, Dumont said he then began extensive international travel, using fake passports to go to Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary. By 2002, he had landed in Asia, where he shuttled among Malaysia, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia.

Dumont said he sold used cars in Japan and Southeast Asia while he was on the run, but he denied being involved with radical causes after the Sept. 11 attacks. "I preferred the paradise beaches of Thailand to Tora Bora," he testified, referring to the mountainous area in Afghanistan where al Qaeda fighters battled U.S. allies.

Asian investigators, however, have said they suspect he was setting up a terrorist cell in Japan, as well as raising and laundering money for radical groups in the region.

While they say there is still much they do not know about his activities, they characterize him as a mid-level planner and recruiter who was able to blend into Asian society as a white-skinned European tourist. They said he used several false passports to avoid international warrants for his arrest issued by France, Bosnia and Interpol, as well as a global order from the U.S. Treasury to freeze his assets.

Investigators: Attack was planned
In 2002, according to authorities in Malaysia, Dumont met twice in that country with a fellow Bosnian war veteran named Andrew Rowe, a British convert of Jamaican descent. Rowe was also a global traveler, visiting Afghanistan, Chechnya, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco over a seven-year period, according to investigators. They say they believe he and Dumont were planning a major attack in Europe, perhaps in London.

In August 2003, the pair met again in a hotel in Frankfurt. Dumont was spending time there with his new German wife, who was still unaware of his real identity and background, according to court testimony.

Two months later, Dumont and Rowe reconvened in Frankfurt. By this time, however, Rowe was being followed by British and German investigators. Police had raided his home in London while he was traveling and found instructions on how to fire mortar shells, as well as a code book for transmitting instructions using text messages.

After the rendezvous in Frankfurt, investigators tailed Rowe westward across Europe and arrested him as he tried to board an English Channel tunnel train on the French coast. They reported finding rolled-up socks in his luggage bearing traces of explosive material, including TNT.

At his trial on terrorism charges in London in September, Rowe testified that he went to Frankfurt to receive instructions for the delivery of explosives and weapons from Eastern European sources to Muslim fighters in Chechnya, but he denied being involved in terrorist activities. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

'Brought to justice'
British investigators said they suspected Rowe and Dumont were in the late stages of planning an attack but said they had been unable to determine the details. "We don't know when, what or where he was going to attack, but the public can be reassured that a violent and dangerous man has been brought to justice," Peter Clarke, head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch, said after Rowe's conviction.

Two months after Rowe's arrest at the French border, German and British investigators tracked down Dumont in Munich and arrested him while he was taking a shower. He has admitted meeting with Rowe but said the Briton was just an acquaintance.

At his trial last month, Dumont said he regretted his involvement with the Roubaix gang and tried to play down his conversion to Islam.

He told jurors he realized his life story read like "a novel," but asked for leniency, saying he didn't want to "rot in jail." He also showed he hadn't lost his romantic touch, blowing a kiss to one of the German women after she testified that she still loved him.

The jury wasn't impressed. On Dec. 16, it convicted him for his role in the armed robberies in France in 1996 and sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

© 2006 MSNBC.com

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10667277/
Submitting....

