London - A proud mother and her daughters pose for a holiday snap, all bright smiles and strappy floral dresses.
‘My mum in da middle, sisterz on da side and me at da top in Tunisia,’ Rizlaine Boular captioned the picture on her Facebook page, employing the schoolgirl slang of a 13-year-old Londoner.
Just nine years have passed since that photo was taken.
Yet in that time the lives of Rizlaine, a straight-A student who dreamed of becoming a doctor, and her sister Safaa, 18, have changed forever. Yesterday, Safaa was convicted of planning to carry out a terror atrocity in the heart of London in the name of Islamic State, an offence Rizlaine, 22, and her mother Mina Dich, 44, have already pleaded guilty to.
When Rizlaine was arrested she was shot four times by police – three bullets remain in her abdomen, too dangerously placed to remove.
Following a four-week trial at the Old Bailey, it can be revealed that:
* Authorities failed to refer Safaa to the Government’s anti-extremism programme Prevent – despite the fact Rizlaine first tried to become a jihadi bride in 2014;
* Teaching assistant Dich hoodwinked police into believing she was a caring mother who was distraught that her daughters had tried to run away to Syria to live under IS rule;
* But 1 500 extremist files were found on her phone – including clips of murders and decapitations;
* The girls’ father told the Mail he blamed social services for failing to save his daughters from the clutches of their ‘evil’ extremist mother;
* Taxi driver Adil Boular added: ‘What was the mother doing while these children were on the internet, and how did they become Islamists? It’s all due to the mother.’
Before they were arrested, at a time when their schoolmates were focusing on their GCSE results, the sisters had made repeated attempts to travel to Syria.
When they failed, 17-year-old Safaa married a jihadi she had been communicating with online, in an internet ceremony. All from the comfort of the family’s housing association flat in south-west London.
So where one has to ask was their mother, Dich, when all this was happening?
The answer is simple. As with the photo, slap bang in the middle.
The girls’ twice-divorced mum was in many respects the architect of their radicalisation. As they entered their teenage years, she pressurised the girls to abandon Western dress for the veil and to pray five times a day.
Fearing Rizlaine was going off the rails, Dich married her off to a local imam old enough to be her father.
Next, Safaa was banned from listening to music and watching television and then forced to view extremist YouTube videos. One entitled ‘A message from Satan’ featured a man dressed as the devil, talking about receiving sinners into hell.
Vulnerable and impressionable, both sisters were easy prey for online IS recruiters.
Once ensnared, they were indoctrinated with images of beheadings and encouraged to do their ‘duty’. If they could not go to Syria, that meant carrying out jihad in London. They eagerly agreed.
What is so shocking is that this was happening in 2016 – with much of the original contact on Twitter and Instagram. So much for the social media giants’ repeated promises to have stopped their platforms being used in this way.
Thankfully, in the end, the family were undone by their naivety.
Having been taken into custody for trying to join her terrorist ‘husband’ in Syria, and so becoming the youngest female to be convicted of a terror offence, Safaa continued to plot with her mother and sister, using a telephone that was being monitored by MI5.
The family referred to their planned atrocity as a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. On the day before they were arrested, Rizlaine and her mother bought a knife with a six-inch blade from a branch of Sainsbury’s.
Now all three face lengthy jail sentences for their role in Britain’s first all-female terror plot. Rizlaine and Dich will be sentenced on June 15; Safaa next month.
Senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism Dean Haydon said: ‘If we hadn’t arrested (Safaa) Boular and intervened when we did, I’m without a doubt that she would’ve carried out an attack here causing injury and death on the streets of London.’
He described the trio as a ‘dysfunctional family’ with ‘murderous intent’, adding that the case demonstrated a worrying rise in youngsters being arrested for terrorism.
Born in France of Moroccan descent, Mina Dich travelled to the UK aged 18 when she married Mr Boular, her first husband and the father of her four children.
The marriage broke down when Safaa was five and, having originally lived in North London, in 2010 the family moved to a flat in Vauxhall. Life there was chaotic and dysfunctional.
