Imprisoned ISIS Wives and Children Have Nowhere to Run To, Nowhere to Hide
The guards have said if the war comes close, then they will leave here,” a Western ISIS wife texted me today from Camp Roj in far northeastern Syria, a detention center that houses 500 ISIS wives and 1,200 of their children. “What to do if we are left alone?” she asks. “There’s nowhere to go and too risky to get caught by Bashar [al-Assad].”
As she writes, I’m in Belgium sitting next to an FBI agent. I ask him what she should do, but amid all of this chaos, he doesn’t have an immediate answer.
The ISIS wife continues: “I like how America thinks it’s too dangerous for them [the U.S. military] to be here but safe for us to remain with Assad.”
Over the past two years I’ve been in and out of the northeastern territory of Syria held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) six times with staff from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). We have conducted in-depth interviews with 217 ISIS men and women, 100 of them in SDF held territory, for our project countering the ISIS brand, which the SDF has supported fully.
The woman texting me today gave us an interview last year and has managed to stay in touch via illicit phones other detainees allow her to use.
At the same time she is texting me, our Kurdish translator texts that they are living under the sound of bombs and troops advancing. Assad’s troops are marching eastward, while Turkey is barreling in from the north. Which soldiers will reach Camp Roj first and what the women should do if the Kurdish YPJ-Women’s Protection Units guarding them decide it’s too dangerous to remain in place, is something the guards have told the inmates to think about.
The female inmates of Camp Ain Issa, farther west, faced a similar dilemma earlier in the week when the Turks began shelling. Until Sunday, Ain Issa Camp housed a total of 12,000 women and children, but according to one Belgian woman, it descended into “complete chaos” as fires broke out, the guards left, and the women escaped in the hundreds.
Among the women housed there, 265 were wives of foreigner terrorist fighters, alongside 1,000 of their children. On the second day of the Turkish air assault, Belgian ISIS wives Bouchra Abouallal and Tatiana Wielandt decided it was better to go on the run with their small children than remain in place to learn what next disaster might befall them.
We interviewed Bouchra Abouallal in September 2019. Completely exhausted from her experience with ISIS, she said that life inside the Caliphate was “the best possible deradicalization program ever.” Already prosecuted in absentia and facing a five-year sentence in her home country of Belgium, she told ICSVE researchers she would prefer to return home even to serve a 20-year sentence rather than remain in the camp under the menace of the cruel ISIS-inmate enforcers who threatened all European women who no longer wanted anything to do with the ISIS Caliphate.
Now Bouchra Abouallal is on the run with her three small children. In audio messages punctuated in the background by shelling she told a Belgian journalist that she was headed toward the front lines in hopes she could make it to safety in Turkey, where she wishes to turn herself into the Belgian consulate and make her way home.
While European officials here in Brussels have stated that Turkey agrees to help any escaped ISIS cadres that end in their hands to be returned to their homelands, up until recently, Belgium was refusing to let her come back. Instead of seeing her as someone victimized by the Islamic State’s propaganda and lies, and fooled by the “Shariah for Belgium” group that had radicalized many in her native city of Antwerp, Belgian politicians see her as a threat.
But it is not difficult for Belgian authorities to turn past posts on her social media accounts against her.
“Your system has failed oh Belgian state,” Bouchra’s Facebook page read after she slipped out of Belgium to go live under the Islamic State. Referring to the way the Belgian police had hassled her upon her first return home from Syria, her posts taunted them, saying “You were watching us 24/7 and you still haven’t managed to stop us. Why? Because Allah is the best planner (…)” Her threats continued with, “We have left because we believe that it is a duty for every Muslim. To the policeman who threatened to take our children away, I can say that my children will turn yours into orphans, with the will of Allah.”
Bouchra claims that it wasn’t she, but one of her ISIS husbands, who authored these hate-filled posts. She says he used to lock her up at home and post on her Facebook page without her permission. Indeed, when we interviewed Bouchra in September she spoke gently as she denounced ISIS, giving us permission to use both her image and her name in a counter narrative video—this, while knowing the ISIS enforcers in the camp would likely punish her for it.
