Disillusioned Jihadi Brides in the Caliphate: IslamicStatePhobia – by Rachael Burford (Mailonline) 30 July 2017
Physics student Islam Mitat was a bright young woman with the world at her feet.
Aged 20, the pretty, fashion-obsessed brunette had been married for three months when her British husband, Ahmed, told her that he had a surprise for her.
He said he was applying for papers that would allow her to live in the UK.
Mitat was overjoyed. She couldn’t wait to start a new life with 25-year-old Ahmed, the polite, charming businessman she’d met on a dating website and who had visited her home in Morocco to ask her parents for her hand in marriage.
First, her husband explained, they would have to move to Turkey, where he had a new job that would keep things ticking over while they waited for the documents to arrive.
But what Mitat thought was her happy ever after turned out to be a journey into hell. Today, three years later, she is living in fear of her life.
There was no job. Nor was there any plan for the young couple to come to Britain. It was all a lie. Instead, Ahmed Khalil, who grew up near London, forced Mitat to accompany him to Syria, to the centre of the so-called Isis ‘caliphate’ — a medieval-style religious state run by the terror group — where he became a jihadist fighter.
Terrified and cut off from her friends and family, Mitat had no choice but to set up home alongside other ‘Isis brides’, many of them British, including the notorious ‘Terror Twins’ from Manchester, the ‘White Widow’ from Kent, and the schoolgirl runaways from Bethnal Green, East London.
When Ahmed was killed in battle, Mitat was forced to marry twice more, giving birth to two children in the jihadi heartland. Food was scarce; there was often no electricity or water; outside, she’d see the mutilated bodies of ‘traitors’ strung up in the town square.
Miraculously, Mitat, who’s now 23, managed to escape and is now caring for her children in a safe house in northern Syria. This week, she found the courage to speak to a Sunday Times reporter about what she’s been through, in the hope of helping British intelligence officials and getting herself and her children to safety in the UK.
Her first-hand stories of life under Isis make for chilling reading — our first glimpse of the day-to-day reality of life in the terror state.
From taking tea with the most wanted female terrorist in the world to brutal sex slavery in the family home, here is Mitat’s horrifying account …
TRICKED INTO LEAVING HOME
The daughter of a member of the Moroccan security services, Mitat grew up in Oujda in north-east Morocco. She dreamed of a career as a fashion designer and wanted to see the world, so went online to find a husband who would help her escape her drab existence.
She met Ahmed Khalil, who was born in Afghanistan but was a British citizen living in London, on Muslima.com, a marriage website used by 4.5 million Muslims worldwide. After a few late-night Skype conversations, Ahmed, accompanied by a woman he claimed was his sister, travelled to Morocco to meet Mitat’s family. He even had with him bank statements to prove his intentions were serious.
‘He was a normal person,’ Mitat told the Sunday Times. ‘I liked him. He was nice.’ She said he seemed kind and wasn’t strict like other Muslim men, even allowing her to continue wearing her trendy dresses, jeans and T-shirts (though this wasn’t to last).
In August 2014, he announced the plan to move to Turkey.
‘He told me: “I have a surprise for you, but I will give it to you in Turkey,”’ she explains.
On arrival in Istanbul, she was hustled onto another flight, to Gaziantep, on the border with Syria, and driven to a house filled with women and children. It was only there, by talking to the other women, that she learned Ahmed’s real plans.
‘I told him, all our time together is just lies,’ she says. ‘I just wanted to have a normal life with my husband and my kids.’
But Ahmed told her: ‘You are my wife and you have to obey me.’
She decided to ask a border officer for help, but that chance never came as Ahmed made her enter the country illegally. She found herself running as bullets fired by Turkish border guards whistled past her ears.
LODGING WITH TERROR TWINS
The couple settled in a guesthouse in the town of Jarablus in Syria, before moving into a house with Ahmed’s brother, Walid, who was also a jihadi fighter, and his wife Salma, who spent much of her time with her sister, Zahra.
