AP, December 1, 2005
BRUSSELS, Belgium — Belgians were trying to come to terms Thursday with the news that a working class woman from an industrial southern city had turned from a “nice” shop assistant into a suicide bomber who blew herself up in Iraq.
“This is our Belgian kamikaze killed in Iraq,” headlined the newspaper La Derniere Heure on Thursday over a picture of a thoroughly normal-looking, smiling girl looking into the camera.
When her mother, Liliane Degauque, saw police coming to her doorstep on Wednesday, she immediately knew what it was about. The evening before, she had heard the reports there had been a terrorist attack on Nov. 9 by a Belgian woman.
“When I saw the first pictures, I said to myself, ‘it is my girl.’ For three weeks already I tried to contact her by telephone but I got the answering machine,” she told the RTBF network on Thursday.
Authorities on Thursday formally arrested 5 of the 14 suspects they detained in dawn raids the day before and charged them with involvement in a terrorist network that sent volunteers to Iraq, including Degauque’s daughter Muriel, who died at 38.
In her younger years, Muriel lived a conventional life in the Charleroi area. Media reports said she finished high school before taking on several jobs, including selling bread in a bakery. “She was so nice,” said her mother. The picture in the paper dated from that time.
She told media, however, that her daughter could easily be influenced.
Muriel changed first when she married an Algerian man and later one with Moroccan roots. She was increasingly drawn into fundamentalist religion.
“It is the first time that we see that a Western woman, a Belgian, marries a radical Muslim, and is converted up to the point of becoming a jihad fighter,” said federal police director Glenn Audenaert.
Italian bishops gave warning yesterday against Catholics marrying Muslims, citing cultural differences and fears that children born to mixed marriages would shun Christianity.
Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the president of the Italian Bishops Conference, said: “In addition to the problems that any couple encounters when forming a family, Catholics and Muslims have to reckon with the difficulties that inevitably arise from deep cultural differences.”
Cardinal Ruini, one of the right-hand men of Pope Benedict XVI, said that it was often the woman who married a Muslim man and it was she who converted to Islam. In a statement, the bishops said that if an Italian woman married a Muslim immigrant and then settled in his country of origin, her rights were “not guaranteed in the way they are in Italy or in other Western nations”.
In addition the children of mixed marriages tended to be brought up as Muslims and not as Catholics. Such marriages should, therefore, be discouraged. Church officials said that there were 200,000 mixed marriages in Italy, with 20,000 this year alone, an increase of 10 per cent on the previous year.
The statement enraged liberal groups, which accused the Roman Catholic Church of interfering in Italian affairs.
Emma Bonino, a leader of the Transnational Radical Party, accused the Vatican of seeking to affect the general election, due in April, as politicians from the Right and Left courted the Vatican to gain Catholic votes. She said that the Vatican had taken strong stances on issues such as abortion, same-sex unions, and euthanasia in violation of the 1929 Lateran Treaty between the Vatican and the Italian State. Mara Tognetti Borgogna, a sociologist at Bicocca University, Milan, said of mixed marriages: “Each case is different. It depends on the circumstances.The most critical moment usually comes when the children reach adolescence and come into conflict with one parent or both over their life choices.”
Signora Borgogna said that they could work, “but you need a high level of mutual tolerance between two languages, two religions, two ways of looking at the world. On the other hand, the mixed marriages we have now are a kind of social laboratory, because that is the way our society is going”.