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Making a Monster: She Doesn’t Regret Torturing Women for ISIS

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Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. & Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D.

A teenage girl from rural Syria dreamed of becoming a doctor, but the war and the so-called Islamic State made her something very different, and very frightening.

In part one of this two-part series we met Umm Rashid, a 21-year-old woman with a months-old infant in her arms. Umm Rashid wore a black abaya, a voluminous covering meant to hide her from the eyes of men, which is required dress in the so-called Islamic State. When we talked to her, she was with two of our colleagues, Abu Said and Murat, in a Turkish city near the Syrian border. We were asking questions over a video link. And at first we thought her story would be much the same as the ones we’d heard from dozens of other ISIS defectors interviewed for the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). They told us how they had fled the horrors of ISIS. But as we talked with Umm Rashid, we were discovering she was, in fact, part of the horror. She had been an impassioned member of al Khansaa, the women’s branch of the hisbah, or “morality police.”

 The women that Umm Rashid helped to torture were “seducing young men with those colorful abayas,” she says, her voice full of derision. “We would also imprison and beat the women who wore eye shadow. We behaved nicer to the women from the villages because they were poor and their abayas were torn, but with the women from the city we would be very harsh. Ten-year-old girls were arrested if they didn’t have abayas. We forced girls to put on abayas after the age of seven.”

 “Normally women are not allowed out without their marhams [male chaperones]. They must be with their husband, brother or father,”  says Umm Rashid. “So if we see young people, a man and woman walking together, we would ask for their marriage license and IDs to make sure it’s their marham. We were trying to ensure that no one was out without marhams and no lovers wandering about. Men would receive at least twice the punishment we were employing on the women.”

 As Umm Rashid describes appalling practices, she seems at times numb to the horror, but also, at times, enthusiastic.

“We would imprison women in the cemetery with skeletons in a cage in the middle of the cemetery as a punishment,” Umm Rashid says flatly. “Most of the time when we went back to the cage in the morning, the woman was crazy.” This echoes reports from former civilian prisoners about the hisbahplacing severed heads of family members inside cages with imprisoned women to drive them insane with fear and grief.

 “We would lash 40 times at once as a punishment. If the woman doesn’t know Islam she would stay in prison to learn Islam, it was a training camp of sorts.” Again, Umm Rashid echoes what we heard from other prisoners, that the ISIS prisons are used to indoctrinate and coerce those arrested into joining the group.

 “We went to the Masur neighborhood. Once we saw a woman and man at night at ten p.m. We stopped them and they said, ‘We are married.’ Soon we realized they were not married. They were engaged. We did not release them. They got married in the prison after the fine and punishments. They got married and then we released them. Being engaged is not enough.”

 “During the wedding ceremonies they make clapping with their hands. But, if there is entertainment at the wedding we would arrest the bride and groom and they would stay in prison. Then we would let them go after a while. Entertainment at weddings under ISIS was not allowed.”

 “We charged around one thousand dollars in fines per day,” Umm Rashid explains, noting a not insignificant source of ISIS revenues, particularly now that their ability to sell oil has been degraded. “No one can say anything to us. If they protest about paying the fine, we arrest them. We were so powerful. No one could say anything against our decisions,” says Umm Rashid.

 This girl who had dreamed of becoming a doctor had all her power taken from her. She was forced into three marriages and widowed three times. Her parents were killed in an airstrike. Her sister lost her arm. Her home was destroyed. Her in-laws treated her as their personal slave. Finally, she was happy to marry into ISIS—to be able to eat.  And at that point she was given power inside a brutal organization that defines life in black and white terms, and death in battle as “martyrdom.” Aligning with ISIS she might also be able to take revenge on the Coalition whose bombardments she believed  had killed her parents. And she could become strong—abandoning her childhood fears and grief. With ISIS, she was empowered, with a Kalashnikov and an a fearsome organization—the ISIS hisbah—the dreaded enforcers.

 Umm Rashid turns to telling us about how her second husband was killed. “On the 23rd of February [2015] there was a Coalition airstrike in our neighborhood. My husband was there and he was martyred in that attack. That was in 2015. We had been married for eight months. In those eight months I couldn’t get pregnant. I went to see doctors. They said I was okay, nothing wrong with me. So maybe something was wrong with Abu Abdullah. Abu Abdullah would not talk about himself, his family, or his background. He never mentioned about his previous life to me. He provided everything for me, but I was not allowed to ask about him.”

“I could purchase anything in the market, but I could not ask about him,” she explains and then turns to the dark side of the man she married without really knowing who he was or anything about him. “He told me, ‘If you do something wrong and if there is a decision from ISIS that you should be killed, instead of ISIS, I will cut your throat. So be careful.’”

 “They brought his corpse to my home so I could see him one more time,” Umm Rashid recalls. Despite his dreadful threats, she says, “He was a very kind man. I had the best part of my life during my marriage to him.”

We ask about what happens to ISIS widows. We’ve heard various things from the ISIS cadres we have interviewed. Some tell us that ISIS has a system of paying widow’s benefits and that women from the hisbah regularly check in on widows and bring them food and money. But in Kosovo we interviewed a defector who told us those benefits are only paid for a short time and then the ISIS widows, unable to leave their homes on their own, become so impoverished and hungry that they can easily be coerced into remarriage with the next ISIS cadre.

 “ISIS had a place like a farm,” Umm Rashid explains. “So, a woman who did not have marhams [chaperones] used to live there. I stayed in the farm for my iddah.”

 “Can you tell us about the biting?” we ask, returning to the practice of using metal teeth to torture other women.

“They use artificial teeth and bite the women with these. We did it, and we were correct.” Umm Rashid says without any trace of remorse in her voice. “Anyone who wants to bite can do it. I also used to bite. It is like an artificial tool. We can bite any part of the body—her back, shoulders, breasts—the places you can’t see from the outside, and where there is ample meat. Hisbah members used to do this.

