Monday, January 4, 2016
Who are the Muslim Kamikaze Riders? Isis-linked Belgian bike gang suspected of New Year terror plot
Claims from Belgian officials that the two men arrested for plotting terror attacks on New Year's Eve in Brussels belonged to the Kamikaze Riders motorcycle club is not the first time the group has been linked to Islamic extremism.
Founded by Belgians of Moroccan descent, gang members show off their prowess on their Japanese motorcycles, wearing the leather jackets emblazoned with samurai imagery. However, investigations have exposed links between group members and Belgium's shadowy jihadist underworld.
In 2013 one of the club's founders, Abdelouafi Elouassaki, was arrested after providing material support to two of his brothers, who were fighting in Syria for jihadist groups.
All three were found to have ties to now-banned group Sharia4Belgium, which radicalised hundreds of young Belgian and Dutch men to fight for jihadist groups in Syria, including Islamic State (Isis) and the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al Nusra.
Before his death in 2013 in a motorcycle accident, Elouassaki was questioned by police about his support for terrorism. One of his brothers was killed in Syria with the other seriously wounded.
According to Belgian media, one of the two men arrested on 28 December, Said K, was a Salafist preacher with links to the Eloussaki family.
Probing the social media accounts of Bilal Hafdi, one of the Belgians responsible for the 13 November Paris attacks, Vocative found praise for Brussels street gang Versailles, and links between networks of gang members and Kamikaze club members.
Another of the group's founders, Said Saouti, is a Salafist preacher with firearms and burglary convictions who lists al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al Awlaki as a "teacher", crime expert Alexandra Jones writes.
On social media, members openly flouted their adherence to violent jihad.
However, club member Ludovic Ansel told the Belga press agency that the club was being smeared, and its members included hundreds of people throughout the country "of all backgrounds and faiths, not specifically Muslim."
"This is a family that likes to be around its passion, the motorcycle. It hurts my heart to see the name of this club soiled by the media. Because someone made a mistake, others must suffer," he said.