You Should Fear Allah in the Islamic State Caliphate

78 – You Should Fear Allah In The Islamic State

Anne Speckhard & Ardian Shajkovci

You Should Fear Allah in the Islamic State Caliphate is the 78th counter narrative video in the ICSVE Breaking the ISIS Brand series. This video features 22-year-old Belgian, Salma, who was interviewed by Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci in August of 2018 in a detention facility in northern Syria run by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The video clip was video edited and produced by Zack Baddorf and our ICSVE team.

Salma was 19 when she left the safety of Belgium to follow her Belgian Tunisian father into ISIS. “[My father] said, ‘Life is better here [with ISIS]. You can wear your whole hijab. We’re not oppressed here.’ Just that my dad said, ‘I’m not coming back,’ was enough for me to come actually,” she explains. Salma’s father had been searching for a way to live out what he thought would be an authentic Islamic life and tragically fell for the ISIS lies and his daughter followed him into the trap.

After arriving in ISIS territory, Salma’s father arranged for her to marry the son of his co-worker. She married a Tunisian foreign fighter and within three months she was pregnant. Around this same time frame, all three began to realize that coming to Syria was a terrible mistake and that the ISIS Caliphate was anything but Islamic.

Salma and her father and husband tried to escape but were stopped at an ISIS checkpoint and arrested. “They put my husband and my dad in prison,” Salma recounts the horror of their situation. “They [hung him upside down] and everything,” she explains, which was the norm for ISIS cadres who were well versed in torture methods in their prisons.[i]

“I gave birth during the six months [when her father was jailed], and we tried again to run away, me and my Dad and other brothers,” Salma explains. During that time her husband had been imprisoned again for refusing to fight, but Salma’s father talked her into escaping with him, telling her it would be easier for her husband to follow alone after he got out of prison, rather than have a wife and newborn along on his escape attempt. Salma recalls their second attempt, “We tried to get out again from Raqqa, but the problem is the one that was going to smuggle us out was working with them, with ISIS. Ten minutes out of Raqqa and they stopped us.”

The ISIS common practice with defectors was to imprison, threaten, punish and then forgive their first attempt, but they would execute male defectors on second and third tries. Salma’s father understood he would be killed, stating, “One time you get forgiven. Second time, your head flies.”

She also recalls, “[The ISIS soldiers] were scared because they saw the men had weapons. The men that were with us. So they put us down [by] the car and [the ISIS guys] were like, ‘Stay here! The car is stolen!’ It was all a lie!”

Knowing he would be executed, Salma’s father got up and started walking away despite the orders not to, hoping to evade his killers. As Salma recounts, “So, we started walking and then they started shooting on us. They killed all the men.”

Of all the 101 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoner ICSVE researchers have interviewed to date, the story of Salma perhaps represents one of the most violent personal experience witnessed by a defector while attempting to escape. Salma’s father was shot and killed in front of her eyes while she was holding her newborn child. As she recalls, “When I heard the gunshots, I was turning around to see. I’m like, ‘They’re shooting in the sky, right? They’re not shooting on us.’ I was like, ‘It can’t be!’ And then I just fell on the ground, because I got a bullet. I’m like, ‘Okay, it’s really happening.’ I got a bullet in my back and a bullet [in] other places.”

Perhaps having a premonition of dread that morning, Salma recalls, “I wasn’t feeling good that morning to go out. I was scared. I was saying, ‘No, I don’t wanna go!’” 

She further adds, “[The ISIS guards] were like, ‘No, you are a danger to our society, because you guys are leaving. You guys are gonna say that we’re bad and everything. So we cannot let you go.’ So they killed us. That’s it. They killed the men. They killed a little boy of two years when I was in that shooting. It was the son of a friend of mine. I think even monsters wouldn’t do that. They have some pity for the kids you know. [Then,] they picked us up and took us to prison. Seeing us bleeding and everything, they took me and the sister to the hospital, but leaving my [newborn] son in prison. I couldn’t take him with me.”