“They asked us to do that, so we have courage. For example, I used to be scared of bugs, but now I am not afraid,” she repeats. “I can beat three, four women at once. I have courage and strength now. Of course, we would tie the woman’s hands and feet.”

 We ask Umm Rashid about her status in ISIS and if she was considered a foreign fighter due to her husband being from Saudi Arabia and also an ISIS emir. She doesn’t seem to understand the question, answering, “There were a lot of Iraqi women. They were getting them married to the mujareen [foreign fighters]. I went to the camps and I saw them but I did not stay there,” Umm Rashid explains.

“I remembered my first mother-in-law while I was talking now,” Umm Rashid admits, opening a brief moment of vulnerability. “And I question myself. Am I really that bad luck?”

 Umm Rashid’s first mother-in-law blamed her for her son’s death fighting with al Nusra and apparently the blame still haunts her. “After my iddah,after Abu Abdullah, I went to see an [ISIS] doctor. The doctor was a woman of course. I asked her why I didn’t have a child and she told me that I was okay.”

 Like other ISIS widows, Umm Rashid was soon to learn her fate concerning remarriage. “Abu Abdullah told Abu Saif, his friend, ‘If I die, you get married to my wife.’ Abu Saif told me this saying, ‘If you don’t believe me that Abu Abdullah told me this, you can ask Umm al Khattab.’ I asked Umm al-Khattab and she said, ‘Yes, I know he said this.’” So Umm Rashid was passed to a third man in the space of two years.

“Abu Saif was Tunisian. I got married to Abu Saif and in two months I got pregnant,” Umm Rashid explains, her voice suddenly sounding triumphant. ISIS women are, after all, expected to bear children. “I got married to Abu Saif after my iddah was completed. I wasn’t thinking to get married because my first mother-in-law told me that I am bad luck and whoever I marry, dies. She even came to me after my second husband died and said, ‘Look you are bad luck, your husband died again.’ So, I wasn’t thinking to get married again. But when they told me this I decided to honor that promise.”

One tries to imagine the cruelty in this young girl’s life, yet she herself became cruel. Such is the sinister mental machinery of ISIS, which creates tragedies and then feeds off of them.

 “I was so happy I was pregnant, and because I was pregnant I didn’t go to work. I was taking care of myself,” Umm Rashid tells us. “When Abu Saif first approached me I didn’t accept. I waited for two months but then I thought what would I do as a woman [in ISIS]. I had guarantees and protections with a man, so I got married. A sheikh came for the marriage ceremony. In front of the sheikh and two witnesses we got married.

 “Abu Saif was not an emir. He was a deputy emir and an investigator. He used to work for the court as an investigator in Raqqa. He didn’t have a wife in Tunisia. Alhamdulillah, when he came to Syria he got married several times but he didn’t like those wives so he divorced them. But he loved me and I loved him.”

Abu Saif’s behavior echoes many stories we heard from ISIS defectors, particularly about Tunisian ISIS members.  Coming from a country with high unemployment where they couldn’t marry unless they had prospects, according to the defectors we spoke to, the Tunisian ISIS members were known to be sex starved. They stalked the local women, even sometimes accused their fathers or husbands of being with the Free Syrian Army, to cause them to give up their daughters, or the husbands to be executed to free the women for remarriage. Or, they married and divorced local women in a matter of days—just to use them for sex. That is the kind of man Abu Saif appears to have been.

 “When he learned that I was pregnant, Abu Saif brought a maid to the home and he started to behave very well to me.”

 “Was Abu Saif’s maid a slave?” we ask, wondering if we will also learn how captives are treated inside the homes of ISIS cadres.

 “The maid was not a slave,” Umm Rashid tells us. “He hired her with money.”

 We had already heard from Ibn Ahmed who was the guard of a facility housing 475 ISIS sex slaves who were used by foreign fighters who basically engaged in mass institutionalized rape.

“Yazidi women were treated nicely,” Umm Rashid insists. “We were staying at the same places. They were getting married to the emirs. There were not any problems with them.” Her denial of the barbarity of ISIS is amazing, but perhaps to survive them she needs to keep all cruelties borne by her, and even those she carried out, locked away in her mind.

 “I stayed there for eight months while I was pregnant. Abu Saif provided me everything I wanted and made sure I was comfortable. But, as soon as I finished the seventh month of my pregnancy, the Coalition forces attacked the court in Raqqa and he got killed in that attack.”

 “What do they want from us?” Umm Rashid wails, her bottled up grief and anger suddenly unleashed. “Why are they attacking us? They cannot attack anywhere they want. What’s wrong with you?” Umm Rashid screams, as she gets hysterical recalling the culmination of a series of sudden traumatic bereavements.

 When we try to calm her by explaining that the Coalition is trying to free the Syrian people from the Assad regime, and the armed terrorist groups that have overtaken them—including ISIS—she continues to rant.

 “They are all liars!” she shouts at us. “They” are the U.S. led Coalition and other enemies of ISIS. “They are killing Syrian people. They killed thousands of children. They are not fighting Bashar al Assad. What they did is to kill all local Syrians and children. You haven’t seen the bodies and the corpses of boys, girls, children—babies at their mother’s breasts! The circumstances of what I have seen is so terrible,” she screams, her voice filled with rage.

 Hoping to calm her and keep her talking with us, we turn the conversation to her circumstances after her third husband’s death. Was she expected to marry once again?

 “Several other civilians at the court also got killed. They [ISIS leaders] told me. ‘You are going to stay with us at the hisbah, then after you have the child we are going to get you remarried again.’ We had a discussion about that. Umm al Khattab got married nine times and every time her husband got killed. She told me, ‘You are going to get married again.’”

 We ask Umm Rashid to tell us about the marriage system in ISIS, if local women are forced into marriages. It’s a common myth in the West that Western women who join ISIS end up as sex slaves but it’s not the truth. Western women are expected to marry and ISIS even has a marriage bureau to ensure that happens. It’s local women who are abused through short marriages designed as means of gaining sex for a short time, and captive women—wives of Shia and Sunni enemies of ISIS, Yazidis and others captured by ISIS, are forced into situations of multiple rapes or sexual slavery.

