Brides of ISIS

Roundtable Discussion on

Brides of ISIS: The Internet Seduction of Western Females into ISIS

with Dr. Anne Speckhard, Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism

Thursday, 16 March 2017

EVENT REPORT:

The so-called Islamic State and self proclaimed Caliphate has indeed managed to seduce thousands of young men and women from Europe, the U.S., Canada and other Western countries into its ranks.  Of these, it is believed that roughly ten percent are female.  And they are increasingly lured into ISIS, not only by men urging them to join and even proposing marriage, but also by their female cadres who call to them over social media and instant messaging.  The percentage of French females joining ISIS is believed to be one of the highest in the West—at almost twenty percent.

Once inside the terrorist ranks ISIS women, we are told by those who blog from its inner circles, are expected to marry. Indeed ISIS is in the business of state building and the mujahideen—or “holy” warriors—need wives, if not sex. That is when they are not busied with raping their Yazidi sex slaves—something the escaped Yazidis claim their ISIS “lords” see as a spiritual duty for which they pray before and after assaulting them. This abuse of females apparently is not an issue for the Western female cadres, who like their men, see this all as part of Allah’s grand design.

The Western women who join ISIS, just like the Western men who also join, have by the time they reach Syria and Iraq become true believers—they’ve drank deeply of the “Jim Jones” purple Kool-Aid and don’t mind dying for the cause. In fact they welcome it. Women cadres in ISIS routinely tweet and message out of Syria and Iraq their fervent desire to be “martyred” and await the glory and blessings that they believe will accrue to them if their husbands are “martyred” before they die.

They also dismiss the ruthless bloodshed and sexual violence as necessary for the revolution—much like Lenin’s and Stalin’s purges were seen as cleansing actions to get to the final goal of communism. ISIS true believers trust that with bloodshed they are carrying out the work of Allah in reestablishing the Caliphate and that when it is restored all believers will live peacefully and euphorically by Islamic ideals.

Shannon Conley, on whose case I based my latest book, Bride of ISIS: One Young Woman’s Path Into Homegrown Terrorism was also seduced over the Internet.  After converting she fell under the influence of Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni American who was droned by the U.S. in 2011 for his instigation and involvement in various terror plots against the United States, including the failed Christmas Day “underwear” bomber who tried to take a plane down over Detroit in 2009.  Al-Awlaki now dead, lives on via the Internet and inspires from beyond the grave, convincingly giving out the false message that all Muslims have a duty to go to the battlefield and carry out militant jihad until the End Times, and if they cannot do so must wage attacks at home.

Conley drank the poison and downloaded al Qaeda guerilla manuals, settling on carrying out a VIP attack inside the United States (she lived in Denver) until she realized she would likely not succeed.  In the meantime she fell in love with a Tunisian ISIS fighter with whom she carried out a relationship via Skype. When he proposed marriage she agreed to join him in Syria, although she took an Army Explorer’s course beforehand in the hope of gaining skills to assist the Islamic State.  Thankfully her father learned of her plans—he discovered her one-way ticket to “hell”—and alerted the FBI who arrested her on the airplane’s walkway.

The roles women take in terrorist organizations vary, but as said earlier, militant jihadi organizations are generally male dominated, and women may only take leadership roles over other women.  At this point women joining ISIS may take part in all-female brigades that enforce female morality dress standards and sex segregation, operate checkpoints, and go on home raids.  A Canadian woman is believed, based on the movement tracking her phone, to be working as an ISIS spy. Some of the most influential, like a woman who calls herself Umm Layth, have blogged and used social media to seduce other women into joining.  Such women paint a picture of life lived according to Islamic ideals, blissful marriages with ISIS fighters, as they hold the hope for “martyrdom” alongside the sacrifices necessary to bring about the hoped-for utopian state—no matter what violence that may entail.

