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Profile: Abdelkader Belliraj
Abdelkader Belliraj was a participant or observer in the following events:
Abdelkader Belliraj, a dual Belgian and Moroccan citizen, begins working for the Belgian government as an informant in this year, if not earlier (see February 29, 2008). It appears that the Belgian government has good reason to believe he is a murderer. When he is arrested in Morocco in 2008 (see February 18, 2008), he will confess to a series of unsolved murders in Belgium and Luxembourg between 1986 and 1989. Belgian detectives suspected that three of the murders, that of a Saudi imam in Brussels, his Tunisian librarian, and a driver at the Saudi embassy in Brussels, were connected. The same gun was used in each murder, and all three victims witnessed extensive fraud by Saudi embassy personnel. Belliraj was interrogated but let go. Abu Nidal’s terrorist group took credit for some of these murders, raising the possibility that Belliraj was a hit man for Nidal. Beginning in 1992, Belliraj formed a criminal network that committed a series of hold-ups in Belgium through 2001. [Het Laatste News, 3/2/2008; Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008] In 2000, the same year Belliraj begins working for the Belgian internal security service, State Security, his close associate Abdellatif Bekhti is arrested shortly after robbing a warehouse owned by the Brinks security firm. $24 million is stolen in the robbery. It is believed Belliraj’s group gets $5 million of that, while the rest of the money goes to Mafia figures who also took part in the robbery. Bekhti is sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2003. But several months later, Belliraj breaks him out of prison, as a car crashes the prison wall where Bekhti is being held. Bekhti will be arrested in 2008 in Morrocco with Belliraj and confess to his role in the robbery and other crimes. [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/2008; Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008; BBC, 3/16/2008] Also in 2000, Belliraj’s group begins working with Hezbollah, and then links with al-Qaeda one year later (see 2001). He also allegedly has links to the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not known why Belgian State Security worked with such a criminal or how much they knew about his exploits. One article notes: “Belliraj was well-known in Belgium. He was monitored and even interrogated but always released.” [Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008]
In 2008, Abdelkader Belliraj, a Belgian government informant heading an Islamist militant group in Morocco, will be arrested in Morocco (see February 18, 2008 and February 29, 2008). Moroccan Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa will claim that in 2001 Belliraj and several of his followers travel to Afghanistan to meet al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Zawahiri gives Belliraj specific instructions to carry out. Belliraj’s followers then train in al-Qaeda camps alongside militants belonging to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, another al-Qaeda linked Moroccan militant group. That group will later carry out a series of attacks in Casablanca in 2003 (see May 16, 2003) and play a role in the Madrid train bombings in 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). It is not known if Belliraj meets al-Zawahiri before or after the 9/11 attacks. [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/2008; Het Laatste News, 3/4/2008] Belliraj’s group maintains al-Qaeda links after this. For instance, in 2005 Belliraj visits training camps run by the Algerian militant group the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. One year later, that group will change its name to be Al-Qaeda in the Magreb. [Maghreb Arabe Presse, 3/2/2008]
Abdelkader Belliraj, a Belgian government informant leading a Moroccan militant group, allegedly helps foil an attack in Britain. Shortly after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), Belgian intelligence gives the British government “very precise” information from Belliraj about a planned follow-up attack. Arrests are made and material is seized in Liverpool, but the incident is not reported in the media at the time. (Apparently this is a different plot to a largely unsuccessful copycat bomb plot two weeks after the 7/7 bombings (see July 21, 2005)). A Belgian newspaper will say the attacks could have killed dozens of people. Belliraj had developed links to al-Qaeda in 2001 while being paid by Belgian’s internal security service (see 2001). He will be arrested in Morocco in 2008 (see February 18, 2008). [Agence France-Presse, 3/15/2008]
Moroccan police arrest 35 people for involvement in a radical militant group led by an informant for the Belgian government. Over the next several weeks, it will gradually be leaked to the media that the arrested leader of the group, Abdelkader Belliraj, has worked for Belgian intelligence and possibly the CIA since at least 2000 (see February 29, 2008). Belliraj holds both Belgian and Moroccan citizenship and is a Shiite. His unnamed group has both Shiite and Sunni Muslim links, and is linked to Islamist militant groups like al-Qaeda as well as to traditional organized crime. Others arrested in Morocco with Belliraj include local politicians, businessmen, a police commander and Hezbollah television station correspondent. A large stockpile of weapons is found in police raids, including assault rifles, machine guns, and detonators. Two days after the raids, the small Islamist party al-Badil al-Hadari is officially dissolved after several of those arrested are found to have links to the party, including the party’s secretary general. The Moroccan government claims Belliraj’s group was planning a series of political assassinations in Morocco. [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/2008; Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008]
