Some women who joined the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) as fighters, recruiters, and brides are trying to recreate the fallen caliphate from inside prison camps in northern Syria, the Associated Press (AP) reported this week.
The females, who appear to miss the now fallen Islamic emirate that once controlled large swathes of Iraq and Syria, continue to express their loyalty as they beg to be allowed back into their home countries.
At northern Syria’s al-Hol and Roj camps, overseen by the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces who recently took back the last ISIS-held territory, AP spoke to four women who traveled to the Middle East to join the group and “are now among tens of thousands of IS family members, mostly women and children, crammed into squalid camps.”
The women say it was misguided religious faith, naivete, a search for something to believe in or youthful rebellion. Whatever it was, it led them to travel across the world to join the Islamic State group. Now after the fall of the last stronghold of the group’s “caliphate,” they say they regret it and want to come home.
Many in the camps remain die-hard supporters of IS. Women in general were often active participants in IS’s rule. Some joined women’s branches of the “Hisba,” the religious police who brutally enforced the group’s laws. Others helped recruit more foreigners. Freed Yazidi women have spoken of cruelties inflicted by female members of the group.
Within the fences of al-Hol camp, IS supporters have tried to recreate the caliphate as much as possible. Some women have re-formed the Hisba to keep camp residents in line, according to officers from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces guarding the camp.
The news agency noted that women wearing the ISIS bride uniform — all-covering black robes and veils known as niqab — attempted to intimidate anyone who dared talk to journalists.
“Children threw stones at visitors, calling them ‘dogs’ and ‘infidels,” it added.
U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated he does not plan to bring American citizens who went to engage in jihad on behalf of ISIS in the Middle East or their families back to the continental United States. He is reportedly considering sending some to the nearly empty American military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, known as Gitmo.
The four women who spoke to AP claim they were not active ISIS members, adding that their husbands were not fighters. However, the news outlet was unable to verify those claims independently.
To many, their expressions of regret likely ring hollow, self-serving or irrelevant. Traveling to the caliphate, the women joined a group whose horrific atrocities were well known, including sex enslavement of Yazidi women, mass killings of civilians and grotesque punishments of rule-breakers, ranging from lashings, public shootings and crucifixions, to beheadings and hurling from rooftops.
The U.S.-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) complain that it is being forced to deal with ISIS prisoners after the demise of the caliphate.
While some are focusing on repatriating children, most countries have refused to take back adult ISIS-linked prisoners.
Referring to ISIS, a 31-year-old Belgian woman in the camp identified only as Samira told AP, “I hate them. They sold us a dream, but it was an open prison. They kill innocent people. All that they do, these things, it’s not from Islam.”
European leaders must realize “we are not all criminals, that we all have the right to a second chance. What we saw with Daesh [ISIS] was a lesson to us and allowed us to gain perspective on the extremists,” she added.
At the prison camps, AP reportedly met ISIS-linked detainees from South Africa, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Russia, India, Tunisia, and Trinidad and Tobago.