Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 12:33-37

A Tree Is Known by Its Fruit

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”


In last week’s reading (Matthew 12:22-32) Jesus said that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit brings eternal condemnation.

He was speaking to the Pharisees, who accused Him of having satanic power. That, He said, was a grievous sin against the Holy Spirit.

In today’s reading our Lord continued His message to the Pharisees. He said that one knows a tree by its fruit (verse 33). ‘Make’ in this context may refer to a graft or tending the tree. Where people are concerned, Matthew Henry explains, our words manifest our true natures (emphases mine):

Where grace is the reigning principle in the heart, the language will be the language of Canaan and, on the contrary, whatever lust reigns in the heart it will break out diseased lungs make an offensive breath: men’s language discovers what country they are of, so likewise what manner of spirit they are of: “Either make the tree good, and then the fruit will be good get pure hearts and then you will have pure lips and pure lives or else the tree will be corrupt, and the fruit accordingly. You may make a crab-stock to become a good tree, by grafting into it a shoot from a good tree, and then the fruit will be good but if the tree be still the same, plant it where you will, and water it how you will, the fruit will be still corrupt.” Note, Unless the heart be transformed, the life will never be thoroughly reformed. These Pharisees were shy of speaking out their wicked thoughts of Jesus Christ but Christ here intimates, how vain it was for them to seek to hide that root of bitterness in them, that bore this gall and wormwood, when they never sought to mortify it. Note, It should be more our care to be good really, than to seem good outwardly.

Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers (verse 34), an allusion to Satan and evil serpents. He said this not only in front of them but also the crowd that was present. It’s a strong and damning statement. Earlier, John the Baptist used the phrase in his own ministry (Luke 3:7).

John MacArthur analyses this wording for us:

What does the phrase mean? A viper is the name of a poisonous snake, and that’s the perspective of the passage. The Lord would have been well-acquainted with the many snakes in the land of Palestine; they ranged from very small to large vipers. The majority of them were sort of small, and common in the desert. In fact, their color even hid them and they sometimes looked like dead branches, or like the soil around. Sometimes they would hide beneath rocks or trees, in the shade or in caves, and a man would unwarily come near. They would clamp their teeth into a man and sink them in, pumping in the poison and clinging to the individual’s flesh. That was the case in Acts 28:3, where the Apostle Paul had a viper bite and cling to him, unwilling to release itself. Job spoke of the tongue of the viper that will kill, and that’s the idea. They are dangerous, poisonous snakes.

Why does He select vipers? Because they were perhaps the most dangerous creature in that part of the world; they were the subtlest to be sure, the most deceitful. I also think that they represent the Old Serpent himself, Satan, the Devil – the original snake in Eden. He is the father of these other vipers, if you will. They descended from the Devil himself. They were filled with the poison of deadly legalism, self-righteousness, fatal hypocrisy, treachery, and moral filth. They pumped that into their victims.

The word ‘brood’ could also be translated ‘generation.’ It could mean generation in the sense that they were generated of Satan, or it could also be the idea of a brood. These snakes were produced out of their mothers at a rate of 12-50 in volume. Whenever this little group of Pharisees appeared, they looked to Jesus like a brood of snakes, all co-mingled together with evil, poisonous intent. So Jesus calls them subtle killers with poisoned tongues.

Jesus said that the mouth reveals what is in the heart. The speech of a good person will be good. An evil person’s speech will be bad: if not at first, eventually it will be (verse 35). Henry explains:

The complete Christian in this bears the image of God, that he both is good, and does good.

… It is the character of an evil man, that he has an evil treasure in his heart, and out of it bringeth forth evil things. Lusts and corruptions dwelling and reigning in the heart are an evil treasure, out of which the sinner brings forth bad words and actions, to the dishonour of God, and the hurt of others.

Jesus then warned that on the Last Day, we will be judged by our words (verses 36, 37). Our words reveal our fruits of faith or otherwise. MacArthur says:

What this says is not to obviate or negate salvation by grace through faith, but simply to show you that salvation by grace through faith will demonstrate itself in good works and good words, so that they become the objective criteria by which God can make that judgment.

The words of men are accurate gagues of their hearts; if you have a transformed heart and Jesus Christ has come into your life and transformed your heart, then you will speak words by which God will justify you. If Christ has never changed your heart, then you will speak words by which God will condemn you.

This does not mean we’re not saved by grace. We are saved by grace through faith, that not of works, lest any man should boast. But the next verse says, Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

We are saved by grace through faith unto works and words. The works and the words prove that the faith has been there. So God can look objectively at your words and know whether you’ve been redeemed, and so can you. If you have any question about whether you’re saved, listen to yourself when you talk when no one is around, or when you’re angry, irritated, upset, or thoughtless. Words will reveal what is in your heart.

This also relates to idle, incessant talking that serves no purpose and often leads to gossip. Henry cautions us:

We must shortly account for these idle words[;] they will be produced in evidence against us, to prove us unprofitable servants, that have not improved the faculties of reason and speech, which are part of the talents we are entrusted with. If we repent not of our idle words, and our account for them be not balanced by the blood of Christ, we are undone.

We can pray for help in this regard. MacArthur says:

Our speech should be spiritual, wholesome, fitting, kind, sensitive, loving, purposeful, edifying, gentle, truthful speech, and we should pray what the psalmist prayed in Psalm 141:3, when he said, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.”

In the 1970s, he said that a survey of speech showed the average person spoke 25,000 words a day, which, if written down, would amount to between 50 and 60 pages of written text!

If we were to read a transcription of what we said today, what would the content reveal?

The truth of the matter is that the Lord is aware of what each of us has said. May we repent of idle speech which does not serve Him or spread the Gospel message.

Next time: Matthew 12:38-42


Fewzi Benhabib has lived in Saint-Denis for 21 years.

In 1994, the engineering professor and researcher moved from Oran, Algeria, after his colleague, Professor Abderrahmane Fardeheb had been assassinated by radical extremists. Fardeheb’s teenage daughter saw everything. He was taking her to her secondary school that morning.

At the time Benhabib had been working at the University of Oran for 20 years. In France, he was a professor at l’Université d’Orsay between 1994 and 1998. He was also a professor at l’École Nationale Supérieure de Cachan during those years. He then served as a research engineer at l’Université de Cergy-Pontoise until 2013. He now works for organisations supporting secularism and democracy and has been a member of l’Observatoire de la laïcité de Saint-Denis since 2009.

He wrote about Saint-Denis for the French newsweekly Marianne (16-26 November 2015, pp. 42-47). Excerpts and a summary follow, emphases and translation mine.

At first …

Although Benhabib was reluctant to leave Oran in 1994, he believed Algeria to be too dangerous. After the murder of his colleague, he feared he might be next.

When he applied for asylum and settled in Saint-Denis, he felt comfortable living there. It was (p. 42):

welcoming, tolerant; I could finally settle there with my family, sheltered from the islamist threats that accumulated in my letterbox. I was 48 years old …

I fled Algeria with sadness, but also with a deep conviction that in France I would never again be in the throes of political Islam.

Now …

In recent years, Benhabib does not like what he sees daily. Anxiety:

has taken hold of me once again. Saint-Denis no longer resembles what it was when I first arrived, and the tradition of human rights seem to be somewhere else.

He says that a socio-political division exists, one that reminds him of Algeria in the 1990s. He sees it in the streets and at the market, lamenting that the local politicians cannot see the rise of:

the project of an alternative society, one which is obscurantist and communitarian, breaking up the democratic cement of a pluralistic society …

it is a danger not just to my scientific mind but also for humanity in general, so much so that it is urgent to point it out — before it’s too late.