The woman texting me today from Camp Roj does so fearing that if it becomes known it was her texting she will be punished by her YPJ guards. Yet pure terror drives her to try to stay connected with the outside world as she makes wrenching decisions for herself and her young child.
Americans are also in this camp. We have interviewed two American passport holders—Canadian dual-citizen Kimberly Pullman and disputed American citizen Hoda Muthana.
When I ask today’s texter about Americans in the camps, she tells me there are five in all, two more in Camp Roj and another in Camp Hol. She states that there are also two American children in Camp Roj. We’ve met one of them, Adam, the two-year-old son of Hoda Muthana. Both times we interviewed his mother, Adam was struggling with chronic bronchitis. Today the woman texting me from Camp Roj tells me that the air is thick with fumes from the bombings, which is causing many of the children to have breathing difficulties.
“Going to jail right now won’t be great,” this woman writes as she imagines her future in the West—if she can ever manage to get home. Then she envisions another future: “I could get lost among all of this trouble.” Then again she realizes that fleeing the camp, if her guards do abandon their posts, might also prove disastrous.
“Please let the governments know that we are not happy with the escape of the women [who have left the camps]. We are actually scared and want to just be safe in our own embassies,” she texts. “We don’t want to keep running away. We want to be tried. I’ve already had the chance to run away before and I decided to be tried in my own country.”
Now the pressing question, amid all of this chaos unleashed by Trump greenlighting the Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria: Is anyone going to do anything to get these former ISIS wives and their children back home where they can face justice and live in safety or do we just leave them to face whatever fate turns up as hostile armies converge?
Author’s note: first published in the Daily Beast
How Al-Qaeda’s Recent Growth in Africa Poses a Threat to Global Security
Al Qaeda’s ideology is based on the belief that the West is at war with Islam, and jihad is the only way to defend Muslims and their lands. The group has been weakened in recent years by military and intelligence operations, In 2022 a Leader of Al Qaeda Aiman Al zawahiri killed by American drone strike in Kabul , but it continues to pose a threat to global security.
Al-Qaeda has been a global terror organization for several years, and it is notorious for its involvement in several deadly attacks. Recently, Al-Qaeda has been making headlines in various news outlets due to its apparent expansion and development.
The primary focus of Al-Qaeda’s recent growth and development seems to be the African continent. While it is hard to determine if Al-Qaeda is expanding, it is clear that its activities in Africa are increasing. The organization is working to establish a stronger presence in the region, and it is attempting to recruit more members from various African countries. It has also been reported that Al-Qaeda is working to secure more funding from wealthy donors in the region.
Al-Qaeda’s recent activity in Africa is concerning, given the region’s political instability and weak security infrastructure. The organization’s presence could destabilize the region further, and its involvement would make the fight against terrorism in Africa even more challenging.
Al-Shabab fighters have attacked a military base housing Ugandan forces of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, according to the East African country’s contingent and a Somali captain.Al-Shabab has claimed in a statement that it carried out suicide bomb attacks and killed 137 soldiers.
The attack by Al-Shabab on the military base housing Ugandan forces of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia could lead to a destabilization of the region. The Somali government, along with its allies, will need to take immediate action to ensure the safety of civilians and prevent any further attacks by extremist groups. Additionally, the attack may undermine efforts to bring stability to the country and lead to a setback in the fight against terrorism in the region. It is crucial for all parties involved to come together and work towards a peaceful resolution.
The attack on the military base may have several other impacts, including:
- Loss of life and property: The attack may lead to the death of soldiers, civilians and destruction of property, causing immense suffering to the people in the area.
- Displacement of people: The attack may cause the displacement of people living in the area, leading to a humanitarian crisis.
- Political instability: The attack may lead to political instability in Somalia, further complicating efforts to establish a stable government.
- Increase in extremist activities: The attack may embolden extremist groups, leading to an increase in their activities in the region and beyond.
Overall, the attack underscores the need for increased security measures and surveillance to prevent similar attacks in the future. It also highlights the urgency of resolving the conflict in Somalia to ensure lasting peace and stability in the region.
