When a French journalist posed online as a young woman interested in Isis [sic], she was soon contacted by a fighter in Syria. He proposed marriage – but could she maintain a double life?
It was 10 o’clock on a Friday night in spring 2014 and I was sitting on the sofa in my one-bed Paris apartment when I received a message from a French terrorist based in Syria: “Salaam alaikum, sister. I see you watched my video. It’s gone viral – crazy! Are you Muslim? What do you think about mujahideen?”
A journalist, I had been writing about European jihadis in Islamic State for about a year. I created a social media account, using the name Mélodie, to investigate why European teenagers were attracted to Islamic extremism. I spent hours scanning feeds filled with descriptions of gruesome plans. I had spent that night on my couch, flicking from account to account, when I came across a video of a French jihadi who looked about 35. He wore military fatigues and called himself Abu Bilel. He claimed to be in Syria.
I wanted to understand how European children were falling for this propaganda, and to grasp the mindset of soldiers who spent their days torturing, stealing, raping, killing, and their nights staring into their computers and bragging. Perhaps this man would give me an insight.
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