NEAR BAGHOUZ, SYRIA – Prominent French jihadi Jean-Michel Clain was killed last month, his wife told AFP Tuesday after fleeing the last redoubt of the Islamic State group in eastern Syria.
Clain’s wife, Dorothee Maquere, said he was killed in mortar shelling after being wounded in the coalition drone strike that killed his brother, Fabien, who was France’s most wanted jihadi.
Fully veiled in black and surrounded by her five children, including a 2-week-old baby she was cradling under a red blanket, Maquere said her husband was killed less than two weeks ago.
“The drone killed my brother-in-law and then the mortar killed my husband,” she said at a screening area run by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which is spearheading the battle against the last pocket of IS territory.
Maquere and her children were among the last civilians to leave Baghouz, the farming village on the banks of the Euphrates where die-hard IS members are making a bloody last stand.
Fabien Clain, 41, gained notoriety after voicing an audio recording claiming responsibility for the November 2015 attacks in Paris, when IS jihadis slaughtered 129 people in coordinated attacks.
The U.S.-led anti-IS military coalition, of which France is also a member, confirmed Fabien Clain’s death last month.
His younger brother Jean-Michel, 38, was wounded in the same Feb. 20 coalition strike on Baghouz, Maquere said, adding that he died in a mortar attack later.
While Fabien was seen as a senior propagandist among the foreign ranks of IS fighters, his younger brother was mostly known as a singer of the “nasheed” chants heard on some of the videos released by the jihadi organization.
Jean-Michel’s widow gave this description of the two brothers’ role in IS, possibly the most brutal organization in modern jihad: “He was a singer … and my brother-in-law, he wrote the lyrics.”
Maquere seemed confused and bitter in her new surroundings at the SDF screening center, where suspected IS members, many of them wounded, were being interrogated.
The latest evacuees received basic care, water and blankets.
The widow was seen sitting on a rug with four of her children, a pack of freshly distributed diapers next to her.
She said she did not regret moving from southwestern France with her family four years ago to the proto-state Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed in 2014.
Maquere described the makeshift camp where the last people left in the IS held portion of Baghouz have been hunkered down.
“Everything happens outdoors, there are no houses anymore, everybody lives outside, which is not surprising because we were being bombarded day and night,” she said.
When asked if she would describe the “caliphate” — which was once the size of Britain and administered millions of people — as a failure, she said: “You could say that.”
Maquere said she wanted nothing from France and did not wish to return there but wanted to remain in Syria.
“I want to continue to live here with my children, to rebuild myself,” she said.
“I want to be left alone after everything I’ve been through … some place where I can live, where I won’t be bothered, where I can live my life,” she said.
Maquere said she wanted to be allowed to practice her religion freely. “This is what every Muslim wants, nothing more.”
She also said she thought Hayat Boumedienne, another prominent French jihadi whose fate remained unclear, was also killed recently in the Baghouz pocket.
Boumedienne, 30, was believed to be very active in IS and is also known as the widow of Amedy Coulibaly, who was killed four years ago after carrying out deadly attacks in France.
Coulibaly took hostages at a Jewish supermarket on the edge of Paris on Jan. 8, 2015, four of whom were killed before elite forces stormed the shop and gunned him down.
The Malian-born jihadi claimed his attack, which came a day after two brothers killed 12 people at the offices of satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, in the name of IS.
His wife had traveled to Syria a few days earlier.