The Lion and the Lioness of the Islamic State features twenty-seven-year-old Kenyan, Aisha, a would-be ISIS suicide bomber who was interviewed in June 2018, in Kenya, by Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci.It was produced and edited by Zack Baddorf and our ICSVE team. This counter narrative video highlights the dangers of online radicalization and of developing relationships with violent extremists over the Internet.
In The Lion and the Lioness of the Islamic State, Aisha explains how her dreams of getting an education, and maybe making it as a national track star, were interrupted by becoming pregnant while in high school. Converting to Islam, she married the father of her baby, but was soon after deeply hurt when she found her Muslim husband in bed with her best friend. Deciding to leave to work in the Gulf as a domestic, Aisha left her baby with her mother and went off on her own. Heartbroken and isolated she deepened her commitment to Islam, hoping she could find other Muslims who were serious about following their faith.
Chatting on Facebook with Muslims around the world, Aisha admired the photo of a covered woman from ISIS and suddenly found herself introduced to the Whatsapp groups of al Shabaab, ISIS and al Qaeda. There, recruiters seduced her into their violent extremist thinking as she found an outlet for her anger and grief. Aisha, not having any way to judge the extremists’ claims, came to believe that she should not invest in this world, but in the next, and that she had an individual duty to jihad—even if it meant taking her own life to kill others. And this fit with her desire to exit from her painful and isolated situation.
As Aisha imagined blowing herself up among a crowd of children in a playground, in a crowded church or shopping mall, she describes being filled with a feeling of bliss and total confidence in her decision to die. This echoes accounts of other would-be suicide bombers who describe a mystical feeling of ecstasy as they contemplate taking their own lives.
Fueling her journey into jihad, Aisha also fell in love with a married Indian violent extremist who she met on line. Together they plotted to travel to Iraq to join ISIS together. As she fantasized about their journey, Aisha imagined fighting and dying together, to spend eternity together in Paradise. He was her lion and she believed by going with him she would be fulfilling her religious duties and becoming a lioness of the Islamic State.
While traveling in India with her boss, Aisha’s activities were picked up by Indian intelligence and she was arrested and interrogated. She was extradited to Kenya where she was convicted on terrorism charges and now serves a 2.5 year prison sentence.
Having had time to rethink her infatuation with militant jihad, ISIS and al Shabaab, Aisha now denounces suicide terrorism and says she would have gone to hell, rather than Paradise had she carried it out. She also regrets being separated from her family and warns others not to believe the slick lies of terrorist ideologues and recruiters. She states that Muslims have a responsibility to know the Quran so as not to be tricked by those who twist Islamic scriptures to their advantage.
What do you feel watching this video?
Do you believe Aisha is telling the truth about her experiences inside ISIS?
Do you think Aisha was suicidal and using terrorism as a legitimate exit from her life?
Do you believe that exploding oneself among civilians can be an Islamic act of martyrdom?
If she had carried out her mission do you believe she was destined for Paradise or hell?
How does one get to Paradise?
Have you ever felt someone trying to manipulate Islam to make you believe that violence is legitimate?
Timed transcript of The Lion and the Lioness of the Islamic Statevideo:
The Lion and the Lioness of the Islamic State
0:02 I just wanted to be a suicide bomber.
0:05 Then I’ll go to jannah [Paradise].
0:07 We were promised that when we go to jannah,
0:10 we’ll have eternal life.
0:12 All people there will be the same age.
0:15 We will drink milk and honey.
0:18 There will be rivers flowing of everything good. And everything in hannah is good,
0:25 So we don’t want association with this world.
0:29 We want the next life.
0:32 So we’ve been told, ‘If you kill or be killed in the cause of Allah, Subhanahu Wa
Tamale, you go to Paradise.
Kenyan ISIS Suicide Bomber
0:40 I just wanted to, just to be a suicide bomber.
0:45 Wherever I’ve been told to go, I will go [to explode myself].
