It was a weekend full of hype and glitter for us here in Kenya. Not because it is not yet chilly and it’s July and nor because 4 baby lions were born on Thursday. Continue reading “Obama was in Kenya”
Hello good people!
This is a post that I just had to share. I know it is a February/March story but whenever i read it, it feels like i am reading it for the first time. It is a story of the now famous french journalist ‘Anna Erelle’. She went undercover as a jihadist and her story will give you chills. One thing I learnt from her is that if you love what you do, there is nothing you cannot do. Here::::::
The young woman sitting in a Parisian cafe could be meeting a friend for lunch. Her figure-hugging purple top sets off her dark hair and intelligent eyes, and her hands are heavy with rings.
Every so often she glances out of the window, but she is not checking whether her friend has arrived: She is nervously hoping the police officer assigned to keep her safe is not too far away.
Anna Erelle is living in terror, having crossed ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. She has received death threats and abuse online and a video of her is circulating accompanied by Arabic text that reads: “Brothers around the world, if you see her, kill her.”
On her smartphone, Erelle has a CCTV picture of three British girls — Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Amira Abase, 15 — as they passed through Gatwick airport two weeks ago in flowing scarves and skinny jeans, en route to join ISIS in Syria.
“Look at them, they’re perfect,” she said, pointing a manicured fingernail at the screen. “They seem happy and relaxed. They look just as if they are off to spend a fortnight on the beach in Turkey. Three girls in black would attract attention. Like this, why would anyone notice them?
“It’s the same instruction I was given when I was traveling to Syria. Ditch the niqab, look like a regular girl. Be nice to your family, they won’t suspect. Leave nothing behind, not a note or a text message, don’t try to explain or they will come after you. Be there one day and the next, disappear.”
It was not actually Erelle who wanted to travel to Syria but “Melodie,” a 20-year-old would-be jihadist bride she created on the Internet. Erelle, 32, is a journalist with a weekly news magazine in Paris who specializes in covering the Middle East.
Two years ago, she carried out a series of interviews with teenagers in the banlieues, the poverty-stricken suburbs of Paris which have become a breeding ground for extremism, and was intrigued by how many young Muslims had been radicalized.
“They knew very little about religion. They had hardly read a book and they learnt jihad before religion,” she said. “They’d tell me, ‘You think with your head, we think with our hearts.’ They had a romantic view of radicalism. I wondered how that happened.”
Even more baffling were the “caliphettes,” young women who had grown up in a free society but were obsessed with jihadist fighters. “To them, jihadists are like Brad Pitt, only better because Brad Pitt is not religious,” says Erelle.
She decided to join the young Muslim community online and created a fake profile on Facebook and Twitter. Little was known about the growing links between extremists and Muslim teenagers then, and even now the scale of the network is a surprise: Sultana, one of the missing British girls believed to have crossed the border to Syria, was following more than 70 extremists on Twitter and had amassed more than 11,000 followers.
Erelle’s intention was to observe exchanges online and build up a picture of how youngsters were being radicalized in France. Then came something unexpected: Melodie attracted the attention of Abou-Bilel, one of ISIS’s senior commanders in Raqqa (pictured, top). He fell in love with her, proposed marriage and invited her to join him in the caliphate.
My ISIS boyfriend
Erelle picked up the first of Bilel’s messages around 10 o’clock on a warm evening last April as she threw herself down on the sofa after a day at work and clicked in to see what Melodie’s “friends” had been up to: “Salaam alaikum, sister. I see you have watched my video. It has been seen round the world, it’s crazy! Are you a Muslim? What do you think of the mujaheddin? Are you thinking of coming to Syria?”
Erelle was astonished. Bilel was a French-born fighter of Algerian descent who had allied himself in Iraq to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, and moved with him to Syria.
Melodie had been online only a few days but she had already made a wide circle of friends, sharing videos and conversations about jihad. She was supposed to be a girl from a poor area in the south of France whose mother worked long hours and who had no father or brother.
Melodie answered Bilel tentatively, telling him she was a convert and wanted to learn to be a good Muslim. Her messages were accompanied by lots of smiley faces. He was more than encouraging.
Over the next few days, he sent pictures of himself with his 4×4 Jeep and holding a gun. Soon he was telling her that he loved her and she must come to Syria.
“When you get here, you’ll be treated like a princess,” he promised.
“This is why girls go there,” said Erelle. “It’s the dream of a good life. They are persuaded that it’s a paradise and that they don’t have any future in Britain or France and they won’t find good husbands and can never be good Muslims surrounded by infidels. Bilel told Melodie she could have a beautiful life, a big apartment and lots of children.”
