A Belgian woman who carried out a suicide attack against a U.S. patrol in Iraq became a terrorist cell member after marrying the second of two Muslim husbands, authorities said Thursday.
Muriel Degauque, 38, who grew up in this town near the industrial city of Charleroi, entered Iraq from Syria last month and detonated explosives strapped to her body in a failed attack, authorities have concluded.
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.
"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," said Glenn Audenaert, the federal police director.
In her younger years, Degauque lived a conventional life in southern Belgium. News reports said she ran into problems with drugs and alcohol as an adolescent. After she finished high school, she took on several jobs, including selling bread in a bakery.
After marrying her second husband, a Moroccan, authorities said, Degauque became a member of a terrorist cell that embraced al Qaeda's ideology.
"This Is the Belgian Kamikaze Killed in Iraq," read the headline of Thursday's La Derniere Heure newspaper, over a picture of the smiling young woman.
Liliane Degauque told interviewers that when she saw police coming to her doorstep Wednesday, she immediately knew what it was about. She had heard reports the evening before of a terrorist attack on Nov. 9 by a Belgian woman.
"For three weeks already I tried to contact her by telephone, but I got the answering machine," she told the RTBF network on Thursday.
Muriel Degauque's second husband was believed to have died in Iraq at some point before her death.
On Thursday, Belgian authorities formally arrested five of 14 suspects detained in dawn raids the day before and charged them with involvement in a terrorist network that sent volunteers to Iraq, including Muriel Degauque. A 15th suspect was apprehended in France.
Those placed under arrest in Belgium were a Tunisian and four Belgians, three of whom had North African roots. The nine others 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 Belgium's prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt.