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The Guantanamo Four By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Their names: Mourad Benchellali, Nizar Sassi, Brahim Yadel and Imad Achab Kanouni.

Their current status: captured in Afghanistan by US forces, the four—all of whom are French citizens or residents— were held at Camp Guantanamo for over two years. That is, until last month, when they were sent back to France and placed under arrest on charges of “criminal association with the intent of committing acts of terrorism” and, more specifically, of membership in the terrorist “Chechen connection.”

The case of these four men is typical of the terrorists held at Guantanamo and thus, deserves some examination. While we are constantly being told by “human rights” activists that the prisoners at Guantanamo are “ illegally” held, and that many, if not all are “innocent” and have been mistreated by the Americans, the reality is something far different.

Mourad Benchellali, a high school dropout, is a member of a well-known Islamist family that is deeply involved in terrorism. His father, Chellali, was a radical imam in a suburb of Lyons, a would-be combatant in Bosnia (he was captured by the Croatians), a polygamist and, in more general terms, a complete failure. Indeed, he could not hold a job and for a long time lived on welfare (at about $1,200 a month at current exchange rates). That gave him the time necessary to be involved on behalf of the then-main terrorist group in Algeria, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).


Mourad’s brother, Menad, also currently under arrest, is accused of having played a key role in an attempted terrorist attack in France in 2002. He was trained in Afghanistan, and like his father before him, tried and failed to join a jihad, this time in Chechnya (he was caught by the Georgians before even getting there). It was Menad who gave Mourad false travel documents that allowed him to travel to London and then to Afghanistan together with Nizar Sassi, another of Menad’s recruits. Once there, Mourad joined an Al Qaeda training camp, fought against U.S. forces and was captured.


Menad, joined by yet another Benchellali brother, Hafed, was involved in a number of crimes, including payroll theft, according to The New York Times. [1] Hafed was involved with the Abu Musab al-Zarqawi network, which now leads the terror campaign in Iraq. Also according to the New York Times, “the police have found links between both Menad and Hafed and suspected terrorist cells in Spain and London, including one that succeeded in producing an undetermined quantity of ricin.”


Nizar Sassi, a night watchman, is described in the French press as Mourad Benchellali’s “double.” He was recruited by Chellali Benchellali, received false travel documents from Mourad, got Al Qaeda training in Afghanistan (under the cover of “studying in Quran school” in Pakistan), and, like Mourad, was of Algerian extraction. 


Imad Achab Kanouni is described in the French press as “the most mysterious and interesting” of the Guantanamo Four. A Moroccan with dual citizenship, he has lived mostly in Germany, where he was involved in firefights with police and was accused of being part of a terrorist plot in Strasbourg. Interestingly, his lawyer claims that he was in Afghanistan just to study the Quran (Taliban-style, of course).


Lastly, Brahim Yadel, who claims to only want to enjoy his first Coca Cola in two years, is French-born and well known to the police. He was a close friend of a French convert to Islam, Hervé Djamel Loiseau, who died of exposure while fleeing Tora Bora in 2001. Yadel has been accused of involvement in an attempted terror attack during the World Soccer Cop in France in 1998, and sentenced in absentia to a year in prison. According to another Islamist (and convert), Willy Brigitte, Yadel was trained in one of Bin Laden’s Afghan camps. He was captured in Tora Bora and delivered to the US forces.


His lawyer claims that, although Yadel did spend three-and-a-half months in a terrorist raining camp, he also spent seven months in an “Arab language Institute” in Kandahar – the Taliban’s headquarters. The implication is, obviously, that his primary goal was to improve his education, and terrorist training was just a hobby.


All four men were examined by doctors upon arrival in France and found to be in good physical condition. Their lawyers have tried, so far without success, to get them released on grounds that they have already suffered enough at the hands of the evil Americans, and they consistently mention the Abu Ghraib episode as “proof” of this. Why is all this important? Because the entire episode demonstrates the nature of Islamic terrorism itself and the problems faced by those fighting terrorism.


Let us start with the obvious: all four men were French citizens—born in France, trained in Afghanistan—and captured there as well. All four had extensive police records; and all four were part of an Islamist terrorist movement based in France and Germany, with close ties to London (in addition, the Benchellali clan and, by implication, Nizar Sassi, were directly linked to Algerian terrorism). All were implicated in international terrorism in the Balkans and/or Afghanistan, but also in Western Europe. The four men’s backgrounds reaffirm that Islamist terror has no borders, and its best operatives are not the millions of largely illiterate sympathizers in Muslim majority countries but those born and bred in the West—something Al Qaeda itself admits.


Sociologically, the four are personal failures – unable and/or unwilling to hold jobs, poor or insufficiently educated, all with petty crime records, and, in the Benchellali case, a dysfunctional and already radicalized family environment. 


Legally, the arguments already presented by the four terrorists’ lawyers are telling, and should be seen as a preview of things to come in U.S. courts. First, “study” in Islamist “schools” is a perfectly legitimate way of hiding terrorist indoctrination and indeed terrorist training. Second, alleged “abuse” by the evil Americans at Guantanamo plays to an increasingly intense anti–American atmosphere in Europe (expect Abu Ghraib to become standard defense as well).


If all Guantanamo detainees are as “innocent” as the French four, the entire world should thank Washington for taking out of business some 600 professional terrorists, notwithstanding the “human rights” fundamentalists’ baseless claim that Guantanamo is a torture center. Medically, the four had nothing to show as far as “torture” is concerned – unless, that is, denial of access to Coca Cola is indeed “torture” under  “international standards” as defined by Amnesty International.


Ultimately, the “Guantanamo Four” are a symbol of the West’s ability to deal with Islamist terror, and, unpleasant as the French may be for most Americans, it is clearly better that the standards be set in Paris than elsewhere in “old” Europe. On the other hand, those still claiming that the detainees in Guantanamo are “victims” rather than actual or potential terrorists, should face the reality that defending them is not defending law or Western moral and legal standards, but defending crime. 




[1] CRAIG S. SMITH, Web of Jihad Draws In an Immigrant Family in France, the New York Times, July 31, 2004

Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

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