Joining Daesh was a disastrous mistake, say former female members

Children peer from the gate of Al-Hol camp in Syria. (AP/File)
Updated 23 April 2019
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Joining Daesh was a disastrous mistake, say former female members

  • Many in the camps remain die-hard supporters of Daesh
  • The women insisted they had not been active Daesh members and had no role in its atrocities

AL-HOL CAMP, SYRIA: The women say it was misguided approach, naivety, a search for something to believe in or youthful rebellion. Whatever it was, it led them to travel across the world to join Daesh.

Now after the fall of the last stronghold of the group’s “caliphate,” they say they regret it and want to come home.

The Associated Press interviewed four foreign women who joined the caliphate and are now among tens of thousands of Daesh family members, mostly women and children, crammed into squalid camps in northern Syria overseen by the US-backed Kurdish-led forces who spearheaded the fight against the extremist group.

Many in the camps remain die-hard supporters of Daesh. Women in general were often active participants in Daesh’s rule. Some joined women’s branches of the “Hisba,” the religious police who brutally enforced the group’s laws. Others helped recruit more foreigners. Freed Yazidi women have spoken of cruelties inflicted by female members of the group.

Within the fences of Al-Hol camp, Daesh supporters have tried to recreate the caliphate as much as possible. Some women have re-formed the Hisba to keep camp residents in line, according to officers from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces guarding the camp. While the AP was there, women in all-covering black robes and veils known as niqab tried to intimidate anyone speaking to journalists; children threw stones at visitors, calling them “dogs” and “infidels.”

The four women interviewed by the AP said joining Daesh was a disastrous mistake. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces gave the AP access to speak to the women at two camps under their administration.

“How could I have been so stupid, and so blind?” said Kimberly Polman, a 46-year-old Canadian woman who surrendered herself to the SDF earlier this year.

The women insisted they had not been active Daesh members and had no role in its atrocities, and they all said their husbands were not fighters for Daesh. Those denials and much in their accounts could not be independently confirmed. The interviews took place with Kurdish security guards in the room. To many, their expressions of regret likely ring hollow, self-serving or irrelevant. Traveling to the caliphate, the women joined a group whose horrific atrocities were well known, including sex enslavement of Yazidi women, mass killings of civilians and grotesque punishments of rule-breakers.

Their pleas to return home point to the thorny question of what to do with the men and women who joined the caliphate and their children. Governments around the world are reluctant to take back their nationals.

The SDF complains it is being forced to shoulder the burden of dealing with them.

Al-Hol is home to 73,000 people who streamed out of Daesh’s last pockets, including the village of Baghouz, the final site to fall to the SDF in March. Nearly the entire population of the camp is women or children, since most men were taken for screening by the SDF to determine if they were fighters.


US to send 1,500 more troops to Middle East amid Iran threat

Updated 8 min ago
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US to send 1,500 more troops to Middle East amid Iran threat

  • Donald Trump says the additional troops would serve a 'mostly protective' role
  • The US began reinforcing its presence in the Arabian Gulf region earlier this month

WASHINGTON:  Donald Trump said Friday the US will send 1,500 extra troops to the Middle East in a "mostly protective role" amid heightened tensions with Iran.

"We want to have protection in the Middle East. We're going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective," Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to Japan.
"Some very talented people are going to the Middle East right now. And we'll see what happens."

Officials said earlier that members of Congress were notified following a White House meeting Thursday to discuss Pentagon proposals to bolster the US force presence in the Middle East.
Earlier this week, officials had said that Pentagon planners had outlined plans that could have sent up to 10,000 military reinforcements to the region. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan later said planners had not settled on a figure.
The US began reinforcing its presence in the Arabian Gulf region this month in response to what it said was a threat from Iran.

More to follow...