Journalist films aspiring militants in covert operation

French reporter, a Muslim, documents youths as they plot attack in the name of ISIS

PARIS • A French journalist infiltrated a cell of would-be militants, filming them with a hidden camera as they plotted an attack in the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), before they were arrested.

The journalist, a Muslim using the pseudonym Said Ramzi, said he carried out the investigation for a documentary entitled "Allah's Soldiers", which gives an insight into the minds of young militants.

Ramzi describes himself as a Muslim "of the same generation as the killers" who carried out the Nov 13 terror attacks that left 130 people dead in Paris.

"My goal was to understand what was going on inside their heads," he told Agence France-Presse. "One of the main lessons was that I never saw any Islam in this affair. No will to improve the world. Only lost, frustrated, suicidal, easily manipulated youths."

Ramzi said that after interacting with those preaching militarism on Facebook, he then had to meet the person presented as the "emir" of the group of about a dozen youths, some of them born into Muslim families, and the others converts.

MANIPULATED YOUTHS

One of the main lessons was that I never saw any Islam in this affair. No will to improve the world. Only lost, frustrated, suicidal, easily manipulated youths.

SAID RAMZI, the French journalist using a pseudonym, on what he found out during his stint undercover.

This took place in Chateauroux, a town in the centre-west of France, at an outdoor activities centre that was deserted in winter.

The "emir" was a young French- Turkish citizen named Oussama, and at their first meeting he tries to convince the journalist he knows as Abu Hamza that paradise awaits him if he carries out a suicide mission. "Towards paradise, that is the path," Oussama says, a chilling smile on his face.

"Come, brother, let's go to paradise, our women are waiting for us there, with angels as servants."

During another meeting, in front of a mosque in the Paris suburb of Stains, a member of the group points to an airplane approaching the nearby Bourget airport.

"With a little rocket launcher, you can easily get one of them... you do something like that in the name of Dawla (ISIS), and France will be traumatised for a century."

Some of the gang members, like Oussama, try to reach ISIS. He was arrested by Turkish police and handed back to France where he spent five months in jail before being released. While he had to show his face at the local police station once a day under his release conditions, he stayed in touch with the group via encrypted messaging application Telegram to organise meetings at which plans to launch an attack took form.

"We must hit a military base," says Oussama. "When they are eating, they are all lined up... ta-ta-ta-ta-ta," he added, mimicking the sound of automatic gunfire.

Things accelerate when a certain Abu Suleiman returns from Raqqa, ISIS' capital in Syria, and tells the journalist to meet him at a train station. Once there, it is not Suleiman - whom the journalist never meets - but a woman in a full-faced veil who shows up and hands Ramzi a letter.

The message lays out a plan of attack: target a nightclub, shoot "until death", wait for security forces and set off an explosives vest.

However, the security noose tightens around the group at this point, and several members are arrested.

One who avoided arrest sends a message to the journalist saying: "You're done for man."

"That is where my infiltration ended," said Ramzi. The documentary was due to air in France last night.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2016, with the headline 'Journalist films aspiring militants in covert operation'. Print Edition | Subscribe