“In the hisbah we went to homes, to visit people, to see if they had marriage-age daughters. If there were girls, we would give money to the father and mother and arrange their marriages with the emirs or ISIS members,” Umm Rashid explains. “We would force their families to give up their daughters to marriage. Umm al Khattab was known as the arranger of marriages.”

 This is the first time we hear of actual force being used for local women to marry ISIS cadres. Everyone else has spoken of choiceless choices—fathers and husbands being arrested or accused of being in the Free Syrian Army, or girls seeing their families starving and knowing by marriage they can earn ISIS ration cards to feed them.

 “My sister was married at the time,” Umm Rashid recounts, “an emir married her. That emir is nice and she likes him.” This helped when Umm Rashid decided to leave ISIS-controlled territory.

 “My sister is in Iraq now. I told Umm al Khattab, ‘I am going to go see my sister. I will stay there for a week, I have not seen her for awhile.’ I was given permission. I am from al Khansaa,” she reminds us. Given privileged status in ISIS she would be trusted to travel and return. “I lied to go to the Syrian border, to save myself from Umm al Khattab forcing me to marry again. The reason I escaped is I didn’t want to get remarried in Raqqa, and I wanted to save my baby.”

Umm Rashid was on the verge of giving birth. “The borders were difficult at the time so the Syrian and Turkish smugglers charged us a lot,” Umm Rashid recalls. “I was so scared I would deliver while passing the border because I didn’t know the exact date when the baby was coming. I stayed at the smuggler’s home waiting to pass the border.”

“There was another woman with me who was also trying to pass. I met that woman at the border. We paid $3000 to the smuggler. We passed at two in the morning. It was so cold. I got chilled. From the border we came to Akçakale. I helped the other woman to pass. I paid for her passage as well,” Umm Rashid says. One sees a glimmer of the girl who wanted to be a doctor—to help others.

 From the statistics ICSVE has been able to compile, we find that women escape ISIS far less often than men, at what we estimate to be a ratio of one to four—although the numbers are incomplete.

 It’s unlikely that women who have joined ISIS want to stay inside more than men do, or become less disillusioned with the corrupt, brutal and un-Islamic nature of the group. The difference in defection and return rates is far more likely because they don’t have the financial means to pay smugglers, are restricted in their movements inside ISIS territory, and are forbidden to speak with men they don’t know. They risk rape and murder by smugglers if they manage to hire one, and they know that if they are caught they will be returned to Raqqa and forced to remarry if they are lucky, killed if they are unlucky.

 “The smuggler would not touch me because my relatives would learn and kill him,” Umm Rashid says. “One smuggler did this in Syria. The Syrians in Turkey went to Syria and brought him out to Turkey and beat him very badly,” she explains. “So, we were safe from him.”

 “But if you liked ISIS why did you leave?” Murat asks, pushing back a bit.

 “Because the Coalition forces kept bombarding us. I felt I have to save my child’s life,” Umm Rashid tells us, although only moments before, she also said she didn’t want to be forced into yet another marriage by the misogynist ISIS.

“For the last nine months I am in Turkey,” Umm Rashid says. “I gave birth to my baby here. A Syrian midwife helped me to birth my baby at home. I stayed with my relative. I wanted to work because I didn’t have any money, but I couldn’t because I just delivered the baby. I stay with my uncle and live [with the baby] in a small room.”

 “Do you want to get married again? What is your future?” we ask, curious to know if she will pursue her dream of becoming a doctor somehow here in Turkey.

 “I want to go back. When my son is three or four years old, if ISIS still exists, I will go back and fight with them,” she says.

“Islamic State is a really good group. I have to help them. If they allow me to keep my son, I would remarry,” she says.

“What pulls you back to ISIS, despite all the dangers?” we ask incredulously.

 “They are not as bad as the people tell,” says Umm Rashid. “The Islamic State is good,” she insists.

 “Women are covered over there,” she says, stating what is for her a positive good. “I want my child to be an ISIS fighter. My son must go the way of his father, follow his path,” she says referring to the child she is cradling in her arms. “I wish I was a martyr as well!” she adds, her eyes glimmering with the glory she imagines.

 “What do you think of the beheadings?” we ask, trying to shake some sense back into her—to remind her how vicious this group really is.

 “They only behead people who deserve it,” Umm Rashid says firmly.

 “What does anyone do to deserve beheading?” we ask, finding it hard to listen to her stubborn defense of ISIS savagery.

 “For example we chop off the thieves’ hands,” Umm Rashid explains, her voice again sounding like the cruel hisbah member she is. “There are different crimes that you could do to deserve beheading. If you kill someone without a reason, we kill you. For example, a man went into the home of a woman and stole her jewelry and killed her. He, of course, was beheaded—because he killed that woman.”

 “But what about those who flee Daesh?” we ask, using the name ISIS hates.

 “Why don’t they call us Islamic State?” Umm Rashid rants in response. “They call us Daesh! We are the Islamic State, not Daesh!” she rages, anger dripping from each word. “They lie about us and create negative propaganda. For example, we killed a Jordanian pilot. Why is he bombing civilians? Of course we killed him!”

 In fact, he was beaten until he “confessed” on camera, then marched theatrically in front of masked ISIS fighters, and finally put in a cage where he was burned alive.

 “Those Coalition forces are not killing our soldiers. But they are attacking the civilians. Everyone sees that,” says Umm Rashid. “There are big screens all around Raqqa—the killing of that Jordanian pilot was broadcast all over Raqqa. I saw it that way,” she says, explaining ISIS’s use of flat-screen televisions put up by its huge propaganda arm. Abu Firas, a media emir from Southern Baghdad, told ICSVE that ISIS films everything it does for consumption inside of ISIS, just as Umm Rashid describes, as well as for audiences outside of ISIS—to horrify us with their acts of terror.

 “You want to become a martyr, but what about the future of ISIS?” we ask.

