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How to Lure a Jihadi Bride: New Book Reveals How Young Girls are Seduced Away from Home


By Anna Pukas

May 26, 2015

The "here" he referred to is Syria and the putative bridegroom is Abu Bilel, 38, a senior figure in Isis, also known as Islamic State, and a terrorist with much blood on his hands. His intended, Melodie, is 20, a solitary child and lonely girl living in Toulouse, France, who has secretly converted to Islam.

Except she is nothing of the kind. "Melodie" is the alter ego created on social media by a French investigative journalist to infiltrate the online world of Jihadis and their would-be followers. Her quest brought her to the attention of Abu Bilel, also French-born and now right-hand man to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. From their first contact Bilel wasted no time in grooming Melodie to join him in Syria as his Jihadi bride.

Such are the ramifications of her investigation that Anna Erelle, the name on the cover of the book she has written, is also a pseudonym and she lives with police protection after receiving death threats.

In The Skin Of A Jihadist relates how Erelle, who works for a weekly magazine, created Melodie after interviewing teenagers in Paris who were drawn to Jihadism.

On a Friday evening in April last year Abu Bilel contacted her after she shared on Facebook a video he had posted of himself showing off the weaponry in his 4x4 vehicle. He got straight to the point.

"Are you thinking of coming to Syria?" he asked, and told her that as a convert she should prepare for her hijrah (emigration from a non-Muslim to a Muslim country). "I'll take care of you," he added.

He also wanted to talk to her on Skype but Erelle put him off until the next day. The next evening she was ready for him, her hair covered by a Hijab, the traditional headcovering - and with a photographer positioned out of sight to take pictures of the terrorist on the computer screen. To make herself seem younger than 31, her true age at the time, she wore no make-up and spoke in a light, girlish voice.

Bilel spoke as if Melodie had already decided to leave France and travel to Syria. When she expressed doubt his reply astonished her. "You can trust me," he said. "You'll be well taken care of here. You'll be important. And if you agree to marry me I'll treat you like a queen."

AS MELODIE, Erelle discovered that Bilel was vain and a braggart who loved to show off his guns and boast about the "dozens" of infidels he had killed. He was also a highly manipulative man.

"He was like a salesman before making a pitch. He sought to understand the expectations and weaknesses of his prey. For him Melodie represented a type. Once he managed to categorise her he simply had to churn out the appropriate responses in deep and convincing tones."

A naïve young girl like Melodie would not see the contradiction in Bilel urging her to abandon Western consumerism while wearing the latest Ray-Bans and Nike gear.

According to Bilel, female jihadis spent the morning studying Arabic and the afternoon learning to shoot with evenings given over to spiritual lectures. He began and ended his calls by calling her "my baby" and assured her he already had a large home waiting for her.

As Bilel's trust in Melodie grew she was able to coax information out of him. He talked about his recruiting methods and about his role as a fighter, describing the battle for control of the city of Raqqa between Islamic State and the Syrian army in 2013 and how he had taken part in beating, torturing and beheading prisoners.

Sometimes the details were so shocking that Erelle would have to cut the call. She carried Melodie's phone and hijab around with her in case a message came from Bilel and spent the time in between their conversations verifying what Bilel had told her.

"Like all liars he sometimes forgot what he'd said but the more horrible stories he told me, about battles and killings, were all true."

As it became known that she was Abu Bilel's future wife, Melodie acquired a semi-celebrity online status of her own. Other young girls contacted her for advice on what to expect when they arrived in Syria. Would they find underwear or sanitary goods there?

Eventually Melodie agreed to travel to Syria but said she did not want to come alone and would bring a friend "Yasmine" who was only 15. Bilel said girls in Syria married at 14 and promised to find her a good husband.

The plan was for Melodie and Yasmine (in reality a photographer) to go to Amsterdam and fly on to Istanbul. An older woman would meet them there and take them to Kilis, near the Turkish-Syrian border. However, once in Amsterdam the plan changed. Bilel said there would be nobody to meet them in Istanbul.

Instead they should buy one-way tickets to Urfa, a border town controlled by Islamic State. "You can do this, my lioness," said Bilel when Melodie objected.

When she refused to go on he became furious. "He began to yell, he was very frightening," says Erelle. He said 'You've made a fool of me in front of the hierarchy here."

Erelle returned to Paris and made her alter ego disappear. The magazine published her article and Erelle passed on the valuable information she had gained about the structure of IS to the security services. She also learned that Bilel, who is of Algerian descent, hails from Roubaix. As well as waging jihad for the past 15 years he also has convictions for theft and armed robbery in France.

A year on she has changed her phone number several times and moved house. The authorities advised her to keep Melodie's Skype account open. She has but it is inundated with "terrifying messages" including death threats. Her friends are now too scared to be seen with her.

Yet her tale illustrates all too clearly how young girls with not much in their lives - girls like Melodie and her British counterparts - are seduced into leaving their homes to join the jihad in Syria.

"You can see how a girl like Melodie would be mesmerised. She feels like a nobody and suddenly there is this man of 38 who has had all these incredible adventures, who is kind to her and telling her he loves her.

"The girls who go to Syria know they will be on the internet and people will be talking about them."

There have been reports of Abu Bilel's death but they are uncon-firmed. However, if the reports are true, his so-called martyrdom is undeserved.

"He was staring at me and when I looked into his eyes I saw nothing, no religion, no feeling. He is not a good man.

"At first I wanted to feel something for him because I like to think there is always something good in humans. But there is nothing human in him."

In The Skin Of A Jihadist by Anna Erelle, HarperCollins, price £12.99, will be published on June 4.