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Bringing Jihad Home to Europe

Officials fear Islamic militants are traveling to fight in Iraq and then returning with battle training and a passion to harm the West.

September 23, 2005|By Sebastian Rotella | Times Staff Writer

The Delaema case, laid out in court documents filed in Washington, illustrates the obstacles. Dutch investigators had wiretapped him, according to court documents, and he provided hard evidence against himself in the videotapes that he filmed in Iraq and distributed among extremists in the Netherlands, officials say.

But the Dutch had become worried that they could not keep him in custody when U.S. authorities hurriedly sought charges under laws covering crimes against Americans overseas. A grand jury in Washington indicted Delaema Sept. 9 — the first U.S. criminal case filed against a suspect accused of insurgent violence in Iraq.

Delaema, 32, was born in Fallouja, according to U.S. court documents. He moved to the Netherlands in the 1990s, said Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for prosecutors. Delaema obtained a Dutch passport and worked as a hairdresser. He learned Dutch well enough to appear as a contestant on the Dutch equivalent of "The Price Is Right," officials say.

Delaema returned to his homeland out of nationalism more than religious zealotry, investigators say.

As the insurgency heated up in October 2003, he trekked across Eastern Europe and Turkey to Iraq in his Dutch-registered Omega, officials say. A fellow Iraqi immigrant who appears in video footage of the trip has also been jailed, De Bruin said.

In Fallouja, Delaema narrated the ambush videotape, explaining the masked militants' tactics and displaying a remote-controlled mine, the documents say.

"Delaema gave a speech in Arabic in which he said that they were the 'Fighters of Fallouja,' " the documents say. "Delaema [said] that they will attack the Americans that day. Delaema claimed that they have done many attacks and that they were successful."

Delaema allegedly made half a dozen trips to Iraq, but investigators are certain of only one trip by car.

Back in Amersfoort, he busied himself with propaganda, recruitment and logistics for the insurgency, the indictment says. Wiretaps recorded phone conversations in which he encouraged fighters in Iraq to film attacks and send him the footage. He allegedly discussed providing camera equipment to them and raising money for relatives of a slain "martyr."

Dutch justice officials will have to decide whether to try him on Dutch charges or allow his extradition to the United States.

Although police found no sign that Delaema planned attacks in Europe, French authorities say they aborted a gathering threat in Montpellier.

The 35-year-old Bach was born in Khemisset, Morocco, and has a wife and three children. He worked part-time as a truck driver and lived in La Paillade, an outlying district that the municipal government of this cheerful, youthful city has striven to keep from becoming a slum.

Maintenance crews were recently at work sprucing up the verdant, sun-splashed street of the housing project where the family lives, near a day-care center, City Hall branch and police substation. Gleaming blue commuter trams glided past a high-ceilinged market offering meat prepared in accordance with Muslim guidelines and counters heaped with figs, dates, olives and apricots. Outside, stands were brimming with discount clothes and appliances. Men sipped tea and chatted in Arabic at a cluster of cafe tables in the center of the bustling market.

Bach was active in the fundamentalist Salafist movement, investigators say. After the U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, Bach took part in meetings around Montpellier at which North Africans said the time had come to defend Islam in Iraq, sources close to the case say.

"You had the whole ideological palette represented at the meetings, from reasonable to rather romantic to violent," said one of the sources. "Bach says that he decided after the invasion of Iraq he could no longer be a spectator. It was his duty as a Muslim to go and fight."

Bach became part of a small group led by Hamza Safi, a fellow Moroccan who had fought in Iraq in 2003, French and Italian investigators say. After returning to Montpellier, Safi remained in phone contact with an insurgent leader in Iraq who had been responsible for numerous deaths there, investigators say.

Safi and Bach traveled to Aleppo, Syria, in June 2004. They stayed with a militant identified as Mohammed whose role was to get them to an insurgent training facility in Iraq, officials say. Most of the approximately 30 militants known to have left France for Iraq went via Syria, often spending time at Koranic schools there that serve as way stations and provide cover stories, a senior French intelligence official said.

Mohammed told Bach to carry out a suicide bombing in the combat zone, say investigators, who describe it as an example of militant leaders' quick, efficient screening of recruits.

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