My son just said: ‘one must not draw the prophet’

Mother thought Paris massacre would horrify child who is Islamic State recruit

 Amedy Coulibaly  and Hayat Boumeddiene, two of four suspects in connection with the shooting attack in Montrouge, France,  last week. Photograph: EPA

Amedy Coulibaly and Hayat Boumeddiene, two of four suspects in connection with the shooting attack in Montrouge, France, last week. Photograph: EPA

 

Among the more than 1.5 million people who marched in Paris against extremism were a middle-class French couple whose 22-year-old son joined Islamic State in Syria last September. An interview with Marie (55) was published in The Irish Times on November 29th, 2014.

When the massacre at Charlie Hebdo happened last week, Marie said, “I was stunned. I thought, ‘Surely my child is going to revolt against this’.”

But in a two-hour exchange via Whatsapp with her son Timothée on January 9th, the day Chérif and Said Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly were killed after their murderous rampage, she says she realised he was impervious to reason.

“Sometimes I even wish that he would die in Syria, so he doesn’t end up like the Kouachis,” Marie said. “I’m afraid of everything; that he will live, that he will die.”

Since I last spoke to Marie in November, Timothée has contacted her twice, on Christmas Eve and last Friday. “Obviously, he couldn’t wish us a happy Christmas, but he said he was thinking of us. He seems to spend most of his time praying. We want to believe he hasn’t taken up arms yet. In his messages, he says he’s not in combat.”

Marie shows me the photograph Timothée transmitted to her last week. He is dressed in black and wears a scruffy beard. But he is tanned and smiling. “He looks healthy. He’s put on weight,” she says.

Human life sacred

“He’s convinced that he’s in Syria for a just cause,” she says. “I don’t have the theological background to argue with him.”

Timothée’s elder brother, Thomas, wants to set up a website run by experts, to respond to Islamist propaganda. “The only ideology on the internet now is theirs,” she explains.

She tried to discuss the massacre at Charlie Hebdo with Timothée through Whatsapp.

“I asked him, ‘Do you know what’s going on?’ and he said ‘Yes’. Then he sent me a barrage of Koranic verses justifying reprisals. He said, ‘One must not draw the prophet. It’s forbidden.’

“They saw those drawings as an attack on them. On social networks in France, there are a lot of people saying, ‘It served [Charlie Hebdo] right’.

“I told Timothée that there are non-violent means, tribunals. When I said that it was up to God to judge, not men, he replied that everything that happens is God’s will. After the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, he said it had to happen, that they had gone too far.”

These philosophical exchanges are interspersed with emotional declarations. Timothée told his mother he often cried when he thought of her. “I am sad. My heart is bleeding,” she wrote back. “He’s convinced that he’s on the right path, and that he will be separated from us forever if we don’t convert too.”

Last week’s attacks have made the situation much worse for Marie and her husband Francis and for other parents of French jihadis, she says. “We felt the government was beginning to open up, to see that our sons are victims. This will harden their position. If he comes back now, they’ll throw him in prison for a long time.”

Like many on the march, Marie believes the violence will continue. “The three they killed; it resolves nothing. There’s no going back now.”