The verdict for a retrial on accusations that a couple in Madrid have been recruiting Islamic State (IS) members should be announced this week.
Rabat – Moroccan-born Aziz Zaghanane and his Mexican wife Ana Marilu Reyna were first on trial last year accused of recruiting for Islamic State (IS). Zaghanane was sentenced to six years in prison and Reyna, one. The verdict for their retrial is set to be announced this week.
The Spanish National Court ruled that a retrial was necessary. Their reasoning was that the evidence in the first trial was incomplete, as it did not include statements from three others involved in the case. The three other suspects had also been accused of recruiting for the IS but had confessed to the crimes, unlike Reyna and Zaghanane.
The couple argues that their social media, which was used as evidence against them, discusses world events related to the IS, but does not condone violence.
When the couple was first arrested, it was for distributing propaganda with the intention to persuade individuals to join the IS movement. Reyna gives a detailed account of the arrests in an interview with NPR, which was released in a 2-part series.
For the interview, the reporter went to Pinto, her small village south of Madrid. Reyna told the story of how she converted to Islam, which happened as learned more about the religion through teaching the Abrahamic faiths in a Catholic school.
Reyna met with Muslims and read materials which explained their beliefs. She quickly accepted the idea that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, against her previous misconceptions. Reyna said: “So I start reading it, and I say: ‘Oh!’ I mean, everything I had believed started to vanish. I couldn’t believe it.”
Reyna said that she dispelled the prejudices she’d previously held about Muslims and became increasingly impressed with the way Muslims worship, she was soon conflicted about teaching in a Catholic school. She quit her job and officially converted to Islam.
Today she is not without a sense of humor about her identity: “I’m a Muslim, a woman, Mexican, and a Muslim woman. Don’t let Trump see me (laughs).”
Reyna later felt it was time for her to get married. She said, “Well, I knew, in Islam, you complete your… the religion when you get married. So, in Islam… well, it’s that. You have to… celibacy isn’t conceived of.” She signed up for online dating and met Aziz, a divorced Moroccan man working in Spain.
In Reyna’s words, she describes him by saying, “Aziz was… very direct. He said: ‘OK, I’m a person… a very serious person. I’m very responsible,’…‘I’m looking for someone to marry.’ And I said: ‘And who is this guy?’”
After a long-distance relationship, Reyna came to Aziz and they got married. She again tells is with humor: “Afterward, on December 28th —Día de los Inocentes, like April Fool’s Day (laughs). And, well, it was an event for 60 people more or less, and half of them went. The other half thought it was a joke. (Laughs)”
She moved to Pinto, where there is a prominent Muslim community, which made her feel welcome. However, people there spoke Arabic, which Reyna didn’t speak, so she was somewhat of an outsider. The Spanish people would assume she was from an Islamic country and make comments on the streets. After some years with Aziz, they had two children.
Under suspicion of recruitment
When the police came to their door to arrest Aziz, Reyna’s initial thought was that they were being robbed. Aziz was later accused of leading a group that handed out IS propaganda. The police had been investigating him since 2014. Reyna was shocked, saying, “If I had seen something strange in him, however small it may be, I would grab my kids right away and go. But if I never saw anything strange in him, well no. I’m not going to turn my back on him.”
When, a year later, Reyna was arrested in front of other moms from her children’s school, she thought, “Maybe they’re confused. Maybe they want to give a statement maybe and they’re saying I’ve been arrested just to say it.”
According to the interview, it wasn’t until she was finally before a judge that she learned she was being accused of “recruitment, promotion, and indoctrination.”
Her arrest warrant explains that she quickly changed her appearance to a “rigorous esthetic, with the most radical precepts of Islam” and it said she had no female friends, which was also suspicious.
The warrant also accuses Reyna of using social media and emails to recruit extremists. She was said to be “performing the functions of a sheik [religious leader] over the others.” Reyna had regularly posted advice on how to worship in Islam on her Facebook page.
From the moment she discovered that she was a suspect, she felt certain that “things will be cleared up.”
Her sentence was eventually cleared in June 2018. The Supreme Court ordered a retrial in November 2018, though Aziz remained in jail until February 2019, when he was released on parole.
The verdict for the couple will be released this week.