Very soon, Bilel wanted to talk to her in person, on Skype.
“I didn’t see the face of a man who would kill or rape — he boasted that he had killed ‘dozens’ of infidels — and those first few seconds were unforgettable,” she said. “He was staring at me and when I looked back into his eyes I saw nothing, no religion, no feeling. He is not a good man.”
She was not sure she could get away with posing as someone 10 years younger, but Erelle is small and slim and once she had put on a hijab and minimized her makeup, it seemed to work.
“It was very strange to act nice with a terrorist, to be cute and to be saying, ‘Hey, tell me about your day!’ I thought I would feel uncomfortable in a hijab, but the costume helped. When I put it on, I wasn’t me anymore.”
Bilel was delighted. “You make me laugh a lot!” he told her. As his trust grew, so he began to talk more about his life as a fighter.
He described the bloody battle for Raqqa in 2013 as Islamists fought the Syrian army for control of the city and how he had taken part in beatings and beheadings and tortured prisoners.
“He’s a braggart, he’s very full of himself, but he is also a man capable of real cruelty. At first I wanted to feel something for him because I like to think there is always something good in humans . . . but there is nothing human in him.”
Life of adventure
Bilel’s real name was Rachid and he had grown up in Roubaix in northern France. Erelle has since learned he had a series of convictions for petty crime and jumped bail to go to Iraq when he was radicalized in 2000. As one of Baghdadi’s right-hand men, he had three jobs in Syria: recruitment, the collecting of taxes and commanding troops.
New recruits were arriving every day from Europe, he told her. “They learn Arabic in the morning and shooting in the afternoon.” The recruits shared a dormitory and would be lectured by a “spiritual guide” in the evenings.
“After two weeks, they would be assessed and the clever ones picked out for special duties, like counter-espionage.”
Erelle was sharing and checking everything he told her with contacts in Syria and the French security services. “Like all liars, sometimes he forgot what he’d said and then tell a different story so I had to check everything, but the more horrible stories he told me, about battles and killings, they were all true.”
He spoke of his admiration for suicide bombers — “Here we assess strength in two ways, through faith and courage. The suicide bombers are the strongest of us all.” — and joked about how he preferred converts like Melodie, because they were “rigorous in religion, but open in life.”
“You can see how a girl like Melodie would be mesmerized,” said Erelle. “She feels like a nobody and all of a sudden here is this man of 38, nearly twice her age, who has had all these incredible adventures, who is kind to her and telling her he loves her and wanting to talk to her 1,000 times a day.”
Once Melodie became known as Bilel’s fiancée, she grew into a minor celebrity among her Islamic friends on the Internet.
“This must have played a part in the British girls’ disappearance, too,” she said. “The ones who go to Syria know they will be in the newspapers and on the Internet and people will be talking about them. These girls were following a friend who had already left for Syria. They must have seen the pain that caused her family, but it didn’t stop them.”
At first, Melodie refused when Bilel tried to persuade her to come to Raqqa. She could not leave her mother, she said. She was frightened of traveling such a long way.
“He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He would say ‘when you arrive’ you can help look after orphans until you have your own children, or visit wounded soldiers.
“He took it for granted I would obey. He wanted to know if I had enough money for a plane ticket. He told me he and his organization were rich and that I would be paid the money back.”
Smuggled to Syria
The French police were on alert for girls leaving for Syria last summer, so Bilel said she should travel first to Amsterdam, to throw the authorities off the scent. Melodie had finally agreed to come to Syria if she could bring her (fictitious) 15-year-old friend Yasmin.
“He said, ‘Say you are sleeping at Yasmin’s house for the night and vice versa.’ When I got to Amsterdam, I was to throw away my phone and buy a new one and only then ring him, from the new number, to tell him what time we would arrive on a flight from Amsterdam to Istanbul.”
In Istanbul, Melodie and Yasmin would be met by a woman sent by ISIS, a “maman” who would accompany them to Syria. Erelle decided she would keep up the pretense to that point.
“I wanted to meet this ‘maman,’” she said. “I am a woman and I don’t understand how another woman could give very young girls to these men in marriage. So it was personal. I wanted to see her face.”
There was one further instruction: Melodie was to pick up some treats for Bilel at duty-free, including after-shave. He told her he liked Egoiste by Chanel.
“Here is something else about these fighters,” said Erelle. “They say they reject the West, that they are anti-capitalist, but they love luxury and designer labels, it’s all Nike trainers and Ray-Ban sunglasses mixed in with their military clothes. It’s another way of luring in kids, of saying, ‘I was once poor like you but look at me now.’”
