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.
“I’m from Raqqa,” says Umm Rashid as her months-old baby cries in her arms. She bumps him up and down trying to get him to settle. “I was born in 1995. I’m 21 years old, from a family of four. I have a younger sister,” she says. “My father was crippled, so my mother worked to feed the family. We are farmers. Also, my mother cleaned the schools.”
At the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) we have interviewed dozens of ISIS defectors, most of whom tell stories of disillusionment and desperation, escape, and rejection of everything they saw in the so-called Islamic State. And that was what we expected as this interview began. Two of our colleagues, Abu Said and Murat, were in the room with Umm Rashid in a Turkish town near the Syrian border while we were in the United States watching and asking questions over a video link.
“My father fell down from a construction site and was crippled,” says the young woman, who is covered in a black abaya. “I never saw him walking. When I was little, I would stay with my father at home. My mother would be out working all the time. I never saw her a lot. But my mother loved us really a lot.”
Then in late 2011 and early 2012, the Syrian civil war began, and soon spread to Raqqa in the east of the country. “My mother was scared and told me, ‘Oh my daughter, I need to get you married!’”
When the Assad regime’s security forces pulled out of Raqqa, Ahrār ash-Shām took over “and things went crazy,” Umm Rashid remembers, referring to one of the jihadi militias that rose up to fight Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. “We heard that the rebel militias were taking girls and forcing them to get married to their soldiers.”
But as a teenager, Umm Rashid had a dream. She wanted to be a doctor. Before the eruption of war her parents had been behind it, despite their conservative Syrian background. But with the uprising she wasn’t safe as a single girl anymore.
She is composed, articulate, thinking about what she says as she explains her situation.
“When the regime left because of the rebellion, the ninth-grade exams were canceled. I had to go to Hama for the exams.” A distance of hundreds of miles. “I passed the ninth-grade exam,” Umm Rashid tells us proudly. “But my mother looked at the situation and it was so bad… She told me anyone who wants to get married to you: I have to consider that.”
The family was very poor. Umm Rashid’s mother was making about $100 a month as a cleaning woman in schools, and some of that money was going toward medication for her father. As little girls on their way to classes their friends could buy snacks like doner kebabs, while Umm Rashid and her sister had to make do with bread and tomato paste from home. Now as young women they were facing hunger.
“I got married to our neighbor’s son,” Umm Rashid continues, her voice flat and devoid of emotion. “My husband’s mother talked to my mother and they arranged it.” But despite liking Yusuf, the neighbor’s son, he was not the eldest and things did not go well for young Umm Rashid. “My husband had four siblings, three sisters and one brother. I was so young. I didn’t know anything. My husband was the middle child so he didn’t have a say about what was going on at home. Their father was deceased. My husband’s sisters started to behave very badly toward me. My mother-in-law beat me.
“I was thinking about my options,” Umm Rashid explains. “‘You have to be patient,’ my mother told me. ‘If you come to us, you are going to suffer from hunger. At least over there you have something to eat.’ So, I stayed there with my husband for six months. [Then] one day my husband fled. I don’t know why he fled. I know that his family was not behaving well toward him. Even his older brothers were beating him up as well. Soon we found out that Yusuf was in Tell Abyat and he was working in Tell Abyat. I continued with my husband’s family. Soon I learned that Yusuf had joined Jabhat al Nusra.”
At the time, al Nusra was becoming the umbrella organization for ragtag groups of villagers who had taken up arms against the regime. Jihadi ideologues from Jordan and elsewhere had flooded into Syria, preaching the concepts of “martyrdom” and militant jihad as they organized and affiliated al Nusra to al Qaeda.
“First I was thinking, alhamdulillah [thank God], Yusuf found a job and was working. I didn’t know what Jabhat al Nusra was and I was happy that he had a job… When he came back he had money. He bought gold for me. He had a car. He was distributing money to all his family. He stayed one week with me and then he left.”
But the militias in Raqqa “got mixed again, and the groups started to fight each other.”
