Concern Mounting as France Prepares to Release Jailed Islamist, Mentor to ‘Hypercacher’ Killer
As the French government prepares for the imminent release of a leading Al Qaeda terror strategist and ideologue, concern is mounting over where he will be located once out of jail.
Djamel Beghal, 52, is set to be released from Vezin prison in northwestern France by August 5. The Algerian national — whose terrorist connections included Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who shot dead four Jewish hostages during an armed siege at a Hypercacher supermarket in Paris on Jan, 9, 2015 — has been active in Islamist circles in Europe since the 1990s.
Beghal is coming to the end of a prison sentence that began in 2005, with a ten-year conviction for plotting bomb attacks against targets including the US Embassy in Paris. In 2013, Beghal received an additional ten years for his part in the attempted escape from prison of Smaïn Aït Ali Belkacem, a leader of Algeria’s notoriously brutal Armed Islamic Group (GIA) who is serving a life sentence in France.
During his time in the Fleury-Mérogis prison near Paris, Beghal mentored Chérif Kouachi, the terrorist who went on to carry out, with his brother Said, the deadly terrorist attack against the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine on Jan. 5, 2015. Through Chérif Kouachi, Beghal came into contact with Amedy Coulibaly, whose armed siege at the Hypercacher market completed the week of terror around the French capital launched by the Kouachi brothers.
Coulibaly, who was killed by French armed police following a siege that lasted several hours, had been known to the French authorities for some time. Arrested in 2010, he told interrogators on that occasion that he knew and respected Beghal, describing the Algerian as someone who had made a deep impression on him during an earlier term in prison. In the days after the January 2015 attacks, Beghal’s role as principal guide and adviser to the Kouachis and Coulibaly was extensively highlighted by a stunned French media.
Beghal is regarded as among the most dangerous of the 450 Islamist terrorists who will be released from French prisons by the end of 2019. Beghal is also banned from entering the United Kingdom, where his wife and four children still live after the family moved there in 1997. It was during his residency in the English city of Leicester that Beghal emerged as a key Al Qaeda recruiter in Europe, at one point traveling to Afghanistan for a meeting with the late Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
The French Justice Ministry plans to deport Beghal to Algeria, although it has yet to secure the agreement of the North African country’s government. Last month, French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said that Beghal would remain under house arrest in France if Algeria refuses to take him. “What’s important is that these people are under constant surveillance,” Belloubet said.
French President Emmanuel Macron famously declared in an August 2017 policy speech that combating Islamist terrorism remained his country’s chief international concern.
“Providing security for our citizens means that the fight against Islamist terrorism is our first priority,” Macron said at a meeting of more than 200 French diplomats.