In the aftermath of the recent attacks on Paris, the name of one French convert to Islam has come up a number of times. On Wednesday, authorities say they identified him as the voice in Islamic State audio messages asserting responsibility for the attacks. Then, on Friday, there were reports that French police had raided his cousin's home and found an arsenal of weapons.
The convert's name is Fabien Clain. He is said to be a 37-year-old man originally from the French overseas territory of La Reunion who later settled in Toulouse. Clain is thought to be in Syria, but authorities allege that his hand can still be seen in plots aimed at France.
Security sources have told Agence France-Presse that Clain isn't just a recent "Facebook jihadi" but someone who holds serious sway over the 850 or so French and Belgian citizens thought to have traveled to Syria to fight. He also appears to have been involved with at least two plots in France this year, authorities say.
According to a lengthy profile published recently in Le Monde, Clain converted to Islam in the 1990s but moved toward extremism only in the early 2000s. A friend told the newspaper that Clain quickly became well connected in the Toulouse Salafist community because of his "real talent to convert people" and his ability to "manipulate." Clain became known as "Brother Omar" among his peers; by 2001, he was known to counterterrorism groups.
Along with his younger brother, Jean-Michel, Clain began selling Islamic goods from a stall at a local market. The siblings are said to have stood out, growing beards and marrying two women, who then wore burqas — a rarity in Toulouse at the time.
The pair also traveled to Holland and Egypt in the early 2000s. At some point, they became acquainted with Olivier Corel, a Frenchman with Syrian heritage nicknamed the "White Emir." Corel has since been accused of radicalizing a number of young Muslims.
In 2009, Clain was sentenced to five years in prison for recruiting jihadists to fight in Iraq. At his trial, it emerged that his recruits had been sent to Brussels and made their way to the Middle East. This week, Le Monde also revealed that before he was jailed, Clain had been involved in threats against the Bataclan, the Parisian concert hall where 89 people were killed Nov. 13, because of the venue's supposed links to Israel.
Clain was released from prison in 2012 and resettled in Normandy, where he worked as an Arabic teacher. He later claimed that news reports of his links to Mohamed Merah, who fatally shot seven people in Toulouse in 2012, including three Jewish children, led him to be ostracized by the community.
"It was a disaster!" he told French newspaper 20 Minutes in 2013. "I was soon being likened to the child killer."
Along with his brother and their families, Clain is thought to have moved to Syria sometime during 2014.
Not much was heard of him until April, when a suspected terrorist attack was foiled in Villejuif, a suburb of Paris. The alleged plotter in that case, Algerian-born student Sid Ahmed Ghlam, had called police after he accidentally shot himself in the leg. When they arrived, authorities searched his car and discovered Kalashnikov assault rifles and bulletproof vests. He was also later investigated in the death of a 32-year-old woman who was found fatally shot in her burning car.
At the time, authorities said a contact in Syria had told Ghlam to attack churches. A later investigation by Le Monde concluded that Clain had instigated the planned attack, communicating online with Ghlam. As the newspaper noted, Ghlam's clumsiness seemed to have revealed an important network that linked French speakers in Syria with potential terrorists back home.
Clain's appearance in the Islamic State's message could be further confirmation of his role in plots in Europe. As Le Monde's profile notes, one of those also accused in his 2009 trial argued that his version of jihad involved sending others to die fighting in the Middle East. Now, it seems to be the opposite: recruiting others to kill and die in Europe.
And as the Islamic State's audio recording claimed, the Nov. 13 attacks were just "the beginning of the storm."
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