 “Inshallah [God willing], ISIS will become the real state of the region and I will become a martyr for them,” Umm Rashid declares. “What you hear here is all lies. You think they won’t last, but if you go to Raqqa you see everyone is living peacefully there.” (This was before the Coalition-backed offensive that began over the summer.)

 “How can you become a martyr when you have a young son to raise?” we ask.

 “I can die when he’s 10,” she answers. Indeed, an ISIS emir told us that boys that age were already considered men and could be sent in bomb-rigged vehicles or with suicide belts to explode themselves at checkpoints and racing into enemy lines.

 “What about child suicide bombers?” we ask, given she has said she wants her son to follow in the “martyrdom” steps of his father.

 “They are martyrs,” she answers without any trace of doubt in her mind. “Martyrdom is the most important rank you can reach,” she declares, echoing the ISIS teachings.

 “Do you know about ISIS’s practice of taking organs from their captives and enemies?” we ask, probing for whatever else she can tell us from firsthand knowledge and her experiences inside the group.

 “When they kill them, they can take organs, no problem,” she answers. This from the young girl who would have become a doctor.

 We know she’s unlikely to denounce the group as many other defectors have, but we ask our standard question at the end, “Do you have any advice for Syrians and Iraqis, or even foreigners, thinking to come and join ISIS?”

Usually at this point our interviewees strongly denounce the group. Not Umm Rashid.

 “I advise them to come and join ISIS,” she answers. “Go, die in the path of Allah. When you die for the religion, you save yourself. I strongly advise it.”

 “When you go back, would you like to take others with you, back to Syria?” we ask, wondering if she is recruiting for the group during her time in Turkey. We have heard from defectors living in Turkish refugee camps that young boys, in particular, are persuaded by ISIS recruiters operating in the camps that they should go back and die as martyrs in ISIS suicide bombings.

 “Of course, if someone wants to go I will take them,” she answers.

We end our interview as Abu Said prepares to help Umm Rashid and her baby get transport back to their temporary shelter in Turkey.

Were there glimmers of Umm Rashid’s humanity and generosity? Yes, when she made an ISIS salary working in the hisbah and gave much of it away, and when she paid a smuggler to help a stranger get into Turkey along with her.

Yet, when we interviewed Umm Rashid, she remained totally indoctrinated and loyal to a lethal organization—advising others to join and die in its behalf, and not only wanting to become a martyr for ISIS, but to have her baby son do the same.

Umm Rashid survived, but in the process, ISIS turned a young girl with a dream into a monster.

Reference for this Article: Speckhard, Anne & Yayla, Ahmet S. (September 1, 2017) She Doesn’t Regret Torturing Women for ISIS The Daily Beast http://www.thedailybeast.com/she-doesnt-regret-torturing-women-for-isis

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Terrorism

Joshua Boyle Charged With Assault: Was He Re-Enacting the Traumas of Taliban Captivity?

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Joshua Boyle, a 34-year-old Canadian man rescued last October with his American wife and three children after five years in Taliban captivity, has been arrested by Canadian authorities and charged with 15 criminal offenses, including sexual and physical assault, unlawful confinement, uttering death threats, and misleading police. All these charges relate to alleged behavior since his return from captivity Oct. 14.

A court order in Canada has prohibited publication of information that would identify any of the alleged victims. But it appears likely that Boyle’s alleged behavior is a result of the deep traumas he and his family endured during their hostage taking, some of which is now being re-enacted.

Boyle’s wife, Caitlan Coleman, said in a statement that “ultimately it is the strain and trauma he was forced to endure for so many years and the effects that had on his mental state that is most culpable for this.”

Their family clearly has been through hell. Boyle and Coleman, who was seven months pregnant at the time, were backpacking in Afghanistan’s Wardak province when they were abducted by the Taliban-linked Haqqani network. They were only freed after a shootout between the Pakistani security forces and their captors.

Upon their arrival back in Canada, Boyle spoke to journalists, reading from a statement, and blurting out that their infant daughter had been murdered and his wife raped “as retaliation for my repeated refusal to accept an offer that the criminal miscreants of the Haqqani network had made to me.”

According to Boyle, Coleman’s rape was not undertaken “as a lone action, but by one guard… assisted by the captain of the guard and supervised by the commandant.” Later, Coleman clarified that she was given a massive dose of estrogen against her will, which forced her to abort.

AS HOSTAGES, BOYLE AND COLEMAN were at times kept in cramped quarters as small as a bathtub, were drugged, forced into the trunk of a car to be transported from place to place, and abused. The son that Coleman was carrying when they were abducted was born in captivity. And then they made the decision after the loss of their unborn daughter to conceive and bear more children who were raised with them.

After the family’s release, those three surviving children showed dire signs of trauma, re-experiencing it in nightmares and flashbacks, as Boyle told Michelle Shephard of the Canadian newspaper the Toronto Star in October. He said that their 4-year-old son, Najaeshi Jonah, did not like to close his eyes because it reminded him of waking up at night to see masked men with Kalashnikovs picking him up after his parents already had been taken away while he was sleeping. Ever since, according to Boyle, their son tried to avoid closing his eyes, even to play the childhood game of peek-a-boo, in order to avoid re-experiencing the horror.

Najaeshi Jonah, according to Boyle, was also “terrified to leave the house [in Canada], even just to go on the porch… It’s as though he thinks if he ever exits this magical wonderland it will all end…”

Speaking for himself, Boyle also admitted in an interview he no longer trusted anyone after being held hostage for so long.

Speaking of his 2-year-old middle child, Dhakwoen Noah, Boyle told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Susan Ormiston that his son was experiencing traumatic flashbacks and is “nearly as distressed as he was in prison, it seems everything reminds him of the horrors of prison; cameras are equated to hostage videos, pens are equated to syringes used to drug his parents with ketamine by the guards, slamming doors is associated with cell searches or worse, it seems his healing process has barely begun—so we pray that God will hasten it.”

