Jean-Louis Denis: Belgian Jihadist Caught Speeding in Benin
Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 14 Issue: 3
On January 30, 49-year old Belgian citizen Jean-Louis Denis was arrested in Tourou, Benin for speeding while driving his car. After additional investigation, however, the Beninese authorities ordered his “immediate” deportation due to his background in Belgium, where he had previously been convicted for recruiting youths to fight for Islamic State (IS) and other jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq. This deportation occurred several days later and the “speeding” stop may, in fact, have served as a cover for a more targeted terrorism prevention operation (7sur7.be, February 7).
Denis responded to his deportation by posting a YouTube video in which he claimed that the Beninese authorities told him: “You want Sharia. You recruited, you came [to Benin] for that.” However, Denis denied those allegations and asserted that the Beninese authorities had become “paranoid” by information shared about him from Belgian intelligence officers. According to him, it would have been “insane” to travel to Benin to recruit for jihadist groups.
Indeed, on his website, Denis noted he planned to “leave for hijra (migration) and establish an eco-Muslim village.” He further detailed his desire to support the development of agriculture based on the principles of sustainable development. As for Benin, he claimed that the reason why he chose that country was because “land is cheap there, and people speak French and the country may be Christian, but people are tolerant” (sudinfo.be, February 5).
In 2016, Denis was sentenced to ten years in prison for recruiting Muslims in Belgium to fight for IS in Syria and Iraq (ft.com, June 3, 2016). He, therefore, helped Belgium earn the dubious honor of “exporting” more of its own citizens to fight in Iraq and Syria than any other country in the West (politico.eu, April 1, 2016). Beginning in September 2012—one year into the Syrian Civil War—Denis began to use his food bank, “Resto du Tawhid,” to recruit fighters. Alongside distributing meals to the needy, Resto du Tawhid, according to the court that sentenced him, became an avenue for Denis to discuss jihad with young men. At least 11 of these youths later left Belgium for the battlefields of Syria.
By September 2016, Denis complained to a Belgian court that he had been in solitary confinement and missed the birth of his son (brusselstimes.com, September 30, 2016). Denis had indeed been sentenced to the ten-year prison term; this was longer than sentences for other jihadist recruiters in the country, likely because he had recruited several minors (vrt.be, January 29, 2016). Ultimately, Belgian authorities released him from prison early, in 2019; Denis was sure to point out that he still had not abandoned his Salafist views (katehon.com, January 20, 2020).
The region where Denis was pulled over in Benin has come under pressure from jihadist attacks in the past year (rfi.fr, February 11, 2022). While Denis denies he was recruiting for jihad, the Beninese authorities seemed to at least suspect that his Salafist doctrine would make the region’s youths more susceptible to recruitment by either Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS) or its al-Qaeda-affiliated rival, Group for Supports of Islam and Muslims (JNIM). If their suspicions are correct, it would indicate that Denis was replicating his previous model in a new country where, like Belgium in 2011, jihadism is on the rise.