Ryszard M. Machnikowski, the dean for research and international affairs of the Faculty of International and Political Studies at the University of Lodz in Poland. Specializing in terrorism and security studies, transatlantic relations, and the problems of globalization, he is the author of three books and more than seventy academic articles, chapters, and reviews on these issues.
Poland is definitely not widely known for its jihadist foreign fighter networks, as numbers of radicalized Muslims originating from this country are relatively low. This is due to: 1) the overall low number of Muslims inhabiting Poland; 2) the generally peaceful and moderate character of Islam in Poland, including the Tatar community; 3) the vigilance of Polish internal security services attempting to monitor radical environments in the country, regardless of their ideological background.
Having said that, there was a group of Polish foreign fighters who managed to reach Syria and Iraq in 2013-2014. This group consisted of both Polish as well as North African Muslim immigrants to Poland who had citizenship. They were connected to one of Warsaw’s mosques and the Islamic Center on Wiertnicza street in the capital of Poland. The group consisted of native Polish men and women: Jakub Jakus, Dawid Ł and his wife Małgorzata B., Damian K. and his wife Patrycja K., as well as immigrants to Poland, Karim L., Toufik M. and Awad W., who all managed to go to the territories then controlled by ISIS and other jihadist groups. Another member of this group, Marcin C., who intended to go there, ultimately failed.
Connected to this group were foreign citizens: Mohamad El F., who worked as a member of the wider recruiting network, and Saifeddine H., who was ultimately deported from Poland. Jakub Jakus and Dawid Ł were recruited by the Norwegian organization Profetens Ummah and connected to Norwegian citizens and foreign fighters in Syria Moheyeldeen M., and two Norwegian converts, Bastian Vasquez (who openly presented himself in a propaganda film issued by the Al Hayat media agency entitled “The End of Sykes Picot”) and Thom Aleksander K. (who died in Syria in March 2015). Both Jakus, Ł and Awad W. spent time in Norway and became members of radical Islamist circles in the country. This “internationalization” of the foreign fighters originating from Poland is clearly an important factor in establishing connections to various jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq.
Different Paths to Radicalization
It is worth exploring the profiles of these Polish jihadists to illustrate the different paths to radicalization of these individuals which ultimately led them to join militant jihadist groups in the Middle East during the time of the ISIS caliphate. The father figure of this group was probably Jakub Jakus — a young Polish convert born into a Catholic family on July 31, 1992 in the city of Sandomierz, in the South Eastern part of Poland. He was a graduate of the Catholic high school Collegium Gostomianum and converted to Islam while studying there. In 2011, he moved to central Poland to study International Economic Relations at the University of Łódź. This is when he got involved in organizing many public activities under the auspices of the Muslim League in Poland.
From May 27 to June 8, 2012, he performed umrah in Mecca, where he established new international contacts. Later that year, he left Łódź to study at a private university in Warsaw, but in late summer 2012, he went to Oslo to find a summer job and stayed there, joining Profetens Ummah. In late June 2013, he went with his new Norwegian ‘Islamic brothers’ to Syria and joined ISIS. He was a member of the ‘Ribat’ militia unit in Al Raqqah and was wounded during combat. He had extensive contacts via various social media and internet communicators with both Norwegian and Polish Islamic radicals. In late October 2013, he contacted Małgorzata B.— a young Polish convert to Islam — online. He promised to marry her after arrival to Syria. Instead, he married a local woman Aisha, but Małgorzata B. became the wife of Dawid Ł, and she came to Syria with her husband in March 2014. On March 1, 2016, the SITE Intelligence group reported that a jihadist fighter known as Abu Khattab al-Polandi had been killed in Syria. Allegedly it was Jakub Jakus, although he still is on the Interpol list of most wanted Polish terrorists.
The “Abu Hanifa Dawood” Case
His close accomplice, Dawid Ł a.k.a. Abu Hanifa Dawood managed to survive his trip to Syria but is still serving his four-year sentence in Polish jail. He was born on April 19, 1992 into a Catholic family from the city of Radom in central Poland. In 2008, he moved to Norway with his parents and siblings. Since 2013, he was actively involved in the lives of Polish converts in Norway via an internet site run together with Jakus. His conversion might have been connected to his romantic relationship with a Norwegian girl, Rahila H., whose family strongly rejected this relationship due to the fact that Ł, then, was not a Muslim. Nevertheless, he sustained online contacts with Rahila via social media even after his trip to Syria.
In January 2014, Ł went back to Poland to marry Małgorzata B. and they came together to Norway soon afterwards. In March 2014, they went to Syria via Turkey and stayed in the city of Dar ta Izzah close to Aleppo, where Ł became a member of the local jihadist group Harakat Fajr ash-Sham Al-Islamiya, acting in alliance with Jabhat Al-Nusra. He was thinking about moving to Al-Raqqah but decided to go to Norway with his wife. They arrived at the Oslo Airport from Istanbul on April 17, 2015, where they were initially detained by the PST security service. In September 2015, Dawid Ł and Małgorzata B. were detained by the Norwegian immigration service again. She was immediately deported to Poland and Ł was deported on November 15, 2015 and arrested after arrival at the Warsaw Airport by the Polish Internal Security Agency (ABW). His trial started in November 2017, but he has been on a parole since March 2018.
The second defendant in the trial was Marcin C., who remained in contact via social media with Ł, Jakus and another Polish convert and Islamic radical, Damian K., who went to Syria and became a member of ISIS. He was radicalized in Poland after 2010, when he changed his religious faith and was charged with a minor terrorism-related offence during the trial of Dawid Ł. Małgorzata B. was not charged as there was no evidence she was involved in any militant activity while staying in Syria. On February 12, 2019 Ł was detained by the internal security services for the second time and charged with terrorism-related offences. Both Jakus and Ł had actively encouraged their contacts in Poland via social media and internet communicators to join jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq and were fairly successful.