Even the Boyles’ months-old infant girl returned from captivity traumatized Boyle wrote in an email to the CBC: “Ma’idah Grace seems scared most of the time, but also to have discovered there are more decent people in the world than she knew; her world until last week consisted of two good brothers and two good parents and about 15 guards [who were sources of] increasing fear to her.”

THAT IT’S NOT ONLY the children who were traumatized, but also Boyle himself—who tried to appear strong and the leader of the family upon their release—now seems all too clear.

In a strange psychological twist, trauma survivors who don’t get the support and help they need to overcome the psychic pain they have endured often repeat their traumas in both symbolic and literal ways. It may be the brain trying to redo the story and get it right, or at a minimum understand, and come to grips with the past psychic pain endured.

Many wondered about the Boyle and Coleman decision to bear more children in captivity, but any psychologist knowing how the case unfolded could see that both spouses were deeply distraught over the forced abortion of their unborn daughter and Coleman’s rape. It is common after a forced or traumatic abortion to get pregnant repeatedly to try to heal that painful scar—a pattern to which the Boyle-Coleman marriage was no exception, even in captivity.

Boyle first appeared in court on New Year’s Day in Ottawa, and again on Wednesday. He will remain in custody at least until Monday. Among the charges issued against him is causing an unidentified person to ingest “a noxious thing, namely Trazodone,” an antidepressant drug.

In this case it seems that traumatic re-enactment is clearly occurring. Joshua Boyle, under deep distress, has now allegedly forced someone to take a serious medication against their will, and has allegedly sexually assaulted someone. He is even accused of keeping someone in unlawful confinement—perhaps repeating what was done to them in his own mixed-up way.

It’s not a small thing for any man, to be responsible for putting his wife in harm’s way and then being unable to save her from rape and a forced abortion. That he was clearly still deeply distressed by both, and that these traumas were first and foremost in his mind, was evident in his statement upon their release when he lashed out at his kidnappers, calling for the Afghan government to track down those members of the Haqqani network who raped his wife, and ordered “the murder of my infant daughter.”

UPON THEIR RELEASE in Pakistan and return to Canada, all of the Coleman/Boyle family were showing signs of distress and may or may not have been receiving—or accepted—the support they needed. Boyle may have rejected psychological assistance, or simply opted for prayers and medications that might ease the pain. But prayers and medications don’t quickly and completely erase traumatic memories that tend to intrude unbidden into one’s consciousness causing rage, terror, withdrawal and alienation—symptoms that trauma survivors need help in learning to manage.

Boyle perhaps too quickly stepped forward and took it upon himself to be the family spokesman talking to the press with whom he unceremoniously announced the family traumas. Meanwhile Caitlan Coleman remained veiled, in the shadows and silent—while her father, Jim Coleman, made angry statements to American media blaming Boyle. “Taking your pregnant wife to a very dangerous place, to me and the kind of person I am, is unconscionable.”

Coleman’s father was not the only one who questioned Coleman’s reasons for being in Afghanistan in the first place. Security and law enforcement also had their lingering questions about whether Boyle had tried to make contact with terrorists in the first place and why Boyle and his wife were in Afghanistan.

Boyle, who is a convert to Islam, was married for a time to Zaynab Khadr, one of the elder sisters of Omar Khadr, the Pakistani-Canadian who as a 15-year-old was arrested and charged with killing an American soldier in Afghanistan. Boyle, among others, was outraged that Khadr spent ten years in Guantanamo despite claiming his confession to the killing had been coerced.

The patriarch of the Khadr family was killed in 2003, along with al Qaeda and Taliban members, in a shootout with Pakistani security forces near the Afghanistan border. Omar Khadr, who was repatriated to Canada in 2012, subsequently won a settlement of 10.5 million Canadian dollars ($8.4 million) and a government apology from the Canadian government for breaching his constitutional rights.

Security experts wondered if Boyle’s zeal for Islam and his anger over the West’s action toward individuals like Omar Khadr were part of his reason for going to Afghanistan. Was he looking for contacts that ultimately disappointed him by taking him and his family hostage and demanding he join them?

Boyle’s associations with the family led some U.S. intelligence officials to speculate that his visit to Afghanistan may have been part of a larger effort to link up with Taliban-affiliated militants. “I can’t say that [he was ever al Qaeda],” one former intelligence official told The Independent in the U.K. “He was never a fighter on the battlefield. But my belief is that he clearly was interested in getting into it.”

These questions still remain unanswered, but certainly would cause Boyle distress.

Within a week of their release in October 2017, Boyle, who tried to present himself as the strong protector, reportedly was rushed to the hospital with an unspecified ailment. Boyle’s family made a statement at the time that both their son and his wife were “deeply traumatized and Josh is not of clear thought as he speaks at times.”

This week Caitlan Coleman defended Boyle, without offering specifics, in her statement to the Toronto Star where she blamed the trauma they had been through. “Obviously, he is responsible for his own actions,” Coleman wrote, “but it is with compassion and forgiveness that I say I hope help and healing can be found for him. As to the rest of us, myself and the children, we are healthy and holding up as well as we can.” Boyle’s defense lawyer, Eric Granger, wrote in an e-mail to the Star, “Mr. Boyle is a young man who we all know has been through a lot. He has never been in trouble with the law.”

Indeed, and now that we see evidence that the deep traumas of their five-year-ordeal are being replayed, it is time for Caitlan, Joshua, and their children to get the psychological, spiritual, medical, and community support they need. Only then can they rage and grieve and finally come to terms with the losses harsh captivity has left imprinted on their bodies, minds, and souls.

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Terrorism

Wanted Dead or Alive: The Frustrating, Failing Hunt for ISIS Leader Baghdadi

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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Authors: Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. & Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D. 

Last month Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi declared the territorial defeat of ISIS in Iraq. Yet a pressing question remains—where is Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of the terrorist group that took over a third of Iraq’s territory in 2014 to establish the so-called caliphate, which terrorized millions in the region, horrified people all over the world, and inspired gruesome attacks in Europe and the United States?

Despite a $25 million U.S. State Department bounty on his head, al Baghdadi has managed to evade capture and death repeatedly. This, even with the fury of the U.S., Russian, Syrian, and Iraqi militaries focused on killing him.