Working three days a week as a teaching assistant in an Islamic school, on her days off Dich would sleep all day and stay up all night surfing the internet. Cooking, cleaning and childcare was left to Rizlaine. Food was often scarce.
But at the same time, Dich ruled her girls with a rod of iron. Made to wear a headscarf, at first Rizlaine would remove it at school. ‘Rizlaine used to be very normal,’ said an old school friend from Capital City Academy in Willesden, north-west London. ‘It was her mother who seemed extreme. She was very manipulative – she would read her diaries, look into her texts. Rizlaine started coming to school having adopted her mother’s ideologies. She was emotionally and physically abusive to Rizlaine.’
Her first husband agreed.
‘It started in the house,’ said Mr Boular, 52. ‘If my children lived among other kids, free like everybody else’s, then none of this would’ve happened. Whatever they have done is to please the mother. If the mother is happy, they’re happy. If they went against her will, then they would see a huge punishment.’
He added: ‘When Rizlaine was living with me, she took the cover off her face... we went outside and ate in Pizza Express, she’d go shopping, and she started working and putting make-up on her face. The moment the mother is in touch with her again, my child is gone.’
It was a point echoed by Safaa in her evidence to the court.
When Rizlaine was 16, her mother found that she had been on Facebook talking to an older man and posting pictures of herself wearing Western clothes and make-up.
‘My mother was very angry at my sister and physically abused her, hit her, and she ran away from home,’ Safaa said. Rizlaine went to a friend’s house. While there her mother learned she was planning to marry a man in Egypt. Dich told police and Rizlaine’s passport was removed. After six months, Rizlaine returned home, by now wearing the hijab. Dich had also begun to dress similarly, praying five times a day.
Next it was Safaa’s turn to discover boys, using her BlackBerry to make friends online. Once again, her mother found out.
‘She made me dress more conservatively. I had to start wearing long dresses and long skirts and the phone was taken off me.’
At the age of 14, Safaa briefly ran away from home.
‘I wasn’t very happy with the pressure I was receiving from my older sister and my mum in terms of being an observant Muslim, covering up, fasting, watching lectures, not hanging around with my friends at school,’ she said.
More ‘running away’ followed. But this time the destination was Syria. In October 2014, Rizlaine was stopped by the Turkish authorities in Istanbul.
At the time her mother was in Saudi Arabia with her second husband – an Iraqi-born Muslim builder called Allan Campbell – on the Hajj pilgrimage, an annual trip to the Muslim holy land of Mecca.
When Rizlaine was returned to the UK, no further action was taken – despite her confirming that her plan had been to travel to Syria and join IS.
Back on home soil, her extremism became more evident. Her mother’s solution? To ‘marry her off’ to a local imam. The man was 22 years her senior and a father of four. ‘Her mother wanted to get rid of Rizlaine because she was tired of her after she ran away to Syria,’ Mr Campbell said.
‘If she runs away when she’s married, that’s no longer her mother’s responsibility.’
As for Safaa, by now she had been banned from listening to music or watching any TV except the news.
‘I was not allowed to leave the flat except to go to the mosque and school,’ she said. But she was allowed access to the internet.
And by early 2016 the material she was accessing was indicative of the route she was travelling.
Videos and images viewed included women in burkas holding AK47s, children in suicide belts and beheadings. At the same time, Safaa opened accounts on Twitter and Instagram. On Twitter, she established contact with a woman called Umm Issa al-Amriki, who was based in Aleppo.
She was an IS ‘recruiter’ promoting its ideology and persuading women to travel to Syria. Safaa would re-post her tweets and communicate directly with her by Telegram, an encrypted messaging service, and by so doing gained 300 to 400 IS-supporting followers.
‘It was special, exciting,’ she told the court. ‘I wasn’t allowed to go out with my friends, I wasn’t even able to see them at school, so having friends was exciting.’