Women’s clothes

Benhabib is taken aback by the female attire in the streets, which is drab, uniform and fundamentalist:

On this unseasonably warm Sunday in November, where are the tank tops or short skirts? Everywhere I look, and I’m not dreaming this, there are veils, veils and more veils. Here, to my left, in front, behind me, they range from small ‘simple’ scarves from the old days to veils that cover the forehead or huge black veils from mullah country that cover the entire body, head to toe.

He asks:

Am I the only one to ask if the free choice of women to show their hair represents progress for humanity … ?

He describes the recent trend of fundamentalist women’s clothes shops, hardly the type of clothing

styled in the fashion houses of Paris, Milan or Miami.

Even very young girls are attired like this. Veils for little ones sell well at the local market.

He explains the danger (p. 43):

The fundamentalists are advancing, crab-like, yesterday in Algeria, today to a world away in Saint-Denis. The habit makes the monk, of course, and the political message of Islamically-correct clothes is underlined by the presence of books, between the niquabs and keffiehs — and not just any books. Between the ‘Wahhabite fashion’ and this literature, there’s a common point: proselytism by a politicised Islamist fringe which some, by ignorance or weakness, continue to confuse with the true message of the Koran. The goal of these two businesses is to keep ‘Muslims’ in the Islamist orbit to dominate the community and accentuate community fracture. This development separating cultures is at the heart of the practice of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West and they have the upper hand of the Dionysians [residents of Saint-Denis].

Women’s hair

Benhabib takes issue with the hairdressing salon —  mixte, notionally offering services to men and women, but, in reality, offering a room in the back for veiled women. The sign in the window reads (p. 44):

Separate room for the veiled woman.

He looked at the sign for some time, not quite believing his eyes. The owner, also from Oran, came out of the salon and told him:

When I opened this salon nine years ago, I wanted to call it ‘mixed’ because I like the word. But, here, it’s mixed because there is a special room for veiled women, where no one can see them.

He replied:

How did you get the idea to do the hair of veiled women in another room? I’ve never seen that, even in Oran.

The hairdresser said:

Surely, you’re not comparing Oran with Saint-Denis? Here, there are veiled women who don’t want to mix with others. That’s how I got the idea.

She doesn’t wear a veil:

They can take my head off. That’s just how I am.

Going out

Benhabib says that his friends visiting Saint-Denis from Alger or Sétif are shocked to see how women are boxed in socially and how little they enjoy themselves.

One said that even in Algerian marketplaces:

couples walk hand-in-hand.

Another said that it is normal for women in Algeria to go out with each other for a cup of tea or a soft drink. In Saint-Denis, that would be unusual.

Benhabib asks:

Saint-Denis outdoes Oran — this is normal?

Fast food

There is a halal fast-food restaurant called Mak d’Hal which not only sounds like the first two syllables of ‘McDonald’s’ but has also borrowed quite a few of their graphics. It has 100% halal burgers.

The ‘Greek’ restaurants are all halal, featuring kebabs.

Benhabib is agnostic when it comes to eating non-halal and pork. He and his family eat anything and everything:

My identity is pluralistic because the culture is mixed.

The school canteen questionnaire

Having no dietary requirements, however, does not always go down well with officialdom.

Benhabib’s daughter-in-law recently enrolled her son in first year of state primary school. She had to complete a form concerning school lunch. She ticked the box which said ‘everything’; he could and does eat all foods.

Soon after school started in September, a member of the school administration stopped her one day to express concern about ‘everything’. Did the mother realise that her son might be eating non-halal food?

A frustrated Benhabib asks (p. 45):

Why this question? Did he think she had misunderstood the question, as some illiterate mothers do, or was he implicitly reminding her of her Muslim duty? And are these people within their remit, these administrators, who also come out with ‘Greek’ sandwiches for Muslim children on days when pork is served? I dare to hope that the hierarchy — principal and the rest of the senior administration — ignores this initiative. I dare to hope this is not financed with public money. But, lately, my community has taught me to be distrustful. I thought I left all of these things behind 21 years ago.

The prayer room

The carefree and audacious way men gather for prayer at the Tawhid Centre also shocks Benhabib. The men arrange their prayer rugs in the road, obstructing vehicle traffic.

It was at this centre that the fundamentalist preacher Tariq Ramadan — darling of the Left and of university professors around the world (I know a few of them!) — started his

offensive on France at the beginning of this century.

This prayer room that some take for an ordinary mosque is the principal vector for the ideologisation of Islam and proselytism by the Muslim Brotherhood.

On paper, he explains, it looks as if they are only offering courses in Arabic. However, the course is supplemented by lessons in ‘Islamic sciences’ and an obligatory memorisation of the Koran.

The courses are also aimed at children. Benhabib surmises that the goal is to make the Arabic language first and foremost in their minds and to get them to follow a political agenda.

The fees are from €250 to €350 per student per year. The courses, he says, are created and further financed by North African countries.

Those who wish to earn a ‘diploma’ must pay between €1,000 and €1,500. Benhabib is aghast (p. 46):

I ask myself again: where do these notionally ‘poor’ families find the money to pay for these courses for their youngsters? Why this financial sacrifice, facilitated by scaled instalment payments, without any hope of proper professional qualifications at the end of it?

He warns that this type of ‘schooling’ deprives children and adolescents of learning critical thinking. In fact, they will learn instead to adopt the dogmatic thinking which runs contrary to that of the French republic.

The bookshop

One of the most fundamentalist bookshops, Samy, is located in rue du Jambon — Ham Street. The name has not yet changed!

Samy has no novels, no award-winning Arabic non-fiction, no volumes of poetry, no ancient Arab classics.

It features only fundamentalist literature which advocates narrow perspectives on family, society and politics. Here, Benhabib says:

the shutters on freedom of thought have come down with a bang.

He fears for the future. It is just this type of thing that caused him to leave Algeria:

This situation reminds me of Oran in the 1990s, when one of the first actions of the extremist mayor’s office was to close the conservatory of music, forbid music and dance, encourage the defacing of works of art, calling all of these outside influences brought in from elsewhere.

He notes that the newly-famous imam of Brest (Brittany), known for replying to hundreds of questions from young people online and in video, shares the same obscurantist views, saying:

music was made for monkeys and pigs.

Odd political alliances

The movers and shakers in Saint-Denis work with conservatives and leftists when the cause suits them.

Benhabib tells us that in 2013, the conservative organisation Civitas organised a conference in Saint-Denis opposing gender theory. He remembers who gladly provided security on the day (p. 47):

I could see it wasn’t conservative Catholics but bearded men from the Tawhid Centre.

At the city’s Institut Universitaire de Technologie, classes are now scheduled around prayer times.

When the Institute’s director, Samuel Mayol, dared to remind students of France’s values as a republic:

he became the object of a campaign of particularly violent intimidation, menacing letters, a vandalised car, then an assault, first in 2014, with a second during the past few weeks.

Police were slow to act or non-existent, Benhabib says. Left-wing councillors made no comment.

Many council offices — Socialist or Communist — in the larger borough of Seine-Saint-Denis no longer schedule meetings on Fridays, the Muslim day of prayer.


Benhabib is desperately trying to organise people to counter-act this militant tendency. He had held a meeting recently, but fundamentalists disturbed it, so it had to be abandoned. He will try again on December 3.