While we were in Baghdad as researchers from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) last month interviewing cadres from the so-called Islamic State who, unlike their leader, were caught and brought to justice, an Iraqi prison interrogator asked, “With all of your country’s military might why is it that the U.S. can’t find al Baghdadi?”

It’s a good question.

Intelligence is best informed from on-the-ground sources, which, in the case of ISIS, the Americans lack. Western intelligence services have found it nearly impossible to insert spies into the terrorist organization. Jordanian sources claimed to us to have done so, and in Jordan’s case there is also a corroborating news story of an agent who had infiltrated and served as a commander in ISIS being airlifted out before the coalition’s final assault on the ISIS capital Raqqa.

Several Kosovar government officials also have told ICSVE researchers about their attempts to infiltrate the organization, but admit they failed. One of them was discovered and killed. And while the Israeli Mossad and Russia may have succeeded (that is certainly what they would like us to believe), it’s not clear that the intelligence received from any of these actors is, or was, coming out of the organization in real time.

Clearly no government or intelligence service has enough information to kill al Baghdadi.

During interviews with 66 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners to date, ICSVE researchers have learned that all cadres are highly controlled. Mobile phones are often taken from them. Those allowed to keep them often have their messages checked. Surveillance of communications is extremely tight. The fate of anyone accused of betraying ISIS is likely to be beheading. In our interviews we often heard of Russians, especially, decapitated after having been accused as spies—claims often made only out of suspicion and with little to no evidence backing them up.

The ISIS Emni (also written Amn or Amni, the intelligence arm of ISIS) was constantly on the alert for enemies within its own ranks, overseeing any external communications and carefully vetting those who joined. Recruits who appeared in Syria and Iraq without personal references spent time under Emni investigation, and often were sent directly to the front lines. The thinking was that if they took up arms, fought valiantly on behalf of the group and managed to survive, they were allowed in. If they died, “martyrdom” was their fate, and if they were true believers, they went to Paradise. Otherwise, to Hell.

Keep in mind as well, that ISIS is not just an agglomeration of fanatical volunteers, as it is sometimes portrayed. Its core structure was formed by a group of highly trained Iraqi former military and intelligence officers from Saddam Hussein’s government who were angry when they were dismissed and sent home following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Ultimately they allied with the short-lived but utterly savage group of jihadists that formed around the Jordanian firebrand Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who had won grudging recognition from Osama bin Laden as the leader of what became known as al Qaeda in Iraq.

The search for Zarqawi from 2003 until the Americans killed him in 2006 gives a glimpse of what’s going on now in the hunt for al Baghdadi.

Nada Bakos was one of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s “targeting officers” on Zarqawi’s trail. Now no longer with the CIA, she explained in a recent interview with the History Channel for a series about the ultimate demise of Adolf Hitler, “a targeting officer is a person who is analyzing information for the purposes of making it actionable—whether it’s working with the military or something the Agency itself could do.”

One sifts through “mountains and mountains” of information, said Bakos. “Everybody leaves a trace. … Everybody leaves some kind of footprint and some kind of pattern that you can find. Every human being is driven to seek out certain things: food, water, shelter, connection with other people. There are very basic instincts that drive a person to exist. And those leave a pattern.”

One also looks for weaknesses, and characteristics that set the prey apart: “Vulnerabilities of people on the run would include if they had a medical issue—understanding what that medical issue is and what they needed to treat that—family members, close friends, if they were interested in a particular area of the world, what they’d considered home,” said Bakos. “You’re trying to paint a picture of where someone might end up going—and what their strategy was and what their intent was.”

Zarqawi was “an evil maniac,” Bakos said. Indeed, more than a dozen years ago, he was drawing world attention to himself by beheading hostages, setting a gruesome precedent embraced enthusiastically by his ideological heirs. As he was pursued, “It was really all about trying to figure out where within the network would he feel safest,” said Bakos. “Where does he want to communicate from? How does he want to live and exist in day-to-day life? We knew he had family members who are around him once in a while. Trying to envision what it was that drove him to exist in the way he wanted to. What did he want his life to look like?”

Eventually the Special Operations task force pursuing Zarqawi learned that an imam and learned Islamic scholar he considered his spiritual advisor would be meeting him at a house outside the Iraqi city of Baquba in June 2006. Drones followed the imam’s car, and when the cleric entered the building, an American F16 flattened it with two 500-pound bombs.

But, Bakos notes something else we might want to remember as we look at the hunt for Baghdadi. Zarqawi’s organization “was literally a network of nodes and power centers,” and not very hierarchical, according to Bakos. Which meant that even after his death and even after what appeared to be a near-complete defeat in Iraq, the group was able to scatter, regroup, and reorganize in Syria, eventually re-emerging as the so-called Islamic State under the leadership, whether real or titular, of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

WE NOTICED THAT in our interviews very few of the former ISIS cadres we’ve spoken with, even those serving in the high ranks of ISIS, report having seen al Baghdadi in person. Since his infamous 2014 video recording from a mosque in Mosul where he declared the establishment of the ISIS “caliphate,” al Baghdadi has lived a reclusive life, only occasionally posting statements online. Despite being the leader of one of the most virulent terrorist organizations to date, the intelligence officers surrounding him have kept his location and movements a closely guarded secret.

That ISIS learned from its predecessor and sister terrorist organizations how to protect its leader should not be a surprise. Those from the intelligence world of Saddam Hussein knew what to do to avoid repetition of the attempted and actual executions of Chechen terrorist leaders Basayev and al Khattab by the Russians, and Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden by the United States, respectively. From the first moments of the formation of the ISIS caliphate the ISIS intelligence operatives took steps to minimize the possibility that al Baghdadi would meet the same fate and the organization would be prematurely decapitated.

