ROME (Reuters) - The mother of the Italian-Moroccan jihadi who helped carry out a deadly attack in London last week said on Tuesday she had tried to keep her son from falling under the sway of Islamic State ideology, but the internet and his London friends changed him.
Valeria Khadija Collina, who is Italian and converted to Islam, spoke in an interview with Italy’s L’Espresso news magazine about her son, Youssef Zaghba, 22, one of the perpetrators of the June 3 attack.
“When children make mistakes, parents always feel some guilt. But I did my best, and I think he was worn down on the inside,” she said. Collina lives near the northern city of Bologna.
“We always kept track of his friends and made sure he didn’t fall in with the wrong people. But he had internet and that’s where everything comes from,” she said
Collina visited her son in London, and “that neighbourhood did not make me feel comfortable,” she said. “I was there and didn’t like it. He spent his time with the wrong kind of people.”
Collina said she had spoken to Italy’s anti-terrorism police last year after her son was prevented from travelling to the Middle East, and that they were the ones to told her on Tuesday that her son had been one of the men who carried out the attack.
Zaghba was stopped at the airport in Bologna in 2016 when he was trying to get to Syria via Turkey, city prosecutor Giuseppe Amato told broadcaster Radio24 on Tuesday .
“A person going to Turkey with a backpack aroused some suspicion, also because he told the agent who checked him that he wanted to go and be a terrorist, then he corrected himself,” Amato said.
Collina said her son had been enticed to try to go to Syria by a “fantasy that was transmitted by internet” in which he thought he could “live according to pure Islam”, but that he did not mention wanting to fight there.
Investigators confiscated Zaghba’s computer but did not have proof of a crime. They returned the device but pointed him out to London as a possible suspect, Amato said.
British police said Zaghba had not been a subject of interest for them or the domestic intelligence agency MI5 before he and two others launched their attack.
Collina said she last spoke to her son two days before the attack and that in retrospect she realises “it was a goodbye call”. She also said she agreed with the Muslim religious leaders who refused to recite funeral prayers for the attackers.
“I understand and agree with their choice because it is necessary to send a strong political message,” Collina said.
Her son and the two other attackers rammed a van into pedestrians on London Bridge, then ran into the Borough Market area, and slit throats and stabbed people indiscriminately before they were shot and killed by police.
Italian media said Zaghba was born in the Moroccan city of Fez in 1995 but had broken off relations with his Moroccan father. He lived in Morocco for much of his life but made short visits to his mother.
He spent a total of 10 days in Italy in the past year and a half, the Bologna prosecutor said.
Collina said she would dedicate her life to fighting Islamic State ideology by “teaching real Islam to people and trying to convince families to fill the void that they might find in their children”.
Reporting by Valentina Accardo, Isla Binnie, Antonella Cinelli and Reuters TV; Writing by Steve Scherer and Isla Binnie; Editing by Crispian Balmer, Larry King