What he said is useful for non-Muslims to remember:

In the 1990s I saw my fellow Algerians similarly helpless against the redoubtable fundamentalist machine. Islamism progressed in a low voice, with tiny audacious steps, at first, fearful of offending anyone, before tumbling one day into terrorism and barbarity.




Recently, I had the pleasure of rediscovering one of my favourite stories from childhood thanks to Karina Sussanto and her post ‘The Golden Windows’.

‘The Golden Windows’ is online at The Baldwin Project where their content can also be used to teach children at home.

This delightful story by Laura E Richards will not take long to read to small children. The version I owned was in book form accompanied by pen and ink illustrations. It concerns a young farm boy of an earlier era who sought to find the windows of gold he saw every evening — only to find upon his return in the late afternoon that his own house also had them.

Although it is not necessarily a Thanksgiving story, it is one of appreciation for what we have. It is one of the few I’ve remembered all my life. I used to read it over and over and over!

I hope that Jeanette from Jeanette’s Ozpix will pardon my borrowing her photo to illustrate this post. In the text accompanying her golden windows, Jeanette, too, makes the connection between them and giving thanks:

Look how rich we are!! We have golden windows in the new place!

… as we look back on this past year, let us reflect on all of God’s blessings… and see how rich we truly are!

“So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.

“He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.”

(Eph 1:6-7, NLT)

Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards, the author of ‘The Golden Windows’, was born in 1850 to Julia Ward Howe, author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and Dr Samuel Gridley Howe, abolitionist and founder of Boston’s Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind, now located in nearby Watertown.

LauraElizabethRichards.jpgLaura was named in honour of Dr Howe’s famous deaf-blind pupil Laura Bridgman. In 1871, she married Henry Richards. His family owned a paper mill in Gardiner, Maine, which he managed. Laura settled in Gardiner with her husband. Whilst he was at work, she raised seven children and became a prolific author. It is just as well she had plenty of paper to hand!

In 1917, Richards and her sister Maud Howe Elliott won a Pulitzer Prize for the biography of their mother, which they co-wrote. Elliott was also an author and had a great interest in fine art.

Laura Richards died in 1943 in Gardiner, Maine. Her sister Maud died five years later in Newport, Rhode Island.

thanksgiving greenlanternpressMay I take this opportunity to wish my American readers a very happy Thanksgiving!

My 2013 Thanksgiving post looked at the development of this tradition, which explains the absence of this holiday between the 17th century and the mid-19th century. It all came down to a letter from 1621 about the first Thanksgiving which surfaced in 1841. The post describes what happened at that initial celebration, including what was eaten and the sporting competition which followed.

Other posts for this day have explored the historical significance as many Americans know it: British Calvinists and American Indians together, George Washington’s First Thanksgiving Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving, a biblical perspective with a call for personal priorities and, lest we forget, a USMC chaplain’s poem remembering the troops who are serving the United States at this time. May we remember them in our prayers.

Besides the iconic feast at Plymouth, other American regions (e.g. Virginia and Florida) also had feasts of Thanksgiving which took place. That said, none have captured the imagination or spirit of the holiday as vividly as that in Massachusetts in 1621.

Wherever you are in the world today, have a great time with family and friends!

Yesterday’s post discussed Molenbeek, a district northwest of Brussels city centre, and home to an increasing number of terrorists and radicals, including those involved in the recent Paris attacks.

Incidentally, ‘beek’ is pronounced ‘beck’.

This second post focusses on what residents think of the terrorists, radicalisation and their reputation.

The 40% – a community worker writes

Molenbeek community worker Johan Leman wrote an article for The Guardian on November 17.

He says that ‘99%’ of the community support the police and will help the authorities once there is a clear plan of action.

Leman says that 40% of Molenbeek’s population is Moroccan. Most live in lower Molenbeek, while the more middle-class are in upper Molenbeek. Lower Molenbeek has an unemployment rate of 40%. The population is young. Any young Moroccan wanting to lose himself in society or evade the authorities can easily hide out there.

Although most households in Molenbeek are stable, the high unemployment rate contributes to radicalisation.

The devil makes work for idle hands.

A discussion on France’s RMC (radio) on the morning of November 23 also looked at the language problem that plays a part in unemployment. Les Grandes Gueules (‘The Big Mouths’) talked to Belgians ringing in. One journalist said that a number of these youths do not want to learn French. Consequently, they don’t attend school. That means they cannot learn the skills they need to get a job.

Molenbeek is far from a slum. Most of the homes, as you’ve probably seen on the news coverage, are neat and tidy. That said, one female journalist said she takes a taxi there and back. It just isn’t safe for a non-Muslim woman to walk around or rely on public transport there.

She also discussed the nationality issue. Whilst the terrorists are notionally native Belgians, many have close ties with Morocco. Other Molenbeek residents have dual nationality: Belgian and Moroccan. Their allegiance is often with Morocco, regardless of where they were born.

What residents say

The dozens of reporters from all over the world descending on Molenbeek have fascinated residents, as an article at France TV Info states. Translation mine below.

Journalist Kocila Makdeche interviewed the district’s younger residents in the wake of the Paris attacks. He has used assumed names.

Of Salah Abdelsam, Reda, one of those interviewed, said:

They haven’t cut him down yet! Seriously, Salah is strong.

Amir, 16, sounded ‘seditious’, Makdeche noted. Amir told the journalist:

Kalach, suicide vests — frankly, our guys are true gents.

A 22-year-old man, a friend of Amir’s, said:

Personally, I don’t believe any of it. It’s a conspiracy. I saw Salah just a week ago smoking hash in a basement near here.

However, not everyone is so enthusiastic or positive. A spectre hangs over the district.

Fouad Ben Abdelkader, 36, a teacher, said:

Since I’ve learned that the Abdelsam brothers have been behind all this, I haven’t been able to sleep. Because of Salah, everyone will think that Molenbeek is a cradle of terrorism.

The teacher has been working in Molenbeek for 15 years. He explained:

There really are preachers coming through here recruiting. For them, it’s very easy to manipulate these young people. They were born here and know nothing about Islam.

Karim, another man interviewed, knew the Abdelsam brothers well. They were hardly model Muslims:

At that time, we drank and went to visit prozzies together.

Hamza, 22, works as a repairman. He described the difficulty in getting a job:

It’s already been difficult for us. Now it will be even worse. Those who present a potential employer with a CV which has a Molenbeek address have a really hard time.

Ben Abdelkader agrees:

No work, no money, no girlfriend, no future. All this creates a lot of frustration. Imagine you’re in a room full of beautiful things, everything you desire, but you have no right to touch them. That’s exactly what the kids hanging out on the corners feel and resent. And, sometimes, the end is dramatic.

Le Mondes Brussels correspondent Jean-Pierre Stroobants visited Molenbeek on November 16 to interview residents. His interviews produced a mixture of denial and consternation.

Of one of the terrorists, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who died in the Saint-Denis shoot-out on November 18, one man said:

I know his father. He said he was ashamed of his eldest son.

A greengrocer criticised the terrorists whilst lamenting Molenbeek’s reputation:

They’re stupid, but, you know, I’ve lived here 30 years in a time without Daech and without attacks, yet, even then, others were pointing the finger at us.

A young man wearing a hoodie didn’t want to be overheard. Some distance away from other residents, he told the journalist:

Please understand that if a lot of young people are leaving for Syria it’s because no one is paying any attention to them other than fanatics. As for myself, I’ve completed my education. I speak French, Arabic and Dutch. But as far as getting work goes, I have to use a friend’s address, someone who doesn’t live in Molenbeek.