Salma and Zahra Halane are better known in Britain as the ‘Terror Twins’ — academically-gifted sisters from Manchester who fled their family home in June 2014, aged just 16, having stolen £840 from their father.
In December 2013, Salma had been caught watching Isis propaganda at their sixth-form college, including images of a suicide vest and a boy with a machine-gun.
On the outside, though, they were ordinary teenagers. With 28 GCSEs between them, they had dreamed of becoming doctors, before being brainwashed online
The twins flew from Manchester to Turkey, where they posed with other runaways as a family on holiday, and later crossed the Syrian border. On arrival, one of them declared: ‘I am 16 years old and among the warriors of Isis.’
To Mitat, though, they were strangers. ‘Then I realised these are the famous people — they are on the news,’ she said.
Salma and Zahra taught Mitat — who had now been forced by Ahmed to abandon her modern clothes and wear a black polyester face veil — to speak English and helped her settle in.
Mitat recalls how their mother, Somali-born Khadra Jama, came to the house in November 2014 to try to convince her daughters to return. She was arrested by Isis, who locked her in prison for 40 days, before sending her home.
Mitat says the twins — now hardened terrorists toting Kalashnikov rifles — have no plans to leave. ‘They don’t look anything like the pictures you have of them,’ she says. ‘They’ve changed too much.’
MY NEW LIFE IN LITTLE BRITAIN
But the Halane sisters were far from the only British women living under Isis. Mitat says her daily life there was like a ‘Little Britain’, where UK-born fighters and jihadi brides would pop in for tea and exchange pleasantries, or share their delight in seeing their names and photographs in the news.
Her next-door neighbours were London-born Muslim convert Grace Dare and her Swedish husband, known as Abu Bakr.
Grace, who converted to Islam at the age of 18 and travelled to Syria in 2014, appeared in a Channel 4 documentary last year extolling the virtues of her newfound religion. ‘I’m not oppressed. Islam has made me free,’ she declared.
Grace is the mother of four-year-old Isa — nicknamed ‘Jihadi Junior’ after he was seen detonating a car bomb, killing four people, in a video uploaded to the internet last year. Wearing military fatigues, he also featured in a chilling execution video, saying: ‘We are going to kill the kaffir [non-believers] over there.’ Mitat recalls Isa playing in her living room.
Sally Jones, a former punk singer from Kent — now known as the ‘White Widow’ and one of the most wanted terrorists in the world — would come round for cups of tea.
Regular visitors, too, were the three straight A schoolgirls from Bethnal Green, in East London, who were photographed walking through Gatwick Airport in 2015, on their way to join Isis. One, Kadiza Sultana, whose wedding to a Swedish-Somali fighter Mitat attended, was killed in an air strike last year, aged just 17.
In an adjacent apartment block was Aqsa Mahmood, a Scottish-Pakistani from Glasgow, along with two extended British families who’d all given up their lives in the UK for a spartan and often perilous existence in the ‘caliphate’.
‘They all knew each other,’ Mitat says. ‘They all talked the whole time on their phones.’ As the region came under attack from anti-Isis forces, and the paradise many jihadi brides had envisaged began to crumble, the British-born women began to bicker — arguing over who was the most devout, or fighting over clothes.
I FEARED FOR THE SEX SLAVES
The Isis fighters believe it is their right to have two or more wives. Mitat says Salma Halane, one of the Manchester twins, clashed with her husband over his desire for a second wife.
Worse, she discovered that Yazidi women — from a Kurdish religious minority who were rounded up by Isis in Iraq — were being held as sex slaves and brutally raped by their captors.
‘One day, I saw a Yazidi woman and her son being beaten by her owner in Salma and Zahra’s house,’ she explains. ‘I went to her when he left and said: “Why is your husband beating you?”
‘She told me: “He is not my husband. I’m a slave.” I didn’t even know what that meant.’
Mitat tried to help the woman, Waheida, who’d been captured when Isis invaded her home town of Sinjar. The two of them became close friends.