In Amsterdam, there was a problem. Bilel said she and “Yasmin” would have to proceed alone because it was not safe for the “maman” to travel. Once in Istanbul, they should take an internal flight to Urfa, southeast Turkey, again paying cash, and await instructions. Melodie said she was frightened.
“You are a big girl,” Bilel reassured her. “Dozens of Europeans are making that journey every week in the hope of joining our ranks. Allez, ma lionne!”
But Melodie refused to budge, saying there were police everywhere and she wanted to go home.
“For the first time I started to argue with him. He didn’t like that,” said Erelle. “He began to yell, he was very frightening. He was angry at me for refusing to complete the journey. He said, ‘You’ve made a fool of me in front of the hierarchy here.’ That would not easily be forgiven.”
It was time to cut all ties, but that was not easy. Still believing Melodie existed, Bilel called and said: “I know who you are, it would be a matter of minutes to find you and kill you.”
Enemy of ISIS
Erelle returned to Paris and wrote a story about Melodie for her magazine last May. She has now written a book, “In the Skin of a Jihadist.”
The article was written under an assumed name. “Erelle” is her second pseudonym. Once the piece was published and the full extent of Melodie’s betrayal made apparent, Erelle became a target.
She has had to change her phone number several times and has moved. Alarmingly, shortly after Melodie broke contact, Bilel called her from a French number. She has had numerous death threats to Melodie’s Skype account.
She has written a book she cannot admit to, and since the Charlie Hebdo massacre on Jan. 7, she has had police protection.
“They insisted. Someone watches the building where I live. They watch me. I never know whether they are there or not,” she said. “I am very alone because Charlie Hebdo scared everyone and friends are frightened to be with me. The police have even taken my dog. When I felt low, I used to cuddle him, but he is an unusual breed and the police thought he made me too easily identifiable — or worse, the terrorists might kill someone with the same kind of dog by mistake.”
A few months ago, Bilel was reported to have been killed.
“I don’t know if that’s correct, or if he is aware of my true identity.” All she knows is that, despite everything, she would do the same again. “For sure,” she said.
From The New York Times, as adapted from the Sunday Times of London
It has been one heck of a crazy weekend for me. I know it is a Wednesday but I just had to say it. You know those times you just want days to fly so that you don’t get to live in the present circumstance? Yeah! That’s what the better part of the weekend was about. The biggest blow of all was being in BAD terms with my very closest best friend. This was taking all the energy outta me. Really. You know that hopeless feeling you get when you argue with your parents? I promise it was close to that! I mean, this is a friend who does everything to make sure his friend is safe and happy! Trust me. Thank God for dialogues! We are now better best friends!!! *clap*clap* Yaaayyy!!
Yeah! So where were we? 5 things that are making this week worthwhile for me:
1. Making up with my best friend. It had to top the list. The memories of our conversations are making me smile. This is indeed the best ship I have. This friendship. Lots of love bff!
2. Today, my brother’s birthday. My brother is such a dear one! His birthday cannot and will never go unnoticed. Happy Birthday Ken!! I love you too.
3. That wedding committee meeting. Do you know I am in a committee!! It feels so exciting. I had never been in one before, and I was pretty scared when I was invited but yeah! Helping a friend prepare for a wedding feels g.r.e.a.t!
4. These pieces on attitude and human potential that I have been reading. Soon I will share some with you. They even give you stomach knots to literally run after your dreams…
5. The latest book in my library! The Faith Explained. It is an explanation of the christian faith. You should get it if you want to be a better christian. In the 4th chapter but a lot has already changed in the way I look at things. The best advice right now is Go. Read. It!
It is the 8th day of July and the 189th day of the year 2015.
In the 8th day of July 1996 my brother was born. It was not exactly day 189 of that year because it was a leap year. February of 1996 had 29 days. So let’s say the 190th day of that year, my brother, Ken was born!
I cannot quite remember the details of the day since I was barely 3 but I remember my mum left me with my grandparents the day before (Sunday) and told me that she had gone to buy me candy. Or was it biscuits. Only to fall asleep waiting for candies and biscuits that were not come.
Anyway, the lie was worth it! On 8th of July my dear brother came to this world. It was the best thing that happened in my childhood. I had finally gotten a companion to mold muddy chapatis with. As he grew up the games became more and funnier. He is the best thing in my life. Even when I went to a boarding school in class 5, he was the one I was missing the biggest. I lack words to describe him but boy! He is jovial, charming, fun and the best anyone would ask for in a brother.
As he turn 19 today, I want to wish him the best in the years to come, the best than what he has ever seen and above all, may God suffocate his paths with blessings and good luck.
I love you sweet bro! You are the best brother anyone could have in the world!
Happy Birthday Ken !!!
