The girl who went from baker’s assistant to Baghdad bomber

SHE came from an ordinary family in an industrial Belgian town. She used to sell baguettes in a bakery, and worked as a waitress in a café. She showed the rebelliousness of a typical teenager, but even in their worst dreams her parents never imagined that Muriel Degauque would end her life by blowing herself up in a suicide bomb attack against American troops in Iraq.
The story of the 38-year-old Belgian’s journey from baker’s assistant to Baghdad bomber, making her the first Western woman suicide bomber, emerged in shocking detail yesterday as her parents tried to make sense of her life.
Jean and Liliane Degauque, a former crane operator and a medical secretary, said that they had watched their daughter’s gradual transition from Christian to Islamic zealot, and feared the worst when they saw the TV news on Tuesday.
“For about a month we had been trying to call her and just kept getting her voice mail. When we heard on Tuesday evening on the television that a Belgian woman had blown herself up in Iraq, we thought it was Muriel,” her mother said. A visit from the Belgian police the next morning confirmed those fears, and by yesterday morning Muriel’s friendly, pretty, face was smiling from the front of a Belgian national paper. “Here is the Belgian kamikaze, killed in Iraq,” proclaimed the headline.
Muriel was born in Charleroi, grew up in her brick home at 33 Rue de l’Europe — a quiet street in the shadow of a coal tip — and was educated at the local high school. “She was absolutely normal as a kid,” Jeannine Samain, a neighbour, said. She was never easy. “When she broke a vase in the sitting room, she said that Jean-Paul (her older brother) had done it even though he had been upstairs doing his homework ,” her mother told La Dernière Heure.
As an adolescent, she dabbled in drugs, smoked, drank heavily and sometimes ran away from home. “One time I had to go 170km to get her back from the Ardennes,” M Degauque said. She was more interested in boyfriends than studies. “I don’t know how many of them she had.” She found jobs as a waitress and a baker’s assistant, but was accused of stealing from the till. Tragedy then struck the family when Jean-Paul was killed in a road accident.
Muriel moved from Charleroi to Brussels, which has a large Islamic community. She married and divorced a Turkish man, and had a long relationship with an Algerian, who converted her to Islam in 2001. Three years ago she married Issam Goris, who was born in Belgium to Moroccan parents, and followed him to Morocco.
“They told us that they had a house in Morocco and some horses, and a Mercedes and three motorbikes. We never found out whether it was true,” said her mother, who blames Goris for brainwashing her daughter. When Muriel returned to Belgium, her mother no longer recognised her. She had become “more Muslim than Muslim”, she said. “The religion was totally ingrained in her. She only lived for that.”
Initially, she wore a hijab, or Islamic veil, but soon started wearing the head-to-toe chador that leaves the face visible. Finally she wore a burka. She became ever more estranged from her parents. “When we saw them, they imposed their rules. We were at home, but my husband had to eat in the kitchen with Issam while the women ate together in the sitting room. There was no question of putting on the TV or opening a beer,” M Degauque said.
“My husband got so fed up that he said the next time they came round we should leave them by themselves.”
Muriel and her husband lived in a small two-room flat in Saint Gilles, one of the poorest and most racially mixed areas of Brussels, paying €375 (£255) a month rent.
In mid-September they left, telling their landlord they were going to Kenya to try to find Goris’s father. “They had stayed in the flat for two years. I never had any problem with them. They did not leave any forwarding address, saying they might come back in six months to a year,” her landlord told The Times. “She wore a burka all the time. I never saw her face, only her eyes,” he added.
But Kenya was not their real destination. The two radical Muslims instead drove by car across Turkey and Syria into Iraq, determined to kill themselves and as many Americans as possible.
According to conflicting reports, Muriel killed either only herself, or six people. On the same day, in a separate incident, Goris was shot dead by American troops before he could detonate his belt-bomb.
A LIFE LESS ORDINARY
MURIEL DEGAGUES
Born July 19, 1967 in Charleroi, Belgium
Attended Athene Royal de Fontaine-l’Eveque school Jobs
Worked in a cafe and baker
Moved to Brussels. Married and divorced Belgian-Turkish man
2001 converted to Islam
2002 Married Belgian-Moroccan Issam Goris and lived briefly in Morocco September
2005 Left Brussels and drove to Iraq with Issam Goris
November 9, 2005 blew herself up in suicide attack near Baghdad
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