PARIS (Reuters) - A French court on Thursday found a mother-of-three guilty of financing terrorism after she sent money abroad to her radicalised son who later travelled to fight in Syria, sentencing her to two years in jail.
In a case which could set precedent in France, Nathalie Haddadi, 42, a non-practicing Muslim living in eastern France, said at no point had she known her son, Belabbas Bounaga, would use the money to fight alongside Islamist militants.
But the judge said she was lying.
“Without your substantial help he would not have been able to reach Syria so easily and fight with Islamic State,” the judge told Haddadi. “You financed a terrorist organisation.”
Haddadi’s son is said to have been radicalised inside prison in 2014-2015, following convictions for drug dealing and other offences. After his release he left France to live with his father in Algeria, where he remained for six months before heading to Malaysia.
While he was in those two countries Haddadi sent Bounaga several thousand euros, including several transfers in April 2016 after he received treatment in a Malaysian hospital. Shortly afterwards he arrived in Syria.
In handing down her ruling, the judge did not order Haddadi’s immediate incarceration and she may avoid spending the whole period in prison.
“What was I supposed to do? Ignore him because he did stupid things when he was younger,” Haddadi said outside the courthouse, referring to the transfers she said were for his medical care.
In August 2016, Haddadi says she received a call from Syria informing her that Bounaga had died “a martyr” at the age of 21.
The two-year jail term was longer than the 18 months demanded by the prosecutor. The court also found Bounaga’s younger brother and his best friend guilty of the same charge.
In an interview with the Le Parisien newspaper earlier this month, Haddadi said she had feared her radicalised son might try to reach Syria when he came out of prison in 2015. She blamed the authorities for failing to help her “save him” at the time.
“I strongly condemn terrorism,” said Haddadi after her conviction.
Haddadi’s lawyer said she had filed an appeal.
France’s interior ministry said last month that 18,500 French citizens had been flagged as radicalised, a 60 percent increase on two years ago. As many as 700 were thought to be fighting in Iraq and Syria in mid-2016.
Haddadi’s lawyer said other parents of radicalised children risked receiving the same treatment from France’s courts.
“This fight no longer belongs to Mrs Haddadi alone but to all parents of sons radicalised in prison and who are threatened with prosecution by prosecutors who consider them responsible for their children’s situation,” Haddadi’s lawyer, Herve Denis, told Reuters.
Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Robin Pomeroy