Teenage brides trapped between Daesh and its victors

Rawan Aboud, the wife of a Daesh militant is pictured at Al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate. (Reuters)
Updated 12 April 2019
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Teenage brides trapped between Daesh and its victors

  • The SDF is struggling to cope with the number of suspected militants and supporters languishing in detention centers and camps

AL-HOL CAMP/SYRIA: Rawan Aboud tried to escape Daesh after the death of her abusive first husband, a militant killed fighting for the group. She was jailed and forced to marry another fighter. When he died, she finally fled.

Now she is interned with fanatic supporters of the violent militant group she has sought refuge from since the age of 13.

“I married age 12,” said the Syrian girl, now 18. “My husband then brought me to Raqqa. He beat me and said I was an apostate for trying to leave.”

Thousands of women, especially foreigners who flocked from Europe and North African countries, willingly joined Daesh.

Some remain ardent supporters of its ideology and live in camps they fled to in eastern Syria which are under the control of the US-backed forces that drove Daesh from its final piece of territory last month.

But many like Aboud, married off by conservative Muslim families in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, had no choice.

Aboud, several Syrians and a Lebanese woman also wed as a child to a man who joined Daesh are now detained alongside its die-hard adherents in a guarded section of Al-Hol camp.

Regarded as suspect by Kurdish-led forces that helped defeat the militants and persecuted by women they are locked up with, they fear they will rot in detention or face death at the hands of their extreme fellow detainees.

Aboud has spent three months at Al-Hol along with more than 60,000 people who fled the battle for Baghouz, the final shred of populated territory that Daesh had held until its defeat there last month.

In an interview with Reuters this month, she wore a green coat, fingerless gloves and eye make-up behind her veil, which she only wears to avoid drawing the attention of Daesh supporters.

She said her husbands were dead, not martyred, as slain militants are usually described by supporters.

“My first husband was killed fighting three years ago, thank God.”

Aboud tried to flee Daesh territory and was jailed in its Raqqa stronghold. When the US coalition began bombing the city, her nine-month-old daughter was killed. 

Militants moved her and other women from town to town as they retreated, and married her to another fighter who also killed several months ago. She then escaped with her other daughter, now four. They face an uncertain future.

“I want to go to my family in Idlib. But right now I’d settle for just another part of the camp, away from the foreigners. Somewhere I can use a phone,” she said.

The security forces that guard Al-Hol have denied her requests to move, she said. “They keep saying tomorrow and asking, why did you marry” a Daesh fighter.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that run the camp did not immediately respond to a request for comment on her detention.

“Because I fled and how I dress, the other women call me an infidel. They throw stones at me. When I queue for water, they say this isn’t a line for Syrians.”

Amal Susi, the Lebanese woman in the same section of the camp, complained of similar treatment and feared never returning home.

The 20-year-old surrendered herself and her two children in 2017 to the SDF after her husband was killed in Raqqa. Months later she was returned to Daesh territory in a prisoner swap, she said. “It was back to zero,” she said.

Her husband took her as a teenager to Syria to live in Daesh’s self-declared rule.

Susi is also waiting to be transferred to another section of the camp.

The SDF is struggling to cope with the number of suspected militants and supporters languishing in detention centers and camps while some Western countries refuse to allow their citizens to return.

Most Syrians and Iraqis roam Al-Hol camp separately from foreign women who are guarded by the SDF. Many foreigners use derogatory militant terms against non-extremists and blame their plight solely on Daesh’s enemies.

Aboud, Susi and many others hope to get as far away from them as possible.


Wit and grit: Algeria's sizeable youth lead fight for change

Updated 58 min 50 sec ago
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Wit and grit: Algeria's sizeable youth lead fight for change

  • More than half of Algeria’s population are under 30
  • Young protesters say they are able to receive diplomas but unable to find jobs

ALGIERS: They’re on the peaceful front line of the protest movement that toppled Algeria’s longtime ruler, facing down water cannons with attitude, memes — and fearless calls for shampoo.
Oil-rich Algeria is one of the most youthful countries in the world with two-thirds of the population under 30.
They are politically engaged, educated, on social media and funny. And they initiated nationwide protests in mid-February that toppled the only leader they’ve ever known — former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999.
“Only Chanel does No. 5,” read the placard of a young Algerian protesting against Bouteflika’s failed bid for a fifth term. “Love the Way You Lie,” read another, referencing Rihanna’s hit song. Yet another, featuring the “Ghostbusters” movie poster, was a humorous rebuke to the infirm 82-year-old who’s rarely been seen since a 2013 stroke. And when police unfurl the water cannons, they start to sing in rhyming Arabic: “Bring me some shampoo and I’ll feel good!“
A quarter of these under-30s are out of work, creating a deep well of frustration against the North African country’s veteran rulers and the policies that have left them behind.
“I came to protest against this power structure because we, the young people, we are the main victims,” said Belkacem Canna, who just turned 30, and works for the local water company on what he described as a miserable salary. “We get diplomas but can’t get jobs.”
For two decades, Algeria has been ruled by Bouteflika and other survivors of the 1954-1962 War of Independence against colonial power France.
“Algeria’s leaders have one foot in the War of Independence and the other foot in the post-colonial period. This is a generational problem. Algeria is a gerontocracy that can’t represent the country’s majority,” said Rachid Tlemcani, political scientist at Algiers University.
Bouteflika had for years used Algeria’s oil and gas wealth to fund affordable homes and handouts. The country escaped the Arab Spring uprisings that began in Tunisia in 2010. But tensions began simmering after oil prices slumped in 2014, exposing a country blighted by youth unemployment where more than one person in four aged under 30 doesn’t have a job.
Over a decade ago, Bouteflika’s government made a half-baked attempt at helping the country’s youth by creating a funding initiative for young entrepreneurs. However, it only stoked further anger amid perceptions it was a handout scheme, after borrowers who didn’t repay debts faced no consequences.
“Mentalities have to change,” said Imad Touji, a 22-year-old geology student at Bab Ezzouar University. “It’s not just about going out and shouting. We really need to change things in a concrete way.”
In February, it was clear that many Algerians were aghast at their plight.
Many trapped at home with their parents and with seemingly little to lose, took to the streets some ten days after Bouteflika announced he would seek a fifth term. Students and professionals such as doctors, lawyers and magistrates all joined in.
Bouteflika’s replacement, the 77-year-old Abdelkader Bensalah, is yet another veteran of the War of Independence. It’s an open question if fresh presidential elections announced for July 4, will appease the vociferous movement.
“We are raising awareness, all the youth is,” said Sofiane Smain, a 23-year-old computing student. “We are trying to make all the Algerian people follow us so we can be unified to make a better Algeria, God willing.”
Social media instructions told protesters to come equipped only with “love, faith, Algerian flags and roses,” and to remove trash. In a poignant detail, many of them were observed cleaning up.
“Algeria’s youth are an example to the world of what a smiling and peaceful protest movement can achieve,” Tlemcani said.
Though the protests have been largely judged to have been peaceful, they have claimed their first casualty. On Friday, an unemployed 19-year-old from a town south of Algiers was buried. Police say he died after falling from a truck, while his friends say he was beaten by police with truncheons.