Biography

Montasser ibn Yousef ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn Yousef Alde'emeh (alternative spelling: Al Dameh or Al-Dameh) was born on April 8, 1989 in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. His parents were both born in Mandatory Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel. His father (d. 2018, رحمه الله) was born in 1941 during World War II, his mother in 1947. In 1948, the clan to which Montasser belongs fled from Sabbarin, a village in the subdistrict of Haifa that was ethnically cleansed. The family ended up in the Nur Shams camp in the northern part of the West Bank. During the Six-Day War in 1967, a part of the family fled to Jordan. Since Montasser’s father was working in the Lebanese Republic at the time, his mother left the Nur Shams refugee camp to reunite with those family members who were then residing in Jordan. Montasser’s father worked in Germany before permanently settling in Belgium in the late 1980s. There he started to work as a butcher – a popular profession amongst his family members in Palestine and Jordan at the time. He was soon joined by two of his older sons, who immediately began work as butchers in Brussels. In the early 1990s, Montasser arrived in the Kingdom of Belgium at the age of two, accompanied by his mother and sister. The family settled in an apartment near the metro station Comte de Flandre or Graaf van Vlaanderen in Molenbeek.

Montasser attended a French-speaking kindergarten in the municipality, before relocating with his family to Asse, and then eventually to Baardegem, where he grew up. He attended a municipal school in Meldert, but he completed his elementary education at St. Vincent’s Primary School in Dendermonde. In 2002, he started his secondary education at College of the Holy Virgin in Dendermonde, before moving to complete this stage of his education in 2007 at Royal Atheneum of Dendermonde. In 2011, Montasser graduated cum laude from the Catholic University of Leuven with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Language and Area Studies: Arabic and Islamic Studies (Minor in Language, Culture, History and Society). During his undergraduate studies, he visited various countries in the Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, where he obtained a certificate in Modern Standard Arabic at Zarqa University (2009), and Saudi Arabia, where he took private Islamic lessons in Dammam and received (but declined) an offer of a scholarship from the Saudi government for the academic year 2011-2012. Montasser then returned to KU Leuven to obtain a master’s degree in Language and Area studies: Arabic and Islamic Studies (Magna cum laude). In 2013, he pursued a master’s degree in World Religions, Inter-religious Dialogue and Religious Studies at KU Leuven, and Jewish History, Thought and Civilisation at the Institut d’Etudes du Judaïsme of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), but he terminated these studies early to instead begin a doctoral programme in that same year. He started this mode of study at the Department of Political Science at the University of Antwerp (2013) and at the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies of Radboud University Nijmegen (2015), but in 2017 he decided to return to KU Leuven, the university where it all started for him, to obtain his doctorate under the supervision of Prof. Dr. John Abdallah Nawas.

The focus of Montasser’s study is radical Islamic ideology. During his doctoral study, he embedded field research in western Aleppo, Syria (2014) for the duration of two weeks. He followed Belgian and Dutch jihadists from the Al-Nusra Front, a branch of Al-Qaeda in Syria. During this period, Al-Nusra Front subjected him to imprisonment and interrogation, followed by his eventual release on the same day. Also in 2014, he contributed research to the Belgian government with the intention of aiding their efforts in tackling radical ideology. In 2015, he established the knowledge, research and counselling centre, The Way To, for support-seeking Muslim youths and affected parents. Due to persistent death threats, he decided to close the centre on May 1, 2016. Immediately following the 2016 Brussels bombings, Montasser started to work with Scholengroep Brussel, which represents the educational institutions of the Flemish Community in Brussels and consists of more than 60 institutions, including primary and secondary schools, art schools, and adult education centers. In 2017, he embedded further field research in Kirkuk, Iraq, following the PUK Peshmerga fighters led by the Kurdish general Wasta Rasul during their battles with IS(IS) at the frontline between Kirkuk and Mosul. He also researched Salafi-Jihadi groups in countries such as Jordan (2014) and Tunisia (2015 and 2017). In December 2019 he visited the Gweran Prison in Hasakah, where he interviewed Belgian IS(IS) prisoners. Until now, and since 2014, he has interviewed dozens of people for Belgian newspapers and magazines, including military and political leaders and jihadists.