By late 2013, a schism among the leaders of al Qaeda in Syria had led to ferocious fights between al Nusra and the rising power in the region, the so-called Islamic State, as it moved to take control of Raqqa and the surrounding region.
“I heard that the ‘brothers’ came. The ‘brothers’ were the Islamic State. Meanwhile the groups were fighting each other and I had not heard from my husband. One day I learned that he was wounded and soon after that he died. He became a ‘martyr.’
“After he died, my mother-in-law took everything from me, even my clothes, and told me to go to my mother’s home. She told me, ‘Because of you, my son died. You brought bad luck to us.’ My mother-in-law loved money.”
“You didn’t have a child with him?” we asked Umm Rashid.
“No, I was not with him that much because there were so many people inside the house,” Umm Rashid answered. “I went back to my mother’s house. I waited my iddah,” she explains, referring to the mandatory three months waiting period for widows to determine if they are pregnant or not and, if not, available for a new husband.
Reflecting back on her marriage to Yusuf, she explains, “We weren’t happily married. There was always conflict in the house. My mother-in-law didn’t allow me to sleep with my husband, so I didn’t experience a real marriage. There were three rooms in the house, but four other siblings, so we were not given a room.”
For Umm Rashid after the death of her husband, the tragedies were just beginning.
“During the fight in Raqqa, a mortar came down on our home. My mother and father died, my sister was wounded.” This was 2014. Umm Rashid was just 18, all her dreams destroyed by war.
“My sister was wounded in her hand, so her arm was amputated. We were alone at home. Our neighbor, a woman, was trying to help us. For example when there was aid from different groups they would drop a box in front of our door. If that woman had something to feed us she would give us meals. We were suffering and had nothing. That woman was from al Khansaa, from ISIS.”
Al Khansaa was formed in 2014 in Raqqa as the female arm of the ISIS morality police, or hisbah, to placate the locals who were getting riled up about men arresting or punishing their women for dress code and other morality infringements. To calm them, women were enrolled as morality police as well.
“One day,” Umm Rashid continues, speaking of her neighbor in the hisbah, “she came and said, ‘Why don’t you get married to an emir from ISIS? I can arrange that.’ Her name was Umm al-Khattab.
“Of course, I was out of my iddah for two months. Our entire house was demolished except for one room. We were living in that room. Umm al-Khattab got me married to a Saudi emir. His name was Abdullah al-Jazwari.
“He was a really nice man, he was like a gentleman and he behaved so nicely to me. He also accepted my sister to live with us. So my sister came also. We lived together like this. I was happy with him. He was behaving toward me really well. He was an emir.
“After two months, he asked me why don’t you join al Khansaa? He was 40 years old. I didn’t know much about him. We never talked about ourselves much. I knew he was my husband, but that was it. He used to come home for his meals. I cleaned his clothes and I treated him really well because he was behaving toward me really nicely, but I didn’t know much about him.”
As her husband and the woman who had helped her encouraged her to join al Khansaa, another thought weighed on her. She believed that the mortar round that killed her parents and cost her sister her arm was the work of the U.S.-led coalition. Although many civilians have been killed by its airstrikes and subsequent offensives, it seems unlikely given the timing of her parent’s death in early 2014 that the coalition was responsible. It had not taken shape until that summer. But hatred for the coalition became a deep conviction for Umm Rashid. She would serve with the enemy of those she believed had killed her family. “I accepted to become a member of al Khansaa,” she says.
“Because my husband was an emir, I was not sent to the training camp,” Umm Rashid explains.
While the group regularly publishes pictures of women holding weapons in supposed training exercises but not as combatants. Of the 63 ISIS cadres—prisoners, returnees, and defectors—ICSVE have thus far interviewed, many tell us that men go for Sharia training, but the women are instructed individually at home, by their husbands. Western soldiers mock the awkward way the ISIS women are photographed or filmed holding their rifles in ISIS propaganda.
