Original article by Robert Verkaik, the Independent, 3 April 2019
The destruction of Isis as many problems as it has solved – none more so than the plight of dozens of British women who travelled to Syria and Iraq on the promise of marriage and a new life in the caliphate.
The latest is the case of Tooba Gondal, 25, a so-called “Isis matchmaker”, who helped stoke the trade in jihadi brides. Safe inside the terrorist stronghold, Gondal, a British resident in possession of a French passport, used social media to pour scorn on the West while also inviting like-minded young British Muslims to follow in her footsteps and travel to Syria to marry a brave fighter. She is one of the last few thousand recruits of Isis to fall into the hands of the Kurdish militias and Syrian Defence Force after the fall of Baghuz in northern Syria in recent weeks.
Today she strikes a penitent tone, pleading to return to the UK for a “normal life”.
Gondal told the Rojava Information Centre: “I feel British, but Britain refuses to take us. I know the British public, they are scared, they don’t want to deal with us, but they must deal with us.”
Her story is now a very familiar one and echoes that of Shamima Begum, the first of the so-called jihadi brides to put herself at the mercy of the British state.
No one knows how many more British women will emerge from the Isis diaspora. Official government figures suggest that fewer than 450 British citizens travelled to Syria to answer the call of Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But the real figure could be double this as so many slipped out of the UK outside the knowledge of the British security services.
Britain has responded harshly to the plight of the women who married foreign fighters and who now want to return. Sajid Javid, the home secretary, has revoked more than 100 passports, washing his hands of the problem. Government ministers have lined up to pander to popular opinion that condemns all those, including children, who once answered the call of the world’s most feared terror organisation. Those, like Gondal, who did more than dutifully serve their jihadi husbands, raise children and tend to a home will find it harder to defend their actions.
Isis relied on pliant Western propagandists to spread a message of hate against the West while corrupting the minds of vulnerable young people who sat at their computers hanging on every word of the call to jihad. Among the most notorious was Glasgow-born Aqsa Mahmood who is reported to have helped arrange travel and husbands for Shamima Begum and her two schoolfriends from Bethnal Green when they left for Syria in 2015. She instructed British women on the best routes to reach the caliphate and even offered advice on what to bring and wear, right down the thermal underwear for the cold Syrian winters.
The role of Sally Jones, a former punk rocker turned jihadi bride, was considered so critical to Islamist state that the Pentagon placed her on its “kill list”. Jones and her British husband, Junaid Hussain, set up social messaging services to urge British would-be recruits to carry out “lone wolf” attacks in the UK. Jones helped find suitable Western jihadi fighters to marry the young girls who made the perilous journey. Jones and Hussain were later killed in separate US drone strikes.
The legacy of this Isis recruitment industry and trade in brainwashed young women is one that the West is now failing to come to terms with. Britain has led the way in burying its head in the sand, refusing to even help the innocent British children of the caliphate. Isis matchmakers, recruiters, brides and children all face the same fate – which is largely determined by the Kurdish authorities who control the refugee camps in the region.
Ministers appear oblivious to the wider influence this iron fist approach will have on the further radicalisation of young Muslims in Britain as they watch the tragedy unfold. Few will agree with the decision to travel to Syria to support the revolution, but many more will understand the motives that drove young women, searching for a new life in a paradise caliphate, into the arms of the terrorists. When they look to their government for a humane response they find a merciless state playing to the public gallery.
Gestures of retributive punishment dressed up as acts of national self-protection store up trouble for the future. Britain had the chance to demonstrate the power of mercy, but has instead chosen to condemn all those touched by Isis.