The journalist spotted a rare sight — a Belgian woman with her little boy. He overheard her saying:

Hold my hand, otherwise a bad man will take you away.

She told the journalist:

I come here for bargains, but I’m not very comfortable.


I don’t really think much will be done in the short term to change Molenbeek’s reputation.

That job has to come from within its community. However, as long as fundamentalist ideas and lifestyles proliferate among all generations, especially women, things will stay the same. Female attire signals what the local men think. There is a huge difference between what many of these women wear and the pretty shalwar kameez of subcontinental Asia.

Another issue is national allegiance. Dual nationality in itself is not a problem. However  … aligning oneself principally with the culture of another country, Morocco, so different to Belgium in so many ways, is not helping.

Home is where the heart is. One wonders what some Molenbeek residents consider to be home.

It might not be Belgium.

Brussels was on lockdown at the weekend.

People were told to stay at home. Public transport, cinemas and shopping centres were closed.

Today, The Telegraph says:

Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon told RTL radio however Belgium’s capital was not giving up completely. “Apart from the closed metro and schools, life goes on in Brussels, the public sector is open for business today, many companies are open,” Jambon said on Monday morning.

The city’s buses were running normally and many shops in the suburbs were open.

A police operation took place

in the Molenbeek area of the city, a district that has become a hotbed for radicalisation and where Salah Abdeslam grew up.

One of the properties raided in Molenbeek last night was reportedly the home of Salah Abdeslam’s maternal uncle.

Abdelsam is still on the run.

The wanted poster for Abdeslam Salah, wanted in connection with the terror attacks in Paris

He was thought to have been in Molenbeek last week after the Paris attacks.

Since the attacks, many of the Belgian police searches have taken place in this district, northwest of Brussels. Whilst parts of it are pleasantly middle class, other neighbourhoods are home to a number of Islamic radicals.

A photo journalist remembers Molenbeek

Teun Voeten is a cultural anthropologist and war photographer. He has gone where many would not dare to venture and has published books on the underground homeless of New York, the war in Sierra Leone and the drug violence in Mexico.

He recently wrote an article for the European edition of Politico in which he recalls the nine years he lived in Molenbeek, the last affordable district in Brussels.

A summary with excerpts follow. Emphases mine.

He says Molenbeek was affordable because of its bad reputation. However, I wonder whether dubious people flocked there because rents and property prices were low.

In any event, in 2005, Voeten was hopeful and idealistic:

My apartment, just across the canal from the city center, is close to the home where two suspects in the Paris attacks were based, and around the corner from where the shooter from the foiled Thalys attack in August had been staying.

I was part of a new wave of young urban professionals, mostly white and college-educated — what the Belgians called bobo, (“bourgeois bohémiens”) — who settled in the area out of pragmatism. We had good intentions. Our contractor’s name was Hassan. He was Moroccan, and we thought that was very cool. We imagined that our kids would one day play happily with his on the street. We hoped for less garbage on the streets, less petty crime. We were confident our block would slowly improve, and that our lofts would increase in value. (We even dared to hope for a hip art gallery or a trendy bar.) We felt like pioneers of the Far West, like we were living in the trenches of the fight for a multicultural society.

I, too, was once like that. Perhaps some people reading this are as well.

Things do not change. Nor did they for Voeten or his friends:

Slowly, we woke up to reality. Hassan turned out to be a crook and disappeared with €95,000, the entire budget the tenants had pooled together for our building’s renovation. The neighborhood was hardly multicultural. Rather, with roughly 80 percent of the population of Moroccan origin, it was tragically conformist and homogenous. There may be a vibrant alternative culture in Casablanca and Marrakech, but certainly not in Molenbeek.

Voeten is not the only person to point out that North African Muslim neighbourhoods are highly conformist and homogeneous. I will write another post with a summary of an Algerian university lecturer’s experience of Saint-Denis, which he says outdoes Oran (an Algerian city) in terms of sombre Islam.

Voeten left Molenbeek in 2014 because:

Over nine years, as I witnessed the neighborhood become increasingly intolerant. Alcohol became unavailable in most shops and supermarkets; I heard stories of fanatics at the Comte des Flandres metro station who pressured women to wear the veil; Islamic bookshops proliferated, and it became impossible to buy a decent newspaper. With an unemployment rate of 30 percent, the streets were eerily empty until late in the morning. Nowhere was there a bar or café where white, black and brown people would mingle. Instead, I witnessed petty crime, aggression, and frustrated youths who spat at our girlfriends and called them “filthy whores.” If you made a remark, you were inevitably scolded and called a racist. There used to be Jewish shops on Chaussée de Gand, but these were terrorized by gangs of young kids and most closed their doors around 2008. Openly gay people were routinely intimidated, and also packed up their bags.

The final straw was:

an encounter with a Salafist, who tried to convert me on my street. It boiled down to this: I could no longer stand to live in this despondent, destitute, fatalistic neighborhood.

Many of the bobos’ comments following the article are highly critical of Voeten. Voeten wrote in his article that others who have voiced concern or written about Molenbeek in a less than positive way have been vilified:

In 2006, Hind Fraihi, a young Flemish woman of Moroccan descent published “Undercover in Little Morocco: Behind the Closed Doors of Radical Islam.” Her community called her a traitor; progressive media called her a “spy” and a “girl with personal problems.”

In 2008, Arthur van Amerongen was tarred and feathered for “Brussels Eurabia,” and called a “Batavian Fascist” by a francophone newspaper. When he and I went back to Molenbeek in March and I subsequently described it as an “ethnic and religious enclave and a parochial, closed community” in an interview with Brussel Deze Week, that too provoked the wrath of progressive Belgium and an ensuing media storm.

Sadly, Voeten is now in the same boat.

Truth is a difficult thing to tell.

Terror links

On November 15, The Guardian had a good article on Molenbeek’s links to terror. A summary follows.

After the Paris attacks, the terrorists’ grey Polo parked near the Bataclan not only had Belgian plates but also a parking ticket in it. The ticket was issued in Molenbeek. That told police that IS were behind the attacks.

Even The Guardian article states that Molenbeek is home to ‘hardline clandestine Salafist cells’. They also have international terror connections, and not just with neighbouring France.

Since the Paris attacks, dozens of searches and arrests have taken place in Molenbeek.

Other terrorists who came from Molenbeek include Ayoub El-Khazzani who opened fire on the Thalys train in August, Mehdi Nemmouche who killed three people at Brussels’s Jewish Museum in 2014 and, back in 2003, one of the men involved in the horrific Madrid attacks.

Another Guardian article reveals that Molenbeek’s deputy mayor Ahmed El Khannouss denied extremism, calling such accusations ‘stigmatisation’.

Molenbeek has 22 mosques, but even El Khannouss admitted that radicalisation is taking place not so much there but in any number of private prayer rooms in the community.

Still, he maintained that linking local people to radicalism is ‘dangerous’.

Perhaps perspectives like the deputy mayor’s, the bobos’ and the media’s are part of the reason security forces have not hit Molenbeek harder up to now. Such moves would have been considered stigmatising and unfair. The terrorists know this, and they can operate with impunity.

Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel acknowledges the weakness of the security forces with regard to Molenbeek and pledged that they would ‘have to get repressive’.

The media say that Belgium, because of its Dutch-speaking Flemish and French-speaking Walloon population, has a problem when it comes to governing and policing. The Flemish and Walloons have always had difficulties in finding common socio-political ground.

Other commentators point a finger at Brussels’s city administration, broken up into several boroughs, each with its own mayor. Yet, other large cities — London and Paris, to name but two — also have the same set up, which works well.