After being brought back to the prison, Salma was questioned about wanting to escape ISIS territory, “They came and interrogated me like, ‘Why do you want to go? You should fear God.’ And, I said, ‘Yeah, big mistake!’ Just playing the game with them.”

She recalls, “And then I got out. They put me in a women’s house and then my husband got out of prison. And then we went and lived in Qoriah. They took my husband to prison for another three months, because he was not working and he was not going to battle and everything.”

When her husband was released from prison, they tried again to escape from ISIS, this time getting to YPG territory, where they were arrested and detained separately.

Reflecting back on her experience inside the ISIS Caliphate, Salma states, “[ISIS] is not what it looks like! I need[ed] to see it with my own eyes, and I saw it with my own eyes. Of course, they’re bad.

Salma is now detained in Camp Roj, Syria, with her young son and she was about to give birth at the time of her interview. She has now given birth and returned to the camp with her newborn. The children detained in this camp were taken to or born into ISIS at no fault of their own and their countries do not allow them to return home. Under detention, they suffer without vaccinations, necessary nutrition, and schools. They also lack normal stimulation. They literally play with rocks.

“The children, of course they are innocent,” Salma explains. When asked about those trained in the Cubs of the Caliphate camp to kill, she states, “Even if [an] 11-year-old boy killed someone, it would have been someone that told him, ‘Do it.’ He’s 11-year-old! He doesn’t know.”

Salma wants to return to Belgium but she is not welcomed home, nor are her children. She owns up to her responsibility for joining ISIS, stating, “If they put me in prison, that’s the consequences of my mistakes, so I will have to live with them.”

Discussion Questions:

What do you feel watching this video?

Do you believe Salma didn’t know what kind of group she was going to join?

Salma claims that she was simply an ISIS wife and did not pledge allegiance to serve the group. Do you believe she should be punished?

What do you think of the ISIS practice of killing defectors?

Do you believe it was a true Islamic State if people were willing to risk death to leave it?

Do you think Salma is at present—or will be in the future—a danger to Belgian society or would ever return to ISIS after her father was killed by them?

Do you think it’s a punishment to have to watch one’s children suffer detention in a prison camp alongside yourself?

Transcript of You Should Fear Allah in the Islamic State Caliphate

SALMA

22-year-old Belgian

Wife of ISIS Soldier

[My father] said, ‘Life is better here [with ISIS]. You can wear your whole hijab. We’re not oppressed here.’

Just that my dad said, ‘I’m not coming back,’ was enough for me to come actually.

TEXT: After arriving in ISIS territory, Salma married a Tunisian foreign fighter.

After almost three months of marriage, I got pregnant.

TEXT: Salma and her family soon noticed how ISIS acted contrary to Islam and tried to escape.

They put my husband and my dad in prison.

They [hung him upside down] and everything.

I gave birth during the six months [when her father was jailed], and we tried again to run away, 

me and my Dad and other brothers.

So we tried to get out again from Raqqa, but the problem is the one that was going to smuggle us out was working with them, with ISIS.

Ten minutes out of Raqqa and they stopped us. 

But my dad was like, ‘Uh, this time, I’m not going to prison [again].’

‘If they catch me this time, they will kill me, because it’s forbidden to get out of ISIS.’

‘One time you get forgiven. Second time, your head flies.’

[The ISIS soldiers] were scared because they saw the men had weapons. The men that were with us.

So they put us down [by] the car and [the ISIS guys] were like, ‘Stay here! The car is stolen!’

It was all a lie!

So my dad was like, ‘Yeah, no I’m not staying here! Let’s go!’

So we started walking and then they started shooting on us.

They killed all the men.

TEXT: Salma’s father was shot and killed in front of her eyes while she was holding her newborn child.

When I heard the gunshots, I was turning around to see.

I’m like, ‘They’re shooting in the sky, right? They’re not shooting on us.’

 I was like, ‘It can’t be!’

And then I just fell on the ground, because I got a bullet.

I’m like, ‘Okay, it’s really happening.’

I got a bullet in my back and a bullet [in] other places.

