Published On: Thu, May 25th, 2017

The Truth behind DAISH: Distressed Women Easy Prey for Radicalization

By Syed Saqib Ali Shah

A Belgian woman who joined DAISH in June 2014 and moved to Syria after being jilted by her partner has warned other women about making the same mistake. Laura Passoni returned disillusioned last year but was only recently reunited with her children after an exhaustive inquiry by Belgian authorities. She newly married to a man who also wanted to join DAISH; the two took a cruise boat from Venice to Izmir and crossed Turkey by taxi and made their way into Syria. None of the promises of her DAISH recruiter turned out true and Laura ended up a prisoner in her own home. Laura tried to escape once with her young son but was caught and turned into DAISH headquarters. Then she was put under home arrest. Later she, her husband and young son successfully escaped and Laura is now returned to Belgium where her husband is spending time in jail for term of four years sentence and Laura is on a suspended sentence. She spends her time lecturing to youth warning them not to believe the lies of DAISH.

Most of the radicalized women have had some sort of trauma in their lives. They look for some religious options to get rid of the worrisome situation and become trapped easily in the web of terrorist’s propaganda.  Among the radicalized people being treated in different counseling centers, there is huge number of women. They have nearly all been a victim of violence or have been raped or have been marginalized in some way. This makes them more vulnerable to DAISH or other terrorist’s messages of a utopian society and distressed people in quest of relief or revenge against the corrupt and injustice system, become easy prey for seduction. DAISH mainly deceive people, assigning them pious roles in the pretext of welfare for humanity by establishment of Caliphate.

Laura was in harrowing condition when her long-time boyfriend abandoned her and their four-year old son Nassim. She was spiraled into depression and retreated into an extreme form of religion. Laura created a Facebook profile under a fake name and posted photos of burqa-clad women wielding Kalashnikovs. It made her feel strong after the breakup but it also attracted the attention of a DAISH recruiter. He played on her weaknesses and told her that she could help the Syrian people, as she could be a nurse and be useful. It was really important for her to restart life from zero because she was so depressed. She was looking for love and purpose and recruiter was looking for DAISH wives. Recruiters tell distressed people that their families don’t understand them, but they understand them, and unfortunately some people believe them.

In case of Laura she was being presented the prospect of working as a nurse in so-called Caliphate to help Syrians but her dream was quickly evaporated. In June 2014, two months after she met her DAISH groom, they left with her son. Once the family arrived in Syria she was confined to a communal women’s home with strict rules while her husband was sent to training. All she had to do was cleaning house, cooking, being tortured and sexually exploited all the time. That’s when she began to realize that she wouldn’t be helping Syrians like the recruiter promised her. She got pregnant and aside from the horrors and the isolation, she was worried about dying in childbirth. After nine months, still pregnant, she and her partner somehow managed to escape with her son and returned to Belgium.

Laura is among at least 550 women known to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join DAISH, according to a 2015 report from the Institute of Strategic Dialogue. Many more have gone since. However, not all women who join DAISH want to carry out attacks. The recruiter showed her romantic videos about life in Syria and never the violent ones. Laura was seduced by the terrorist group to move with her child to Syria. She imagined DAISH fighter terrorists as brave, loyal men who would take care of her and her son. So when a Tunisian man living in Belgium contacted Passoni on Facebook, she decided to marry him and take off for Syria. She was radicalized and became convinced that the caliphate was only place for her and her family to live and went there voluntarily and willingly.

Once she got there she really got to know the meaning of terror. She quickly realized it was not a place she wanted to raise her children. She quickly opened her eyes that it was all a lie. She was just there to procreate for DAISH and from that moment she did everything to try to leave so that her son wouldn’t become a terrorist. She tried to shield Nassim, but DAISH used to take her son in the training camp. One day, her son returned with a teddy bear and a plastic knife and showed her how he was taught to behead the toy. Thankfully her son was only 4, because when boys are 12, they automatically go to fight.

Upon her return she faced an enquiry from police and Belgian social workers removed her two kids from her for three months. However, she accepted that her regret for what happened was genuine and instead of jail for being part of a terrorist regime she was sentenced to five years’ probation and a fine of 15,000 EUR. Her husband is serving a four-year sentence in a Belgian prison for associating with a terrorist organization. Laura was given a suspended sentence after judges determined she was sincere about not knowing the true nature of DAISH when she left for Syria. She is monitored by police and has to check in regularly with probation officers. She is prohibited from leaving the country, using social media or communicating with anyone she knew in Syria. Laura is also forbidden from speaking to her husband while he is in prison.

Laura has written a memoir called “In the Heart of Daesh with My Son”, and she has begun speaking to kids at Belgian schools about her experience. She says that she made a very bad mistake; she regrets taking her son there; she hopes she can convince others not to go Syria, to inform them, and above all to know that Islam is not this and that we can all live together. Catherine Lorsignol, a Belgian journalist and co-author of Laura’s memoir has followed Laura’s story since meeting her parents while reporting on radicalization. Catherine was with Laura’s parents at the Turkish border when she crossed over last year. Catherine said that this young woman is not the same one who came back, or the one who left. Today, she is determined, brave and is taking a risk by talking.

Laura is trying to move on with her life but says it is difficult to find work with a criminal record. All she can do now, she says, is tell her story instead of hiding. Laura says if she can help prevent one person from joining DAISH then her experience will have had meaning. She is a free woman and campaigns against the so-called Caliphate and Jihad of DAISH at different venues. Laura, whose Italian parents moved to Belgium as refugees during WWII, told people: “My advice to young women is if you are considering it, don’t do it. Laura accepted the punishment and said, “to be honest it was a relief compared to the hell that I went through in Syria”.

 

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