Abdelkader Belliraj. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The Belgian media reports that Abdelkader Belliraj, a dual Belgian-Moroccan citizen arrested in Morocco earlier in the month, is actually a long-time informant for Belgium’s internal security service, State Security. [Agence France-Presse, 2/29/2008; Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2008] The Belgian government initially denies the charges but soon tacitly admits them when the head of State Security, Alain Winants, complains about the leak of the “highly classified” status of Belliraj several days later. Agence France-Presse reports that although the “accusations were at first met with scepticism in Belgium, authorities now consider them credible.” Belliraj has been personally involved in armed robberies and murders dating back to the 1980s, and has links to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other Islamist militant groups. It remains unclear if Belliraj was committing all his crimes with the approval of Belgian officials or if he may have been duping them to some degree. One anonymous Belgian police official speculates: “How could he travel freely since the 1980s from Belgium to various terrorist hot-beds around the world? There are two possibilities: either he worked for a secret service or else the State Security is full of idiots.” [Agence France-Presse, 3/11/2008] On Belgian newspaper claims that at the same time he was a paid Belgian informant since 2000, “It’s almost certain that at the same time he worked for another foreign secret service, possibly the French DGSE or American CIA.” [Het Laatste News, 3/4/2008] Another major Belgian newspaper, De Morgen, claims that Belliraj had both French and US intelligence links while working with Belgium too. [Maghreb Arabe Presse, 3/4/2008]
The Washington Post publishes a front page story promoting the myth that al-Qaeda has never been effectively penetrated by intelligence agencies. The article by Craig Whitlock is titled After a Decade at War With West, Al-Qaeda Still Impervious to Spies. It states that “al-Qaeda’s core organization in Pakistan and Afghanistan has so far proved impervious to damaging leaks.” It quotes Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who says that from 1992 until November 2004 (when he left the CIA), “[the CIA] worked side by side with the Egyptians, the Jordanians—the very best Arab intelligence services—and they didn’t recruit a single person who could report on al-Qaeda.” The article seems to be a reaction to the case of Abdelkader Belliraj, which was publicly exposed several weeks earlier, when Belliraj was arrested in Morocco (see February 18, 2008 and February 29, 2008). The article notes that Belliraj was a Belgian government informant and important Islamist militant leader who had al-Qaeda links for years and met with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan (see 2001). Belliraj’s case seemingly undercuts the thrust of the article, but the rest of the article mostly quotes a series of anonymous intelligence officials who say penetrating al-Qaeda would be next to impossible. [Washington Post, 3/20/2008] Whitlock’s article ignores numerous reports that al-Qaeda has repeatedly been penetrated by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. For instance:
In 2002, US News and World Report reported, “Once thought nearly impossible to penetrate, al-Qaeda is proving no tougher a target than the KGB or the Mafia—closed societies that took the US government years to get inside.” An unnamed US intelligence official said: “We’re getting names, the different camps they trained at, the hierarchy, the infighting. It’s very promising” (see September 22, 2002).
In 2004, author Ronald Kessler wrote, “Often, the CIA used operatives from Arab intelligence services like those of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other countries to infiltrate bin Laden’s organization.” He quoted a longtime CIA officer who said, “Egyptians, Jordanians, [and] Palestinians penetrated the bin Laden organization for us. It’s B.S. that we didn’t” (see Before September 11, 2001).
In 2006, journalist Ron Suskind reported that by late 2002, the CIA had developed “a source from within Pakistan who was tied tightly into al-Qaeda management.” He also noted that other informants had been recruited since 9/11, and commented, “It has been generally acknowledged that the United States does not have any significant human sources… inside al-Qaeda. That is not true” (see Late 2002).
In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet claimed that the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan by 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). He also claimed that “a group of assets from a Middle Eastern service” sharing information with the CIA penetrated al-Qaeda, and some of them penetrated al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
In February 2008, the New York Times reported that French intelligence had an informant that penetrated al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region (see Late January 2008).
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