Place of Birth: Zenata, Morocco;
Khalid Zerkani is a Moroccan recruiter and propagandist who is serving a 15-year-sentence in Ittre prison in Belgium on terrorism-related charges.
He was called by the Belgian authorities as the greatest jihadist recruiter that has ever been seen in Belgium.
Zerkani appears to have specialized in recruiting criminals to jihadism, and is himself believed to have supported himself through criminal acts before acting as a recruiter and propagandist for the Islamic State terrorist group.
Zerkani got his nickname Papa Noel in part due to his appearance and in part due to his reputation for handing out money to young people as a recruiting tactic.
He has been successful at luring recruits to extremism and terrorism, and has been tied to several important Islamic State operatives who carried out the deadly November 2015 attacks in Paris and the March 2016 attacks in Brussels.
Many of Zerkani’s recruits have passed through the notorious Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, where Zerkani himself was based.
He has also served as a facilitator for foreign terrorists to Syria, and has been linked to at least one thwarted terror attack in Europe.
Belgian news outlet La Dernière Heure (DH) has tallied more than twenty terror-linked individuals who are believed to have had links to Zerkani.
Zerkani’s role in European terror recruitment has come to the forefront since the March 2016 Islamic State attacks in Brussels, when it emerged that at least two of the suspects were linked to Zerkani.
The authorities discovered that Zerkani also had ties to terrorists who carried out the November 2015 Islamic State attacks in Paris, and at least eighteen foreign fighters who traveled to Syria.
Among Zerkani’s suspected terror recruits are November 2015 Paris attacks suspects Abdelhamid Abaaoud and Salah Abdeslam, as well as March 2016 Brussels bomber Najim Laachraoui.
Brussels terror attacks suspects Mohamed Abrini has also been linked to Zerkani. According to security officials, Abrini’s younger brother Souleymane traveled to Syria with Zerkani’s help.
In addition to terror suspects in the Paris and Brussels attacks, he has been linked to high-level al-Qaeda operatives in Syria like Fatima Aberkan, who was tried with her family alongside Zerkani in 2015.
Some have posited that it was Zerkani’s connections to Aberkan that first ingratiated him with Islamic State’s leadership, enabling Zerkani to serve as a proxy for the terrorist group’s activities in Europe.
It was revealed that Zerkani have links to Reda Kriket, a suspected terrorist arrested in France in March 2016 in connection to a thwarted terrorist attack. Kriket had previously lived with Zerkani in Molenbeek.
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