It is also worth noting that Al-Qaeda’s recent development is not just limited to Africa. The organization is attempting to rebrand itself and distance itself from its past. Recent propaganda released by Al-Qaeda seems more focused on portraying the organization as a force that is fighting for the oppressed and against oppressive governments. It is possible that this rebranding effort is an attempt to attract new members and supporters.
Although Al-Qaeda’s recent development may be a cause for concern, it is important to note that the organization’s capabilities are not what they once were. Due to relentless efforts to dismantle the organization, Al-Qaeda is not as powerful as it once was. Nevertheless, it remains a significant threat to global security, and countries and international organizations must continue to work together to fight against terrorism.
However, Al-Qaeda’s growth is a matter of concern for global security. While the world’s superpowers may be busy dealing with other geopolitical challenges, Al-Qaeda’s activities should not be ignored. The organization has a long history of perpetrating violent attacks on civilians, and its recent resurgence in Africa could destabilize the region further. Al-Qaeda’s growth could not only put African countries at risk but also pose a threat to global security. As such, it is crucial that international efforts work collaboratively to combat terrorism and prevent groups like Al-Qaeda from gaining a foothold in vulnerable regions.
In conclusion, Al-Qaeda’s recent development is something that must be monitored closely. The organization’s expansion into Africa must be curbed, and international efforts must continue to dismantle the group. At the same time, it is crucial to recognize that the fight against terrorism is a global one, and it must be fought strategically and systematically to ensure the safety and security of people worldwide.
From Extremism to Insurgency: The TTP’s Ideology and Strategy
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is an insurgency group operating in Pakistan that has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in the country. The group emerged in 2007 as a merger of several Pakistani Taliban groups and has since carried out attacks on civilian and military targets, including schools, mosques, markets, and security forces.
The TTP’s origins can be traced back to the Pakistani Taliban movement, which emerged in the early 2000s as a response to the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. The movement aimed to establish an Islamic state in Pakistan and was initially focused on fighting against the Pakistani government and its security forces. The movement gained strength in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where it established a parallel system of governance and carried out attacks on military and civilian targets.
In 2007, the TTP was formed as a merger of several Pakistani Taliban groups. The group was led by Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2009. Since then, the group has been led by several leaders, including Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2013, and Mullah Fazlullah, who was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan in 2018.
The TTP has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks in Pakistan, including suicide bombings, targeted killings, and kidnappings. The TTP’s attacks have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in Pakistan, and the group has been designated as a terrorist organization by the Pakistani government, the United States, and other countries.
The TTP’s tactics and strategies have evolved over time. Initially, the group focused on carrying out suicide bombings and other high-profile attacks. However, as the Pakistani military launched a series of operations against the group, the TTP shifted its focus to guerrilla warfare and targeted killings. The group has also used propaganda and social media to spread its message and recruit new members.
The Pakistani government has launched several operations against the TTP over the years, with varying degrees of success. The most recent operation, Zarb-e-Azb, was launched in 2014 and aimed to eliminate terrorist groups in the tribal areas of Pakistan. The operation was largely successful in disrupting the TTP’s networks and reducing the number of attacks in the country.
However, the TTP remains a threat to Pakistan’s security. The group continues to carry out attacks, and its networks have shifted to other parts of the country, including urban areas. The TTP’s attacks have also inspired other extremist groups, such as ISIS and Al Qaeda, to carry out attacks in Pakistan.
The TTP’s insurgency has also had broader implications for Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors, particularly Afghanistan. The TTP has used Afghanistan as a safe haven, and there have been concerns about the group’s links to the Afghan Taliban and other terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan. The TTP’s activities have also led to tensions between Pakistan and the United States, which has carried out drone strikes against the group.
The TTP’s insurgency has also had broader implications for Pakistan’s society and economy. The group’s attacks have deterred foreign investment and tourism, and they have also had a negative impact on the country’s social and economic development. The TTP’s activities have also contributed to the spread of extremist ideology in Pakistan and have made it more difficult for the government to implement social and economic reforms.
One of the major challenges facing Pakistan in its fight against the TTP is the group’s use of safe havens in Afghanistan. The TTP has been able to operate from Afghanistan, where it enjoys the support of the Afghan Taliban and other terrorist groups. This has made it difficult for Pakistan to eliminate the group’s networks and disrupt its activities.
