France's top recruiter for the terrorist organization known as the Islamic State group, ISIS or Daesh, is set to go on trial in Paris this week. The trial for the alleged recruiter and ranking Islamic State group member, Salim Benghalem, will be conducted in absentia, as the suspect is believed to be in Syria. Five other operatives accused of participating in Benghalem’s terror network will stand trial in Paris.
The trial was the latest effort in a police crackdown in France after a series of coordinated terror attacks rocked Paris Nov. 13, killing 130 and wounding several hundred more. French police forces have conducted over 2,000 raids and made 210 arrests of suspected militants in the two weeks since the attacks, according to French Prime Minister Manuel Valls.
Authorities said Benghalem, 35, is the leader of the Buttes-Chaumont terrorist network that included Said and Cherif Kouachi, the brother attackers responsible for the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in January that left 12 dead in Paris.
Benghalem recruited some of the more than 1,500 French citizens who have fled to Syria to join the Islamic State group or other militant organizations, making France the country producing more foreign fighters than anywhere else in Europe. Around 5 million Muslims live in France, many of whom describe feeling disenfranchised from the rest of the nation, making them a prime target for extremist recruiters.
The following tweet shows a photo that reportedly depicts Benghalem in Syria, published in the French newspaper Le Monde.
— Le Monde (@lemondefr) December 1, 2015
The alleged French recruiter grew up outside of Paris and was imprisoned for several years, beginning in 2007 for involvement in gang violence. He was released in 2011 and fled to Syria with his family in 2013. His wife, who has since returned to France with her children, spoke to Le Parisien newspaper on condition of anonymity, describing her husband as becoming "fatalistic and insensitive to death." He told her that if he returned to France it would only be to "try and cause maximum damage," she said.
Some authorities suspect Benghalem was the real mastermind of the Paris attacks, the Local reported. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, an extremist who was killed in police raids carried out on Nov. 18 in the suburb of Saint-Denis, had been described as the orchestrator of the attacks.