The newly released issue 14 of Dabiq magazine portrays four of the people involved in the Brussels attacks on 22 March 2016 (see pp. 6-7). The biography of Khalid El Bakraoui, who blew himself up at Maelbeek subway station, is devoted almost entirely to dreams.
It describes three dreams he had in the years leading up to the attack: one while in prison (ie, some time between 2009 and 2013) and two after the Paris attacks in November 2015. I have some thoughts on their significance below, but I’ll let you read the text first.
Khālid al-Bakrāwī (Abū Walīd al-Baljīkī) Metro Station Istishhādī
A man of strong character, a natural leader, Khālid was guided while in prison after having a vivid, life-changing dream. He saw that he was alongside the Prophet fighting the disbelievers. Narrating his dream, he said, “It was a vision. After hearing the last verse of al-Fath recited in a loud voice, I saw the Prophet on a horse in battle, a distance away. The vision took me beyond the battlefield. I saw myself as an archer shooting arrows at the enemy. I would shoot, take cover, then shoot again.” He narrated other details of the dream and said, “I then woke up, back in my prison cell.”
After leaving prison, full of conviction and steadfastness, he started giving da’wah in his neighborhood, calling the youth to make hijrah to Shām. He also wrote a few articles on the crusades of the era fought by the West against the Muslims.
All preparations for the raids in Paris and Brussels started with him and his older brother Ibrāhīm. These two brothers gathered the weapons and the explosives. After the blessed raid in Paris, he saw another dream, which motivated him to carry out an istishhādī operation. He narrated, “The second dream was three months ago. It was a vision that took place from fajr until dhuhr. I arose to a high place, as if I was in space, surrounded by stars; but the sky was like the blue of night.” He then heard a voice in the dream telling him that he was created only to worship Allah and ordering him to fight for His cause and make His word supreme. He then woke up.
Abū Walīd then narrated a third dream: “I had a vision that also took place from fajr until dhuhr, but ended at night. I saw myself on a boat along with Abū Sulaymān and another brother. Each of us had a Turkish soldier as a hostage. I had a pistol and Abū Sulaymān had a belt. I told him to give me his belt, as I would feel better having it. So he gave me the belt and I gave him my pistol. I then quickly advanced with the Turkish hostage in order to close in on other soldiers, two of whom were in front of us. I detonated my belt, killing the soldiers. My head then descended to the ground. One of the brothers working on the operation and Shaykh al-‘Adnānī took my head and said, ‘Check to see if he is smiling or not.’ I then saw my soul and those of the three soldiers. All of a sudden, the soldiers’ souls burned and vanished and, suddenly, the banner of Islam – represented in the dream by the flag of the Islamic State – came out of the earth and was shining brightly. My soul then became full of light.” He then heard a voice in the dream telling him that he had achieved deliverance. Abū Walīd continued, “I prostrated quickly and repeatedly pronounced the takbīr. I then awoke to find my heart beating fast, and I was taking quick breaths.”
The content of each of these dreams is idiosyncratic, but their place in the biographical narrative is not. The first is a typical “wake-up call” story, where an unobservant Muslim has a dream that inspires him to become more religious. Bear in mind that El Bakraoui was in prison on a criminal conviction at this point.
The second dream is of the “choosing martyrdom” type, one that – in the ideological narrative – inspires the dreamer to seek out a suicide operation. Again, this is quite a common theme in the jihadi literature, as Iain Edgar has written about extensively.
The third is a typical “impending success” account, in which militants describe a dream that is taken to mean that a successful attack is about to take place. Active militants often say they or a friend had such dreams in the run-up to major attacks.
Together, these three accounts form a story that basically says that God guided El Bakraoui all the way from prison to Maelbeek subway station (or to heaven if you will).
This is not to say that they are invented. Most likely El Bakraoui did have dreams like this, which he then told his friends about. As regular readers of this blog will know, jihadis discuss their dreams all the time. El Bakraoui may have mentioned several dreams, and then these were selected by himself or his biographer to convey a narrative. Incidentally, the inclusion of the last two dreams suggests contact between the Dabiq editors and El Bakraoui (or someone close to him) in the period between November 2015 and March 2016.