Conservative militant jihadi groups often do not allow females into combat roles or use them as suicide bombers until the going gets tough.  In Chechnya, the more liberated roles of women in their society and the deep traumas occurring at the hands of ruthless Russian forces may have caused a different dynamic to play out.  Chechen women were the first to carry out suicide missions once the Chechen rebels embraced the “martyrdom” ideology imported into their movement. Chechen women filled out the ranks of suicide bombers at a fifty/fifty ratio throughout their campaign.  Palestinian, Iraqi and other terrorist groups with more conservative roles for women did not use them as suicide operatives until there was a clear advantage to doing so.  When terrorist leaders found that their men were no longer successfully passing checkpoints that women could still breach while hiding bombs on their bodies, they began to send women.

Chillingly, it has recently been revealed that ISIS now has a new marriage certificate which both husband and wife sign, that declares the final decision over the life and death of the ISIS bride rests with the Islamic State’s leader al-Baghdadi.  Under ‘conditions of wife’ it reads: ‘If the Prince of believers [Baghdadi] consents to her carrying out a suicide mission, then her husband should not prohibit her.’  This may suggest that the group is looking ahead to a similar transition in using female cadres for suicide missions.

While some have feared the Western “brides” have been subjected to group rapes, that fate appears to be reserved to Yazidi slaves primarily, and non ISIS local women whose family’s are forced to give them over to ISIS fighters, sometimes to be “married” repeatedly over a short time period by the ISIS cadres.  Western women who join ISIS generally Tweet and blog positive statements about their time in ISIS, citing both the hardships and the materials “blessings” of living in the stolen quarters of others, taking over their cars and other material goods. Although it’s clear from reports of those who escape, that Westerners who join ISIS—male or female—are not allowed to leave.  Reports of three London girls who joined, reported them in recent months on the run from ISIS, but no clear picture has emerged about their well-being, or lack thereof, in open sources to date.

It appears that as long as the idea of the longed-for Caliphate continues to carry its euphoric power, and ISIS continues to demonstrate some modicum of success in holding and governing territory, young girls who are angry or concerned over geopolitical events, who become convinced that militant jihad is their Islamic duty, and who feel off their track in the West, while simultaneously enticed via the Internet (often in person)—by adventure, romance and the call to live (as they imagine) by Islamic ideals while they contribute to building a longed for utopia—that they will continue to be seduced into the movement, and we will continue to see females leaving the West to become Brides of ISIS.

About the speaker:

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University in the School of Medicine and Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (www.ICSVE.org). She is author of Talking to Terrorists and coauthor of Undercover Jihadi. She was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to twenty thousand detainees and eight hundred juveniles. She also has interviewed nearly five hundred terrorists, their family members and supporters from various parts of the world including Gaza, the West Bank, Chechnya, Iraq, Jordan, Russia, Canada and many countries in Europe. Her newly released book is Bride of ISIS. Website: www.AnneSpeckhard.com

Reference for this article: Speckhard, Dec/Jan 2016, Brides of ISIS: The Internet Seduction of Western Females into ISIS.  Homeland Security Today Volume 13, 1, Pgs 38-40. http://edition.pagesuite-professional.co.uk//launch.aspx?eid=0d492b24-092f-4b2c-8132-b3a895356fc8 #ISIS

Source: http://www.icsve.org

The purge of Erdogan’s Turkey spreads abroad: The future of Hizmet in Europe

The Hizmet, also known as Gülen Movement, has been started as faith based religious community in the 60’s in Turkey around Mr. Fethullah Gülen’s ideas. During the 80’s with the momentum of political and economic liberalism in Turkey, it has been become a nation wide religious movement. In 90’s, it extended its education activities cross-borders and transformed from a grassroots community in Turkey to a wider social effort around the world through opening non-denominational educational institutions and dialogue centres. It has been evolved from a religious community to a transnational faith inspired civil society movement.

The movement has been attracted scholars in the last decade for its activities, mobilization capacity, educational institutions, media outlets and dialogue centers. The main focus of the movement is education and interfaith and intercultural dialogue. It has been very active in Turkey and also in many continents especially in Africa.