0:48 I was imagining [being] sent to a place,
0:51 a playground where people meet,
0:54 or in a mall,
0:56 or in churches where people, a lot of people gather.
1:01 And I am with my bomb on my waist, and I just go there,
1:06 just in between them, and I blow up myself.
1:10 I wanted to die, so I didn’t have any second thoughts.
1:13 Aisha used to dream of being a professional athlete.
1:16 I used to run 100 meters and do high jumps also for my school and my country, but I
didn’t make it.
1:20 She got pregnant and dropped out of school.
1:28 She married the father and converted from Christianity to Islam.
1:31 I love Islam religion. So all my friends used to be Muslims.
1:36 So I decided myself to be a Muslim.
1:38 Aisha found her husband in bed with one of her best friends.
1:41 Wanting to escape heartbreak and needing to provide for her child, Aisha began a series
of jobs working as a housekeeper, first in Saudi Arabia, and then in the United Arab Emirates
over a period of four years.
1:49 Aisha had the opportunity to visit Medina, Saudi Arabia. There, Aisha deepened her
commitment to Islam.
1:54 Alone and vulnerable, she took on conservative views of Islam that seemed to offer
protection from being hurt anymore.
1:59 In the UAE, Aisha took to social media to make Muslim friends from around the world.
2:03 She learned about violent extremist groups like ISIS, Boko Haram and al Shabaab.
2:06 They educate [teach] us a lot of things.
2:08 If you don’t know how to use a gun, you’ll be told how to use it.
2:13 Even to make bombs.
2:15 We really loved it.
2:17 Aisha became excited by the idea of joining militant “jihad” and exiting from her painful
2:20 I wanted to protect my people. Actually I wanted to be recognized that I helped. 2:28
Also I’ll be completing my faith.
2:32 Aisha met online a violent extremist from Hyderabad, India. She fell in love with him.
2:36 The Sunni Muslims used to have beards.
2:40 I really love a man who has a beard.
2:44 We used to call them lions, because they have big beards.
2:48 The Indian man was married, to join ISIS in Iraq.
2:53 We would marry and we would fight together.
2:55 And we go to jannahtogether and live happily ever after.
2:58 You cannot not be a lioness if you don’t have a lion. Everything you have to do together.
3:03 I didn’t imagine [being sexual with him].
3:07 I just imagine being with him and fight[ing].
3:11 While traveling in India with her boss, Indian intelligence arrested and interrogated
3:14 She was halted in her plan for suicide terrorism and extradited back to Kenya where she
was convicted on terrorism charges.
3:21 Aisha now believes suicide attacks are not righteous.
3:24 I don’t even want to think about [suicide bombing].
3:26 There are some things I didn’t know. Now I know.
3:29 It is not good. It is not good to kill.
3:32 If I blow up myself at that time and die, actually I would have gone to hell.
3:38 Jannah, I pray to God that I go, but not in jihad way.
3:44 I‘ll go to jannah, but not in that way
3:49 What I’d like to advise young girls out there: [militant] jihad is not the only way to go to
3:56 You respect your parents, that is the big way to take you to jannah.
4:03 Aisha was convicted of 2.5 years in prison.
4:06 She thinks about how different her life would have been if she hadn’t started down the
path toward militant jihad.
4:11 [If I hadn’t been recruited into ISIS], I [would be] still working
4:13 and earning the money, which I’m not now.
4:16 I would be with my family.
4:19 Islam is a good religion. You have to live like a Muslim, according to the Quran, how it
4:26 You have to study the Quran well.
4:29 Some people twist the story and say it’s the other way around.
4:34 Don’t be tricked.
4:36 Don’t do these things. You’ll go to hell instead of Paradise.
4:42 The Truth Behind the Islamic State
4:45 Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism
4:51 See more at
Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 600 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past two years, she and ICSVE staff have been collecting interviews (n=81) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS, as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting on how to rehabilitate them. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism experts and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI and CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: https://georgetown.academia.edu/AnneSpeckhard and on the ICSVE website Follow @AnneSpeckhard