Why they become a jihadi bride

2015-04-19 15:00

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Money? Adventure? Romance? Or the promise of building a pure Islamic society?

The reasons Western teenagers become jihadi brides became less academic for South Africans this month when a 15-year-old Cape Town girl was hauled off a flight bound for Saudi Arabia.

The girl, whose parents are from Kenya, allegedly planned to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis), also known as the Islamic State.

It’s still unclear how the Islamic State is able to lure young women from wealthier and more permissive societies to become jihadi brides – the extremist group has gained a reputation for brutality so unrivalled, it has been disavowed by the al-Qaeda terror group.

According to the New York Times, an estimated 550 Western women have travelled to the Middle East to join the Islamic State.

Most have been recruited via social-media websites – either by young Western women who glamorise life as jihadi brides, or by the militants themselves.

One recruiter is believed to be Zehra Duman (21) from Melbourne, Australia, who sneaked off to Syria in October last year. Last month Duman – who married Mahmoud Abdullatif, known as The Playboy Jihadi, shortly after arriving in Syria – used website ask.fm to speak candidly and answer questions about herself. She spoke about her grief over Abdullatif’s death – he was killed five weeks after they married – and about her life as a jihadi bride.

She gushed that “the lifestyle here is amazing, it is something you need to see for yourself” and indicated she was “more than happy” to look for husbands for interested girls.

Another recruiter is 20-year-old Aqsa Mahmood who – according to website the Daily Beast – has become so successful at recruiting British teenagers that she has been dubbed the Bride of Isis.

Mahmood – who this year posted a photograph of herself holding the severed head of a Syrian man who had been executed for criminal acts – is thought to have helped convince a teenager from London to travel to Syria with two other girls.

Mahmood was 19 in November 2013 when she left her home in Glasgow, Scotland, to travel to Syria.

The “typical British girl” is now married to an extremist and acts as the “den mother” for those who join the Islamic State, according to the New York Times.

Mahmood appears to have her own blog that is written under a pseudonym. The Daily Beast says: “There are no mentions of the public stonings that the Islamic State advocates for adultery, nor of the punishments for transgressing strict dress codes, but the constrained lifestyle and the material hardships Western women will face aren’t entirely glossed over.”

But it is not only jihadi brides who are doing the recruiting.

A French reporter who went undercover as a Muslim convert told of how she had been approached by Abu-Bilel, believed to be a top Islamic State commander.

Anna Erelle* told The Sunday Times in London that she had wanted to find out first-hand how girls were lured to join the Islamic State because she had previously interviewed some converts.

“They knew very little about religion. They had hardly read a book and they learnt jihad before religion,” Erelle said. “They’d tell me: ‘You think with your head, we think with our hearts.’ They had a romantic view of radicalism. I wondered how that happened?”

She said Abu-Bilel first sent her a message which read: “I see you have watched my video. It has been seen round the world, it’s crazy! Are you a Muslim? What do you think of the mujaheddin? Are you thinking of coming to Syria?”

After that, he contacted her frequently, professing his love and trying to convince her to marry him.

To woo her, he sent pictures of himself with his 4X4 Jeep, holding a gun. He promised Erelle she would be treated like a princess.

“[Young girls] are persuaded [that the Middle East] is a paradise and that they don’t have any future in Britain or France, and they won’t find good husbands and can never be good Muslims surrounded by infidels,” said Erelle. Abu-Bilel told her she would have a beautiful life, a big apartment and lots of children.

But it is not all glamour and romance.

Some of the attraction is cold, hard cash, according to The Times in London, which said British Muslim extremists were offering teenage girls – many of whom are from poor backgrounds – money to marry militants.

The grooming process operates using the same techniques of trust-building and reward-offering employed by sexual predators, said the newspaper.

Money is not the only other motivation. The Cape Town girl reportedly wanted to do humanitarian work.

“Her concern was that media reports on what was actually happening in the area were inaccurate,” her father told investigators.

This is backed by a study from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, which found that Western women who joined the Islamic State did so for much the same reasons as men – because they believe Islam is under attack and want to contribute to the construction of a new Islamic society.

Whatever their reasons, their path is being oiled by Islamic State insurgents, who are master manipulators of social media.

Aside from creating YouTube videos showing their crimes on the battlefield in high definition, they have also established outlets specifically aimed at drawing women to their cause by offering tips, travel advice and even recipes for battle snacks, reports The Guardian.

The study found that rather than being repelled by the violence on Islamic State videos, wannabe brides were enthralled by it.

Examining the social-media accounts of six European women who travelled to Syria and Iraq, researchers found that one described the brutal murder of American aid worker Peter Kassig and 18 Syrian hostages as “gut-wrenchingly awesome”.

Another woman who watched a beheading video wrote: “I was happy to see the beheading of that kafir [nonbeliever], I just rewound to the cutting part.”

The institute’s study concluded: “There is no doubt?…?the women who migrate to the territory controlled by the Islamic State revel in the gore and brutality of the organisation. They appear desensitised to the horrific nature of the violent acts being committed.”

*Not her real name

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