TOULOUSE, France: Nicolas Bons, a young convert to Islam from a comfortable middle class French background, has died fighting in Syria barely four months after his half-brother met the same fate, their father has said.
The mother of 30-year-old Nicolas was informed by text message from the front line that her son had been “martyred” on Dec. 22 in a suicide truck bombing in the province of Homs, the father, Gerard Bons, told AFP by phone Monday from his home in French Guiana.
Nicolas’ half-brother Jean-Daniel, 22, died in fighting in August. He was introduced to radical Islam by Nicolas, who had himself announced his conversion to his parents in 2009.
Having struggled at school, Nicolas lost his way in his early 20s, developing a cannabis habit and picking up a conviction for petty dealing.
According to his family, all that stopped almost overnight when he found Islam.
He soon became a regular visitor to a mosque in his hometown of Toulouse and an assiduous reader of the Quran.
When Jean-Daniel, who until then had lived with his father in French Guiana, came to study in Toulouse in 2011, he too soon converted under Nicolas’ influence.
In March of last year the pair set off for Syria, having told their parents they were headed to the beach in Thailand.
A month later, they sent a letter revealing their true destination and in July Nicolas appeared, Kalashnikov and Quran in hand, in a propaganda video in which he calls on French President Francois Hollande to convert to Islam.
The two men’s father has admitted he has no idea how Nicolas became radicalized.
Toulouse was home to the radical Islamist Mohammad Merah, who killed seven people in and around the city in 2012.
However, local preachers dismiss suggestions that Nicolas developed his fascination with jihad at the mosque, suggesting that the Internet was a more likely source of his unlikely transformation.
Bons said his ex-wife Dominique had received a text message Thursday that said: “Your son Nicolas carried out a truck bombing at an enemy village in the Homs region. May God accept him as a martyr.”
Bons told AFP that he had tried to contact Nicolas several times to wish him well on his birthday on Dec. 23.
“I never thought that he would descend to this level in this religion. It’s appalling,” he said.
“All these people who condition others to become human bombs are killers,” Bons added.
French intelligence sources say that about 220 French jihadists – around a fifth of them converts – are fighting in Syria. At least 18 had been killed prior to the death of Nicolas Bons.
Dominique Bons, Nicolas’ mother, told France’s Liberation newspaper that after receiving the text message, she called the Syrian number on her cellphone and a man speaking French confirmed his death. “He added that he was in paradise under Allah’s protection,” she said.
She said that for the nine months that her son had fought President Bashar Assad’s forces, she had managed on average to speak to him once a week.
“He seemed to be alright ... He spoke of his ‘Muslim brothers’ who were very good with him, despite the language barrier,” she said.
“He said he wanted to go right to the end,” she said, adding that Nicolas believed his half-brother, who died on Aug. 11, was in paradise and keeping well.
“He said he was waiting to go to paradise,” his mother said.