As It Happens

'Terrorism is based on the frustration of people,' says Belgian father of one-time jihadist

A father who once chased his son all the way to Syria to try to bring him home from fighting for ISIS says that fighting terrorist recruitment is almost an impossible task.
Dimitri Bontinck (R) takes part in a meeting in Brussels on May 30, 2013, with other parents of Belgian young men who left to fight with rebels in Syria. (Nicolas Maeterlinck/AFP/Getty Images)

Investigators said that several of the suspects in the Paris attacks lived and planned out their violence in Belgium.

It is the place where Abdelhamid Abaaoud, said to be the main plotter, was raised.  

This doesn't surprise Dimitri Bontinck – the Belgian father whose son, Jejoen, went to Syria to fight with ISIS in 2013.

Jeojen later said that at the time he expected to be "martyred within a short time and would go to paradise."

The young man eventually returned to Belgium, but that was not until after his father went to Syria himself to try and bring him back. Bontinck spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about his work with other families of young people who have been recruited by ISIS.

Here is an edited excerpt from their conversation:
Jejoen Bontinck, who was suspected of being a member of 'Sharia4Belgium,' arrives at the trial of the group in Antwerp September 30, 2014. Belgian prosecutors accused 46 members of Islamist group Sharia4Belgium of belonging to a terrorist organisation and brainwashing young men in Belgium into fighting a holy war in Syria. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

Carol Off: Mr. Bontinck, you call it a cult and a sect. This is ISIS, these are militants, different names for them, but what does your son say about his experiences with those men?

Dimitri Bontinck: He described them very well. The modus operandi. How they selected and recruited him. How they indoctrinated him to send him to a conflict area like Syria and then used him, like all these Western children. Separate from that, I started as a consultant. I have my own website where many different parents from worldwide contact me. Believe me, there is no difference between the profile of my son and other victims of this international cult, this international sect.

CO: How difficult was it for your son to get out?

DB: This was very difficult because it was very hard work for us to negotiate with the Islamic State. I think it totally took around six months before they released him. It was very difficult because most of the youngsters they are insulated with ISIS. It's very easy to go there and join them, but, if you change your mind, to return this is the most difficult step.

CO: [Wednesday] morning there was a raid. They thought they were going to get Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Saleh Abd al-Salam. What insights do you have because they seem to have been freely travelling back and forth between Europe and Syria?

DB: Yes, and there are international red lights to try to stop them, but it's clear really to stop this problem with ISIS there is only one solution. It's 'five to 12.' It's time for politicians to take responsibility. To give more budgets, more workers, more technology for secret services and intelligence service. That's the only way to stop this problem.

Dimitri Bontinck, father of co- defendant and key witness Jejoen Bontinck, speaks with the press at the main courthouse in Antwerp, Belgium on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015. Dozens of Belgians were on trial, accused of leading or being members of a terrorist organization that allegedly recruited fighters for jihadi groups in Syria. (Virginia Mayo/AP)

CO: How different were these men from your son then? How was he able to leave this radical world and get out of it?

DB: Totally different. My son left all this behind him. Because of my action. Because of my responsibility. Believe me, if I didn't go to Syria, I would never have my son back.

CO: Do you think anything could have stopped Abdelhamid Abaaoud from doing what he was doing?

DB: Yes. No doubt about it. It all started from the foundation of terrorism. Terrorism is based on the frustration of people. If you know people are frustrated, well, then try to help them. But I'm sorry to say, in the village in Molenbeek, near Brussels, where many of them come from, where many of them have their roots, I don't see many opportunities for work or to get jobs. When you're going to Molenbeek, you see a ghetto where people are frustrated . . . these people are going to be radicalized.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

UPDATE: After this interview aired, Paris officials reported that Abdelhamid Abaaoud was killed during the police raid.

To hear the full interview please click on the Listen audio link above.

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