In May 2016, al-Amriki was killed in a drone strike. Soon after, Safaa received a message on Instagram from a man called Naweed Hussain. In his 30s and originally from Coventry, Hussain was also in Syria and told Safaa he could help her enter the country. ‘He told me he loved me,’ she said. ‘I felt lucky to have a man tell me he loved me.’
In August 2016, Hussain proposed to her by Skype while she was on holiday with her family in Morocco and when she accepted he began talking to her about having a suicide belt, so she could blow herself up if she fell into enemy hands. ‘Don’t eva b hesitant 2 pull da pin ok. Ur honour is worth more than any kaafirs life,’ Hussain wrote in a message. Safaa replied: ‘Does the pin make me go?’
‘Yes, straight away,’ he said.
A few days later Safaa flew into Stansted from Morocco where the family was stopped by immigration officials. Safaa revealed her plan to travel to Syria via Turkey along with Rizlaine to join Hussain. Her intention was to live there ‘peacefully’, she said.
As a result of the interview, her phone and passport were seized, and the family flat in Vauxhall searched. Rizlaine was put on the Prevent de-radicalisation programme and social services became involved. An attempt was also made to take Safaa into care – the Family Court hearing she was likely to suffer ‘significant harm’ from her mother’s radicalisation – but Dich successfully challenged the order.
‘Social services failed to do their job,’ Mr Boular said yesterday.
When the girls went missing from home again and were found in a hostel, forensic searches of Safaa’s phone revealed the nature of her contact with Hussain and that the pair were planning an attack on the UK. Monitoring of the sisters was stepped up – including a listening device hidden in their home – and following the Westminster Bridge attack in early 2017, Safaa was heard saying that she wanted to lay flowers – and then laughing. Online, Safaa’s interactions were also being monitored by MI5 operatives. Known as ‘role players’, they pretended to be committed IS supporters to win Hussain’s and Safaa’s confidence.
Hussain outlined to them his plans to bring ‘maximum carnage’ to the capital. This would involve a person he did not want to name but who he trusted with his life.
On April 4, 2017, Hussain was killed in a drone strike. Later that day, news of the death was communicated to Safaa by one of the role players and a probe picked up the family’s reaction.
‘It is what you wanted,’ Rizlaine told her sister. ‘You should be jealous of what he had.’ Her mother added: ‘I am so proud of her. Thanks to god, he is a martyr.’
In the coming days Safaa spoke of her desire to commit a terrorist attack. ‘My heart has been set on this for months,’ she told the role players. ‘Grant me martyrdom for his sake… my heart yearns to… be reunited with my dear husband for the very first time.’
She said Hussain had been going to supply her with a Russian firearm and hand grenades. Failing that she was told she could achieve what she wanted with a car and a knife and that a possible target was the British Museum.
On April 12 last year, Safaa was charged with a terror offence relating to her plans to travel to Syria and remanded into secure accommodation. While that meant she could no longer carry out the attack, her sister and mother were still at large and recorded phone calls revealed that planning for the attack had been handed over to them.
The pair used the word ‘party’ as code for an attack. Rizlaine told Safaa that party was going to take place the following Thursday – April 27. In the three days leading up to the date, Dich drove Rizlaine around landmarks in Westminster on a reconnaissance trip and on April 26, they bought a rucksack and a pack of knives, retaining the one with the largest blade.
The following day police swooped on the pair and during the arrest Rizlaine was shot.
She and her mother subsequently pleaded guilty to charges of preparing acts of terrorism.
Safaa denied two charges, her defence claiming she was the innocent victim of Islamist ‘grooming’.
Mr Boular told the Mail: ‘Safaa said she had found a life for herself in prison with other mates, she can put on make-up, have highlights in her hair. For her it’s a joy down there, even though it’s a prison.’
When Safaa first appeared in court last April she wore a burka with just her eyes visible.
This week the teenager appeared in a full face of make-up, blonde dip-dyed hair and wearing a pale pink top. All part of a failed attempt to convince the jury that now out of the orbit of her mother, Hussain, and the internet, she was a truly changed person.