“There were a lot of 14- and 15-year-old girls in al Khansaa,” Umm Rashid tells us. “When I first registered, Umm al Khattab helped me a lot. They gave me a weapon. I joined her brigade. Umm al Khattab was the emir of that brigade,” Umm Rashid explains.
As we’ve heard in our many other interviews, the women who join the hisbah are armed with a Kalashnikov and have broad powers over the civilian population—able to fine, punish, and arrest them for any type of morality offenses. They have an exalted status over civilians and answer to practically no one.
“Umm al Khattab was not the emir of all of al Khansaa, but of this brigade. I knew her for a long time because she was our neighbor. From the start, I knew how to work in the brigade because Umm al-Khattab was talking to me all the time.
“Umm al Khattab would come and pick me up in a van, our brigade worked in that van with six or seven other women. We were in charge of the market place. Because I was so poor in the past, I was trying to be generous to other poor people. Abu Abdullah [her husband] was so generous with me. He would give me a lot of money. I was not used to having money. I would save it and give some to my sister and also gave money to the poor people. I was happy he was giving it so generously.
“Our job was to check the market on our regulations. For example we would check abayas if they are too tight or too transparent.”
Fascinated to be hearing not just about, but from an actual member of the ISIS hisbah, we ask Umm Rashid to explain to us how women are punished. We know the men have their shirts removed and are flogged in public, “But what about the women?” we ask, wondering how ISIS handles this delicate matter. “Are they undressed as well, and if so where?”
Umm Rashid is perfectly matter of fact: “For example if there is a woman with a colored abaya, we would arrest the husband and wife and take them to the hisbah jail. They would take the woman to the female’s hisbah and the man to the male’s hisbah.
“We would take off the clothes of the woman until she is in her underwear. Then we would beat her with a lash. Then there are special women in the hisbah for biting,” says Umm Rashid. We have heard about this practice of biting women but have never had a firsthand account.
“We would torture that woman so badly, that when the husband came from the other side she wouldn’t be able to walk. Then from out of this prison, she would feel I would never do this again, because of the things she suffered from the imprisonment. Her husband needed to pay a fine and he needed to purchase the proper abaya and sign the paperwork that he would comply to the rules completely in the future. If the woman repeats her offense, we would take the husband and put him in a football field where coalition forces used to bomb a lot. We had a prison and we would put him in that prison. Most of the time he would die of fear because of the explosions in that field.”
We ask her if she felt badly doing such things, assuming that she must.
“No! It made me strong! I would do the same thing again if given the opportunity. I escaped because I have a small child. I want to go back after the baby is grown.”
Suddenly the interview is going in a direction we hadn’t anticipated, and a potentially dangerous one for our colleagues Abu Said and Murat in the room with this woman, who now speaks proudly and defiantly of what she has done.
But there is more to come.
Tomorrow, “Slaves, Smugglers, and the Tools of Torture”
Reference for this article: Speckhard, Anne & Yayla, Ahmet S. (August 31, 2017) Making a Monster: How I became an ISIS Bride. The Daily Beast http://www.thedailybeast.com/bride-of-isis-the-making-of-a-monsterpart-i
Kashmir: EAMs at the LOC
First, it was Zahedan where an IRGC convoy; returning home from their tour of duty, along the borders of Sistan-Baluch, are suddenly ambushed and nearly annihilated. As the sun begins to rise at dawn, on the next day, (the 14th of February), over Pulwama in Kashmir, a strikingly similar event occurs to a much larger CRPF convoy, this time returning to duty.
The authorities of the two affected nations issue immediate statements, (which are almost identical in tone and accusation), against elements resident within the territory of their shared common neighbour. Both independently issued statements seem to mirror each other in content and threat, as if they were Page 1 and Page 2 of a document seemingly prepared in advance within a spirit of “friendly collaboration”.