I wasn’t feeling good that morning to go out.

I was scared. I was saying, ‘No, I don’t wanna go!’ 

If I didn’t go, my dad would have died anyways that day.

[The ISIS guards] were like, ‘No, you are a danger to our society,

because you guys are leaving. You guys are gonna say that we’re bad and everything. So we cannot let you go.’

So they killed us. That’s it. They killed the men.

They killed a little boy of two years when I was in that shooting. 

It was the son of a friend of mine.

I think even monsters wouldn’t do that. They have some pity for the kids you know.

They picked us up and took us to prison.

Seeing us bleeding and everything, they took me and the sister to the hospital, 

but leaving my [newborn] son in prison. I couldn’t take him with me.

TEXT: After being brought back to the prison, Salma was questioned about wanting to escape ISIS territory.

They came and interrogated me like, ‘Why do you want to go? You should fear God.’

And, I said, ‘Yeah, big mistake!’ Just playing the game with them.

And then I got out. They put me in a women’s house and then my husband got out of prison.

And then we went and lived in Qoriah.

After three months, again they came and picked my husband up from the house.

They came and knocked and they surrounded the house.

They took my husband to prison for another three months,

because he was not working and he was not going to battle and everything.

And then came my husband out [of prison].

And then we tried again to find someone to get us out of there.

Two months we stayed and we got out [of ISIS-held Syria].

[ISIS] is not what it looks like

I need[ed] to see it with my own eyes, and I saw it with my own eyes.

Of course, they’re bad.

TEXT: Salma, her young son and her husband were captured by Syrian Kurdish forces (known as the YPG) on her third attempt to escape from ISIS to Turkey.

TEXT: She is now detained in Syria, with her young son and is about to give birth.  

TEXT: The children detained in this camp were taken to or born into ISIS at no fault of their own and their countries do not allow them to return home. Under detention, they suffer without vaccinations, good food and schools and lack normal stimulation. They literally play with rocks.

The children, of course they are innocent.

Even if [an] 11-year old boy killed someone, it would have been someone that told him, ‘Do it.’

He’s 11-years-old! He doesn’t know.

I’m sure, 100% sure, the children [in the camp] are suffering.

[My son] is one year and a half, so he doesn’t really understand.

So he thinks it’s fun. 

He goes out. He sits in front of the tent, takes stones and starts throwing [at] everyone. So, it’s all fun.

TEXT: Salma hopes she and her children can return home to Belgium.

Of course, I wanna go home.

If they put me in prison, that’s the consequences of my mistakes so I will have to live with them.

The Truth Behind the Islamic State

Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism

www.ICSVE.org

See more at www.TheRealJihad.org

[i] Speckhard, A., Almohammad, A, & Yayla, A. (2017). The ISIS prison system: Its structure, departmental affiliations, processes, conditions, and practices of psychological and physical torture,” ICSVE, available at http://www.icsve.org/the-isis-prison-system-its-structure-departmental-affiliations-processes-conditions-and-practices-of-psychological-and-physical-torture/

About the authors:

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=101) 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 expert 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 http://www.icsve.org Follow @AnneSpeckhard

Ardian Shajkovci, Ph.D., is the Director of Research and a Senior Research Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE). He has been collecting interviews with ISIS defectors and studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism as well as 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. He has also been studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and how to rehabilitate them. He has conducted fieldwork in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, mostly recently in Jordan and Iraq. He has presented at professional conferences and published on the topic of radicalization and terrorism. He holds a doctorate in Public Policy and Administration, with a focus on Homeland Security Policy, from Walden University. He obtained his M.A. degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northwestern University and a B.A. degree in International Relations and Diplomacy from Dominican University. He is also an adjunct professor teaching counterterrorism and CVE courses at Nichols College. 

Anne Speckhard

Anne Speckhard, Ph.D. is Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine and has also taught the Psychology of Terrorism for the Security Studies Department in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism. Dr. Speckhard has been working in the field of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the 1980’s and has extensive experience working in Europe, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union.