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

Submit a comment on this item

<< Previous Comment      Next Comment >>

Reader comments (93) on this item

Title Commenter Date Thread
1Oh my God! [222 words]A.P.Jun 2, 2009 18:51156584
Witchhunt for terrorist [453 words]BilalJun 14, 2006 23:1047694
terrorism [76 words]sgpalMar 15, 2006 08:3940254
To No Dhimmi [115 words]AmiraJan 2, 2006 19:1430945
Reply to Amira [16 words]No DhimmiJan 4, 2006 19:2730945
ignorant fools-Ignorance is not bliss! [381 words]sgpalMar 16, 2006 07:1330945
Converts take on larger roles in Militant Islam [1900 words]SophieJan 1, 2006 10:1730886
Many reasons [235 words]MiriamDec 27, 2005 19:0330656
Reply to Miriam [526 words]AmiraDec 29, 2005 16:5130656
Amen Amira [49 words]No DhimmiJan 1, 2006 02:1130656
My take on grace [126 words]David S.Sep 3, 2006 21:0030656
To Mueen, Suicide bombers do it to get paradise, Saudi News [246 words]Ex-MuslimDec 22, 2005 11:5430413
To Mueen Ud Deen, Heretic sects deny hadiths [206 words]MohammedDec 21, 2005 18:3430375
Another reply to Mu'een Ud Deen [614 words]No DhimmiDec 20, 2005 09:4930241
A SHORT RESPONSE TO NO DHIMMI [80 words]SanaDec 23, 2005 00:1430241
to Sana, ref Dhimmihood [165 words]M. al-ContentDec 24, 2005 14:5230241
Reply to Sana [421 words]No DhimmiDec 25, 2005 12:0230241
Muslim suicide bombers, response to Mueen Ud Deen [273 words]Mamdouh M.Dec 19, 2005 12:3330187
Question about the sinfulness or honor of suicide bombing (some call homicide bombing). [118 words]James GlassOct 29, 2008 20:1630187
20Quran, Hadith and Sira all confirm violent and offensive jihad, history is the wirness. [501 words]N. KhanDec 18, 2005 12:3030143
Only fools do not Learn from other's follies. [201 words]sgpalMar 17, 2006 06:3830143
Anti Hypocricy [344 words]
w/response from Daniel Pipes
TravelerJul 21, 2008 07:1230143
KILLED A MOTHER OF FIVE CHILDREN. [84 words]sabyasachiMay 15, 2017 15:3230143
Convert to Terrorism art. No.3184 [80 words]S.C.PandaDec 17, 2005 05:3130108
Panda has an interesting point [140 words]Ex- MuslimDec 21, 2005 19:1330108
To Mu'een Ud Deen [179 words]SiddaDec 16, 2005 19:4230096
Reply to N.Khan [402 words]Mu'een Ud DeenDec 16, 2005 05:0730057
To Mueen Ud Deen: Real reason of suicide bombings [189 words]N.. KhanDec 15, 2005 13:0830012
clarify to N Khan and others [185 words]from IndonesiaDec 15, 2005 19:2030012
Reply to 'No Dhimmi' [599 words]Mu'een Ud DeenDec 14, 2005 04:5829930
Response to Mu'een Ud Deen [287 words]faqi hussainDec 14, 2005 01:1929925
Reply to Mu'een Ud Deen [320 words]No DhimmiDec 13, 2005 21:2029912
Reply to POD [365 words]Mu'een Ud DeenDec 13, 2005 09:0529865
Answer to P.O.D [315 words]Concerned EuropeanDec 13, 2005 07:0929862
To Harry: more hypocrisy [397 words]a Filipino liberalDec 13, 2005 04:5029859
Jihadist converts and racial profiling [110 words]Emmanuel PDec 13, 2005 04:1729858
CONVERT TO TERRORISM [84 words]syed mohammad aliDec 13, 2005 03:4429855
No Dhimmi [16 words]P.O.D.Dec 12, 2005 01:0729790
Concerned European/Statistically impossible [176 words]P.O.D.Dec 12, 2005 00:5629789
Reply to "I Know This" [228 words]No DhimmiDec 11, 2005 09:5929771
coversions - biggest challenge? [347 words]Concerned EuropeanDec 11, 2005 04:0929764
Lisa/Former Muslims/Suicide Missions [407 words]P.O.D.Dec 11, 2005 01:0529761
Reply to Lisa [144 words]faqi hussainDec 10, 2005 20:5629757
Islam is the problem [114 words]joe roseDec 10, 2005 07:3429737
I know that/ -Polgamy/Muslims in the USA [251 words]P.O.D.Dec 10, 2005 03:0429727
To ex muslim Faqi Hussian [39 words]LisaDec 9, 2005 23:4829722
Consider this.... [28 words]MEDec 9, 2005 21:2129720
Blase --dont spread your propoganda [492 words]HarryDec 9, 2005 20:1329719
Response to I know and you dont. [308 words]faqi hussainDec 9, 2005 19:3529716
Reply to no name [769 words]AllonehhobDec 9, 2005 16:3229713
