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The Legacy of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Uran Botobekov

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For exactly one month now, Islamic State, ISIS, has struggled without its charismatic leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed during a U.S. military operation in a northwest Syrian village of Barisha on October 26, 2019. The main question now is whether it will meaningfully undermine the popularity of the ISIS Takfiri ideology or was this simply the death of a symbolic leader who played only a role in the evolution of Sunni Jihadism?

The month after al-Baghdadi’s death

As subsequent events have shown, the violent ideology of Salafi-Jihadi groups has not undergone significant changes. Moreover, ISIS has used al-Baghdadi’s death to strengthen its position and has appealed to its supporters to continue the apocalyptic battle with polytheists and other enemies. On October 31, 2019, the al-Furqan Media issued a statement of the Islamic State’s new spokesman Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who confirmed the death of the group’s previous leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and prior official spokesman, Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir. He also went on to announce the appointment of a certain Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the new “commander of the believers and caliph of the Muslims.”

An analysis of this statement by ISIS showed that the main engine of contemporary jihadism is not a specific person, even if he was Caliph himself, but the idea about building the new Caliphate, the fight against idolaters and the idea of achieving the rule of Islam throughout the world. The attractive force, which caused thousands upon thousands of Islamists from all over the world to rush to Syria and Iraq, was not the figure of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, rather it was the idea of the Islamic Caliphate. It must be recognized that the professional propaganda machine of the Islamic State has skillfully used Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death and eulogized him as a martyr who gave his life for Allah.

Abu Hamza quoted the Qur’an, Surah al-Nisa’, “God the Blessed and Exalted has said: ‘So let those who sell this worldly life for the Hereafter fight in the path of God and whoso fights in the path of God and is killed or overcomes, We will grant him a great reward’ (al-Nisa’ 74).”It is likely that the ISIS spokesman quoted the Surah al-Nisa’ with the aim of qualifying the death of “the mujahid Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (may God Almighty accept him)” as ‘Shaheed’ (Martyr).

To die a Shaheed in the path of Allah in the Islamic faith is one of the greatest honors. The concept of Shaheed constitutes the basis of the militant ideology of the Salafi-Jihadi movement. ISIS statement leads to the logical conclusion that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi fellShaheed on the path of Allah. He was eulogized as a great mujahid, who with the authority of Allah “revived the jihad,”established the Caliphate and the laws of the religion that had been impeded by the “Tawagheet,”(impurity),of the “Arabs and the non-Arabs” and “protected the honor of the Muslims”. He was described as a warrior of Allah who “…was steadfast on his religion, going forth and not turning back in flight, a mujahid against His enemies.” 

Then, the new ISIS representative characterized the new Caliph Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as “the knowledgeable, worshipping, working and God-fearing Sheikh,” an indication that he is a connoisseur of the Islamic Fiqh. The statement conveys that he fulfills “…the symbols of the jihad and amir (leader)of war,” who fought against the protector of the Cross-America – and inflicted on it woes upon woes.” 

Apart from this short characteristic from the Quraysh’s tribe, to the general public nothing is known about the new Caliph. Analytics and scholars of Islam cannot yet appreciate his ideological views and theological knowledge without his audio or video performances during the Salaat-ul-Jumu’ah. In the midst of this situation, President Trump has tweeted intriguing information, “ISIS has a new leader. We know exactly who he is!”

Abu Hamza claims the decision of the Caliphate’s Shoura Council about the appointment of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi as the caliph was taken “after consultation of their brothers and implementing the counsel of the Caliph of the Muslims (may God accept him).”  That is, when appointing the new caliph, the testament (wasiyya) of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi himself was also taken into account. The Islamic State’s chief mouthpiece wrote, “O Muslims everywhere, rush to pledge bay‘a to the Amir al-Mu’mineen and gather around him.”

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s “Spiritual Gift”isstill strong

As subsequent events showed, the Islamic state skillfully used the “transition period” to expand its harsh ideology of Jihadi-Salafism (al-Salafiyya al-Jihadiyya). The call for Bay‘a toa new caliph was heard by supporters of the Islamic state around the world. In early November, almost all the wilayah (provinces) of the Islamic state, which are located in different regions of the Middle East, Central and Southeast Asia, Africa and the Caucasus, swore allegiance to Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.Islamic State supporters around the world are publishing their pictures of the bay‘a campaign on the Pro-ISIS Telegram Channels almost daily.Also, the Caliphate’s official weekly Al-Naba widely published the process of Bay‘a in different countries, which means that the group attaches great importance to the process of “legalizing” the new caliph.The bay‘a campaign intended to illustrate the legitimacy and unanimous acceptance of the new leader.