The initial murder of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corpsmen garnered almost no world media exposure, whereas the killing of the Indian Central Reserve Police Force para-militarymen exploded into an International Diplomatic Crisis that eventually required the frantic intervention of the Heads of State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, diplomatic envoys of the Peoples’ Republic of China, the Russia Federation, the UN and ofcourse, everyone’s favourite peacemaker and arbiter of international law and order, the US of A, to pacify emotions and reign in a possibly perceived; potentially imminent; Nuclear Confrontation between two adversarial neighbours, neither of whom recognize the legal sovereign nation status of the other.
Two weeks after Pulwama, in VietNam, whilst the US Head of State begins to dictate meaningless (and impossible to honour), terms and conditions towards the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea’s nuclear disarmament; the gravity of Pulwama is suddenly dragged onto centre stage as a possible Zero Hero event on the Doomsday Clock.
In an intentional act of war, (on the 26th of February), which is then openly glorified as live, patriotic entertainment, the Indian Air Force cross the Line of Control and bomb territory within Pakistan. In the intervening two weeks prior to this dubiously illegal infringement of a neighbour’s property, the world watched in awe at the mechanics of an electronic media that had been effectively tooled as an integrated weaponised instrument, and; also a consummate component of both, the Armed Forces and the State apparatus of an elected Government, with the sole aim of coordinating a line of thought; from which any deviation from the prescribed script was deemed to be a criminal offence.
News media, not so much the print media in terms of newspapers, but rather the online applications of instant messaging; exposed the gargantuan influence and capability that MultiNational Corporations have within any (and all), semi-developed, emerging economic nations: to create and guide a story that seamlessly blurs and oscillates between confusion and surreal fiction. Painting an illusion, as it were, or a dream swirling around disjoint facts.
On the 27th of February, the next day, the Pakistan Air Force duly retaliate and it seems that the elected Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy had finally gone rogue and had totally unhinged himself from reality with instructions to his Armed Forces to target nuclear installations within his neighbour’s territory.
At 7.40 AM Eastern Standard Time on the 27th of February, all Globex Futures Trading in the United States are suspended and the S&P, Dow and Oil indexes cease trading for over 4 hours, with the added excitement of all pending orders, prior to the halt, having their executions specifically cancelled. (Although Currency Exchange platforms remained active). Also on the 26th and 27th of February, Emergency Action Messages or EAMs of the US Nuclear Command and Control Structure commence firing up HFGCS (High Frequency Global Communication System) transmissions, which are a prelude to a Nuclear Alert.
So, why would an internal domestic attack on a police convoy within India lead to EAMs being issued at the LOC, (the Line Of Control within the disputed region of Kashmir). You may answer by saying that the reason is simply because Kashmir is a potential nuclear flashpoint, and that would be eminently correct. But my question would then be, why would this flashpoint be triggered when President Trump and Chairman Un are discussing the consequences of such an occurrence being played out for real between themselves?
The eternal question always remains, “who benefits?”. What message has the world at large been given?
CENTCOM or Central Command and the USINDOPACOM or the US Indo-Pacific Command of the US Armed Forces, are two gigantic military institutions that are run as autonomous and totally opaque entities by their respective Generals who see themselves as Roman Tribunes rather than Commanding Officers, with more power than their elected Head of State; under whom they, in effect, nominally serve. CENTCOM’s sphere of influence includes the carnage and the waste that they have laid to the sovereign nations of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and, that influence ends at the eastern border of Pakistan. In May 2018, when the previously titled entity USPACOM or US Pacific Command changed its name to the US Indo Pacific Command and suddenly incorporated India into its sphere of influence, their remit then began to encompass all territory upto the western border of India and, lo and behold, both spheres of these gigantic killing machines meet at the Line of Control within the volatile and disputed region of Kashmir.
Would the subsequent events leading from Pulwama have been a test run to gauge the effectiveness of integrated electronic media in India, which is thus by default, the most established English language denominated media at USINDOPACOM’s disposal? Would it have been a weaponised trial in propagating an explosive narrative draped as high drama in order to influence, coerce, intimidate and subsume a diverse society to toe the line? Was it to keep Pakistan on the straight and narrow and make it clear to them how close they were to being obliterated were it not for the kind benevolence of CENTCOM intervention; a similar muscular feat that China perhaps would not have been able to effectively co-ordinate so quickly.
