On 23 April 2021, Tunisia-born Jamel Gorchene murdered civil servant Stéphanie Monfermé at the police station in Rambouillet, 45 kilometers away from Paris. A few hours after this attack, the murderer’s identity was revealed in the media, as well as his Facebook account. His Facebook profile remained active and accessible up until 80 hours after the attack.
This paper aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of the visible, public side of Gorchene’s Facebook account even though we cannot access the complete list of his virtual contacts. The reader will not find here a whole biography of Gorchene, neither a psychological inquiry about his motivations. Still, based on the available content Gorchene published between 2010 and 2021, our analysis scrutinises a very precise map of his contacts, Internet relationships and the Facebook pages he accessed.
We need to bear in mind that, first, the content that was recovered constitutes only a very small part of Jamel Gorchene’s virtual life, the one he decided to publicly display. This was already the case for Larossi Abbala’s account, another jihadist who killed a police officer and his partner in Magnanville (a city about 50 kilometres North of Rambouillet). Abbala’s Facebook account would only reveal small bits and pieces of information about his beliefs, such as a video of him complaining about the rudeness of the costumers he served as a delivery driver, or his thoughts (written down) concerning the fate of imprisoned Muslims around the world. Second, Gorchene’s virtual personality cannot be solely reduced to his Facebook activity. In the same way, Dylan with whom we interacted online (name has been changed), born in Normandy and incarcerated since 2017 for attempting to join a terrorist organisation in Syria, would publish only a few comments on his Facebook account while blithely sharing on Telegram an abundant number of videos of his extremist mentors.
A Faith Offended?
Having said that, the visible side of Jamel Gorchene’s Facebook account points to a faith offended by the political debate. It consists of a series of posts originally published by AJ+ (an Al-Jazeera subsidiary), the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or far-left senator Jean-Luc Mélenchon, which all dealt with the issue of Islam in France. Such an over dramatising presentation of the French Muslims’ condition appears very common to hard-line political Islam upholders, some of whom preach jihad. Gorchene rose up against veiled women’s treatment in France, just like Parisian jihadists would do 15 years before him on Msn-Messenger between 2003 and 2006.
Gorchene accused Western governments (including Israel) of turning a blind eye on the treatment of Muslims in Gaza, in China or in Burma – in the terms that contributors of the jihadist website “Ansar al-Haqq” in 2005, or as Cherif Chekatt, the Strasbourg Christmas market attacker (2018), did before him. Finally, Gorchene’s Facebook posts castigate a set of recently voted laws, deemed as ‘Islamophobic’. On 24 October 2020, he shared a somewhat meaningful message: “Muslims, now we’ll rise up against France’s and Macron’s abuses against our Prophet Muhammad may Allah bless him and grant him Peace.”
Islamist Preachers and Religious ‘Reminders’
Gorchene’s posts reveal how crucial faith and religious practice were to his daily life. He used to take selfies at the mosque, share pictures of religious seminars occurring in the Paris region, and publish a number of Islamic ‘reminders’ in Arabic, in accordance with the adage “the reminder benefits the believer.”
But, from 2012 on, he shared content related to numerous Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated preachers, including Egyptian shaykhs Omar Abdel Kafi and Mohamed Metwali al-Chaarawi (known for having spread a rigorist Islam in Egypt in the 90’s), Saudi clerics Aaidh ibn Abdullah al-Qarni and Saas al-Atiq, Mauritanian preacher Muhamed el-Hassan and Zaker Naik, from India. Moreover, he disseminated Benchir ben Hassan’s radical messages. This former preacher of Aubervilliers’s mosque (a northern inner suburb of Paris), who found an audience among the salafi Parisian microcosm, notably called for the beheading of any Frenchman offending the Prophet Muhammad.
On Facebook, Gorchene followed the pages of Internet activists living in France, Tunisia or Mauritania, but also from other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Among them was a French-speaking figure of the Islamosphere now living in Mali, who regularly shared the videos of French radical imams on YouTube, such as Nader Abu Anas or Rachid Eljay. Another profile Gorchene could access on Facebook due to that Mali-based activist is Mohamed K. The latter was a famous imam in Montpellier (South of France), and maintained close relationships with several jihadists who went to Iraq in 2004, like Hamza S. (who died there).
Gorchene had connections with a religious library of the Sousse region, in Tunisia. He would usually ‘like’ the Facebook content of the library, be it published in Arabic or in French. A lot of that content revolved around the Muhammad cartoons controversy.
It is worth mentioning that, if religion is ubiquitous on Gorchene’s Facebook page – sometimes in its most rigorist form – jihad is hardly mentioned. There is one notable exception. In March 2013, Gorchene appeared very concerned about the fate of Jabhat al-Nusra’s fighters. He published a text in Arabic to the glory of a mujahid: “Oh Allah, welcome him to your home, welcome him among the Martyrs and bring us with them in the greatest level of paradise, with the prophets, the righteous and the martyrs and grant us heroes like them who support your religion and terrorise our enemy, Your enemy.” [cit]
One cannot find in Jamel Gorchene’s Facebook account the whole process which nurtured his religious and political terrorist aspirations, given that the main part of his life experiences, his conscience and consciousness remain untold on his Facebook profile. Such a content, however, does allow us to understand an aspect of the radical thought-terror attack nexus. Gorchene did not suddenly become fascinated by the jihadist thesis. His theological-political recoding of the social world resulted from a “merging” of his virtual and non-virtual relationships with preachers, activists, peers, believers etc. which were both ever so reactive to political controversies.