I think there is a real fear of reprisals if anyone tries to ‘do something’ about Molenbeek. And the terrorists know that.

Tomorrow: people on the streets of Molenbeek speak

Friday’s post described the morning-long shoot-out in Saint-Denis, home to the basilica where French kings are buried and to the Stade de France.

This second post concludes the story. Translations and emphases mine below.

Public reaction

The Nouvel Observateur, l’Obs, interviewed several Saint-Denis residentsdionysiens, as they are called.

Mohammed, in his 50s and originally from Algeria, lives near the scene of the attacks. He said the gunfire alarmed him, his wife and their baby:

This country doesn’t deserve this. What’s more, I have to go to work later this morning and can’t get there because there’s no transport. Normally, here, we lead quiet lives in a nation of liberty. We seek peace. Vive la France et vive la République!

One father decided not to explain to his children what was happening. Presumably, they lived further away from the shootings; he told his children that school was cancelled that day because their teacher was ill.

Pierre, 88, has lived in Saint-Denis for 20 years. When asked why this had happened, he said:

If I answer too honestly, I’ll be charged with racism.

A group of young Muslims told l’Obs:

We’re very mixed here: there are all nationalities, all races. Now, unfortunately, these people have committed these seriously extreme acts and we’re all in the same basket.

The Socialist MP for Seine-Saint-Denis, the parliamentary constituency, said he never saw this coming.

The Communist mayor of Saint-Denis said:

We cannot speak of extremism here. There are 130 nationalities living side-by-side here: all religious affiliations accustomed to dialogue and building [a community] together. Of course, all the evil in the world can pass through here … But that’s not who we are. That’s not our daily existence.

These are incredible political reactions here, typically leftist denial.

Whereas, a local businessman, an immigrant who lives in the area of the shoot-out said:

I’m not at all surprised. These people blend in with the rest of the crowd.

Another man, Tarek, 33, told the reporter:

When I found out what was happening, I said, ‘Oh, no, not us again!’It makes me afraid. I’m scrutinising everyone I pass in the street. I’m not at all relaxed. This is like a film. But even a film doesn’t go this far. Reality has surpassed fiction.

The Daily Mail has photos of what the interior of the block of flats looked like after the shoot-out ended. As I mentioned on Friday, the building needed immediate remedial work before it was safe for forensic experts to search for evidence. Other residents of the building were evacuated before the siege took place. Some were taken in for questioning.

Jawad Bendaoud, notional proprietor

On the morning of the attacks, Wednesday, November 18, I watched France’s BFMTV.

Reporters interviewed two people in their 20s, a man and a woman, both of whom reminded me of my ex-colleagues. They were well presented and articulate. The man, Jawad Bendaoud, 27, appears to be the owner of the block of flats involved in the siege. The young woman had stayed in one of the flats, which she said was considered something of a ‘squat’ but, she said, was a studio flat with a kitchen.

Police took both in for questioning. The woman was later released however, as of Saturday, Jawad Bendaoud was still in custody.

When BFMTV interviewed him, prior to the police doing so, he said he was just ‘rendering a service’ and it wasn’t any of his business to ask questions when a friend asked if he could put a couple of people from Belgium up for a few days. He said all they wanted was a place with water where they could pray.

L’Obs asked people in Rue du Corbillon, the scene of the shoot-out, about him. Everyone seems to know who he is.

Momo, a friend, alleged:

His life is all about sex and hash[ish].

Djibril, in his 40s, is temporarily living in another block of squats nearby. He has seen Bendaoud’s flats, rented for €550 a month:

I found them disconcerting. The door didn’t even close.

He added:

He’s the boss of the street.

Bendaoud was born and raised in Saint-Denis. His mother still lives there. He hasn’t been there much in recent years and only returned several weeks ago, after a short spell in prison. He began his first term in 2008. He served several years for murdering a man with a knife.

Djibril’s friend Moussa said that it’s impossible to open a small shopfront business without attracting Bendaoud’s attention and demands for protection money paid in cash weekly. The two of them had wanted to open their own shop but abandoned the idea.

They also said he has a

huge address book with lots of Arab contacts.

It will be very interesting to find out who and what he knows — and whether he will talk to police.

Hasna Aitboulahcen

Although this woman, a cousin of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, also killed in the shoot-out, was said to be France’s first female suicide bomber, later reports said that the suicide bomber’s remains unidentified. That person might have been male.

Whatever the case, Aitboulahcen was supposedly related to Abaaoud on her mother’s side of the family. She was born in 1989 in Clichy-la-Garenne, just outside of Paris. She also owned a small business, Beko Construction, based in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. The company has since been liquidated by court order.

BFMTV interviewed several people who knew her. They are of either French or North African heritage. They were all amazed that she was a terrorist. They knew her as a partier, someone who drank and smoked. She was fully Westernised and went out a lot at night. As far as they knew, she was not a religious person.

20minutes, now a fully digital news site, delved more into her childhood and has a revealing report. Her profile appears to be similar to those of other IS terrorists in terms of household instability.

The article says that she was abused as a child and was put in a foster home at the age of 8. A man claiming to be her brother spoke to Agence France Presse (AFP) and said she was happy with her foster family. According to him, she was a girl like any other.

However, her foster mother said that it was strange that Hasna never showed her any affection. She thinks something might have happened in Hasna’s adolescence during the monthly visits to her family. The foster mother was alarmed to find Hasna watching coverage of 9/11 where

she sat in front of the television applauding.

The lady says that, afterwards, Hasna began doing what she wanted. She became aggressive and sometimes shouted. She also began sleeping with her head completely covered because, in her words:

the devil is around at night.

One day, at the age of 15, Hasna suddenly left her foster home. She did not return. The family has had no contact with her since 2008.

Her brother said that, afterwards, Hasna was known for running away and keeping bad company.

Hasna’s mother is shocked that her daughter ended up as a terrorist. However, a childhood friend said that Hasna’s teen years probably influenced her to become one. One is led to believe this could quite possibly have occurred through the acquaintances she built up over time.

Hasna’s mother’s flat in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a Paris suburb, has now been searched. Hasna had been living there for most of the past six months, until she moved out three weeks ago to live with a female friend in Drancy, another suburb.

People from Aulnay remember Hasna as a girl who enjoyed wearing jeans, cowboy hats and boots. One said she was a bit of a tomboy.

Neighbours from Aulnay — and her brother — were shocked to see her one day in full Muslim fundamentalist attire.

Hasna also used to visit her father in the northeastern city of Creutzwald (Moselle), near the German border. Aged 74 and a strict Muslim, he now lives in Morocco.

Hasna’s father moved to Moselle for work reasons.

Neighbours in Creutzwald remember his daughter as a partier. Police have also searched his former home.

On June 11, 2015, Hasna posted a message on her Facebook page saying that she hoped to go soon to Syria via Turkey to help the IS cause.

According to a Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure, she also deeply admired Hyper Casher attacker Amedy Coulibaly’s widow Hayat Boumedienne.

Although Hasna never went to Syria, she offered to further terror from France.

That she did in Saint-Denis last Wednesday — with or without a suicide vest.

Tomorrow: Molenbeek

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘Blaspheming the Holy Spirit’ parts 1 and 2).

Matthew 12:22-32

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.


Last week’s post looked at the preceding verses to this week’s reading. In Matthew 12:15-21, Jesus left the area where He had healed a man with a withered hand in the local synagogue and went to another place where He continued to heal people and make them whole again. Matthew cited and paraphrased Isaiah 42:1-3 to show the Jews — and us — that Jesus truly is the prophesied Messiah and Saviour.

