Meriem Rehaily

Merieme Rehaily

Merieme Rehaily was born in Morocco on 18th August 1995 and was a resident of Arzergrande (near Padua) before deciding to leave Italy to fully support Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s cause, an involvement which started on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. She travelled to the Syrian city of Raqqa, where she joined a group of militants engaged in the study of the Quran and military training with the intent to carry out terrorist acts.
The investigation started following a report of the student’s disappearance by her father on 15th July 2015. The daughter had left home the previous day around six o’clock in the morning, informing her mother that she was heading to Jesolo (near Venice) with a friend. She was already known to the police, having been reported by the school headmaster for writing texts that indicated extremist ideologies. During the report, the father mentioned frequent difficulties in managing his relationship with his daughter.
He expressed that she often had the desire to leave Italian soil for Morocco or even Syria.
On 10th July 2015, four days before her disappearance, Merieme visited a travel agency where she purchased a train ticket from Padua to Bologna and then a flight ticket from Bologna to Istanbul on 14th July 2015. After buying the tickets, she went to the post office to withdraw 500 euros to fund her trip to Syria. It was subsequently discovered that she withdrew the money from her mother’s savings account without her permission. At the Istanbul airport, she asked a random Turkish girl who was on the same flight to use her phone to make a call, which was later identified by the police as a contact number listed on an Islamic terrorism propaganda site for those wishing to travel to Syria. She was picked up by an individual involved in the so-called ISIS recruitment chain, who then facilitated her journey, directly or through others, to the city of Raqqa.
On 17th July 2015, three days after her flight, Merieme sent a message to her mother on WhatsApp: “Sorry dear mum, see you in paradise – I swear I’m doing great, Khadija forgive me – take care of the little ones, know that those who are with me pray for you – All for God.”
Following Merieme’s disappearance, the State Police began questioning individuals in her life. Chats with a classmate were discovered, in which Merieme had sent photos of a prisoner’s beheading, accompanied by comments such as “you can’t imagine how much I enjoyed it yesterday… I can’t wait to bend someone and take off their head hahaha”. One of her teachers reported that Merieme had requested a meeting after school, accompanied by a classmate. During this meeting, she confessed that she had translated texts from French to Italian online without knowing their ultimate destination (jihadist propaganda texts) and that she had hacked several American websites. However, she stated that she did not hold a grudge against Italy, but against America after viewing videos of American soldiers committing sexual violence against Muslim women in the Middle East. The teacher urged her to stop and confess before being discovered by the police. Merieme subsequently told her friend via WhatsApp that she “wanted to disappear and go there” (Syria).
Another classmate stated that Merieme chatted all day at school with men in Arabic, some of whom promised her marriage. She would stay alone in a corner even during breaks, listening to these audio messages and reading texts in Arabic saying that “ISIS was right to carry out those terrorist actions.”
Combining the information from Merieme’s family, her schoolmates, and her social media accounts, it was revealed that she had reached the city of Raqqa, where she was staying in a women-only house. On 13th August 2015, she sent a voice message to her classmate and best friend, instructing her to take care of her mother and stating that her parents had nothing to do with her decision, and that she was living very well there.
After the police analyzed the computer she left in Italy, they supported the hypothesis that she had chosen to be a so-called foreign fighter, and there was a possibility that Merieme might return to Italy or leave Syria (she had told her father on the phone that they might meet again outside Syrian borders), which posed a public danger. The computer contained multiple documents promoting “holy war” and a manual detailing how to travel to Syria. Additionally, a backup of her phone, made by herself, contained over 250,000 messages from WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype. In a chat with a Syrian contact in August 2014, she inquired about the route to Syria and whether she would receive weapons training upon arrival.
In 2018, Merieme Rehaily was interviewed by an Italian journalist in the al-Roj camp in Syria, a refugee camp overseen by Kurdish intelligence. She was accompanied by her children, fathered by a Palestinian man she married after arriving in Syria, who was incarcerated at the time of the interview. In the video, she stated that “I am considered a terrorist by the Italian government, but honestly, I have done nothing neither in Italy nor in Syria.” She further claimed to have undergone “a significant brainwashing” and recounted an incident back in Italy where a contact proposed marriage to her, which she refused. He then urged her to “at least try to leave Italy and reach Syria because Allah has commanded us to do this,” leading her to find herself “unexpectedly” in Syria.
She asserted that she realized the reality of her situation only upon arriving in Raqqa.
Moreover, initial reports indicated that she was part of the al-Khansaa female brigades, although she denied this involvement. Merieme described her experience in Syria as a nightmare, with bombs everywhere, and recounted her attempts to return to Italy via Turkey, which proved difficult. Her father had sent her 3000 euros, but she was arrested and the money was confiscated, as suspicions arose that she was a spy. Additionally, Merieme mentioned the presence of European jihadists, particularly from France and Germany, and stated that many of them, both men and women, have already reached Europe. At the end of the interview, she asked for her mother’s forgiveness, acknowledging that “it was too late” and that “what should not have been done had already been done.”
The public prosecutor requested a four-year prison sentence in absentia for Merieme Rehaily and pre-trial detention on charges of joining the terrorist organization ISIS, with intent to commit acts of terrorism. Furthermore, the additional penalties provided by the Italian law shall apply, such as a five-year prohibition from holding public office. Moreover, upon completion of the sentence, the defendant shall be expelled from the national territory because of her high level of danger. She possesses the capability, through her connections, to plan and execute acts of terrorism within the national territory or to recruit others for such purposes.
In conclusion, the last news of Merieme dates back to 11th November 2020, the last day her father had contact with her. There are various speculations surrounding her disappearance; some suggest she died due to the alarming phrase in her last WhatsApp profile picture: “oh my joy for my death, today my exile is over. Today is our meeting with Allah and companions.”