Over the past two years, due to the shrink and loss of territory in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has chosen the tactics of building and expanding its regional branches, the so-called wilayah. As is well known, for the time being, besides Iraq, ISIS now claims to have wilayah in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Chechnya, Mali, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, and Turkey. Also, local Islamists in Bangladesh and Tunisia conduct their terrorist activities under the flag of ISIS and the announcement of the wilayat there is a matter of time. The Bay‘a campaign had given the Islamic State’s wilayahs and underground cells an opportunity to once again assert itself, to update its rigid and hard-line ideology and to launch terrorist attacks in some places.As a sign of revenge for the murder of Baghdadi, ISIS supporters conducted terrorist attacks in Tajikistan, Mozambique, Iraq, Algeria, Syria, Mali, DR Congo, and Nigeria during the month after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death.

The hopes of some ideologists of al Qaeda and its offshoot, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), that the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the anonymity of the new caliph, could undermine the morale of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s supporters in the world and inflict a serious blow on the Islamic State’s prospects did not materialize. It seems one of the al-Qaeda ideologists, prominent Salafi cleric Abdullah al Muhaysini, who called al-Baghdadi’s death “a glorious night in Muslim history” and urged ISIS supporters to join al Qaeda, was deeply disappointed by the rise of a new wave of al-Dawla al-Islamiyya’s(Islamic State) ideology in the world.The Bay‘a campaign has now demonstrated the truth, that the death of Al Baghdadi raised to a new level the long-standing competition between ISIS and al Qaeda, the two main Sunni militant groups, for the soul of Islamists in the world.

The new Caliph was challenged not only by al-Qaeda and HTS but also by internal opponents who left the Islamic State and have now become vocal critics.On November 22019, the al-Wafa’ Media Agency published two essays under the titles “The Pincers Tearing Apart the Illusions of the Caliphate’s Claimants” and “The Collapse of the Fiction” in response to the appointment of al-Hashimi. The authors are Nasih Amin and Ibn Jubayr, who, according to the fellow of the Yale Law School, Cole Bunzel, were former Islamic State scholars.The authors questioned the legitimacy of the appointment of the new Caliph due to his anonymity and they denounced the Islamic State as wayward and illegitimate.They ridiculed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi, calling him, “secluded paper caliph” (al-khalifa al-kartuni al-mutasardab).

Indeed, according to the Hadiths, a future caliph is traditionally expected to meet seven qualifications, including being Muslim, male, free (not a slave), a descendant of Quraysh, just, sound of mind and learned, or capable to rule the Caliphate.Both writers decried the Islamic State’s new leader for the appointment as caliph a one who is “an unknown nobody” (majhul ‘adam).It should be noted that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was also criticized when in 2014 he declared himself a caliph. Then the prominent ideologists of the modern Salafi-Jihadi movement Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi and Abu Qatada al-Filistini issued written statements against giving bay‘a to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and strongly called on the Mujahideen in Syria to abandon him. Their calls did not, however, stop the wave of Islamists in different parts of the world who swore allegiance to him, accepted the ISIS Takfiri ideology and made Hijrah (migration) to Iraq and Syria. This time, as the post-Baghdadi period showed, cruel criticism and disqualification of al-Hashimi from the point of view of Islamic law, did not stop the flow of the Bay‘a campaign.

What’s the Future of ISIS without Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

The post-Baghdadi time once again demonstrated that the Islamic State has become a franchise organization with allegiance to a set of aims and ideas, rather than to a hierarchical organization centered upon a single charismatic individual.Therefore, optimistic forecasts should not be built that the bloody path of jihad will stop after the death of the Caliph. Judging by the new wave of the Bay‘a campaign, heated disagreement among prominent ideologists of Jihadi-Salafism about Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi did not particularly concern the ISIS supporters in the world. Islamic State’s ebbs and flows introduced important new ideas to jihadi ideology, most importantly that the ideas of holy jihad are not founded on men, but on creed. Baghdadi’s death has further strengthened this idea, and future ideologists of Salafi-Jihadism will likely invoke the Islamic State’s background to unite militants around the Jihadi’s creed.

Since losing ground in Syria and Iraq, and killing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during the last few months, ISIS is likely to change its tactics and strategy of global jihad. Now, it had already started focusing on building and developing its regional wilayahs and underground cells. Its decentralization tactic might divert efforts from the attacks on the West.  This does not mean that the menace of ISIS sleeper cells and lone-wolf terrorist attacks in Europe and America has ended.