So, finding al Baghdadi is not as simple as relying on the technical prowess of the American military, as our Iraqi interrogator believed. The highly precise and round-the-clock satellite surveillance that the United States employs and the sophisticated drones that can zoom in to search the ground in the greatest detail do very little to inform when the likes of al Baghdadi can scurry through the labyrinth of tunnels in Mosul and elsewhere that were built by ISIS. And when those tunnels are no longer available to him, al Baghdadi has the additional advantage of transforming his appearance, perhaps even disguising himself as an Arab woman hiding under a niqab to evade surveillance, as other ISIS cadres have attempted to do. While the U.S. troops and the U.S. supported Kurdish forces scour telephone intercepts, al Baghdadi almost certainly learned, as Osama bin Laden did, that he could only communicate with relative safety via couriers.

FOLLOWING THE 2003 U.S.-LED invasion of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a hole in the ground. This was not the result of the $25 million bounty that also was put on his head. It took the Americans many months to catch Saddam after mounting a massive hunt for him. The capture was finally accomplished by pulling in his former bodyguards who, under interrogation, gave bits and pieces that finally led to the discovery of Saddam’s whereabouts. At the time of his capture, Saddam may also have lacked the kind of devoted network that al Baghdadi can still rely on, with as many as 20,000 ISIS cadres that have melted back into society, according to Iraqi officials. It’s also apparent that the ISIS Emni knows how to spirit its members across international borders.

Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, al Baghdadi has been reported killed, yet resurfaced multiple times‍.

Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, chief of the U.S.-led coalition battling ISIS in Iraq and Syria told a conference call with journalists at the end of August, as he was about to rotate out of his assignment, that he thought al Baghdadi was still at large, but the question of where was left vague, to say the least.

“I don’t have a clue. He could be anywhere in the world for all I know,” said Townsend.

“Here’s what I think. I think he’s somewhere in Iraq and Syria. I think he’s probably somewhere in the Middle Euphrates River Valley.”

This is an area, often referred to by the acronym MERV, that runs about 250 kilometers from around Deir ez-Zour in Syria to Rawah in Iraq. “That’s where they believe their last sanctuary is,” said Townsend. “So I think he’s probably somewhere down there.”

But Townsend noted that fighting in MERV would not be like the siege of a city or a neighborhood. “You can’t really just contain the whole Euphrates River valley and starve them out. It’s too big. It’s too complex,” he said. And there is the added complication that rival forces—the Russians and the Syrian army of Bashar Assad with its allied Iran-backed militias—have converged on the area at the same time as the U.S.-led coalition and its allies, which have approached from the opposite side of the river. Obviously, time that might be spent hunting for al Baghdadi is spent avoiding clashes between the forces converging to kill or capture him.

“We’re looking for him every day,” said Townsend. “When we find him, I think we’ll just try to kill him first. It’s probably not worth all the trouble to try and capture him.”

That was more than four months ago, and the fighting, and the hunting, continues—along with the deconfliction issues. “We’re piling up a lot of airplanes in a very small piece of sky,” a senior U.S. Air Force officer in the operation told The New York Times at the end of December. Two senior figures, Abu Faysal and his deputy Abu Qudamah al Iraqi, were taken out by an airstrike on Dec. 1.

According to Daily Beast contributor Wladimir van Wilgenburg, who has followed the Syrian combat closely on the ground, “There are some remaining pockets of ISIS militants along the east bank of the Euphrates River [in Syria] and in the desert along the border with Iraq. Earlier this week 70 ISIS fighters and their families reportedly handed themselves over to the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces. So it’s possible Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is either in those pockets or in the desert. Most likely in the desert.”

Several Iraqi security officials that we spoke to last month said they strongly believe al Baghdadi is still around. Kurdish intelligence chief Lahur Talabany figured “99 percent he is alive.” Talabany cited the history of ISIS and its roots as al Qaeda in Iraq, which dispersed like bees when the hive was destroyed, then came back together in a swarm.

The man is wanted “dead or alive” but nobody seems to be sure which he is just now, which probably is just they way he’d like it.

“ABU BAKR AL BAGHDADI” is a kunya, a pseudonym similar to names many ISIS members give themselves indicating where they come from. In his case it means the father of Bakr, from Baghdad. In fact he was born in Samarra, north of Baghdad, in 1971, and his real name is Awwad Ibrahim Ali al Badri al Samarrai.

As head of the so-called Islamic State, Baghdadi sought to legitimize his claim as “caliph” with claims that his family ancestry traces back to the Prophet Muhammad, and because he had post-graduate training in Islamic studies.

But in operational terms a more important figure may have been Abu Muhammad al Adnani, often described as al Baghdadi’s right-hand man and the voice of the organization. He was the powerful head of the ISIS Emni who served as the “emir” of the Syrian territories and director of overseas operations, including horrific attacks in Europe. Unlike Baghdadi, Adnani was known for his battlefield strategy, prolific propaganda, and international plotting. He was killed by a coalition airstrike in 2016.

In the Zarqawi days, al Baghdadi was reported to have fallen out with Zarqawi, condemning his brutal bombings of Shiites. Yet when al Baghdadi came to head ISIS—and broke with al Qaeda’s core leadership—his terror organization became the most brutal seen to date, continuing the indiscriminate slaughter of Shia Muslims. And what is known of al Baghdadi’s personal heartlessness is no different than that of Zarqawi.

American hostage Kayla Mueller was held for a time with a half-dozen Yazidi girls as sex slaves for al Baghdadi in the home of Abu Sayyaf, a Tunisian working as the ISIS oil and gas emir. Hostages held with Mueller, reported that she frequently was called for by al Baghdadi who raped her mercilessly. She was killed in 2014.

Al Baghdadi harbored a deep hatred for the U.S. after his capture by the Americans in 2004 and the 10 months he spent in Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib. Some credit his time in the U.S.-run prison as connecting him to other jihadis, although his ties to Zarqawi mean he was already well connected, and others wonder what effect the abuses in Abu Ghraib had on shaping his own subsequent actions.

