As 22-year old María Cala Márquez appeared before a judge on Wednesday, a day after she was arrested at Madrid airport on her way to join Isis (Islamic State) in Syria, details emerged of a young woman who underwent “fast-track radicalization”.
By all accounts the young woman did not fit the usual stereotype of women who have been known to travel from Spain to Syria to join the terrorist organization. She was not from a Muslim background and had no knowledge of Arabic.
María had been brought up a Roman Catholic, living all her life with her family in the historic town of Almonte in Huelva province, which each year attracts thousands of pilgrims to the Catholic shrine of the Virgin del Rocío.
Her parents had divorced several years ago and she had continued living with her mother and two siblings in the quiet street of Calle Federico García Lorca, where she was described by neighbours as a “normal young woman”.
“The community is shocked,” one resident told local newspaper Huelva Información. “She was a good girl and a hard worker and the last thing we expected was this.”
Maria had found work in the same hotel as her mother and brother and was described by fellow employees as “quite a shy person” while another said she was someone who dressed in “dark clothing in the style of a goth”.
It is understood that she had been converted to Islam early this year, although “she never wore Muslim attire or raised any suspicion,” according to one neighbour quoted in El Confidencial.
But she appeared totally changed by the time of her arrest on Wednesday when she was picked up as she went to board a plane bound for Turkey with the intention of travelling onto Syria.
— Huelva Información (@huelva_info) October 20, 2015
When she was arrested, she was wearing a headscarf and was carrying a Koran written in the Spanish language in the small suitcase she had with her.
Spanish authorities believe she underwent a “fast-track radicalization” process and had had regular contact with an Egyptian man online.
According to Interior Ministry sources quoted by radio station Cadena Ser, the woman was on her way to Turkey where she planned to cross into Syria to marry the Egyptian, who was part of the Isis network.
Cala was arrested in the early hours of Tuesday morning at Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas airport following surveillance which had tracked her presence on jihadist networks.
Work carried out by a specialist unit of the Civil Guard which monitors online jihadist forums led to the arrest, Spain’s Interior Ministry said in a statement about the arrest.
“Investigations revealed that the person arrested had planned to travel to Turkey and then into Syria to join the ranks of Daesh,” read the statement referring to the Arabic name for the group also known as Isis.
“The Civil Guard is carrying out different operations of this nature which have so far led to the prevention of several Spanish residents from joining DAESH, including some minors,” the statement said.
Cala will appear before National Court ant-terrorist judge Sanitago Pedraz on Wednesday for questioning.
Her arrest brings the number of those detained for jihadist terrorism in Spain this legislature to 157, while an estimated 130 people holding Spanish nationality are estimated to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the ranks of Isis.