Additionally, further strengthening of the ideological struggle between ISIS and al-Qaeda could be expected. Today both groups are approximately in the same starting conditions, which existed in 2012-13.The ideology and objectives of the group are similar. The audience, faith environment and potential supporters of both groups are almost the same. Disputes over the timeline of the Caliphate’s creation, which al-Qaeda considered premature, turned both Salafi-Jihadi groups into sworn enemies. The fierce competition for leadership among the Sunni-Jihadi movements could only lead to further waves of deadly violence in the world. In reality, al Qaeda and its affiliates remain a threat to the U.S. and its allies in Europe, while the Islamic State attacks are aimed at the Middle East and U.S. interests in Caliphate’s wilayahs area.

Conclusion

The ideological legacy of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has already become a spiritual tool for Sunni terrorist groups.It will undoubtedly be used to spread the worldview of militant Takfirismand inspire a new generation of jihadists to new attacks. His heritage carries the banner of terror, caliphate, and jihad.His ideology propagates inter-Muslim war, interfaith hatred, and killing of murtads (apostate) and munafiqs(infidel). Al-Baghdadi’s legacy teaches us that ISIS Salafi-Jihadi ideology cannot be defeated with bombs alone.

Doctor of Political Science (PhD), expert on Political Islam

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Terrorism

Turkey begins the return of ISIS fighters to Europe

Iveta Cherneva

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Today, Turkey started sending ISIS fighters back to Europe, as it promised last week.

Europe needs to take responsibility for its ISIS fighters. US President Trump is right on that.

As Turkey’s minister of internal affairs said last week, Turkey is not a hotel for foreign terrorists. Europe’s jihadists are its own problem to deal with.

What is interesting however is that Turkey has been releasing ISIS fighters from the region that it held in custody. But not when it comes to European jihadists.

With this move, Turkey’s aim is to actually punish Europe. Erdogan is doing this out of spite because he knows that this is what Europeans fear the most. It is not Erdogan’s priority to try ISIS, as he has shown previously. To piss off the Europeans, yes, that’s a different story.

This recent development comes to remind us that Western Europe has a big problem to deal with. The evidence from conflict zones will not hold in European courts which means that authorities might have to let ISIS fighters that still have their citizenship walk free. That is a European nightmare.

This serves to remind French President Macron that France not Bosnia is the biggest jihadist force in Europe. Macron called Bosnia a jihadist ticking bomb in that unfortunate Economist interview but France is the real problem. No other European country has such a high number of jihadist fighters in the Middle East.

Today a Greek ISIS fighter whose citizenship had been stripped was not allowed in Greece upon return from Turkey. We will see that a lot in the coming weeks. The situation of no citizenship will create a legal question of statelessness which will make the return of ISIS fighters also a human rights question.

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The Rise OF ISIS and its Aftermath in Afghanistan

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“I will see you guys in Newyork”.Abu Du’a, the leader of ISIS, whose nom de guerre (war name) was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, told his American captors as he was released from a brief detention during Iraq war. After American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Al Baghdadi joined the Arms Resistance against the U.S led coalition troops in Iraq but he was captured and detained in a US. – run Iraqi prison in 2006. Following al Baghdadi’s release in the late 2000s, he joined the predecessor to ISIS: the Islamic State of Iraq(ISI). This group initially affiliated themselves with AL- Qaeda, but was later rejected by AL Qaeda due to their brutal acts and it became Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). IN 2010, al Baghdadi became the leader of ISI and changed the name of the organization to Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2013.

On 29 June 2014, ISIS declared the worldwide caliphate under the leadership of “caliph Ibrahim” with publishing a statement of supporting al Baghdadi’s designation as caliph.  This concept of caliphate is mainly based on the universal religion and its ultimate goal is the establishment of Islamic state. This political idea of Islamic state is embodied in the concept of the ummah (community) which says that all the Muslims wherever they reside are bounded by a common faith which transcends all geographical, political or national boundaries.

Many other groups had pledged allegiance to ISIS like the Boko haram in Nigeria, the bait al Maqdis in Egypt, the Islamic movement in Uzbekistan, andthe previous leader of TTP Hafiz Saeed, also pledged allegiance to al Baghdadi in Oct, 2014 renaming themselves as the Islamic state of Khorasan (ISK) in Afghanistan. IS-K’s early membership included a contingent of Pakistani militants who emerged in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province around 2010, just across the border from the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan.  Many of these militants were estranged members of TTP and Lashkar-e Islam, who had fled from Pakistan to escape pressure from security forces.