In 2013, al Baghdadi released an audio statement in which he announced that AQI and Jabhat al-Nusra terror groups were merging under the name “Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham” and later as the Islamic State. In 2014 he declared the ISIS Caliphate from Mosul and himself the Caliph—his only video performance to date. His latest public missive in September 2017, following an 11-month silence, was an audio recording urging his forces to resist the American supported Iraqi incursion into Mosul and to mount attacks worldwide. American forces judged it as authentic and current.

Iraqi Sunnis in Baghdad told us that he still sends messages to his followers, although they are likely relying on rumors. American intelligence sources have told CNN that they have failed to intercept any ISIS communications confirming his death and that given his stature in the organization, the U.S. expects to see significant chatter discussing his demise should he be killed.

In December 2017 an Iraqi Ministry of Intelligence officials told us, “Iraqis may turn up the heat on trying to catch him in the next three months, as it will be good propaganda for the Prime Minister to do so while facing his bid for reelection.” That said, another MOI officer shrugged off questions about the hunt for al Baghdadi, asking in return, “Does it matter anymore? ISIS is defeated.”

It does.

In Iraq, officials estimate from 6,000 to 20,000 ISIS cadres have melted back into the landscape, which means the group may still harbor the capabilities and manpower to carry out guerrilla warfare with smaller scale suicide attacks and bombings, particularly if there is a leader to order it. But at this point, even without their leaders, ISIS and al Qaeda have spawned a social movement of small actors who attack on their own.

Likewise, for all that ISIS has lost—the territory that it once claimed as the caliphate, the oil fields from which it derived the wealth and revenues to enable it to finance weapons supplies and salaries for its fighters, its ability to enslave and sell captured women, its clandestine theft and sale of antiquities and other valuables, and its ability to impose taxes on those who lived under it—the ISIS dream still remains.

Even ISIS defectors and prisoners, while expressing their disillusionment with the group and its tactics, often show evidence of remaining loyalty to the ISIS dream they were sold. The Islamic State’s offer to young men and women the world over who are frustrated with injustices, political inequalities, and lack of opportunities still remains. The ISIS promise to join in building a new form of governance that they falsely claim will uphold Islamic ideals, be inclusive and offer justice and opportunities to all Muslims is a heady one. This utopian dream of the true Islamic Caliphate peddled throughout the world by ISIS has not been destroyed.

The fact that al Baghdadi is at large may make it seem to those true believes even more possible to resurrect the defeated empire.

As Gen. Townsend put it last August, “In 2014, the world watched in horror as ISIS seized more than 100,000 square kilometers of Syria and Iraq and brought more than 7 million people under its barbaric control. ISIS was something the world had rarely seen before. ISIS is the most evil entity I have encountered in my lifetime.”

Not only must we break the ISIS brand totally, discrediting entirely the dream they have sold as possible to achieve through violence and brutality, we must also do all we can to continue the hunt for the 25 Million Dollar Man, so that, one way or another, those who supported him and those he victimized can see he has been made to pay for all the crimes against humanity carried out under his leadership.

—with additional reporting by Christopher Dickey

Reference for this Article: Speckhard, Anne & Shajkovci, Ardian (1-6-2018) Wanted Dead or Alive: The Frustrating, Failing Hunt for ISIS Leader Baghdadi, Daily Beast 

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Terrorism

Is MEK/Jundullah The ISIS Of Tomorrow?

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One would think that the United States would have learned by now, that it is never a good idea to arm terrorist groups in different parts of the world, due to the inevitable “blowback” which eventually ensues after these violent groups determine that the USA is no longer in support of them, or when the USA wants to deny that they have any relationship with them.

We have seen this paradigm unfold countless times before, over the past few decades, with groups like Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, La Fenice, Avanguardia Nazionale, Ordine Nuovo, the Contras, Cuban Exiles, Colombian Paramilitary Organizations, Los Pepes, Kosovo Liberation Army, Jundullah, Mujahedin-e Khalq (“MEK”), and countless others designed to engage in United States sponsored terrorist activities against sovereign governments and nations that the US doesn’t like for whatever reason.

In the wake of the abject failure of the US using ISIS to destabilize, disrupt and disorient various governments throughout the Middle East, such as Syria, Iraq, Lybia, Yemen and others, followed quickly by various ISIS-attributed terrorist attacks against the US and Europe by ISIS, President Donald Trump was swept into office in large part because the American and European people discovered this via the veritable “sieve” known as social media and the internet.

But rather than change US foreign policy to ban or cease using violent thugs to carry out US policy overseas, instead it appears that the US Government through the CIA have now adopted a smaller more surgically precise approach by supporting, through its proxy nations Israel and Saudi Arabia, smaller groups such as MEK and Jundullah, who operate primarily in tiny regions of the world, such as in and around Iran, without much of a global presence.

But like cancer, these groups have a tendency to grow uncontrollably, and then later turn on the US and Europe, when and if the latter starts to pull funding or divorce themselves from the court of public opinion through plausible denial.

This is exactly how ISIS grew into a formidable fighting force, and eventually turned on its creators, much like the Frankenstein monster in the Mary Shelley novels.

All of this must be an abject nightmare for the US FBI, DHS, ICE and DEA pull their proverbial hair out, because they must often clean up/explain the horrific domestic messes of terrorist blowback occurring on US soil when these groups inevitably turn on their paymasters, just like they are the chief law enforcement/preventative bodies that deal with the drug war, also in large part caused by the CIA’s open and clandestine support of massive drug producing/trafficking regimes in Afghanistan, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico.

The news lately has revealed that the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia are openly funding, supporting, arming, training and providing logistical support to Jundullah and MEK in order to take down the current sovereign government of Iran.

Even though the USA, Saudi Arabia and Israel may not like the current government there, what right do they have to engage in this type of state sponsored terrorist behavior?

There is a reason why various governments throughout the world have stood the test of time, and exist in their present states.

Perhaps their people wanted it, or perhaps there was need for that specific type of ideology or mode of governance, but unless and until those governments actively target or harm Americans, the US has absolutely no business getting involved with those groups, and indeed, has invariably and inevitably lived to regret it countless times, in nearly 100% of all cases.

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