Moussaoui's mother, A´cha el-Wafi, 59, is giving the full story behind that private agony. Set for publication Oct. 20, her book My Lost Son is as much her own story as it is Moussaoui's. It tells the tale of an unhappy 14-year-old forced into marriage in Morocco; of the sociopathic husband who brought her to France and then brutalized her and the children until they fled for their lives; and of el-Wafi's efforts to embrace the opportunities offered in France to create a stable, promising life for her kids. In short, it follows el-Wafi's path from illiterate captive to independent, self-sufficient woman.
That dream ended on August 16, 2001, when Moussaoui, then 33, was arrested in Minnesota on an immigration violation as he was learning to pilot a plane. He immediately became the central figure of investigators' attention on the morning of Sept. 11. Although the case against him was eventually scaled back from charges that he was the "20th hijacker," he was convicted of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism in related to the 9/11 attacks and sentenced to life in prison. For el-Wafi, her son had gone far beyond even the backward attitudes she happily left behind in her native Morocco. "After all the years of struggle and fighting, I thought I'd placed my family out of the way of hate, violence, and darkness," el-Wafi writes after being informed by French officials that her son was in U.S. custody on suspicions of being tied to 9/11. "But the nightmare I thought had ended has caught up with and overtaken me again."
Much of the book deals with el-Wafi's phone calls with her son, visits to the U.S. for his trial, and efforts to improve his defense. But perhaps the most compelling aspects of her story involve the juxtaposition of her evolution and the French-born Moussaoui's worldview and hatred of the social values from which she had benefited. During one prison visit, for example, Moussaoui criticized el-Wafi's having taken out a bank loan to build the family house in Narbonne to avoid living in housing projects. Moussaoui also told her she was wrong not to have taken her kids back to be raised in Muslim Morocco.