Now someone brought to Him a man who was blind and mute because of demon possession (verse 22). Our Lord healed the man who could then see and speak.

This is both a physical and spiritual healing. Matthew Henry says:

A soul under Satan’s power, and led captive by him, is blind in the things of God, and dumb at the throne of grace sees nothing, and says nothing to the purpose. Satan blinds the eye of faith, and seals up the lips of prayer.

The people watching this were beside themselves with astonishment. Immediately they asked if He was the long-awaited Son of David (verse 23). John MacArthur analyses this verse for us:

The word there means ‘to be totally astounded.’ It is existemi, and it means to be beside yourself with astonishment; it isn’t just saying, “Well, isn’t that something.” It is losing it. In fact, one translator says that it means to be literally knocked out of your senses. Another one says it is to be out of your mind with amazement. To put it in Junior High talk, it is to be blown away. They just couldn’t handle it; it was an overwhelming thing.

Yet, they were trying to reconcile His humble appearance with His magnificent healing power (emphases mine):

… they are saying, “This can’t be the Messiah, can it?” It’s like an 80-percent no but a 20-percent yes. The ‘no’ comes from the fact that He didn’t fit their bill, their design, their preconception; but the 20-percent ‘yes’ comes from the fact that they couldn’t explain His power.

The Pharisees addressed them and alleged that our Lord was in league with Satan (verse 24). No Jew of the time was going to argue with these men considered to be the paragons of God’s people. And the Pharisees were so wrapped up in their own prestige that they were permanently hard of heart, so much so that they accused Him of getting His power from Beelzebul.

MacArthur explains the name:

That is the old word that originally was the name of a Philistine god, Beel comes from Baal. You’ve heard of worshiping Baal, and that is just the ancient pagan word for ‘lord.’ ‘Zebub’ or ‘zebul’ is best connected in translation to the word ‘flies.’ So we go all the way back to the lord of the flies, or the god of the flies.

The Ekronites worshiped the god of the flies, if you can imagine. It was a play on words, because there is another word ‘zebel’ which means ‘dung.’ So apparently, they even called Beelzebub ‘Beelzebel,’ which was a derisive thing, saying, “Your lord of the flies is nothing more than the lord of the dung.” It would be easy to do that play on words, because flies tend to hang around, well, you get the picture. So that is probably what they had in mind.

Through the centuries, this lord of the flies or lord of the dung title for this deity became a very common title for Satan. So to be the prince of demons or Beelzebub is simply using one of the titles of Satan. Jesus recognized this, because in verse 26, when He answers, He uses the word ‘Satan’ in response to their word ‘Beelzebub.’

Jesus pointed out the absurdity of that accusation (verses 25, 26), effectively asking how and why Satan could be working against his own demons, his servants.

Note that the Pharisees were not addressing our Lord. He was going to talk to them, however.

It is likely that the Pharisees were standing closer to the crowd than to Jesus, so He might not have been in earshot but, because He is omniscient, He knew what they had said.

Jesus went further, asking them how their sons were casting out demons (verse 27). Were they, too, in league with Beelzebul?

Or, He asked them, was He healing through the Spirit of God (verse 28)? If so, then the kingdom of God was present among them. Henry explains:

This casting out of devils was a certain token and indication of the approach and appearance of the kingdom of God (Matthew 12:28) … Other miracles that Christ wrought proved him sent of God, but this proved him sent of God to destroy the devil’s kingdom and his works. Now that great promise was evidently fulfilled, that the seed of the woman should break the serpent’s head, Genesis 3:15. “Therefore that glorious dispensation of the kingdom of God, which has been long expected, is now commenced slight it at your peril.” Note, [1.] The destruction of the devil’s power is wrought by the Spirit of God that Spirit who works to the obedience of faith, overthrows the interest of that spirit who works in the children of unbelief and disobedience. [2.] The casting out of devils is a certain introduction to the kingdom of God. If the devil’s interest in a soul be not only checked by custom or external restraints, but sunk and broken by the Spirit of God, as a Sanctifier, no doubt but the kingdom of God is come to that soul, the kingdom of grace, a blessed earnest of the kingdom of the glory.

Jesus expanded on that further by alluding to a break-in (verse 29). If someone is going to plunder the house of a strong man, he’d better be able to overpower that man and bind him first. Therefore, who is the only one strong enough to bind Satan? Jesus.

Henry analyses the verse:

The world, that sat in darkness, and lay in wickedness, was in Satan’s possession, and under his power, as a house in the possession and under the power of a strong man so is every unregenerate soul there Satan resides, there he rules. Now, (1.) The design of Christ’s gospel was to spoil the devil’s house, which, as a strong man, he kept in the world to turn the people from darkness to light, from sin to holiness, from this world to a better, from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18) to alter the property of souls. (2.) Pursuant to this design, he bound the strong man, when he cast out unclean spirits by his word: thus he wrested the sword out of the devil’s hand, that he might wrest the sceptre out of it

Then our Lord said that anyone who was not with Him was His enemy and that anyone who did not gather — spread His message — would scatter, or be lost (verse 30).

He went on to say (verses 31, 32) that many forms of blasphemy can be forgiven — including those against Himself as the humble Son of Man — once one repents but that against the Holy Spirit cannot be pardoned.

MacArthur says that this is because blaspheming the Holy Spirit is doing what the Pharisees have done: allying the Spirit with Satan.

MacArthur unpacks this for us:

He is saying, “You can speak a word against the Son of Man, and that would be forgiveable because you may speak against Him, seeing nothing more than the humanness.” In other words, your perception may not even allow you to be dealing with deity as a factor. And it is not His power on display, so you may be speaking against Him as Son of Man; you are condemning what you perceive in His humanness (even though you’re wrong), you can understand that you can do that without making a comment on His deity at all, because it is the Spirit who is working, not Him, technically.

Another thought is important here, and that is the fact that this is His humiliation. There is a sense in which He is in a mode of humiliation which invites that kind of criticism. In other words, you might say, “If that is the Second Person of the Trinity, I’m not impressed. I mean, He’s a carpenter from Nazareth.” You could speak a word against the human Jesus in His humiliation, that’s forgiveable; you may just not know the facts, who He really is. You may not have seen the evidence, and are just talking at the human level, without a perception of the divine. That’s what He’s saying.

Nevertheless, when you speak against the Holy Spirit, that will not be forgiven you, not in this time period or in the time period to follow, because when you begin to speak against the Spirit, then you are saying, “I recognize the supernatural, I see the supernatural, only I think it’s Hell, not Heaven.” For that, you won’t be forgiven.

Ultimately — and this is important to be able to explain to people, because these are not easy verses to understand:

If you’re looking on the human plane and that’s all you perceive and understand, you can be brought along to believe and understand. But if, when you have seen the supernatural and the ministry of the Spirit of God through Christ, and you conclude that it is of the Devil, you can’t be forgiven because now, you are speaking against the Spirit of God, the power of God, the energy of God, as made manifest through Christ. So, in a real sense, you’re speaking against His deity, His divine nature, and calling it satanic.

It is easier to understand this in the context of the Pharisees, prime examples of the condemned. They spent a lot of their time following our Lord around, witnessing His miracles and hearing His teaching. Yet, as we saw in Matthew 9:32-34 and in this passage, they accused Him of being in league with Satan. They denied the divine source of His power, the Holy Spirit, and — worse — called it satanic. That cannot be forgiven.

