For a month Jean and Liliane Degauque hadn’t been able to get in touch with their daughter Muriel. In fact, the 38-year-old woman had left her native Belgium with her husband, Issam Goris, who was of Moroccan descent, without telling them. “When we tried to phone Muriel, we only got the answering machine,” Liliane told a Belgian newspaper. On Nov. 29 the couple heard news reports that a Belgian woman had carried out a suicide bombing in Baghdad from which she alone died. Immediately the Degauques suspected it was their daughter, who in recent years had become an ardent convert to Islam. The next day police confirmed their fears. “The news has been very hard on the family,” says neighbor Andrea Dorange.
Degauque’s bloody hit marked the first time that a female Westerner had carried out such an attack. Her parents—her father is a retired crane operator, her mother a secretary—blamed her husband, Goris, who was reported killed by U.S. forces in a separate incident, for “brainwashing” her. Growing up in the city of Charleroi, Muriel began to experiment with drugs and run away from home in her teens. “She was weak and easily influenced,” says Dorange. In 2002, after a series of relationships with other Muslim men, she married Goris and converted to Islam. She took to wearing a chador, then a veil and finally a burka, which hid everything but her eyes. When she and Goris visited her parents, he insisted that the men and women eat separately and that no alcohol be served. “The last time we saw them, we said we were tired of them trying to indoctrinate us,” said Liliane.
It was unclear how or when Muriel made the turn to terror. But after her death, Belgian authorities arrested five people on suspicion of recruiting and training young people to become suicide bombers—and they cautioned that there may be more women waiting to launch similar attacks. Which means that other European families may soon share the Degauques’ grief. Said her father, Jean: “Despite everything, she was our daughter.”