Second French citizen identified as Islamic State executioner

Michael Dos Santos (22) converted to Islam at age 17 and travelled to Syria last year

Champigny-sur-Marne, east of Paris, home of the mother of Michael Dos Santos, believed to be the second French jihadi involved in the killing of US hostage Peter Kassig and 18 Syrian pilots. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

Champigny-sur-Marne, east of Paris, home of the mother of Michael Dos Santos, believed to be the second French jihadi involved in the killing of US hostage Peter Kassig and 18 Syrian pilots. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

 

French intelligence sources yesterday confirmed that a second French citizen, Michael Dos Santos, participated in the decapitation of a US hostage and 18 Syrian army pilots shown in the video released by Islamic State (IS) last Sunday.

Like Maxime Hauchard, the French jihadi whose identity was confirmed earlier in the week, Dos Santos is 22 years old, converted to Islam at age 17 and travelled to Syria in August 2013. Philippe Vanheule, the mayor of the tiny village in Normandy where Hauchard lived, told Le Monde that “what happened to [Hauchard’s] family could happen to any family.”

The son of separated Portuguese parents, Dos Santos became a French citizen in 2009. His distraught mother, who lives in the Paris suburb of Champigny-sur-Marne, told France 2 television that she recognised her son in the video.

Friends in Syria

Dos Santos took the nom de guerre of Abu Othman in Syria, where French intelligence says he has been particularly violent. He has sent some 170 Twitter messages containing calls for jihad in France as well as Syria, photographs of Kurdish women fighters with derogatory comments, and links to Salafist literature. He threatened France in a video message condemning the French bombardment of IS targets in Iraq, saying, “We have warned you. You are at war against the Islamic State. Our victory is assured by God.”

According to the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, Abdelmajid Gharmaoui, from Vilvorde, a suburb of Brussels, may also be among the executioners in the latest video. Gharmaoui is currently on trial in absentia in Anvers, along with 45 other alleged members of Sharia4Belgium. The prosecution has called for a 10-year prison sentence for “belonging to a terrorist group”.

The Daily News reported that Nasser Muthana, a 20-year-old British medical student, may also have participated in the mass execution. Another Briton, nicknamed “Jihadi John” and suspected of murdering the US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, was shown masked with the decapitated head of the humanitarian worker Peter Kassig at his feet.

The French National Assembly has just past a law forbidding French citizens from travelling to Syria to participate in jihad. According to the Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, 1,132 French people are involved with the Syrian jihad network, of whom 376 are currently fighting in Syria and Iraq. Twenty-three per cent of the 376 were not raised as Muslims. Twenty-nine per cent of the 88 French women who have reached the war zone are Muslim converts. About 10 of the 49 French citizens killed in Syria were converts.

On November 13th, Frenchman Flavien Moreau was sentenced to seven years in prison, marking the first time a returnee from Syria has been tried and convicted.

The release of the video showing foreign fighters with faces uncovered appears to fulfill several goals for IS. It sows terror in their countries of origin, and ensures the men cannot go back. It may also be a method of recruiting still more foreigners.

Before boarding a flight from Canberra to Paris, French president Francois Hollande told Le Parisien newspaper that IS wants to horrify people with the message “Look what your citizens are capable of doing”.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right-wing National Front, says French intelligence sources told her that 4,000 – not 1,000 – French people have joined the Syrian jihad. The number of non-immigrant French jihadis is “anecdotal,” she claims.

“Obviously, mass immigration has been a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism in our country.”