Three of their accomplices, Karim L., Taofik M., and Awad W. went to Syria via Istanbul, Turkey. They left Poland — Taofik M. on November 12, 2014, Karim L. on November 20, 2014 and Awad W. on November 21, 2014 and they finally reached their destination in Syria on November 23, 2014. Tunisian citizen Karim L. had arrived in Poland in 2001, invited by his Polish wife Barbara T-L. where he worked as a hairdresser in Warsaw.
After one of his trips to his home country in 2009, he began to be perceived by his Muslim compatriots in Poland as a “radical”. He frequented the mosque and Islamic Center at Wiertnicza street in Warsaw every day. He was selling Arabic cosmetics there. He divorced his first wife Barbara and married another Polish woman Ewa W., who was a Muslim convert. He had intensive personal and online contacts with all people mentioned in this article and contributed actively to their radicalization. Before their departure, Taofik M. and Awad W. were living in a flat rented by Karim L. (together with Saifeddine H.)
Sudanese citizen Awad W. came to Poland in 2005 and two years later he married Polish woman Monika K. In 2012, he received Polish citizenship. He was working as a cook in Arabic restaurants and was radicalized after his stay in Norway, where he was working for two months in 2013. Tunisian Taofik M. came to Poland in 2007, where he stayed in Warsaw and worked as a cook in Arabic fast food chains. He was radicalized in 2013. All these “brothers” attended the mosque and Islamic Center at Wiertnicza street in Poland and were considered to be “radicals” and supporters of militant jihadist groups. They were connected to the then imam at this mosque, Syrian Nizar Ch. and his close accomplice, Polish convert Filip J. W., however, their role in the radicalization process of this group is unclear. They probably knew about their travel plans, but it is not known whether they encouraged them.
Jakub Jakus, Damian K., Marcin C. and Taofik M. started their radicalization path in Poland, finding the company of likeminded extremists there, while Karim L. was radicalized during one of his stays in Tunisia, and Dawid Ł and Awad W. became members of radical circles in Norway. While Dawid Ł is still serving his term in Polish prison, the whereabouts of the other members of this ‘network’ are not known. Some allegedly died in combat in Syria or Iraq. Their stories are examples of how Islamic radicalization could happen anywhere and anytime, and no land is free of the influence of the radical jihadist ideology — even Catholic Poland.
 Przemysław Mazur, Polscy dżihadyści – analiza zagrożenia ze strony terrorystów islamistycznych polskiego pochodzenia (eng. Polish Jihadists: Analysis of the Threat Posed by Islamist Terrorists of Polish Origin), Historia i Polityka, Nr 39(46)/2022, pp. 81–95, https://apcz.umk.pl/HiP/article/view/40557
 Bartosz Żurawicz, Z Radomia do Syrii, “bo źle się zakochał”, Magazyn TVN 24, https://www.tvn24.pl/magazyn-tvn24/z-radomia-do-syrii-bo-zle-sie-zakochal,124,2222
 Nie tylko Jakus. Innych polskich dżihadystów też szukają, Fakty TVN, 27.08.2016, http://www.tvn24.pl/wiadomosci-z-kraju,3/polacy-w-szeregach-tzw-panstwa-islamskiego,671666.html
 Leszek Dawidowicz, Uciekł do ISIS. Historia Jakuba Jakusa, polskiego dżihadysty, Polsat News, 8.06.2021, https://www.polsatnews.pl/wiadomosc/2021-06-08/uciekl-do-isis-historia-jakuba-jakusa-polskiego-dzihadysty/
 Syria: Nie żyje Polak walczący po stronie Państwa Islamskiego, Radio Zet, 01.03.2017, https://wiadomosci.radiozet.pl/Swiat/Nie-zyje-polski-dzihadysta
 Blanka Rogowska, Pierwszy taki proces w Polsce. Oskarżony o islamski terroryzm w łódzkim sądzie, Gazeta Wyborcza Łódź, 7.11.2017, http://lodz.wyborcza.pl/lodz/7,35136,22614602,polak-islamskim-terrorysta-pierwszy-taki-proces-w-polsce.html;
 Miał planować zamach terrorystyczny. Zatrzymanie w Radomiu, TVN 24 Polska, 4.03.2019, https://tvn24.pl/polska/radom-abw-zatrzymala-mezczyzne-ktory-mial-planowac-zamach-ra915077-2282580;
 Interpol poszukuje dwóch Polaków za walkę w szeregach tzw. Państwa Islamskiego, Radio Zet, 26.06.2017, https://wiadomosci.radiozet.pl/Swiat/Interpol-poszukuje-dwoch-Polakow-za-walke-w-szeregach-tzw-Panstwa-Islamskiego; Nie tylko Jakus. Innych polskich dżihadystów też szukają, Fakty TVN, 27.08.2016, http://www.tvn24.pl/wiadomosci-z-kraju,3/polacy-w-szeregach-tzw-panstwa-islamskiego,671666.html
 Violetta Krasnowska, Polak na Świętej Wojnie. Dżihadyści z Polski, Polityka, 24.11.2015, http://www.polityka.pl/tygodnikpolityka/spoleczenstwo/1641379,1,polak-na-swietej-wojnie.read; Ryszard Machnikowski, Arkadiusz Legieć, The Favored Conflicts of Foreign Fighters from Central Europe, Terrorism Monitor, 15(19) 2017, https://jamestown.org/program/ favored-conflicts-foreign-fighters-central-europe/
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