Lara Bombonati

Lara Bombonati

Lara Bombonati was born on the 3rd of February 1991 in Milan. She was arrested in the town of Tortona, in the province of Alessandria, on the 22nd of June 2017 on suspicion of being part of a terrorist organisation, specifically Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

According to the investigations, Lara radicalised together with her husband, Francesco Cascio, in 2011. Although it is true that Cascio had converted prior to their encounter, and effectively led Lara into converting to Islam. The couple was described as very reserved, and they had reportedly cut ties with their communities when they converted, preferring instead the company of other converted Italian nationals, among which Lazzaro Giuseppe Andrea, Del Nevo Ibrahim Giuliano, and Randazzo Filippo, who have likely contributed in furthering the couple’s radicalisation. Moreover, it emerged that Lara had entered into contact with a Canadian citizen living in Bologna, Haik Bushra, who managed the Skype group called “Muslim sisters”, and who would later be sentenced for recruiting young people on behalf of the Islamic State. In that period, Lara began wearing only traditional Muslim clothing, specifically the niqab, and adopted the name “Khadija”. The name likely referring to the first wife of the prophet Muhammad and the first Muslim woman.

Then, on the 10th of October 2014, Lara departed for Turkey, to reach her husband, who had moved there in June. There, the couple wasn’t formally employed and for two years they lived in Istanbul through the financial support of Francesco’s parents. In that time frame, they would be occasionally visited by their relatives, and so would they sometimes go back to Italy to do the same.
Then, on the 13th of October 2016 the couple went silent, and their families, worried, reported their disappearance to the Italian police.
An analysis of a notebook she had left in Italy, revealed numerous pictures and texts referring to radical Islam and to Middle-Eastern warzones.

During the investigations, it emerged that the couple had crossed the Syrian border, and was specifically present in the regions of Idlib and Aleppo. Once there, they met with Abou Munir, an Algerian citizen (actually named Benslimane Mohamed Amine) who was connected to Daesh, who had been commander of formations part of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and who emerged effectively as Lara’s commander in Syria. In that theatre, they were separated, while her husband went on to fight on the frontlines, she assisted her commander in diverse tasks, mainly providing logistical support and psychological assistance to the families of fighters who had been killed. She was also tasked with the transportation of important and secret documents through the Turkish-Syrian border. It was during one of these missions that she was arrested in a camp in Hatay, while in possession of a fake Syrian ID, by the Turkish police on the 15th of January 2017. She was subsequently repatriated to Italy on the 10th of February 2017. It was on this occasion that the Italian police wiretapped Lara’s phone. At this point, Lara was hosted by her sister in Tortona.

While she was cautious in eliminating most of the files and contacts from her phone before re-entering Italy, the police were able to find (along with Abou Munir’s number) photos of original documents referring to the fusion of different jihadist groups in Syria – among which Jabhat al-Nusra – that would go on to create the new group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The importance of these documents to all major intelligence services active in the region is a testament to her relevance in the group.

Once in Italy, she re-established contacts with her family, and, once she was able to communicate again with Abou Munir, she was informed that her husband had died in Syria while fighting in December 2016. It would be a month before she informed her mother-in-law of the fate of her son.
During her period in Italy, Lara often expressed the desire to go back to Syria and to her commander, and to live following Islamic principles; conversing with her father, she strongly defended her choices, and particularly, also ISIS’s strategy of destroying monuments and temples erected to “the false gods”. Before her arrest, she was planning to marry a fellow Muslim in Brussels – called Chahed Chentouf Abdennaçar and with whom she had only briefly communicated – who would have acted as a sponsor and eased her access back to Syria. Only her mother-in-law and sister-in-law were made aware of her intentions. She was arrested before she could depart.

Considering the possibility of flight, of the destruction of evidence, and of the re-iteration of her crimes, she lived under the regime of pre-emptive incarceration until her sentencing, in November 2019 of 2 years and 8 months. A number of psychiatric evaluations were also made on Bombonati during her trial, all of them finding some forms of psychological disorders dating back to her youth, which have likely played a role in her radicalisation. For this reason, she was quickly moved to a therapeutic facility. In May 2021, the Court of Appeal of Turin decreased her sentence to 2 years and 2 months.