Appearing before the Paris Criminal Court on Tuesday, Nathalie Haddadi and her younger son both face charges of aiding and financing terrorism, and if convicted could face up to 10 years in prison. A second man, a friend of Haddadi’s deceased son, is also on trial.
It’s an unusual move for a state prosecutor who is seeking criminal action against the family members of a man with suspected links to terrorism.
In her several interviews with the French press, Haddadi has always insisted that while she sent her 21 year-old son, Abbes Bounaga, money she had no idea how it would be spent and has denied she financed jihadists.
In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper yesterday, the 42-year-old mother said that when her son called asking for money, she obliged him, sending €5,500 of which €850 was spent on airline tickets to Algeria and Malaysia.
Speaking from outside the courtroom on Tuesday, France 24’s Chris Moore said that the payment made by Haddadi is believed to relate to a time when her son was in Malaysia and not in Iraq or Syria.
“Apparently [he] suffered from a road accident, was beaten up, found himself in hospital and called home asking for money. Several weeks later he made a phone call where he literally told his mother that he loved God more than he loved her.”
Moore said that during another phone call shortly after that he was presumably referring to the so-called Islamic State group when he told Haddadi, “None of this is what I wanted or expected”.
In an interview with television broadcaster France 3, Haddadi said that she only wanted to help her son “as any mother would have done”, so he would have enough money to eat and take care of himself.
In August 2016, months after Abbes’s last phone call from Syria, Haddadi received an anonymous phone call from a man telling her that her son had died a martyr.
"I'm not worried but angry," Haddadi told Le Parisien. “I lost my son. That day, it was as if my heart had been torn out. Now I find myself facing court. I’m already down on the ground and they’re still kicking me.”
"Unfair" and "unfounded"
Haddadi has persistently maintained that the charges against her are “unfair” and “unfounded”, and has denied having any connection with “these criminals”.
“She was aware that her son had developed radicalised views after serving prison time in France in 2014,” says Moore. “She claims to have alerted authorities but said that they failed to follow up her complaint.”
The French prosecutor’s office is likely to apply the full extent of the law in the trial against Haddadi and her fellow accused to dissuade other families from helping relatives close to extremist organisations.
Moore says that the case throws a spotlight on the plight of parents and family of jihadists from France and other European countries.
In France, voices similar to Haddadi’s are starting to speak out. And they’re wanting to be heard at a time when increasing numbers of people, former jihadist fighters and others linked to terrorism, are returning to Europe as the IS group loses more territory in Iraq and Syria.
“The authorities are scratching their heads as to how the justice system, how the prison system, can deal with this and as to what we can learn from these people about what led them down the path to extremism,” says Moore.