Love in the Time of Terror

It seems that even bloodthirsty terrorists can fall googly-eyed in love.

Reporter Paul Cruickshank, in the March issue of Marie Claire, tells the disquieting tale of how a middle-class Belgian woman fell in love with a budding Islamic terrorist, married him, and allegedly became a terrorist herself.

The story sheds light on a debate that has consumed the world since 9/11: How, and why, do bright young people in the Muslim world become drawn to terrorism? In the case of Malika el Aroud -- who is about to go to trial in Brussels for alleged terrorist ties -- it was a matter of love. When el Aroud met her husband, a rookie jihadist named Abdessattar Dahmane, she had known nothing but bad relationships. But with this man, things were different: She liked the gentle way he treated her. She liked his passion, his feelings of camaraderie with fellow Muslims around the world. He felt strongly that the Islamic world was being oppressed. She found something to believe in.

Soon enough, the newlyweds had moved to their new home, in Afghanistan. Dahmane attended a training camp near the city of Jalalabad, and eventually joined an al Qaeda network. Two days before 9/11, Dahmane and another man, both posing as TV news reporters, carried out a suicide mission that made headlines around the globe -- the assassination of Osama bin Laden enemy Ahmed Shah Massoud. Dahmane's final valentine to his wife: a prerecorded video saying goodbye, forever.

In the weeks that followed, al Qaeda fighters protected the widowed el Aroud. In an unnerving display of chivalry, they risked their own lives to escort her to safety out of Afghanistan, thus sealing her loyalty to the cause. After that, authorities allege, she hid in plain sight in Europe, recruiting young jihadists on her website. In December, she was arrested in a massive counterterrorism raid, with officials calling her "an al Qaeda living legend."

Cruickshank, a research fellow at the NYU Center on Law and Security, has met el Aroud, and has been following her story for years. He tells a tale that stirs up conflicting emotions -- it's a story of passion and murder. But if you want to know who becomes a jihadist and why, read this story.


Abigail Pesta is an award-winning journalist who has lived and worked around the world. Currently she is the editor-at-large of Marie Claire. Previously Abby worked at Glamour, where she launched Mariane Pearl's popular column about women who are changing the world. She is a former editor at The Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong, where she ran a team of reporters Asia-wide. Before that she worked in London for an international wire service. She has traveled the world -- climbing the ruins of Angkor Wat, motoring across Wales, bar-hopping in Shanghai with a minor-league Mafioso. She writes short stories for her website, Fine Words Butter No Parsnips.