|MIREILLE, who was born in Belgium to a white, middle-class Christian family, blew herself to pieces last month in a suicide attack against American troops near Baghdad.
In one of the most extraordinary tales of Islamic radicalisation, she is thought to be the first white Western woman to carry out a suicide bombing.
Belgian investigators, who arrested 14 people associated with her, are keeping the 38-year-old woman's true identity secret, but details have started to emerge. She was from the southern Belgian town of Charleroi, married to a Moroccan and converted to an extreme form of Islam.
"This is how she came into contact with the organisation which allowed her to become a fighter for jihad," said Glenn Audenaert, the federal police director. Her Belgian documents show that she travelled with her husband to Iraq. On November 9 she blew herself up in a car bomb attack on a US military convoy, killing — according to conflicting reports — either only herself, or six people. Her Belgian passport was near by. Her husband was killed by American troops in a separate incident.
Security sources said that they knew of no other western European women suicide bombers. Al-Qaeda recently appealed for white converts to become suicide bombers, because it was easier for them to travel and evade detection before carrying out their attacks.
Mireille's story leaked out yesterday in the French media, prompting the series of raids across four Belgian cities, including Brussels, and separate raids in Paris. M Audernaert said that the authorities wanted "to dismantle this network, which we knew was on our territory and which aimed to send volunteers for the jihad to the battlefield".
The backgrounds of those arrested show that the problem of Islamic terrorism is no longer confined to immigrant communities — seven of those arrested were Muslim converts of native Belgian origin, two were Belgians of north African origin, two were Tunisians and three were Moroccans. One of the chief suspects held yesterday was a male Belgian convert to Islam, police said. "We know these groups are always planning attacks. All we can say is there were no attacks planned in Europe."
The group had been under surveillance for four months, but Mireille slipped out of the country. "It was through this organisation that the lady went to Iraq with her husband, but we only knew about her once she was already there," said M Audernaert. Belgium, with its big Muslim community, has become notorious as an operational base for Islamic terrorists.
Jermaine Lindsay: one of four July 7 Tube bombers. Briton of Jamaican origin, converted to Islam
Richard Reid: tried to blow up a commercial flight with a shoe bomb. English mother and Jamaican father, converted to Islam while serving at young offenders' institution
Women suicide bombers: first used by Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, notably in 1991 murder of Rajiv Gandhi
Black Widows: Chechen female suicide bombers, widows of fighters killed by the Russian Army