“You don’t have a mother anymore, since your mother was an enemy of Islam.” These are the words that Mehdi Atid spoke to his daughter Yasmine (4) when he recorded his will. One and a half year ago, he left for Syria with the girl to join a militia linked to al-Qaeda. After his death, a local Islamic court ruled that the toddler should be reunited with her mother in Belgium. But, pointing to his will, Atid’s militia refused to comply – until early this week.
When Yasmine disappeared in May of last year, few people dared to hope that she ever would come back. It was her separated father Mehdi Atid who took her to Harim, a village in Syria’s Idlib province. There he joined Firqatul Ghuraba, an independent militia close to al-Qaida, led by the notorious French recruiter Omar ‘Omsen’ Diaby.
In April of this year, news came out that Atid had died. It reportedly had happened in December 2017 in the Hama province. When we asked Diaby through his Telegram account whether Yasmine shouldn’t return to her mother, he told us that her fate was in the hands of an Islamic court. Shortly after, that court decided in favour of Yasmine’s mother – but Firqatul Ghuraba refused to comply.
The court was dominated by Hayat Tahrir as-Sham (HTS), the leading jihadist force in Idlib. Diaby’s militia was often in trouble with that former branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, which imprisoned him twice for challenging HTS rule in cases like that of Yasmine. Early this month, it appeared that Firqatul Ghuraba had joined Hurras ad-Din, the new al-Qaeda outfit in Syria – and that a committee with members of both groups would decide about Yasmine.
At that time, Firqatul Ghuraba announced that a will exists in which Atid resisted against the return of his daughter. It depicted the girl as an orphan, saying that her Belgian mother does not qualify to get parental rights because she is a dubious Muslim – without further elaboration. Nevertheless, the mixed committee again decided in the mother’s favour, and last Monday Yasmine was brought to Turkey to be reunited with her mother and leave for Belgium.
Shortly after, we obtained the will of Atid – a video file of nearly eight minutes of which the largest part is an audio message. That was recorded on the 15th of November 2017, Atid declares in it, to be assembled with some footage afterwards. There’s a short clip showing Atid in Syrian shop. Carrying a kalashnikov-style rifle, he’s examining the merchandise. “It looks the same as at home, but it is better”, he says enthousiastically. “The food is blessed by Allah the Almighty here.”
Next, a still of Atid and Yasmine is shown. Most likely it is taken in Syria too, and just like in all other images that recently appeared from her, she isn’t smiling even a bit. Finally, at the end of the video, there is a very short clip showing Atid’s funeral. He lies under a blanket in a shabby brick grave. There are no injuries to see before someone is covering his head with a cloth.
The will itself, in which Atid presented himself as ‘Abu Jundullah’, starts with material matters. “I don’t own a lot”, he said, “and you can give it all to the ummah, to brothers and sisters in need. That means my motorcycle and all my personal belongings. Everything.” Quickly, the subject changed to Yasmine. “For my daughter, I would want a sister taking care of her as if she were her very own daughter. I don’t want her to return to the kufar. I don’t want my former wife to come and get her back.”
A bit later, while he explicitly addressed Yasmine, he explained why. “You are a bit young and you don’t understand”, he says to his daughter, who can be heard sometimes babbling and trying to touch the recorder. “You don’t have a mother anymore because your mother was an enemy of Islam. She opposed Islam and she did everything possible to mislead you into shirk.”
Atid was worrying so much about the return of his daughter, that he asked his brothers in arms to keep it quiet when he would be dead. “I don’t want that my picture circulates on social media then”, he is telling in his will, “because it can attrack attention of the enemies of Islam, those who want to take my daughter back.” Even his parents shouldn’t know. “Lie to them, for the sake of Allah. When my family will ask for me, tell them that I’ve moved to another location or another group. Tell them that I’m fine, but cannot be reached.”
To Yasmine, he insisted: “I love you, my dear. I love you for the sake of Allah.” But he didn’t wish her good luck, nor prosperity. His very first concern was that his daughter will become a good Muslim. “Be a believer”, he asked her, “try to learn the Quran by heart and educate yourself.” His second concern was that she will be a good woman – in his very own interpretation of what that means.
“Be a pious wife”, he asked the four year old girl. “A wife that will be fruitful, God willing. Make many children, honour you husband and comply to the rights of your man.” His interpretation of a decent marriage became clear already when he left for Syria, dragging along not only Yasmine, but also a girl of fourteen years old. He ravished the teenager as his new wife and soon made her pregnant. She was arrested in Turkey, where she went to give birth, and sent back to Belgium with her newborn child.