A Syrian woman went from being a school teacher to a member of the all-female ISIS brigade of fighters. During an interview with CNN the women, who called herself Khadija (not her real name), detailed her journey both to and ultimately away from the Islamic State.
Khadija, 25, stated during the interview that she became disillusioned with the brutality of ISIS. The former Islamic State fighter grew up in Syria. Her family made sure that she was presented with a good education, and she was able to earn a college degree. Before joining the ISIS all-female brigade, Khadija was teaching in an elementary school. The woman describes her family as “not overly conservative.”
After the Syrian uprising started more than three years ago, Khadija joined many others in peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad.
“We’d go out and demonstrate. The security services would chase us. We’d write on walls, have different outfits to change into. Those days were great,” she told CNN during her first interview since leaving ISIS.
Once the political uprising turned into a bloody civil war, Khadija felt she was losing her humanity.
“Everything around us was chaos. Free Syrian Army, the regime, barrel bombs, strikes, the wounded, clinics, blood – you want to tear yourself away, to find something to run to. My problem was I ran away to something uglier,” the ISIS defector added.
The teacher turned ISIS fighter says she was lured slowly into an Islamic State supportive mindset. An “eloquent” Tunisian man Khadija met online impressed her, and soon she grew to trust him. The Tunisian man assured the Syrian school teacher that ISIS was not a terrorist organization, and was not at all similar to the stories offered on the television news.
“He would say, ‘We are going to properly implement Islam. Right now we are in a state of war, a phase where we need to control the country, so we have to be harsh,” the former ISIS fighter claims.
The Tunisian man ultimately said the he was going to travel to the city of Raqqa in Syria so they could be married. Khadija said she got in touch with a cousin living in Raqqa, who had a husband involved with the Islamic State.
The cousin invited her to join the Khansa’a Brigade – the highly-feared all-female ISIS police force. The brigade reportedly consists of about 30 women who patrol the streets, making sure that women are wearing the proper attire and following rules as outlined by the Islamic State.
Khadija convinced her parents that moving to Raqqa would make it far easier to get her younger siblings enrolled in school amidst all the turmoil in the country, and added that living in the city meant the family would also have the support of relatives.
When the Khansa’a Brigade determines a woman has broken Islamic Law, lashes are reportedly administered by Umm Hamza. Behavior which could earn such a punishment reportedly includes the showing of the eyes or wearing form-fitting abayas. When Khadija first saw Umm Hamza, she says she was terrified.
“She’s not a normal female. She’s huge, she has an AK, a pistol, a whip, a dagger and she wears the nijab,” she explained.
“We are harsh with the infidels, but merciful among ourselves,” Umm Rayan, an ISIS female brigade member allegedly told Khadija after noticing how fearful she was after first joining the Khansa’a Brigade.
Khadija said she was given $200 a month and food rations as payment for being a member of the ISIS police brigade. She also said she was trained to fire, clean, and dismantle a firearm. Her family noticed the change in her demeanor, and attempted to warn her away from being a part of ISIS, but she was not prepared to hear them at the time.
“You are walking, but you don’t know where you are going,” the Syrian school teacher’s mother would often tell her.
She recalled feeling “seduced” by her new sense of power, but eventually started to question both her beliefs and those of the Islamic State.
“I felt that I had authority in the streets. But then I started to get scared, scared of my situation. I even started to be afraid of myself,” she said.
After the young woman started to wonder how she found herself there, her image of ISIS began to fall apart. Khadija claims that she once watched an online video of a 16-year-old boy being crucified for rape.
“The worst thing I saw was a man getting his head hacked off in front of me,” the former ISIS fighter revealed.
According to the teacher, the Khansa’a Brigade shared building space with a man who “specialized” in finding wives for ISIS militants.
“He was one of the worst people. The foreign fighters are very brutal with women, even the ones they marry. There were cases where the wife had to be taken to the emergency ward because of the violence, the sexual violence,” Khadija concluded.
The school teacher said she fled Syria just a few days before the airstrikes began in the country. While Khadija was smuggled across Turkey, her family remains in Syria. When asked how Syria could have allowed ISIS to take hold of the country, Khadija said “there is a weakness in us.”
The former Khansa’a Brigade member said she is speaking out now to warn others girls to stay away from ISIS. She said she yearns to once again be the girl who walked happily down the street, listening to music via headphones and not worrying about what anyone thinks.
What do you think about the Syrian teacher turned into an ISIS fighter, and then fled the all-female police brigade?
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