However, the rift between Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – AKP) put the movement in a challenging and problematic position in Turkey and elsewhere. The conflict between these two actors has been dominated the Turkish politics in last three years. Erdoğan’s war against Hizmet is resulted as a social purge against Hizmet participants in Turkey. President Erdoğan blamed Hizmet for the failed coup within hours of the start of the coup starting a massive purge in no time. He declared the movement as a terrorist organization. Turkey officially designated Hizmet as top one terrorist organisation along with PKK and ISIS, and persons who government deem has affiliation with as terrorists for guilt by association. The failed coup of 15th July 2016 gave him an opportunity to extend his war not only against Hizmet people but also targeting other different groups such as Kurds, Alevis and secular people in Turkey.

The Turkish state shut down all of media, schools, universities, dormitories, associations and foundations affiliated with the Hizmet Movement by decree of law. Business people’s companies are confiscated. Many people from the movement are in jail now. The conflict between Erdoğan’s Turkey and Hizmet is extended and spilled into overseas. In some countries such as in Pakistan, Somalia; Erdoğan’s efforts to close Hizmet schools were resulted successfully.

Facing this reality and challenge coming from Turkey, the crucial question is to understand how the post-coup process shape the future of the Movement, especially in Europe? Could movement sustain its activities outside Turkey? The movement has started its activities in the beginning of 80’s with first migrants Turks in Europe. There are a couple of networks in the movement lead mostly by the second generation of Turkish descendants: schools, dialogue centres, women associations, charity organizations, and tutoring centres are some of the institutions that are developed in last decade.

The first networks were established around the first Turkish migrants people in different European cities. Following the same legacy and logic of the migrant movements, the movement started up its own institutions via associations and cultural centers. The project-based institutions has been emerged with the second generation and spread in many European countries. The institutionalisation of the movement in local contexts is a recent phenomenon for the Hizmet. Mostly the first institutions with few exceptions are business associations that later become the financial source of the movement and tutoring centres that resulted as schools. The project based institutions answer the need of migrant people in Europe. They have firstly and mostly educational problems. The tutoring centres were opened and supported by the Hizmet to struggle with the lack of education and early drop out in education. The centres are providing tutoring for students and families. In the beginning, the first institutions were opened and run by the Turkish origin people.

As a consequence of these first initiators, the Turkish identity is very present in the institutions. However, with the arrival of the second generation who knows very well the local needs and problematic issues that they face such as employment, discrimination, they developed more a local understanding of Hizmet. At the same time, the Hizmet movement keep its transnational ties for long time. It becomes more cosmopolitan-transnational and global. This global and transnational aspect of the movement affects also Hizmet activities in Europe. The emphasis has been remained on local activities and depend the national contexts.

The Movement has different settings and adaptation model in different contexts. In Europe, local and national circumstances shape the movement’s strategies and aims. In that sense, there is not one movement but maybe one can talk about several movements. The adaptation and integration to the local contexts has been already on the agenda of the movement, however the ‘Turkish problem’ force the movement to re-think its activities, networks, structures.

Are schools, dialogue centers, women associations, charity organizations, tutoring centres functioning as previously or is there a change in their organizational structure and ideology? The Turkishness is seen in most part of the movement, especially in leadership in schools, associations. Some scholars define the movement in terms of Turkish Islamic movement. Is there a change? The institutions define themselves as neutral establishments, not present themselves directly affiliated with the movement. There is no clear attachment and formulation about the definition of the Hizmet inspired organization. As the movement is widely known in Europe via media and tragic harassments against Hizmet people happened after coup attempt in several European cities, is this hesitation about the structural identity going to be continue or how will the institutions respond to this challenge of self-identification?

The religious inspiration and motivation is always an important element to understand movement’s objectives and activities, however during the last decade, the cosmopolitan understanding of Islam and also human values are developed among Hizmet followers. The crisis with AKP as political Islam opens the doors indirectly to reconsider what is Islam and how a Muslim lives faithfully in a secular context in Europe. The clash between two actors is also perceived as a problem within Islam and the clash of two Islamic understanding. What will be the relation of Hizmet with Islam? Is it a crisis of Islam or a local problem? How does the movement react with this specific question if it is a problem within Islam ?

Professor Leman and Professor Sunier have explored some of the challenges and questions with regards to the above matters and the implications of the coup on Hizmet in Europe.

To watch the discussion please click here