The Ex-Jihadist Who Embraced France's Far Right
Omar Djellil, the son of Algerian immigrants, has been a gang member, a soldier, a Jihadist and a Socialist. But now he is a hesitant backer of France's right-wing Front National party. What drives a Muslim immigrant into the arms of Islamophobes?
When he thinks of Mohamed Merah, the Islamist attacker who shot Jewish schoolchildren to death in Toulouse before dying in a gunfight with the police in March, Omar Djellil sees himself.
"I was once a bit like him," he says. "There's a Merah in all of us."
Djellil can remember well his years as a teenaged ruffian in one of the roughest neighborhoods of the northeastern French city of Reims as well as his years at a mosque in Bordeaux. It was a time when he also believed that his Muslim faith required him to join the armed struggle to re-establish a caliphate.
"I narrowly avoided a similar fate," says Djellil, a 41-year-old man with a neat circle beard on his youthful face. He's sitting behind the register at a telephone shop in Marseille primarily frequented by Moroccans and Algerians.
The difference between the two men, though, is that while Merah went to meet his death as an extremist, Djellil went into politics. What's more, while Merah has come to represent the face of the enemy for French right-wing populist politician Marine Le Pen, Djellil claims Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, as a friend. (...)