- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 30, 2002

ANTWERP, Belgium Belgian authorities yesterday arrested a former Hezbollah fighter who is known as the Malcolm X of the nation's tense ethnic politics and charged him with inciting Arab riots this week in Belgium's second city.

The Antwerp public prosecutor's office accused the Lebanon-born Dyab Abou Jahjah, leader of the Arab European League (AEL), with conspiracy , criminal damage and wounding a police officer in riots that followed the killing of an Arab immigrant.

The charges were announced hours before a memorial service for a 27-year-old Moroccan schoolteacher who was killed, purportedly by a 66-year-old Belgian.

Local authorities have said there were no indications that the killing was a racist act and that the man, who has been charged with murder, appears mentally unstable.

But the crime was assumed by many Arabs to be a racist provocation. It triggered two days of riots in Antwerp's Arab quarter this week.

Immigrant youths hurled stones at police and left a trail of shattered shop windows and wrecked cars. There were 128 arrests.

Police said that Mr. Jahjah had seized on the incident to inflame racial hatred.

Guy Verhofstadt, the prime minister, told parliament Thursday that he was considering a ban on Mr. Jahjah's AEL.

"The league is trying to terrorize the city," he said, warning that it was trying to set up no-go areas for the police in Antwerp's immigrant neighborhoods.

Mr. Jahjah said he was being demonized by manipulators in the Belgian government and the "Zionist lobby."

"It's the complete opposite of the truth. We were trying to calm things down after a known racist murdered a Muslim. Now suddenly the victims are being turned into the criminals," he said.

Handsome and smooth-talking, Mr. Jahjah advocates a form of separatist apartheid for Belgium's 400,000 Muslims, demanding segregated schools, an end to "Flemish cultural terrorism" and recognition of Arabic as a fourth official language, after Dutch, French and German.

"We're Belgian citizens, but they treat us like foreigners," he said. "The whole system is rigged to exclude us from jobs, houses and everything. So we must force them to give us our rights."

He denounces Muslim leaders who promote multicultural integration as "false foreigners" serving the interests of the Belgian "political apparatus."

His latest initiative is to send out patrols of black-suited youths to shadow the Antwerp police with video cameras.

The AEL accuses police of persecuting Arab and especially Moroccan youths by calling them "white apes" and subjecting them to repeated ID checks.

The AEL also says police have been infiltrated by the ultranationalist Vlaams Blok movement. This month 20 Antwerp officers were sacked for ultranationalist sympathies.

But Mr. Jahjah's menacing "black suits" have had problems with a law banning private militia groups, passed in 1934 to battle fascism.

Many of Antwerp's North Africans are Berbers, who have no stake in Mr. Jahjah's pan-Arab vision, and Turkish immigrants generally are far less militant.

Belgian security services have grown increasingly worried about the Islamic underground. A leaked government report this summer concluded that Belgium had become a "logistical support base" for terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, the Algerian Armed Islamic Groups and the Hamas-linked Muslim Brotherhood.

At least 30 mosques were recruiting centers for movements that posed an "immediate, grave and specific risk to the survival of our democratic and constitutional order," the report said.

More than 30,000 Muslim immigrants have settled in Antwerp, a city of about 450,000 where the ultranationalist Vlaams Blok party took 33 percent of the vote in the last local election

Many of the Arabs live near a long-established Orthodox Jewish community of 20,000 in the old Jootsewijk, near the diamond district.

Arab gangs have been preying on Hassidic children as they walk to school, forcing those identifiable as Jewish to move around with escorts.


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