Another challenge is the TTP’s use of social media and propaganda to spread its message and recruit new members. The group has been able to use social media to reach a wider audience and to promote its extremist ideology. The TTP’s propaganda has also been effective in recruiting new members, particularly young people who are disillusioned with the government and its policies.
To address these challenges, Pakistan needs to adopt a comprehensive approach to counterterrorism. This should include not only military operations but also efforts to address the root causes of terrorism, such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of education. The government needs to work closely with its neighbors, particularly Afghanistan, to disrupt the TTP’s networks and eliminate its safe havens.
The government also needs to address the issue of social media and propaganda. This can be done by promoting alternative narratives and providing young people with opportunities for education and employment. The government also needs to work with social media companies to monitor and remove extremist content from their platforms.
In conclusion, the TTP is a significant insurgency group operating in Pakistan, and its activities have had a significant impact on the country’s security and development. The group’s tactics and strategies have evolved over time, and the government has launched several operations against the group with varying degrees of success. To address the challenges posed by the TTP, Pakistan needs to adopt a comprehensive approach to counterterrorism that addresses the root causes of terrorism, disrupts the group’s networks, and addresses the issue of propaganda and social media. Only then can Pakistan hope to eliminate the threat posed by the TTP and other extremist groups operating in the country.
Revisiting Pulwama: Truth Revealed
On February 14, 2019, an explosive-laden car hit a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in a suicide attack in the Pulwama District of Indian-Occupied Kashmir (IOK) killing 40 personnel and escalating the first air battle between Pakistan and India since 1971. New Delhi claimed that the attack was perpetrated from across the border from Pakistan by Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and retaliated with massive airstrikes in Balakot district of the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa KP violating the territorial integrity of its neighbor. Pakistan launched Operation Swift Retort and conducted six massive airstrikes at multiple targets in IOK. This tit-for-tat resulted in the shot down of an Indian jet MIG-21 and the capture of its pilot. However, the air blow could not assuage Indian designs. New Delhi continued prevailing a narrative of ‘Terror-sponsoring’ against Pakistan on several fronts. Notwithstanding, Satya Pal Malik, who was the governor of IOK at the time of the attack, revealed that the attack was an Indian administrative mistake, but the Modi Administration gave the onus to Pakistan.
Malik revealed that CRPF asked for five aircrafts to carry their people since such size of convoys do not move through the land. But the Home Ministry refused to give the aircraft. Malik claims that he conveyed this lack of administrative insight to PM Modi and its National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. The BJP administration replied, as Malik asserts, “Keep silence, all such onus is going towards Pakistan”.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan has asserted its stance in a press release saying that India again ‘vindicated’ Pakistan’s stance on the attack and under the pretext of terrorism advances its Hindutva agenda for political gains. India’s false narratives are again exposed to the world, the report says. In addition, Islamabad has also demanded an answer from New Delhi on his duplicity.
The ironic revelations signal three dimensions of India’s mischievous conduct towards Pakistan. First, the political will to solve bilateral issues is missing on the part of India. Successive Indian administrations especially of the BJP do not consent to solve the Kashmir issue and play this card for tightening their grip on Lok Sabha. On the other hand, they refuse a third-party reconciliation peace process. As a result, the region remains the most disintegrated part of the earth.
Second, although India claims to be the largest democracy on the earth and propagates to adhere to the global values of mutual coexistence, fair conduct and mutual non-aggression, it follows them in letter but not in the true spirit. In fact, New Delhi is still motivated by Realpolitik and the policies of Chanakaya based on pure calculations of power, deception and bigotry.
Third, India is an irresponsible nuclear power that designs such defamations and conducts cross-border attacks on other nuclear power in disguise of its designs. There is no denying the fact that the Pulwama incident had the full potential to transform into a nuclear escalation. Having said that, these factors widely contribute to the regional escalations and strategic instability.
Thus, given the power diffusion in international affairs in the wake of China, India will continue portraying such behavior in the foreseeable future too using evolving geopolitical dynamics. Therefore, the region must not be left at the New Delhi’s discretion. The international community must break its silence, and assert its stance on Indian duplicity. If not, the regional politics and escalations will have implications beyond the borders.
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