A famous figure of Salafism in Belgium, Jean-Louis Denis was arrested in Benin and deported to Brussels, where he arrived on Sunday February 5. Apprehended two days earlier for speeding in Tourou, in central Benin, this 49-year-old man intended, he says, to develop an agriculture and permaculture project by doing his hijra – namely to join a “land of Islam”.
Presented to a special prosecutor responsible in particular for terrorism cases, he could not have provided any information as to the financing of his initiative to “eco-Muslim village”. Enough to feed the mistrust of the Beninese authorities towards an individual previously suspected of recruitment for armed jihad and sentenced in Belgium to five years in detention for disseminating Salafist propaganda.
Like other states in the Gulf of Guinea, Benin has been affected since 2021 by an increase in terrorist attacks in the area adjacent to its border with Niger and Burkina Faso. Jean-Louis Denis, who has been traveling in the country in recent months, has, according to sources within the Belgian security services, been able to serve as a recruiter for terrorist organizations.
“Devote my life to Allah”
The person concerned has been in the sights of the Belgian police for fifteen years. A former cook who converted to Islam in 2005, he became a disseminator of radical Islamist propaganda and he led the Brussels wing of the Sharia4Belgium movement, created in Antwerp, which advocated the establishment of an Islamic republic subject to Sharia. in Belgium. Recognized as a terrorist group by the courts in 2016, the organization would have favored the departure for the Syrian front of a few dozen fighters.
In 2012, Jean-Louis Denis was arrested in Molenbeek, near Brussels, during riots following the identity check of a woman wearing a full veil. The demonstrators denounced an abuse of the police forces and Sharia4Belgium attacked Belgium’s ban on the niqab. The leader of the movement, Fouad Belkacem, explained at the time that “Servants of the Devil” who had controlled the young woman heard “war on Muslims”.
Incarcerated from 2013 to 2018 in the high security prison of Ittre, in Walloon Brabant, Jean-Louis Denis was first sentenced to ten years in prison, but he escaped, on appeal, the incrimination of leader of a terrorist group. On his release, claiming to want ” devote [sa] life to Allah”he had obviously not given up on his ideas, declaring that the section in which he had been detained was a place of “psychological torture” only doing “strengthen people in their convictions”. He described himself as “even more radical” than before his incarceration.
A charitable project
Fearing that he would resume his activities as a preacher, Catherine Moureaux, the burgomaster (mayor) of Molenbeek, issued a ban on him from staying in the town. After disputes with another mayor, that of the municipality of Vilvoorde, in the Flemish suburbs of Brussels, Jean-Louis Denis resumed his activities by distributing books in the streets before discussing his project Hijra Permaculture Autonomie, addressed to “those who feel trapped in the clutches of the Western world and have become slaves to unbelievers”, according to the site he dedicated to him. And so it is in Benin, “a Christian country, but where the people are tolerant”, according to him, that he had planned to establish himself.
According to the daily The morningJean-Louis Denis had the support of some two hundred sympathizers and would have collected around 10,000 euros before leaving “prospecting”. For Pieter Van Ostaeyen, Belgian specialist in terrorism and professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, the videos broadcast by the person concerned from Africa “give off the same atmosphere as the first images of the Islamic State, which only evoked charitable actions”. “The fact that Denis wants to settle in Benin seems to me anything but a coincidence”says Van Ostayen.
The new activities of the Salafist militant have, in any case, attracted the attention of the Belgian services. Jean-Louis Denis also accused them, shortly after his return, of being behind the failure of his project and of having provided information to the Beninese authorities.