PARIS — What first attracted Linda B. to her partner was his bad-boy side. He was, like her, from the French West Indies and was serving a prison sentence for repeated robberies and jailbreaks. When he converted to Islam while in prison, she started doing some research and bought "books to learn about and understand Islam, for beginners," she recalls. "I barely managed to learn anything," she admits. "I didn't learn a single sura of the Koran. I converted because of love. Had he believed in another religion, I would have probably converted to that too."
Prison is a melting pot for indoctrination but also for meeting people. Between two downloads of jihadist propaganda films, a certain "long-sentence" inmate is making advances to "Flower of Islam" on IndexNikâh, "a Muslim matrimonial service open to our brothers and sisters in Islam who are ready for marriage," the halal dating website explains. "I explained that I was currently imprisoned and looking for a wife," the inmate would later explain after it was discovered he could go online with complete impunity.
What is the attraction? As part of her thesis entitled, "Western Muslim women in the shadows of jihad," Géraldine Casutt has talked with a number of these women. "After a complicated life before Islam, including with men who made them suffer, the jihadist embodies the ideal husband," says the Swiss researcher. These women see jihadists as "honest and virtuous" men ready to die as martyrs for their religion.
Relationships with jihadists soon lead to religious marriages, though not necessarily civil. They take place at the home of the groom's parents — with certain particularities. For instance, on July 5, 2009, Hayat Boumedienne — the wife of jihadist radical Amedy Coulibaly, one of Paris terrorists — didn't attend her own wedding because woman don't have to be present for Islamic marriages. In this case, her father represented her.
[rebelmouse-image 27088603 alt="""" original_size="2197x1463" expand=1]
Hayat Boumedienne — Photo: Prefecture de Police
In a wiretap from Feb. 26, 2010, a member of a former Afghan jihadist network that allegedly helped Hayat get to Syria laughs about the questions his bride-to-be was asked during the muqabala, a ceremony before marriage. "Do you accept polygamy? Do you like Osama bin Laden? Can you cook?" His fiancée answered yes to all three questions, and the couple was married.
Proselytism by text
These women don't work, nor do they go to mosques. Instead, they practice religion at home. "I only go out to go shopping," Hayat Boumeddiene told the police at one point. "You know, I wear the full veil, so it's not pleasant walking outside with people aggressively staring at you. That's why I often stay at home."
Hayat Boumeddiene is an expert when it comes to proselytism by text, according to police. When one of her friends felt lost, the young woman would write, "Obey and fear Allah. There is no force more powerful than Allah."
To perfect her knowledge, Imène Belhoucine, the wife of a French cyber-jihadist now in Syria, turns to her husband. "He tells me about religion, like how to pray, the history of Islam and when I want to know if what I'm doing is authorized. For the rest, we don't talk."
A shared devotion doesn't prevent relationship problems. "When I ask him what he does all day, he refuses to answer," Sondes Bouchnak says resentfully. She married a man she had known since childhood, a member of the so-called Buttes-Chaumont network. "I basically don't know anything about him," she says. "When I want to know more about his life, his relations, he tells me it's better if I don't know anything to avoid problems." By way of participating in the family life, her husband leaves money in a pink box hidden in their eldest child's closet to provide for daily expenses.
"Of course, in everyday life, we don't agree on everything," Hayat Boumedienne once told police. "For instance, he refuses to wash up." And when he wants to marry a second woman, she screams at him, "You're there, you tell your brothers: "Find me a second wife!" It amuses you when you're with your brothers and all that, when we haven't even been married for a year. It's nothing and you already want a second wife!"
When her husband, the killer in the Montrouge and Porte de Vincennes terror attacks, tried to answer with a feeble, "But…," she would interrupt him. "No! Let me finish! Please!" After this conversation over the phone, the question of polygamy would never be discussed again.
As for Chérif Kouachi, one of the Charlie Hebdo attackers, a May 17, 2010, wiretap reveals that he had his doubts about the prospects of going home to his wife Izzana. "I'll see if the Misses is still angry. If she is, I'll stay at my brother's." But the following day, when the police knocked on the door, the couple was together. The husband asked the police officers to wait because his wife had to put her veil on. She would later wear her niqab during her hearing. The investigators asked her:
"Are you a woman who depends on someone or something?"
"Not even your husband?"
The young woman refused to sign any of her statements.
When she was remanded to custody on Jan. 9, 2015, Izzana Kouachi told police that her brother-in-law had come from Reims to pick up her husband to go shopping. She said she was surprised by their radio silence during the day. The two brothers were shooting down 12 people in the offices of Charlie Hebdo.
During Imène Belhoucine's questioning, she challenged police officers. When they asked her the meaning of "Osama911," the pseudonym her cyber-jihadist husband used, she answered, "I know his parents wanted to call him Osama at one point. For the number 911, I have no idea."
It would be incorrect to see these women as simple victims. During a July 26, 2013, prosecution, Hayat Boumedienne was described as the subject of "marital radicalization." Today, investigators are looking into the 500 phone calls she made to Izzana Kouachi in 2014 while their husbands were preparing the Paris attacks.
A portrait is emerging of Hayat Boumedienne as a terrorist Lady Macbeth who may have encouraged her husband to perpetrate these crimes. In her digital library, there was already in 2010 Les Soldats de lumière ("The Soldiers of light"), written by Malika El Aroud, the widow of one of the two suicide bombers who assassinated Commander Massoud on Sept. 9, 2001, before the World Trade Center attacks. In her book, the jihad icon glorifies her husband's "martyr," praises the "great honor" of being the widow of a "mujahideen," the "grandiose dimension" of the sacrifice of their love. Today, it's one of her readers' turns, Hayat Boumeddiene, to play the black widow role.
"The wives of jihadists share their ideology, support it," says Farhad Khosrokhavar, head of research at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS). "They weren't brainwashed. It's quite the opposite. It's a new form of feminism. They want to be self-sufficient like men, be fighters of Islam in their own rights. Facing a society where they have no more makers, they compensate with extreme radicalization."
According to the Paris public prosecutor, 10 women are currently being investigated in France for terrorist acts linked to radical Islam. "They help out, serve as mailboxes, send money to jihadists," a magistrate says. At least 100 others are allegedly in Syria. Now among them are Imène Belhoucine and Hayat Boumeddiene.
When she was released from custody after the Charlie Hebdo killing, Izzana Kouachi just went back home.