This is a continuation of my earlier post on indisputable facts about engagements. If you missed the post, you can find it here.
10. People will ask you specific questions about your wedding that you won’t have answers to. Like what theme color are you having? How many bridesmaids? Some things really need attention for real.
11. There are so many microscopic decisions that you will need to make that you will probably need some spreadsheet tips. For example, what font to have on your cards, criteria for picking maids (slender ones or healthy ones). I do not know if this is obvious to you but I think when my time comes I will have a bit of a hard time choosing what design of a gown to pick. This gives me shivers.
12. … And people will tell you about those decisions even if you didn’t ask them. Like “you think red lipstick will be better than pink..?” Dear friends, unless you have been asked for your opinion, keep it to yourself. Okay?
13. People you barely know will want to know of your proposal. Oh well! Do they really have to know? It can get annoying. And imagine the reason they ask is because they just want to know!
14. …These same people, or others you do not know, will want to have a look at the piece of jewelry on your finger. Some literally grab your poor hand. A sanitizer will be a good friend. Always carry a bottle.
15. Even if you are not the type, you will probably make a Pinterest wedding board. It will just naturally happen. I promise.
16. You’ll never stop being terrified of losing your ring…or slamming your hand into something. You know what I am talking about. Going back to the past will be a struggle. Actually an impossibility.
17. If you attend any wedding before your own, you will be scrutinizing the details to find out if there is anything you can ‘borrow’ and incorporate into yours. And…you will also be silently noting what you do not want to be in yours.
18. Finalyyy… You will start thinking (seriously) about the fact that this is the person you will be with for the rest of your life. It will make you the happiest human around. But for this to hold, make sure you say yes to the person whom your heart really wants to be with. As in the person who literally lights up your world. I mean it.
Today feels a little bit mushy, I don’t know why. Is it because I wore this short black dress that my friend Phyllis got for me? Maybe. Thanks big Phyl. Friends like you are quite hard to find. Did I mention I feel very confident in it? Y’all should see me today 😉
Anyway, to the business of the day. Of late I have been going through the internet looking for stuff about weddings and what have you. Not for myself, for sure, but see, a friend of mine is getting married soon… As soon as November… Yaayyy!!! Congratulations to the couple already! So I bumped into some rather hilarious facts (allow me to call them facts) about this thing called engagement. I do not know how men feel about it but I can tell you for sure that us
girls ladies feel like we are in a little heaven on earth. Even imaginations make you feel so. I am personally not engaged yet but I totally related to the few engagement stories I have heard/read when I saw the list. Here we go.
- In the moment you will be 100% astounded even if you had a glimmer it was coming. There’s just no real way to predict the moment when they will do it but when they do you will be totally overwhelmed by emotions you didn’t even know you had. ENJOY THEM!
- Getting proposed to is a little bit awkward. I do not know why people don’t talk about this but proposals are a little bit weird. Like…what do we do now? Can I call you fiancé? And whom do I call first? Such questions… And by the way in all of them people put hands on their faces. No matter what. I just don’t know why.
- The ring will not probably fit perfectly unless your partner is some sizing magician. Rings tend to be hard to fit unless you have tried them on. Oh wait! I heard there are engagements where the partners decide to go shopping for rings. I’d rather have an oversize one. This will utterly spoil all the surprise…and…f.u.n…! (Dear Mr. Right, I hope you are reading this).
- You will go through a wave of wanting to tell literally everyone who will care to listen that you are engaged. But this feeling is quite familiar. When he asked you out you literally told all your friends. Hahah… And always remembered to refer to him as “my boyfriend” or whatever title that was.
- There will be a few all-knowing mystical friends who claim they just knew it was about to happen. Like daah! Okay, if you know, next time alert a sister!
- As soon as you post anything to social media, kid you not, you will be literally bombarded with messages. And calls. Don’t be afraid to put your phone off if you want a peaceful time.
- Immediately after you tell people, their first question will be, “so when’s the date?”. I also do this. It’s simply human nature. Hahah.. But if the engagement went down a few days earlier, they will not even have the date. And by the way is it usually a guarantee that after the engagement the couple should marry like as soon? I think I’ll buy time. Really.
- Being engaged will ultimately go down as the time you had the most champagne in your life. This is why your
friendsgirlfriends are important people. I do not know what happens for men buuut…celebrating a sister always goes down pretty well.
- Saying ‘fiancé’ for the first time will feel like the weirdest thing ever. Goodness! I do not know if I will especially keep up with that. It’s weird but good thing it won’t last forever. It’s a term you have to remember to use between dating and marriage. These things!!
Look out for the part two of this article. The list was quite long so I decided to split it into two.