Jihad is our Way features twenty-seven-year-old Kenyan, Aisha, a would-be suicide bomber, radicalized over the Internet, who was interviewed in June 2018 in Kenya by Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci.The counter narrative video clip was produced and edited by Zack Baddorf and our ICSVE team. This counter narrative video highlights the dangers of online radicalization and relationships with violent extremists formed over the Internet.
In Jihad is our Way, Aisha talks about how she came to believe that there was no need to stay in this world—that Paradise (jannah) should be her ultimate goal and that the way to win it was to blow herself up in a crowded place filled with unbelievers. As she fantasized carrying out her suicide mission in a crowded playground, shopping mall, or church she imagined that she was going to a better place, where all is provided for, everyone is young and beautiful and where she could live forever.
Aisha was coming off of heavy heartbreak. After converting to Islam, she had found her husband, who had gotten her pregnant while she was still in high school, in bed with her best friend. Deciding to flee the situation, she left her baby in her mother’s care and went off to the Gulf to work as a domestic. There she came to a deeper commitment to Islam and a belief that she would find her purpose serving God. Isolated and still deeply in pain she found other committed Muslims online who introduced her to the Whatsapp channels of al Shabaab, ISIS and al Qaeda.
Aisha, already having a lot of buried anger, became excited by the violent extremist messages in the Whatsapp groups. It seems, Aisha channeled all her painful emotions into a plan to exit this life in a blaze of glory—going directly to Paradise by carrying out a suicide mission. As she imagined her suicidal act, Aisha, like many would-be suicide bombers describes entering a mystical state of being, where she felt she was floating on air and that she was flying, but was not high on drugs. Indeed, this was likely an endorphin mediated bliss that many suicide bombers describe before carrying out their act, and is likely the brain’s way of making it possible for them to move forward to defy their self-preservation instinct and kill themselves while killing others. That they confuse the brain’s protective mechanism prior to suicide for a mystical and spiritual experience, likely deepens their commitment and belief that they are carrying out God’s will.
She was fueled in these ideas by a violent extremist from India, who although married, plotted to go to Iraq with her to fight jihad—a plan where she saw them as a couple dying and going to Paradise together.
Although, Aisha worked for a Shia elderly woman who was good to her and took her traveling she did not see the contradiction in ISIS and al Shabaab calling Shia pigs. Nor did she conspire to kill her employer. Instead she dreamed of carrying out a bigger mission and earning more eternal rewards.
Coming from a poor family and having dropped out of high school, Aisha was easily convinced that Islam teaches that unbelievers are to be killed and that she had a duty to carry out jihad.
Aisha’s developing and quite serious plans for carrying out a suicide mission and traveling to Iraq to join ISIS were detected in India while she was traveling with her employer to take part in Shia festivities. Aisha was arrested and interrogated and later extradited back to Kenya where she was successfully prosecuted on terrorism charges.
Now serving a 2.5 year prison sentence in Kenya, Aisha states that she lost a lot from following violent extremists online and that she is now separated from her family as a result. She warns others to stay away from online recruiters and not to be tricked by online extremists from ISIS and al Shabaab who twist the meaning of Islamic teachings, but to learn the Quran for oneself.
What do you feel watching this video?
Do you believe Aisha is telling the truth about her experiences inside violent extremists?
What do you think of the cognitive opening to violent extremist ideas formed by her isolation working in the Gulf and the betrayal by her husband?
Do you think her movement toward militant jihad was fueled by anger, romance, a desire to exit her grief, or other factors?
Do you see Aisha as suicidal?
What did Aisha gain from interacting with violent extremist groups online?
What did she lose from believing their lies?
Timed transcript of Jihad is our Way video:
Jihad is our Way
0:01 In Paradise, there is eternal life there. There is no dying there.
0:06 So there is no need of staying in this world.
Kenyan ISIS Suicide Bomber
I’m striving to go to jannah, to go to Paradise.
0:13 There I’ll live forever.
0:17 Actually, to be honest,
0:19 I just wanted to be a suicide bomber.
0:22 Anticipating what it would be like to explode herself in a crowded place and become a
“martyr,” Aisha became filled with a mystical ecstasy.
0:27 I just feel like I’m just alone on the air and a little wind coming towards me.
0:34 I felt like I was flying, but I was not high [on drugs].
0:38 Aisha learned about violent extremist groups like ISIS, Boko Haram and al Shabaab
through social media groups.
0:43 There is this woman, an Islamic woman, who was dressed up in all black
0:49 with stockings and gloves and niqaab and she was holding an AK 47.
0:59 And, on her gloves, there was this flag of [the] Islamic State. She was dressing good.
1:05 So I loved it, I loved it, I loved it so very much, so I used to like those posts.
1:12 While working in the United Arab Emirates, Aisha met a fellow violent extremist online
who was living in Hyderabad, India.
1:15 She fell in love with him.
1:17 They conspired to go to Iraq to join ISIS and fight militant jihad together.
1:21 [Online extremists claimed] somebody who is not in our religion is a kuffar[unbeliever]
1:26 and a kuffaris our enemy.
1:29 In the Quran, it is said, ‘When you see them in the field [of battle], just cut off their heads.’
1:35 [In the online extremist groups,] we used to say, ‘Jihad is our way,
1:38 so we’re going to do jihad until somebody dies.’
1:41 Aisha’s employers in Abu Dhabi didn’t know that Aisha was preparing for militant jihad against people like them.
1:47 Those people were Shia and [online extremists claimed that]
1:50 [the] Islamic faith are against Shia, you know.
1:52 They used to call them pigs.
1:54 Aisha says she had second thoughts about potentially killing Shia because she had emotionally connected with her Shia employer.
2:00 I didn’t want it to be like that.
2:01 I used to love her.
2:03 Yeah, she was so kind to me. She was so good.
2:07 Every time that thought comes, I just ignore it.
2:12 I just ignore it because they were very good, though they were Shias, but they were very
2:18 Aisha never had the chance to carry out her suicide mission.
2:21 While traveling in India, Indian intelligence arrested and interrogated her. She was
extradited back to Kenya where she was convicted on terrorism charges.
2:28 Aisha has since changed her beliefs on suicide attacks and militant jihadi groups.
2:34 They were lying. They twist things.
2:37 If you believe these lies, you will get separated from your family.
2:41 Another thing, you don’t want to go to hell.
2:46 If you are a Muslim, you have to study the Quran well and know what the Quran says.
2:51 So, don’t stick to those social media things and avoid these things about [militant] jihad.
2:59 It is not good for you.
3:01 Jannah, I pray to God that I go, but not in [the militant] jihad way.
3:09 The Truth Behind the Islamic State
3:13 Sponsored by the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism
3:18 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