When they come back, they kill.
On 24 May, a gunman opened fire in a museum in the Jewish Museum in Brussels and killed four people. (Security-camera video of his escapade below.) On 30 May, French authorities arrested a French citizen, Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, in connection with the shootings.
At the time, European news services reported that Nemmouche was “suspected of” having been in Syria in 2013. The prosecutor in the case then confirmed that he had, and Fox News reported that Nemmouche’s AK-47 was found wrapped in a sheet with ISIS’s name written on it.
But this was all in the last days before ISIS, with its series of rapid victories in northern Iraq, became a household name in the West.
Reportedly, Nemmouche tried to get his own video of his attack in the Jewish museum, but his camera malfunctioned. Perhaps this tidbit should have been a clue.
On Saturday, 6 September, European media reported that a French photojournalist who had been held by ISIS for 10 months in Syria identified Nemmouche as one of his captors. According to Nicolas Hénin, who was abducted in June 2013 and released in April 2014, Nemmouche was known as a jihadi who enjoyed torturing hostages.
Hénin said that “when Nemmouche wasn’t singing, he was torturing”.
The journalist, who was released in April, said: “[Nemmouche] was a member of a small group of French nationals whose arrival used to terrify about 50 Syrian prisoners held in cells near ours. Every night, blows would start raining down in the room where I myself had been interrogated. The torture went on all night long, until the dawn prayer.”
Nemmouche would apparently have returned to Europe in the period between Hénin’s release, along with three other French journalists, late in the week of 14 April, and the date of the killing spree in Belgium, 24 May.
In April, French authorities denied that they had paid ransoms or transferred weapons to jihadi kidnappers to recover Hénin and the other journalists. According to an investigation by the London Times, however (cited in the New York Times after James Foley’s beheading), European governments have paid as much as $125 million in ransoms to jihadis over the last five years. ISIS has probably received some of that.
The number of Americans who have joined ISIS is uncertain; estimates range from as few as 12 to as many as 100. If I had to guess – relying on a career analyst’s instincts and perspective – I’d guess closer to 12, but more than 12. Maybe 20-25 at the moment. Very few of them will be Caucasian converts with scraggly blond beards. They’ll be Americans of Somali, Pakistani, or Arab origin. Most of them won’t stand out against the landscape in Syria and Iraq, or make videos of themselves speaking in nasal, Midwestern accents.
But regardless of their original ethnicity, some of them will be coming back. And when they get here, some of them, like Mehdi Nemmouche, are going to kill.