MONCEAU-SUR-SAMBRE, Belgium – Authorities have identified a woman who carried out a suicide attack against a U.S. patrol in Iraq as a 38-year-old Belgian who had two marriages to radical Muslim men.
Muriel Degauque, who grew up near the industrial city of Charleroi, entered Iraq from Syria last month and carried out a bombing against U.S. troops. She was the only one killed in the blast.
Her mother, Liliane Degauque, told Belgian TV networks that her daughter was "so nice" — but began to change when she married an Algerian man and turned to Islamic fundamentalism.
The case underscored the growing reach of international terrorism.
"It is the first time that we see that a Western woman, a Belgian, marrying a radical Muslim, and is converted up to the point of becoming a jihad fighter," federal police director Glenn Audenaert said.
In her younger years, Degauque lived a conventional life in southern Belgium. Media reports said she finished high school before taking on several jobs, including selling bread in a bakery. They also said she had run into problems with drugs and alcohol as an adolescent.
After marrying her second husband — a Moroccan man — authorities said Degauque became a member of a terror cell that embraced Al Qaeda's ideology.
"This is our Belgian kamikaze killed in Iraq," read the headline of Thursday's La Derniere Heure newspaper, over a picture of the smiling young woman.
When Liliane Degauque saw police coming to her doorstep Wednesday, she immediately knew what it was about. She had heard reports the evening before there had been a terrorist attack on Nov. 9 by a Belgian woman.
Greg Frazho, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, confirmed that a woman carried out a car bombing against an American patrol in Baghdad on that date, but U.S. officials could not confirm the nationality of the attacker, the only person who was killed.
Muriel's second husband was believed to have died in Iraq at some point before her death.
"For three weeks already I tried to contact her by telephone but I got the answering machine," she told the RTBF network on Thursday.
Authorities Thursday formally charged five of 14 suspects detained with involvement in a terrorist network that sent volunteers like Degauque to Iraq. A 15th suspect was picked up in France.
Those placed under arrest in Belgium were a Tunisian and four Belgians, three of whom had North African roots. The other nine were released.
"This action shows how international terrorism tries to set up networks in western European nations, recruit for terror attacks in conflict areas and look for funds to finance terrorism," said Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.
Islamic radical groups linked to Al Qaeda terror network are suspected of setting up networks in Belgium and other European nations with large Muslim communities. There are currently 13 Belgian and Moroccan nationals on trial for allegedly being members of an Islamic group suspected in recent bomb attacks in Spain and Morocco.