Henry explains:

This is such a strong hold of infidelity as a man can never be beaten out of, and is therefore unpardonable, because hereby repentance is hid from the sinner’s eyes.

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit which began working through the Apostles starting on that day enabled them to spread the Gospel message, preach, teach and heal in Christ’s name. This is why Confirmation — a sacrament for Catholics, an ordinance for Protestant denominations — is so important. Unfortunately, it seems to be the last time many adolescents ever see the inside of a church. Families agree that once their children are confirmed, they do not have to attend Sunday services any more.

This is, I think, in part, because Confirmation classes are not what they used to be. They are rather watered down. Consequently, adolescents do not understand the nature and importance of the Holy Spirit. Another factor is parental. Mum and Dad have forgotten, or never understood, the Holy Spirit, either. Were their clergy to blame, too? Or was it that they drifted away from worship and the faith?

Those of us who have been confirmed or ‘born again in the Spirit’ would do well to consider how we are using the Holy Spirit’s gifts in our relationship with Christ Jesus and in our daily lives.

In closing, parallel verses for today’s passage are in Luke 12:8-10. It is a pity that neither of these was included in the three-year Lectionary for public worship.

Next time: Matthew 12:33-37, November 18, 2015, began early for the Paris district of Saint-Denis.

Police raided a building in Rue du Corbillon at 4:16 a.m., thought to be where Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the Paris attacks, was hiding.

He was thought to be in Syria, however, after the Bataclan massacre, police found a mobile phone at the theatre. The Telegraph reports:

The last text message sent from it, at 9.42pm, just as the assault on the Bataclan was starting, said: “Off we go, here we go again.” Analysis of the phone’s content and a tip-off from an eyewitness suggested Abaaoud was in Saint-Denis.

In addition, police had Abaaoud’s maternal cousin Hasna Aitboulahcen under surveillance. The two were thought to be in the same location.

The timing of the raid was sensitive. The neighbourhood is mixed demographically and residents keep unusual hours. People stay up late, returning home after a night out, whilst others get up before dawn for work.

Emphases mine below.

The raid

When police arrived at the block of flats where the two suspects were thought to be hiding, they had trouble breaking the door down:

a reinforced door … held out against the explosive charges placed against it.

Jean-Michel Fauvergue, head of the RAID police unit, told Le Parisien that the noise and lack of success woke up the suspects in the third-floor flat they wanted to target:

The door held, and we lost our element of surprise. As a result we had to adapt. We started slowly advancing behind a shield. We came under heavy fire from true professionals.

They fired in bursts or one shot at a time, taking turns so that the gunfire never stopped. That allowed them to save on their munitions. They also threw grenades. They were incredibly driven.

This first phase lasted 45 minutes. At around 4.45 three people came out onto the landing and gave themselves up. They were handcuffed and evacuated.

The prolonged gunfire woke up the rest of the residents in the street. Police told some of them to stay inside and away from their windows. Others, less fortunate in being closer to the action, were told to evacuate their homes.

Paris prosecutor François Molins said:

On the police side we fired almost 5,000 munitions.

At 5 a.m., police sent their dog, Diesel, inside the targeted building. The terrorists shot at — and fatally wounded — the Alsatian (German Shepherd).

Afterwards, a shoot-out took place between a terrorist who appeared in a window and a police sniper in the street. Although the sniper shot the terrorist, the latter continued to fire his Kalashnikov.

Then, Abaaoud’s cousin, Hasna Aitboulahcen, appeared at a window. She shouted for help. Suspecting her intentions, the police told her to stay where she was, otherwise they would shoot. Instead, she retreated from the window.

At 6:00, police began another assault. Some in the flat, including Aitboulahcen, were now wearing suicide vests. Aitboulahcen was the first of the terrorists to fire back. Police tried to talk to her, asking her where her ‘boyfriend’ — Abaaoud — was. She shouted that he was not her boyfriend. This confirmed that he was her cousin.

Seconds later, she detonated her suicide vest, which was packed so full of explosives that it caused

the floor of the apartment partly to collapse … her spine was later found lying in the street outside.

Police then threw 20 grenades in the window. They fired a volley of bullets. (In the ensuing hours after the raid, police were still studying DNA to determine whether Abaaoud, their target, died. The Washington Post reported that he was killed, but French authorities did not confirm that until November 19.)

Police then stopped firing. It was unclear how many more terrorists were in the building.

The siege continued for three more hours:

A drone was sent up to look in through the windows and a skylight, but could not provide a clear picture of what was inside.

Then two different robots equipped with cameras, similar to those used in bomb disposal, were sent into the building but their path was blocked by rubble.

By 7:30, 110 specialist officers were on the scene. Police began a new assault:

Five or six explosions were heard, followed by a 90-second pause, then another half dozen blasts.

Afterward, police entered the building and went into the flat directly below the one they had fired upon.

RAID’s chief Fauvergue said:

We saw that a body had fallen through the floor. The corpse was damaged as it had been hit by grenades and had been crushed by a beam. It was not identifiable.

Police mounted cameras on poles to see what was going on in the targeted flat above.

When they went to the flat a short time later, two men were hiding in laundry and debris. Police arrested them.

One of the photos shows a man naked from the waist down. It could be that police told him to strip in order to prove he had no explosives strapped to himself.

Police arrested three men.

More arrests took place nearby.

In total, eight people were taken in for questioning.

The siege ended at 11:30 a.m. The building had to have remedial supports installed in order for forensic teams to examine it. There was so much damage that, even when the area had been reopened, body parts and tissue lay in the street.

Five officers were injured. Fortunately, none of them died.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that French police had:

never before come under such gunfire.

President François Hollande:

described the raid as “a particularly perilous and heavy police operation”, and paid tribute to police who “knew the dangers, yet no doubt still underestimated the violence that they would come up against”.

Imminent danger averted

Police were right to act in the way they did.

Evidence gathered in the flat suggested two possible future attacks:

Weapons, explosives, suicide vests and plans were among the items seized.

In questioning the three men, police discovered the terrorists:

had reportedly been planning a fresh wave of attacks against La Défense, the financial district of Paris, and Charles de Gaulle airport, Europe’s second-busiest.

Prosecutor Molins stated:

Everything leads us to believe that, given their weaponry and level of preparation, they were ready to act.

Marianne interviewed Christophe Caupenne, who was the chief of RAID’s negotiation team for 12 years and co-ordinated French police negotiators. He now has his own consulting firm which deals with managing similar crises.

He said that it would have been impossible to try and negotiate with the terrorists in this case, explaining that those going to such extremes often prove to be sociopaths (translation mine):

They don’t have the emotions that you and I do. They don’t feel compassion. They have a manner that allows them to carry on after killing or slitting someone’s throat … This state of mind is reinforced by the taking of psychotropes, alcohol, hashish. As far as that is concerned, we could also talk of medicines such as Captagon [IS’s amphetamine of choice, only available in the Middle East] and dexedrine, both of which increase aggression and postpone fatigue.

Islamic warriors, he said, have smoked hashish throughout history:

Indisputably, it is a catalyst and an expediter of trouble. There are striking examples in history, such as the Nizarite sect (also called Hashashins or Assassins) from the 8th to the 14th centuries, Shi’ite extremists who believed in an esoteric reading of the Koran and whom Marco Polo described as completely drugged on hashish, especially during their training.

Who knew that?

Caupenne also said that people with this particular profile often suffer from mental health issues:

A war, such as the one they are waging, where they can torture and kill with no limits is ideal. This behaviour allows a levelling [deadening] of the emotions.