‘I tried to buy her, but her owner said she cost £3,800,’ Mitat says. ‘I only had £1,500. He sold her to someone else.
Up to 7,000 Yazidi women are thought to have been abducted by Isis. Before being sold into slavery, they were subjected to brutal physical examinations to see whether or not they were virgins, and women found to be pregnant were forced to abort their babies.
They were sold via ‘adverts’ on Facebook and WhatsApp, where buyers watch videos of the women before agreeing a price.
Mitat says the wives hated the sex slaves, while the fighters thought they were ‘a bit of fun — to be played with and used’.
Nasser Muthana, a Cardiff medical student who fled to Syria in 2013, was known to own one.
WIDOWED AND TERRIFIED
Two months after arriving in Syria, in October 2014, Mitat’s husband was killed in battle. Six months later, she gave birth to Abdullah, their son.
He was born by Caesarean section — an extremely risky procedure in the basic hospitals run by Isis. It was only thanks to the kindness of a British nurse that Mitat regained her strength.
Banned from talking to ordinary Syrians, she was forced to move in with Salma, her sister-in-law. Life was unimaginably tough as the town descended into a war zone. She saw mutilated bodies hung up in the town square.
‘It was hard to see someone next to you killed. Blood and all of this — it was terrible,’ Mitat says.
It was certainly no place to bring up a child. Today, aged two, Abdullah is prone to panic attacks. ‘When he hears a plane, he runs to the bathroom to hide,’ she says.
Isis doesn’t permit women to be unmarried, so Mitat was forced to wed a German-Afghan fighter who banned her from leaving the house. She managed to convince the authorities to let them divorce, but couldn’t stay single for long.
Last year, she married again, this time to an Indian-Australian fighter, with whom she had a baby, Maria, now 10 months.
Food was hard to come by and power cuts grew longer. ‘It’s like you’re dead — it’s not life,’ says Mitat. She says she was ‘always scared, always hearing bombs’.
FINALLY, A DEATH DEFYING ESCAPE
Mitat’s new husband was sent by Isis to defend a nearby town, and died during a battle. Finally, she saw a chance to escape.
Keeping her husband’s death a secret, she sold her possessions and bought a car. She began talking about leaving her home for another Isis stronghold further east — a move that was being made by many foreigners who had flocked to Syria.
In March this year, with the help of a few trusted neighbours, she fled along with her Yazidi friend Waheida. Disguised as members of her neighbours’ family, going to a wedding, the women and children took a taxi out of the city.
Miraculously, they passed the Isis checkpoints without a second glance from the guards. After that came fields laced with mines: Mitat paid people-smugglers the remainder of her savings to escort them all across, knowing that any mistake could kill them.
Finally, they reached the lines of the anti-Isis troops. I was so happy,’ says Mitat. ‘Imagine. For three years, it was dark, like in a cave. Now it’s light.’
She says she’s been co-operating with British intelligence since her escape in the hope that her ex-husband’s nationality may mean the family can get UK passports.
Whatever happens next, she says, nothing will ever be the same ‘because my life is destroyed’.
And while Mitat has escaped, in barbaric ‘Little Britain’, thousands more like her continue to fight for their lives.
BETHNAL GREEN SCHOOL GIRLS
Kadiza was just 16 when she reached Syria in February 2015 after flying from Gatwick to Turkey with her 15-year-old friends Shamima Begum and Amira Abase.
The pupils from Bethnal Green Academy in East London, who were radicalised by ISIS propaganda on the internet, initially embraced their new life and agreed to marry jihadi fighters.
But Kadiza became disillusioned with life in the terror group's de-facto capital of Raqqa after her new husband died and told her family she was desperate to get back to Britain.
Her sister Halima Khanom said Kadiza had been killed by a Russian airstrike in May last year.
The three girls, who were all straight A students, were pictured by airport cameras before getting into a car in Turkey to cross the border into Syria. They were unprepared for the reality of life in a war zone and had little experience of living permanently veiled and under the strict regime. Little is known about Begum and Abase's wellbeing.