the Left blame Bush [58 words]michael goodmanDec 9, 2005 11:5029701
John G. dont listen to No Dhimmi [94 words]I KNOW THISDec 9, 2005 11:3429697
to John Giannasca [153 words]SaNa2Dec 9, 2005 11:2529694
Converts to Terrorism [332 words]Blase`Dec 9, 2005 06:3829689
Consider this.... [24 words]MeDec 8, 2005 21:1829682
I realy feel your pain John Giannasca [503 words]AllonehhobDec 8, 2005 17:1529672
Allonehhob, what ? [200 words]I know and u dontDec 9, 2005 11:4829672
Suggestion for Mr. Giannasca [386 words]No DhimmiDec 8, 2005 15:5429667
Response to John G [252 words]P.O.D.Dec 8, 2005 12:4429653
Conversion Responsibility/Polygamy [240 words]P.O.D.Dec 8, 2005 11:3629650
Re: To James Just [83 words]JaladhiDec 8, 2005 11:1929649
Not Christian-born....Re: Converts to Terrorism [92 words]Cornelia CreasyDec 8, 2005 08:5429644
Sana2 help me out please [87 words]John GiannascaDec 8, 2005 04:5429636
Fraley you can't be serious!!! [143 words]John GiannascaDec 8, 2005 04:4429635
Unlearn Before U-learn! [2376 words]KK VermaDec 8, 2005 03:2429632
group with most influence over americans [71 words]James JustDec 8, 2005 00:1629627
Responding to P.O.D. [292 words]Sana2Dec 7, 2005 23:5129626
Sana2 simplified to the point of idiotic [202 words]Mike RosenbergDec 7, 2005 22:0229623
To P.O.D. [209 words]AllonehhobDec 7, 2005 17:3629604
Re: A. Ahmed - Right on [153 words]JaladhiDec 7, 2005 17:2129603
Allonehhob you hit the mark! [359 words]John GiannascaDec 7, 2005 16:3129600
The West has lost itself [149 words]Paul FraleyDec 7, 2005 15:2829595
Wake Up: Conversions begin at home. [429 words]p.o.d.Dec 7, 2005 12:4629587
Reply to A. Ahmed [123 words]Sana2Dec 7, 2005 12:3929586
Taking the teachings of Muhammed seriously. [42 words]LanceDec 7, 2005 10:2529575
We had Hanoi Jane; why not Baghdad Bob? [44 words]George Oh WellDec 7, 2005 09:1929570
Converts to terrorism [115 words]SamiDec 7, 2005 01:5029561
Correction to Bill Waldron [40 words]LisaDec 7, 2005 00:3429558
To John Giannasca [246 words]AllonehhobDec 7, 2005 00:2829556
Why do they convert? [289 words]John GiannascaDec 6, 2005 16:4429538
To John Giannasca [431 words]Dinesh PatelFeb 9, 2006 10:0329538
Why do they convert? [16 words]mariamOct 13, 2006 18:1729538
prison conversions [322 words]festineDec 6, 2005 16:0629536
To fight against terrorism, control enemy within [85 words]A. AhmedDec 6, 2005 16:0429535
Wonderful information, with one scary assumption [418 words]DancerDec 6, 2005 15:5129534
Extreme Converts [48 words]Bill WaldronDec 6, 2005 14:4829529
Incentives beyond religious fanaticism [106 words]E. J. BlumbergDec 6, 2005 12:4529523
Converts [244 words]Donald W. BalesDec 6, 2005 12:3729522
Discernment vs. bigotry [45 words]David W. LincolnDec 6, 2005 12:0529520
Where is our News Media? [32 words]Lee D CaryDec 6, 2005 11:3429517
Why do you search for the tail? Strike the head [291 words]T.A.Dec 6, 2005 11:1029515
Jihadists [78 words]BenDec 6, 2005 10:2429513
jihadis [497 words]sgpalMar 18, 2006 01:5229513

Comment on this item

Mark my comment as a response to Converts take on larger roles in Militant Islam by Sophie

Email me if someone replies to my comment

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

See recent outstanding comments.

Follow Daniel Pipes

Facebook   Twitter   RSS   Join Mailing List

ADVERTISEMENTS

eXTReMe Tracker

All materials by Daniel Pipes on this site: © 1968-2019 Daniel Pipes. daniel.pipes@gmail.com and @DanielPipes

Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum.Daniel J. Pipes

(The MEF is a publicly supported, nonprofit organization under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Contributions are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. Tax-ID 23-774-9796, approved Apr. 27, 1998.

For more information, view our IRS letter of determination.)