He says Islam offered him the promise of purpose and structure, providing strict rules and moral clarity in a world where the prevailing liberalism favored shades of gray over black and white.
Michael became Younnes, Arabic for dove.
He saw his new religion as a step up from Christianity: “I can compare it with buying a computer. If you know there’s a Windows 10, you’re not going to go with Windows XP … It’s an upgrade.”
Radicalization, Joining ISIS in Syria
Upgrading opened the doors to Belgium’s large Muslim community, where a small but vocal subset of fundamentalists was emerging, and over time, Delefortrie was radicalized.
Thrice-married Delefortrie even named one of his sons after Osama bin Laden.
“I’m proud of it, because that man is a hero,” he says, unapologetic about his decision to honor the architect of the 9/11 attacks, in which 2,977 people were killed. “If we have to condemn everybody who kills people, hell will be full.”
While working as an apprentice in a bakery in his early 20s, Delefortrie fell under the spell of a silver-tongued Svengali — a former used car salesman who had turned his back on a life of petty crime to become a street preacher.
Belgian Fouad Belkacem was the leader of Sharia4Belgium — a group initially dismissed by Belgian authorities as “a bunch of clowns with long beards and white gowns,” according to former state security chief Alain Winants.
But the group was far more sinister. It was a pipeline for young Belgians to travel to Syria and join Islamic militant groups like ISIS. Delefortrie became one of them.
“You can hold back and do your prayers and be satisfied, or you can go further and try to practice what you’re learning,” he says, explaining that going to Syria was the answer to his prayers: “Finally, there’s a place on earth where we can be a Muslim for the full 100%.”
He says he chose to join ISIS, the most ruthless and violent of all the Islamist groups on the ground, because they were the most committed to establishing Sharia law: “they were clear in what they’re trying to accomplish: to fight for the sake of Allah.”
He’s dismissive about the jihadist terror group’s barbaric acts.
“It’s a war zone, so it’s a normal thing. People die,” he says. “In America, they are executing people with needles, with electric chairs. This is also execution.”
When I ask directly whether he was personally prepared to kill, he tells me: “That is Islamic law. And believe me, it’s not a funny thing to execute people — it’s something terrible, but yeah.”