Weak passport checks

Another report in The Telegraph discusses the concern over ‘border controls’ that allowed Abaaoud and a couple of Friday’s suicide bombers into Europe from Syria. According to BFMTV on November 19, the debate over controls at national borders continues.

Surely, it has more to do with the actual passport control, because Abaaoud:

boasted of how he had travelled back and forth from Syria to his Belgian home several times as he plotted mass-murder.

He told an Isil magazine that a border guard failed to recognise him despite being hunted by intelligence agencies and his photograph being broadcast in the news.

Samy Amimour, who blew himself up at the Bataclan, was on a watchlist, yet, in 2013, he was:

still able to travel to Syria … triggering an international warrant for his arrest, before sneaking back to France to commit mass murder.

A news investigation on BFMTV shown on November 19, which featured an interview with the mayor of Drancy, where Amimour grew up, said that authorities took his passport away. Amimour contacted France’s passport office to say that he had lost it. A new passport was issued. Amimour told his parents — separated — that he wanted to go with friends to the south of France on holiday. They gave him permission.

Little did they know that he was headed for Turkey, then on to Syria. He got married in Syria. His widow is expecting their first child.

In the foiled Thalys train attack in August, Ayoub el-Khazzani:

was also on the SIS [no travel] list but is believed to have travelled to Syria and criss-crossed Europe with impunity.

What the heck is going on?

How could people not have noticed?

Marianne‘s chief crime reporter Frédéric Ploquin says this hideout and weapons cache is remarkably similar to that connected with the 1995 attacks on Paris by a group of Algerian terrorists. In fact, he writes, there might be some connection between this group and the nearby mosque in Saint-Denis, where the Algerian terrorists worshipped 20 years ago.

However, with so much weaponry and ammunition, he wonders how was it that no one along this thoroughfare, so busy and so close to today’s tourist attraction of the Basilica of Saint-Denis — where many French kings are buried — not to mention the Stade de France, noticed all these items being moved into a block of flats?

How could the terrorists manage to discreetly:

set down heavy, very heavy, suitcases loaded with several hundred bullets in a building situated a stone’s throw from the Périphérique and in a street where vehicles were forbidden? An explanation must be made as to why they were not stopped and how they managed to cross international borders like water flowing through a drain. It must admitted and [we must be] told how this little army, 15-people strong, could be deployed without anyone noticing or raising an alert … It was a veritable column which promised to terrorise Paris with the firm will of putting France on her knees in the name of Daesh. Finally, it must be explained how the residents of this lovely town of Saint-Denis were left on their own with traffickers of every description, an abandonment which formed the foundation for the ideal isolation of a commando of death.

There might be an answer. That will be discussed in a future post coming soon.

For now, another reason is that the vast majority of Saint-Denis’s residents vote for Socialists.

That is a huge part of the problem which dates back decades, even when the place was mostly French.

It is — and has been — a matter of Socialists seeking a voting clientèle. Nothing more, especially since François Mitterand’s presidency, starting in the 1980s.

In closing, a brief digression

Within recent memory (to me, anyway!) — I visited Saint-Denis briefly in the late 1970s. It was then a down-at-heel yet interesting part of Paris. It was just on the cusp of changing from a French working-class area to a more North African one. As my friend and I walked to the basilica, not far from where she was spending the weekend with a family — and not far from where the shoot-out took place — she told me that the lady of the house wanted her indoors before dark. As it was early Spring, that precluded our getting together for dinner in the centre of Paris.

We did not see many North Africans or any ethnic establishments. Everything was still French. It just looked rather grim and sad. Not a lot of people were about, and that was on a late Saturday afternoon.

I wanted to visit the basilica, but that was shut. My friend was getting anxious. Her hostess was in her late 50s and had heart problems, caused by her widowhood and the changes she perceived in the neighbourhood. She rarely left the house other than to buy groceries or go to Mass. She worried that her 20-something daughters might be assaulted or raped.

At the time, I did not see any reason for worry. I saw Saint-Denis as safe compared to the urban neighbourhoods I grew up in or near in the United States.

Yet, everyone’s traumas are relative. The place had no doubt changed a lot since she was a child living there in the 1920s.

I assume that this dear lady went to her rest many years ago. That said, I wonder if her daughters eventually moved out of Saint-Denis. I wish them and their families every blessing.

Since then, more and more immigrants from former French colonies have moved in to Saint-Denis, which, to be fair, also has its share of French hipsters — and faithful French working class.

One finds a mix of nationalities, religions and cultures. Please note, that although this is Paris, parts of Saint-Denis may be more accepting of Westerners than others.

Coming soon: Hasna Aitboulahcen and the man who accommodated the terrorists

One of the suicide bombers at the Stade de France on Friday, November 13, 2015, was Bilal Hadfi, 20, a Belgian thought to have fought with IS in Syria.

In the live reporting The Telegraph ran on the Saint-Denis raids they had a précis of an interview Hadfi’s mother gave to the Belgian newspaper La Libre on November 3.

Fatima told the paper that her son smoked hash and drank regularly. He was also given to confrontational behaviour at home.

Sometime around the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, Hadfi renounced his drinking and smoking. Fatima remembers feeling hopeful:

I thought it positive that he repents and is no longer into alcohol and joints.

Earlier this year, he was taking courses in electrical technology at the Instituut Anneessens Funck. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, one of his instructors, Sara Stacino, discussed the incidents of that week with her students. (All French and many Belgian teachers were told to do so.)

La Libre reports that Stacino told another media outlet that she clearly remembers Hadfi’s pronouncements during the discussion, which he monopolised. She found them so alarming that she wrote a written report for the school administration:

He defended the attacks, saying it was normal, the need for freedom of expression must be stopped, that insults to religion must stop. At the time it really worried me and I reported it in writing to the management of the school.

Mr Hadfi died eight years ago. Perhaps his absence acted as a catalyst for his youngest son’s behaviour. We do not know.

In any event, in February 2015, Bilal Hadfi told his mother that he was going to Morocco to visit his father’s grave. In reality, he had made arrangements to travel to Syria. The night before he left, Fatima recalled that he hardly seemed himself, physically or emotionally. She began to worry.

Once in Syria, Hadfi rang his mother and tried to persuade her to join him in the creation of a new Islamic State. She refused. He then spoke with his brother, who was angry with him. Fatima said Hadfi told his brother:

Do not shout, it’s my decision. In this country, I do not have my place.

Fatima had the impression that someone was standing next to Bilal during these conversations.

She did not report him to the police in case that would jeopardise his return from Syria.

Regardless, in March, anti-terror police raided the Hadfi home. They placed Bilal on a watch list.

Fatima claims Bilal dropped off the radar three months before the Paris attacks and that she had not heard from him. Yet, she feared receiving a text message about her son.

Now he has died for his cause.

I read the rest of the article at La Libre. In one of his phone conversations from Syria, Bilal told Fatima:

I fear you will die and go to hell because you live in a kuffar country.

Fatima has a daughter and two other sons. When their home was raided on March 8, the Belgian police broke down the door. The eldest son was handcuffed. Officers forced Fatima to the floor in an attempt to calm her down. Police took away several self-defence objects, including ninja stars and an aikido baton. The anti-terrorist brigade searched the home at 4:30 in the morning. Belgium’s federal police have also searched the home. It is unclear when the latter raids took place.

Although the Hadfis hold French nationality, they have lived in Belgium for many years. They lived in council housing in Brussels and in March moved to another flat in the city.

Fatima told La Libre she is not interested in giving further interviews.

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