So although, on the face of it, the Prime Minister of India plays the well rehearsed role of the village fool, entwining within it, (in order to appeal to a barely semi-literate audience); his own myth of having risen from the ranks of poverty and social ostracisation to become the elected leader of a huge and diverse nation and with the Prime Minister of Pakistan playing the well constructed role of the suave, Western debonair who achieved his elected position after years of political struggle; both however remain actors playing lines they have been given within a huge stage production.
If either of them were truly representative of the will of their constituents as well as the projection of the visions of the future that their electorates see in themselves, then neither would have played leading roles in a scene that required EAMs at the LOC.
The only beneficiaries are the Roman Tribunes of the two COMMANDs of the US Armed Forces, who quietly engaged themselves in a live-fire exercise to test their proprietary war game theories and then gathered the subsequent extrapolated algorithmic data for future reference.
As Crazy Earl says in the epic Kubrick movie, Full Metal Jacket; “These are great days we’re living, bros. We are jolly green giants, walking the Earth with guns. These people we wasted here today are the finest human beings we will ever know. After we rotate back to the world, we’re gonna miss not having anyone around that’s worth shooting”.
Pakistan’s commitment to eradicate terrorism is more advance than UNSC
Big blow to Indian diplomacy by United Nation Security Council (UNSC), when passed a resolution declaring JAISH-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267, without linking him with Pulwama, or Kashmir Freedom Movement.
India, traditional rival, has been trying to blame Masood Azhar on suspicions of his possible involvement in Pulwama Incident, Bombay Attacks, Hijacking Indian Air, or Kashmir Freedom Movement. Since 2008, the US attempted four times to get Masood Azhar listed under the UNSC resolution 1267 but every time its move was thwarted by China. “The Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning ISIL (Da’ish), al Qaeda, and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities approved the addition of entry to its ISIL (Da’ish) and Al-Qaeda Sanctions List of individuals and entities subject to the assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo.” The resolution was limited to ISIL (Da’ish), Al-Qaeda only. But Indian addition of Kashmir or other incidents related to India made the resolution unfit on technical grounds.
Pakistan had rejected earlier proposals to list the JeM chief, as India wanted to link it with the movement in Indian Occupied Kashmir where Kashmiris are waging struggle to get their inalienable right of self-determination. Pakistan’s FO spokesperson said, “India is presenting this new development as its victory and confirmation of its narrative, but these claims are unfounded and false. Once politically motivated attempts to link it with the Pulwama incident and the legitimate Kashmiri struggle for the realization of the right to self-determination were removed, the current amended listing proposal was approved.” Of course, China withdrew its opposition after consultations with Pakistan, and that Pakistan agreed to the listing after its objections were addressed. China and Pakistan are on the same page and support each other on all national, international or regional issues. During his recent visit to China, Prime Minister Imran Khan had met President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang and discussed matters of mutual interest. Reviewing with satisfaction the historical development of China-Pakistan relations and the great strides made, both sides in the joint statement agreed to further strengthen the China-Pakistan all-weather strategic cooperative partnership in line with the principles set forth by the treaty of friendship, cooperation and good-neighborly relations signed in 2005.
This time, the resolution was presented on its original merit and got passed. As per the resolution, his assets should be frozen, travel ban and arms embargo should be imposed. But, Pakistan due to its own policies, has already frozen his assets and imposed a ban on his travel and arms embargo since long ago.
In a matter of fact, Pakistan was the victim of terrorism for almost the last four decades. We have sacrificed 80,000 precious lives, which no other nation can afford. We suffered an economic loss of approximately 250 billion US Dollars, which no other country can afford individually. The net loss in term of time, losing 4 decades means loss of almost two generations. Emotional suffering is much more and beyond any estimation.
