Terror in Europe

Married To Jihad: What Drove The Terrorists' Wives Of Paris

A woman wearing a niqab in France
A woman wearing a niqab in France
Matthieu Suc

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.

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."

Lady Macbeth

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?"

"No."

"Not even your husband?"

"No."

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.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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