Journalist goes undercover, becomes the fiancée of an ISIS commander

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A French journalist in search of a story started an online relationship with a jihadist, and is now living in fear after writing a book about her experience.

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Anna Erelle — a pseudonym — wrote primarily about the Middle East, and she became fascinated by the radicalization of young Muslims living in France. "They knew very little about religion," she told The Times of London. "They had hardly read a book and they learnt jihad before religion. They'd tell me, 'You think with your head, we think with our hearts.'" She went online and made up a fake profile, saying she was a convert named Melodie, and soon caught the eye of Abou-Bilel, a senior ISIS commander of Algerian heritage who was raised in France.

They spoke often and he quickly fell in love with Melodie and proposed marriage. He was a "braggart," Erelle said, and spoke about the atrocities he was committing as a fighter. She kept telling him she was afraid to travel to Syria, but eventually Melodie said she would go — Erelle actually wanted to meet an ISIS woman in Istanbul who was supposed to smuggle her across the border. "I am a woman and I don't understand how another woman could give very young girls to these men in marriage," she said. "So it was personal. I wanted to see her face."

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When she was told the woman wouldn't actually be in Istanbul, Erelle cut all ties with Bilel. He became angry and said he would kill her, and online, several jihadis have called for her death. After her story was published, Erelle went under police protection, and she is not sure if Bilel knows her true identity. There are reports he is dead, but no one is certain. Despite all of the fear, Erelle told the Times she would do it all again.

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.