Most Londoners are familiar with the date June 3, 2017. Almost five years ago, three women and five men died after terrorists ploughed into crowds in a white van on London Bridge, before stabbing revellers with 12-inch ceramic knives. A further 48 people were seriously injured in less than 10 minutes of “high and terrible drama” on London’s streets.
The terrorists, Rachid Redouane, Khuram Butt, and Youssef Zaghba, were shot dead by police. They launched their evil assault three months after Khalid Masood mowed down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer to death.
As we approach the five year anniversary, the widow of one of the terrorists has opened up to sister title the Mirror about her husband, and the strong bond she has forged with a woman whose fiancé was killed in the atrocity.
READ MORE: Youngest London Bridge terror attack victim had dodged Manchester bombing and jihadi attack
(Image: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire)
Charisse O’Leary married Rachid Redouane in 2012. The couple had a daughter together in 2015, and moved to Barking, East London in 2016 where Redouane, 30, worked as a pastry chef. In Barking, Redouane met fellow jihadists Butt and Zaghba when he started attending a local mosque.
Opening up to the Sunday Mirror, Charisse vividly recalled police bashing her door down 12 hours after the devastating attack. She wept: “I still can’t process it. Someone I was with for seven years – I thought I knew him.”
Charisse had no knowledge of her husband’s plot, but has been consumed by guilt by her association to Redouane. She said the only sign of radicalisation was when Redouane refused to let their daughter watch soaps or music videos “in case they turned her gay”. The couple split in January 2017 after Redouane struck Charisse.
(Image: Steve Bainbridge)
Similarly, she has barely set foot in London since 2017 and an attempt at new romance turned sour when a man she met through a dating app labelled her a “sicko” over the attacks. Charisse is also dreading the anniversary.
In a surprising twist, Charisse has now struck up a remarkable bond with a woman whose fiancé was killed in the atrocity. French tourist Christine Delcros and her fiancé Xavier Thomas, 45, had arrived from Paris on the morning of Saturday June 3, 2017, for a weekend of sightseeing.
Later that evening, they were caught in unimaginable carnage when Redouane, Butt and Zaghba ploughed a van into them and other pedestrians on London Bridge. Wearing hoax suicide vests, they leapt out and stormed Borough Market, stabbing anyone in their path before being shot by police.
(Image: Helen Williams/PA Wire)
The force of the impact flung her fiancé Xavier into the River Thames, from where his body was recovered three days later. Charisse suffered a smashed pelvis and devastating injuries to her legs and back, requiring surgery and months of treatment to learn to walk again.
Charisse and Christine met following an inquest that found the victims were unlawfully killed. Christine asked Charisse’s family liaison officer if they could meet after being moved to tears by her evidence on June 5, 2019. Charisse said: “It was difficult. I got a bit scared, I didn’t want to say no but was nervous about how she would react to see me. I had seen her in court, we were sitting opposite each other in the public gallery.
“I was taken to a room at the court. Christine had a translator there. Straight away she hugged me, and we were crying. We were together about 15 minutes. I always blamed myself. She told me ‘live your life and don’t blame yourself’. She said my evidence was so moving.”
Charisse later messaged Christine on Facebook to thank her and the pair have stayed in touch. Charisse, 43, added: “I message her every anniversary and Christmas to let her know I’m thinking of her and I’m sorry.” Christine told the Sunday Mirror: “Charisse was involuntarily linked to this tragedy. I wanted to free her of guilt for the sake of her beautiful daughter. We hugged tight and cried together, exchanged kind words and parted with lighter hearts.”
(Image: Steve Bainbridge)
Christine, now 50, went on to find new love with Sebastien Besatti, a survivor of the 2015 Bataclan terror attacks which left 130 dead in Paris. They met at a support group. Charisse, meanwhile, faces difficult questions from her daughter. “She wants to know about her daddy and I tell her he got run over,” Charisse said. “
She thinks he’s in heaven and what I want to say is that he’s in hell. I can’t, not yet. I’m terrified that someone will tell her first or that she’ll come across it on the internet. dI hope she doesn’t hate me when I tell her. I hope she doesn’t go off the rails. All I ever wanted is to protect her. I still get really bad days, where I think I don’t want to be here. But I can’t leave her. She’s my rock, I live for her – she’s such a little character.”
Charisse has a picture of Redouane and his wedding ring – returned by police – in a “memory box”. She will eventually show it to her daughter, six, but has not yet revealed his murder spree to her. Charisse explained she has lost friends, was rehomed far from family and is “scared of her own shadow”. She said: “I’ve been called a terrorist in the park when I’m out with my daughter. This has ruined my life.”
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