Pakistan was compelled to formulate “National Action Plan” at its own and has been implementing successfully for several years. Our achievement to the over-come menace of Terrorism has been acknowledged by the international community. Under the National Action Plan, Pakistan has taken all possible measures to eradicate terrorism from grassroots. Actions against Masood Azhar was part of our national priority. It has nothing to do with any third country.
UNSC’s decision in respect of Masood Azhar may be the last nail in Modi’s Elections. Indian Elections are based on “anti-Pakistan” and “hate-Pakistan”, Modi did his best to hate-Pakistan, harm-Pakistan, Isolate-Pakistan, etc. But all of his efforts went wrong and Pakistan has emerged as one of the most resilient nation, moderate, peace-loving and visionary nation. Pakistan’s narrative is more acceptable to the international community.
Horror in Sri Lanka and Love Fest in Vladivostok
The horrendous Easter bombings in Sri Lanka make little sense; the question remains, why? Following 30 years of civil war between the majority Buddhist Sinhalese (75%) and the minority and mostly Hindu Tamils (11%), who felt discriminated against after the country won independence from the British, it had enjoyed a decade of peace.
The Muslims are another minority in Sri Lanka. They have been under attack in recent years by a new aggressive Buddhism rearing its head. So why should Muslims attack Christians a fellow Abrahamic minority when there has never been any discord between them, and when they could be natural allies.
After ISIS claimed responsibility displaying faces-covered photos of the bombers (except for the leader whose face was uncovered), the murkiness of the circumstances precipitated out. He who pays the piper calls the tune they say, and the local group (National Thowheed Jam’aath) who were the instruments, did not have the wherewithal or the resources on their own — just a leader radicalized by attacks on Muslims by the extremists among Sinhalese Buddhists a year ago.
According to ISIS, it was revenge for the New Zealand mosque bombings but it was also designed to hit the tourist trade. Then too, Zahran Hashim the leader of the group, and who himself is thought to have carried out the attack on Colombo’s Shangri La Hotel was of Tamil background. The cycle continues.
Needless to say the attack on Christians also wrong-footed the security forces for they had intelligence reports since January, but clearly had little or no security presence. Will there be retribution? That is what Muslims fear (and ISIS wants) for it generates more recruits to continue the madness.
How did ISIS emerge? It might be repetitious to say so, but it takes the brutality of war to generate extremists. Think of the IRA, or the Tamil Tigers who invented the suicide bomber. The crazed path of destruction created in the Middle East and North Africa by the US will leave a trail many years hence.
And not only there, as the revolution fomented in Ukraine has led to a civil war, with Russia backing the ethnic Russians of the Donbass region in East Ukraine. Just this week, Russian president Vladimir Putin issued an order simplifying the procedure for them to obtain Russian passports. Is this another step towards eventual annexation?
Meanwhile, Mr. Putin has decided to fill the void left when Donald Trump in Vietnam walked away from what he called a bad deal with Kim Jon Un of North Korea. Kim had demanded an end to all economic sanctions before he would begin to dismantle his nuclear weaponry. Kim had a point: it is clearly not easy to replace destroyed armaments unlike sanctions.
Putin is now playing the role of global power broker with North Korea drawing the attention Trump had received briefly until the falling out. A new bromance? Perhaps, and one important enough for Putin to travel across seven time zones to Vladivostok for the meeting. Kim was met with great ceremonial pomp and treated to a lavish banquet laden with delicacies; thus indulging his twin weaknesses for deference and good food. No cheeseburgers, thank you — in marked contrast to Trump’s favorite food.
What does Putin get? Along with being seen as an influencer in North Korea, he could well become its intermediary, the go-to guy. The wily Putin seldom loses. He waits and watches, watches and waits. For Kim, his two neighbors Russia and China have been his strongest support for generations, to which he now returns.
He tried to emulate China, wanting capital and western firms to invest and kickstart a commercially moribund economy. But Trump’s price was too high. One wonders whether Trump will expound on the Art of the Missed Deal if he loses the next election. But then the ‘curiouser and curiouser’ Democrats might ensure that he does not have to.
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