Adèle, the fifteen-year-old daughter of a professional couple in Paris who joins Jabhat al-Nusra after an online conversion by her handler “Brother Mustafa.” In a farewell note to her mother she leaves behind, Adèle writes:
My own darling Mamaman (Mamaman à moi)
…Its because I love you that that I have gone.
When you read these lines I’ll be far away.
I will be in the Promised Land, the Sham, in safe hands.
Because its there that I have to die to go to Paradise.
… I have been chosen and I have been guided.
And I know what you do not know: we’re all going to die,
punished by the wrath of God.
It’s the end of the world, Mamaman.
There is too much misery, too much injustice…
And everyone will end up in hell.
Except for those who have fought with the last Imam in the Sham,
Except for us.
Adèle’s family does not know exactly how she first became drawn to Islam. But as with so many other young recruits from Europe, the Internet seems to have played a crucial part. On Adèle’s computer, they discover pictures of her in a black niqab, as well as a record of her online conversion and rapid indoctrination by Brother Mustapha, in a hidden Facebook account in which she calls herself Oum Hawwa (“Mother of Eve”).
Her conversion appears to have been influenced by the sudden death of Cathy, her much-loved aunt, from an aneurysm at the age of forty. In the Facebook dialogue, Mustapha consoles her about her loss and asks: “Have you reflected on what I explained?”
“Yes, thanks be to God, my spirit is clearer. God called aunt Cathy back to bring me closer to Him. He did this so I would see the Signs that the ignorant don’t hear.”
“This is how He tests us,” says Mustapha. “ Everything is written—there is always an underlying meaning. Allah wanted you to learn. But He must send you a trigger so you can leave the ignorance in which you have been kept up till now. Your reasoning is merely human. Allah reasons as Master of the Universe.…”
As Adèle’s engagement strengthens, Mustapha becomes more strident, moving into grooming mode:
When I tell you to call me you must call me. I want you pious and submissive to Allah and to me. I can’t wait to see your two little eyes beneath the niqab.
The story ends tragically: in Syria, the girl is briefly married to Omar, a jihadi chosen by the Emir of her group. Then one day Adèle’s parents receive a text from Adèle’s cellphone: “Oum Hawwa died today. She was not chosen by God. She didn’t die a martyr: just a stray bullet. May you hope she doesn’t go to hell.”
In the hope of retrieving her daughter, Adèle’s mother, Sophie, receives help from Samy, a practicing French Muslim. He has just come back from Syria after failing to rescue his own fourteen-year-old younger brother, Hocine, who also joined al-Nusra. Samy explains the all-embracing ideology that drives the jihadists. After being kidnapped in Northern Syria, Samy had been brought before a leader of the French division of al-Nusra. “There were young French boys everywhere. An entire town of French recruits,” Samy recalls. He is told that the Syrian jihad and the restoration of the caliphate is a prelude to the final battle at the End of Time. He is warned not to listen to the Salafists (orthodox believers) who claim that waging jihad is subject to certain limitations. “God has chosen us! We have the Truth! You’re either with us or you’re a traitor,” he is told, in a phrase that echoes George W. Bush. “Only those who fight with the Mahdi”—the Muslim messiah, who will restore the caliphate—“will enter paradise.”