One of the attackers in Friday night’s Paris massacres was a French ISIL recruit, whose father traveled all the way to Syria in 2013 in a futile attempt to get him to give up jihad.
Frenchman Samy Amimour, 28, was identified today (Nov. 16) as one of the attackers at the Bataclan theater, where at least 80 people were killed on Nov. 13. Amimour was investigated by French police for terrorism in 2012, but dropped off the radar in 2013. Now, an old article from the archives of French newspaper Le Monde reveals where Amimour was for at least part that time, through the heartbreaking story of his father’s journey to find him.
In December 2014, Le Monde published the account of Mohamed (link in French), a 67-year-old French-Algerian salesman devastated by his son’s recruitment by ISIL in Syria. (His son, now known to be Samy Amimour, was originally identified only by the pseudonym Khader.) Fearing for his son’s future, and knowing that Samy would be arrested by if he ever tried to return to France, Mohamed explained that he made a round trip to Syria, hoping to convince his son to leave the caliphate and settle in Algeria.
In June 2013, Mohamed flew from France to Istanbul, then traveled to the border town of Gaziantep. From there, Samy arranged for his father to be smuggled through a minefield into Syria, along with “men, women, children, Russians, Europeans, North Africans,” Mohamed told Le Monde. They arrived in the ISIL stronghold Minbej, just north of Aleppo.
Once reunited with his son, Mohamed tried to offer money, and passed Samy a letter from his mother. But their meeting was supervised by an ISIL member:
“He was with another man who never left us alone. Our reunion was very cold. [My son] didn’t invite me back to his house, he didn’t say how he had been wounded nor whether he had been fighting.”
The two fighters showed Mohamed gory videos, and later sent him out to see the caliphate with two other French recruits on an ISIL patrol. “They don’t speak good French,” Mohamed later recounted. “People say, ‘They’re mercenaries, and yet they come to make the law among us.'”
Two days later, his mission to rescue his son a failure, Mohamed began the trip back through Turkey to France. At no point was Mohamed stopped or questioned during his return, he said.
News came later that Samy had married, but neither Mohamed nor his wife gave up hope. “[My wife] wants to go back there with me,” Mohamed told Le Monde at the time. “Perhaps she will be able to convince him.”
Jean-Christophe Lagarde, the mayor of Drancy, where Samy grew up, described him as a well-behaved, shy, and athletic boy, in a Nov. 16 interview with newspaper Libération (link in French). Lagarde blames a local mosque for radicalizing Amimour at the age of 22, when his mother reportedly began to complain, “I can’t talk to him anymore, he forbids us from watching television, he forces us to wear the veil.”