ISK emerged in different provinces of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan but outnumbered in the eastern province of Ningarhar, Achin district, due to some specific reasons. Achin district is one of the backward, underdeveloped and illiterate regions of Afghanistan which makes its population vulnerable to recruitment as new militants. Moreover, peopled welling in this district joined and supported this new group not only for their Islamic ideology but also for the high salaries of $500 paid by this organization.In the beginning of their journey in the region, ISK dealt people in a soft manner and always refrained from offensive language to encourage and inspire the people to join this militant group.

But with the passage of time, ISK changed its behavior and started the forceful imposition of sharia law. People were prevented from the cultivation of opium which was the main source of revenue for the locals of that region, seized drugs and sentenced drug addicted people, however, majority of their own militants were drug addicts and sold drugs seized from the locals to meet their own financial needs. They introduced numerous fabricated laws that were neither in conformity to national, Islamic nor in conformity with the locals laws. The militants of the group were indoctrinated to such an extent that they were willing to sacrifice everything for the interest of the group. One of their militants, involved in a robbery case, accepted his crime in front of the group’s judicial committee. As per the Islamic rules, anyone involved in the robbery would have their hands cut off. Therefore, When the militants were cutting hands, he was chanting ‘’Allah ho Akbar’’-Allah is the greatest.

Taliban and Afghan forces have attacked the Achin district many times  but no one of them succeeded in retaking the district from ISK. This region was completely monopolized by this group and they ruled the people according to their own so called sharia law. People started displacement from the region towards Jalalabad, the provincial capital because they were unable to abide by these brutal laws and tolerate the atrocities. Following is a short story which a person told in anonymity about the excessive brutalities perpetrated by ISK in Achin.

“We all flocked outside after Friday prayer, according to announcement in sermon. They brought seven detainees belong to Emirates a Taliban group, Afghan national Army member and spies. All were covered with black ski masks. Meanwhile, an ISIS militant rode on a trained horse, having sharp sword in hands and reached to the spot. He decapitated all of them and shouted “Allah ho Akbar”. With the sound of Allah ho Akbar, we all scattered like flies in the air and no one knows what happened. But later on it was realized by people who delivered us to hospital that the place was targeted by a US drone. Many people were injured, and the ISIS militant who was beheading the prisoners was burned by drone attack. I still have the scene in my mind which has really affected me mentally and can’t take out those thuds of the sword from my mind when he was beheading those innocent people”.

Furthermore, they knelt innocent elders of the Shenwari nation belong to the same district on the bombs accused of in affiliation to the Taliban.  A gruesome video also uploaded by them to the YouTube. These kind of brutal acts were the routine of everyday in Daesh or ISK controlled areas.

Afghan Commando assisted by US special forces have been fighting with the ISK in Achin for the last few years and have made significant progress contributing to the liberation of some villages but there are speculations that united states itself is assisting this militant group and supplying food and weapons to them through helicopters which has put the Afghans in doubt.  US dropped the ” mother of all bombs” – the most powerful conventional bomb in the American arsenal formally known as GBU-43/B massive ordnance air blast on 13 April 2017 on ISIS Khorasan cave complex in Achin district, Ningarhar.  According to a statement from the United States military in Afghanistan, the bomb hit a tunnel complex but they didn’t say how many militants were killed or whether the bombing caused any civilian casualties. The fact is that it was only an experience of their conventional bomb which is clear from the following statement of the Ex-president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai:

“This is not the war on terror but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons”. This claim of Ex-president was further forged by the locals of Achin who stated that there was neither weapons depot nor any single ISIS fighter in the targeted region.

Currently Achin district has been cleared by Afghan Forces from this group but there are opportunities of their return to the region. Afghan Forces should show their strong presence, build the region and rehabilitate former militants. We are the veterans of many regions where US and Afghan forces have operated and lost hundreds of their soldiers for clearing the region but have left the region vulnerable to the insurgents return. Moreover, America should equip Afghan forces with sophisticated weapons to counter these threats. Afghan National Directorate can play a vital role in the dissolution of this group by infiltration of their own spies in disguise.

 Moreover, in comparison to ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which have oil resources of about $2 billion and financed by different Arab states, this group is very much dependent on local revenues and neighboring state Pakistan. Pakistan may not be able to support two insurgent groups-Taliban and ISK-simultaneously for a single goal. And the so called jihad vacuum is also filled by Taliban which never want any rival jihadi group in Afghanistan.

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Imprisoned ISIS Wives and Children Have Nowhere to Run To, Nowhere to Hide

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D

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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

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