Minorities in Syria and Iraq constantly live under the shadow of terror and ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has absolute control over the territory. Little is known that despite its atrocities on the people and countless human rights violations, the extremist militant organisation is still able to lure young minds from European countries into joining it.
It is saddening to see clueless families crying after they come to know that their kids crossed the border to join the jihadis.
Intrigued by how ISIS uses its network to radicalize the youth, a journalist of French origin with the courage of her conviction, risked her life to uncover the truth.
Posing as Melodie
32-year-old Anna Erelle pretended to be 20-year-old Mélodie. She created a fake identity on Facebook and Twitter, making a senior ISIS leader Abou Bilel fall for her.
Marriage proposal from a terrorist
For a face-to-face conversation with Bilel, Erelle needed to look 10 years younger. She borrowed a hijab from a friend, covered her forehead and concealed a tattoo on her wrist with foundation. Before getting on a video call, she adjusted her camera in a way that didn’t show details of her apartment.
Bilel started talking to her and slowly started opening up to her. He shared with her information about recruitment of youth in the army and how they were taught Arabic and shooting followed by a spiritual lecture in the evening.
Boasting about killings and fake promises
Bilel would tell her about the brutal killings and beheadings that he carried out. He took pride in telling how he killed the infidels. As Erelle says:
“I saw nothing, no religion, no feeling. He is not a good man.”
He would also share with her pictures of him holding a gun in his 4 x 4 jeep. He promised her a big house and lots of children if she joins him in Syria.
Young girls wanted to know more about Syria
As Melodie’s online friends grew in number, she started to receive questions from young girls who were willing to go to Syria. They wanted to know about the safest route to al-sham (the Abbasid Caliphate province in Syria). Other questions were like:
“Should I bring a lot of sanitary pads, or can I find them there?”
“Will I be able to find thong underwear there?”
Melodie used to discourage all of them.
Leaving for Syria and putting an end to undercover life
Living a double life had become stressful for Erelle and Bilel was forcing her to come to Syria. She thought it was about time to put an end to undercover life. So, Melodie told Bilel that she would come to Syria with a friend. In reality, she was accompanied by a photographer.
Bilel asked Melodie to book a ticket via Amsterdam and demanded that she brings along some duty-free stuff like after-shave, preferably Egoiste by Chanel for him.
“They say they reject the West, but they love luxury and designer labels.”
On reaching Istanbul, Bilel told Melodie that no one was coming to meet her. He insisted that she carries the journey ahead alone. Melodie firmly refused to travel without assistance and this angered Bilel.
He said: ” Do you think I’m an idiot? From now on, you’re going to shut up. I’m part of a terrorist organisation. You can’t talk to me like that. Don’t you know who I am? I command 100 soldiers every day. I haven’t even told you a quarter of the truth. I’m wanted internationally; that’s why I can’t even go to our cities in Turkey. I can only travel to Iraq. I’m 38, and you and your friend can’t bring me down. You’d better tread lightly.”
Even after severing contact with Bilel, changing her telephone number and residence several times, Erelle kept on receiving death threats on Melodie’s Skype account, which authorities had asked not to delete. She has been given police protection since then.
A complete account of Erelle about her interaction with the Islamic extremist can be read in her book titled In the Skin of a Jihadist .
(PS: Anna Erelle is not the real name of the journalist.)