Isis and the normal, suburban girl

2015-04-12 15:00

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The 15-year-old girl who allegedly tried to join the Islamic State, also known as Isis, this week lives in a cream-coloured double storey home in a middle class suburb in Cape Town.

She also attends a school with 330 other pupils, who will all now receive counselling, the school’s principal said. The principal added that the child had a “normal” circle of friends and was well brought up, and treated the teaching staff with “respect and dignity”.

The teenager’s mother, who is reportedly battling to deal with her daughter’s attempt to leave the country, is a respected medical doctor in Grassy Park. The child’s father is a local businessman who is completing his pilot’s licence in his spare time. The couple have three children.

It was the mother’s birthday on Thursday, but there were no signs of celebration at their large house on a picket fence-lined street in Cape Town’s southern suburbs.

City Press visited the family’s house in Kenwyn this week, but no one answered the doorbell. However, children’s voices could be heard from behind a gate in the front yard, which was flanked by surveillance cameras, and curtains at a window overlooking the entrance fluttered.

A member of the Muslim community who recently met the family said he was last in touch with the teen’s mother on Monday.

He said family was “hiding” the child “for her own protection”. It is believed that she was taken to Durban to stay with relatives there.

A neighbour who asked not to be named was incredulous when told about the Islamic State connection at the house next door.

“But she is too young for that, surely,” he said.

He added that the issue was not a big topic of discussion in the street, because those who live there generally keep to themselves. He did say that the teen’s family were “just ordinary people and nice enough” and seem to travel a lot.

In Grassy Park, her mother’s medical practice was locked this week. Women working at the dentist’s practice next door declined to discuss what had happened to the doctor, saying they had no idea where she was or when she was expected to return.

The woman is a popular doctor in the neighbourhood, and South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council spokesperson Nabeweya Malick said that many members of the Muslim community regularly visit her for medical treatment.

The family’s week of hell began on Monday, when State Security Minister David Mahlobo announced that authorities had removed the teenager from a British Airways flight destined for Turkey.

The Islamic State was a talking point around the world this week. In Cape Town, prominent Muslim clerics used Friday prayers to declare the Islamic State an “anti-Islamic formation which has violated all the core principles of the Muslim faith”.

Meanwhile, US state department spokesperson Jen Psaki told CNN the department had intercepted up to 90?000 daily tweets of a gruesome 52-second Islamic State recruitment clip of two journalists and an aid worker being killed.

South African comedian Riaad Moosa – who is famous for poking fun at Islamic stereotypes, notably in the popular 2012 film Material, also hails from Grassy Park.

Moosa will launch Muslink, a TV talk show aimed at celebrating Muslim excellence, at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on April 30.

The show will counter “mainstream media depictions that all Muslims are fundamentalist and crazy” and aim to mentor Muslim youth, he said.

Moosa added that the Islamic State is targeting young and marginalised young people around the world, and that the group is everyone’s enemy.

“These fringe groups are the enemies of all of us as human beings,” he said.

The teen’s family moved to Cape Town from Durban about six years ago and often return to Durban for visits, the neighbour said.

The teenager’s parents were in Durban last weekend, and had left their children in the care of their grandparents, when the 15-year-old made her way to Cape Town International Airport after climbing out of a bedroom window.

The girl’s grandparents raised the alarm, after which authorities found her on a British Airways flight to Turkey.

The girl’s computer apparently showed that she was interacting with Islamic State recruitment agents on social media. State Security is investigating how the girl was able to pay for the airline tickets, among other things.

Apology

Ganief Hendricks, leader of the Al Jama-ah political party, complained to Press Ombudsman Johan Retief on the grounds that City Press did not do enough to protect the identity of the 15-year-old child because it gave a “vivid description of her and her circumstances”.

Retief agreed with Hendricks’ complaint, finding City Press in breach of section 8.1 of the Press Code, which requires that newspapers “exercise exceptional care and consideration when reporting about children”. Retief ruled he had “little doubt that residents in the area might have been able to identify the girl in question”.

City Press appealed but appeals panel chair Judge Bernard Ngoepe found in Hendricks’ favour, saying he agreed with the ombudsman’s ruling.

City Press apologises for providing too much information about the girl in question. which may have resulted in her identification by other residents of her neighbourhood.

Visit presscouncil.org.za for the full finding.

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