A desperate dad rescued his jihadist son from the bloody grasp of ISIS — and dismantled a major terrorist network in the process.
In his book “Rescued from Isis,” Dimitri Bontinck describes watching helplessly as his boy JeJoen — known as Jay — was recruited by jihadis in their native Belgium.
Dimitri, a former soldier in the Belgian Army, could do nothing as his radicalized son traveled to Syria and took up arms with the Islamic State.
“Radical Islam had come right to the door of my home, stolen my son, and we had no laws, no formulas to stop it,” Dimitri writes.
Bontinck and his Nigerian wife, Helen, raised their son and daughter in Antwerp. As a biracial child in a country of blond, blue-eyed kids, Jay was an outsider.
In the midst of it all, close to the family home, grew a festering “hotbed of jihadis.” Sharia4Belgium, a now-defunct terrorist group suspected of radicalizing dozens of young Belgians, was headquartered nearby.
Dimitri learned about his 16-year-old’s allegiance to the cause while watching the news late in 2011. The lead story concerned the discovery of a Kalashnikov rifle at the Sharia4Belgium mosque.
The program cut to a video of the group’s charismatic leader, Fouad Belkacem, surrounded by followers as he proselytized in a town square.
Jay was at Belkacem’s side.
He had converted to Islam earlier in the year, shortly after he began dating a Moroccan classmate. Within months, Belkacem had lured the boy into his 24-week program of radicalization.
Things soon changed dramatically for Jay.
The police were called after Jay threatened to “purge” his school of nonbelievers. Dimitri would hear Jay speaking Arabic on the phone.
The father tried to engage his son, even inviting Belkacem over for a talk one evening. Belkacem denied he was radicalizing Jay — even scolding the teenager for his sulky, rebellious behavior.
On Jan. 29, 2013, Jay turned 18 and was free to do as he pleased. A month later, telling his parents he was off to Amsterdam with friends, he decamped for Syria.
Jay landed in a training compound run by the Mujahideen Shura Council in Kafr Hamra, a town outside of Aleppo. The international jihadists intended to violently seize northern Syria as an Islamic State.
Jay discovered how the war was actually fought. Soldiers told him that when he killed a man, Jay could seize the victim’s money, jewelry and guns.
Christians or Shiites were taken hostage, then shot or beheaded — even if their families paid a ransom for their freedom.
If a family had no money, the infidel’s head was hacked off with a knife or rusty machete.
The carnage was videotaped and shown to the new recruits in the evenings. The group set up checkpoints on the roads in and out of Kafr Hamra to snare new victims.
Jay was sickened — physically and emotionally. On the third day of training, he asked to see a doctor for a sinus infection. What he actually wanted was antidepressants.
Dimitri was simultaneously flooding his son’s phone with pleading texts. He offered to do anything to extract the teen from Syria. In one text, Dimitri made a mistake that nearly got Jay killed.
“Should I contact the Mossad?” the terrified father asked. “Would that help?”
Jay still had the phone in his possession — but soon, he would not. He asked one of the council leaders about returning to Belgium, using the sinus infection as an excuse.
On his eleventh day in Aleppo, after eating breakfast, Jay was seized by two fellow Belgian converts. They bound his hands and marched him to a bunker where Jay was chained in a cell.
During one interrogation, he discovered his torture was linked to the text on his phone. Sometime later, the soldiers threw a question Jay had no answer for.
Dimitri had shown up looking for him. How had he known where Jay was?
Driven mad by worry in Antwerp, Dimitri left his job as a court system administrator. His days and nights were spent scrolling through online videos, searching for his son.
In a YouTube clip of gun-toting Dutch-speaking jihadists standing in a field of yellow flowers, he spotted Jay.
The teen was exactly where Dimitri hoped he wasn’t — on the front lines in war-ravaged Syria.
Dimitri did an interview with a Belgian newspaper stating his need for help finding his way in Syria. Journalists Joanie de Rijke and Narciso Contreras signed on in exchange for rights to the story.
After two weeks of fruitless searching in Aleppo, a tip led Dimitri to the compound in Kafr Hamra. He’d been repeatedly warned how dangerous it was. He was terrified.
Still, when the soldiers ordered him to leave Rilke and Contreras in the car and come in alone, he obeyed. After a brief interview, Dimitri was informed there were no Belgians in the compound.
He was then seized by several soldiers, who forced a black hood over his head and shoved Dimitri into a basement.
The jihadists howled as they beat him to the ground. Then a hand grabbed the back of his head, and the barrel of a Kalashnikov was shoved into his mouth.
“Now, Mossad spy,” came a voice, “you tell us how you got here.”
The bloodied father, his ribs broken, was forced to cluck like a chicken, get down on his fours like a goat, dance like a monkey and prance like a horse.
When his humiliation was complete, they served Dimitri tea before letting him go. While he was in custody, the reporters were beaten and threatened with execution. Reunited, they fled.
Dimitri returned to Antwerp before making a second, fruitless pilgrimage to Aleppo.
Jay was eventually released but betrayed again as he plotted escape. Beaten raw with a machete, he was later imprisoned with James Foley, the American war correspondent taken prisoner.
The video of Foley’s beheading, kneeling in the desert in an orange jumpsuit, sickened the world when it was posted by ISIS in August 2014.
After six months in prison, Jay was sent to serve as a lookout in Sheikh Najjar, an industrial complex near Aleppo. The fighting was heavy, but the posting had its advantages.
It seemed no one was watching him anymore.
Jay slipped away to an internet café several times, sending messages to his father. Dimitri had connections in Bab al-Hawa, a border town near Turkey. He guided his son there.
After flying to Reyhanli, the town on the Turkish side, Dimitri spent a long day waiting for his son to show up. Two of his contacts had volunteered to deliver Jay.
Standing at the prearranged destination, the father saw a motorcycle fast approaching. Jay was on the back. Dimitri had no words, only a father’s arms finally able to reach his son.
In 2015, Jay’s testimony led to the conviction of 46 members of Sharia4Belgium as terrorists. He was sentenced to a 40-month suspended sentence.
But Jay’s reentry was not without its bumps. Dimitri painfully learned from a press interview given by Jay that his son only wore Western clothes to fool him.
Outside of his presence, Jay reverted to long Islamic shirts and still believed the violent transformation of Belgium into a caliphate was “inevitable.”
Even when Jay renounced his beliefs, his notoriety made it impossible to find work.
To this day, radical websites call for his assassination and post updates reporting his current hairstyle and whether he’s wearing glasses.
Dimitri, too, has become a controversial figure — staging high-profile rescue efforts for other parents desperate to bring their sons home from Syria.