But glimpses into the inner workings of the group are fairly unusual, even in light of ISIS’s vast resources and global profile. A recent interview with a 25-year-old woman who was a member of ISIS’s religious police in Raqqa offers a glimpse into what it’s like to work within one of the world’s most notorious terror organisations.
On October 5th, CNN
interviewed a 25-year-old Syrian woman who had recently defected from Khansa’a brigade, an all-female ISIS division that enforces conservative social norms based on ISIS’s radical interpretation of Islam — for instance, the Khansa’a would sometimes lash women for not wearing “the proper sharia clothing.”
“Khadija” was an elementary school teacher before she convinced her family to move to Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria — she had met a Tunisian ISIS sympathizer, who spoke of marrying her, through social media.
“I got in touch with my cousin, and she said, ‘You can come join us in the Khansa’a Brigade.’ She was living in Raqqa with her husband who was with the Islamic State,” said Khadija.
Khadija rationalized her initial attraction to the group. She saw ISIS as an extension of the early waves of dissent that have welled in Syria since March of 2011, back when the country’s nascent uprising seemed like the latest chapter in the ongoing the Arab Spring, rather than the prelude to a horrific civil war.
Her Tunisian recruiter also emphasised how the group would eventually overthrow the hated regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. “He would say, ‘We are going to properly implement Islam. Right now we are in a state of war, a phase where we need to control the country, so we have to be harsh,'” Khadija told CNN.
She patrolled the streets, armed and pleased at first with the authority she held. But she grew disillusioned with the group’s cruelty.
“There were cases where the wife had to be taken to the emergency ward because of the violence, the sexual violence,” she said in reference to foreign fighters specifically. She also witnessed a man’s beheading.
“I said enough, after everything I had already seen and all the times I had stayed silent,” Khadija said to CNN.
The interview is especially valuable in exposing the blurred lines that run through the power vacuum in Syria. At one point, it seems, ISIS was able to harness the energies of a disappointed revolution and convince some beleaguered Syrian that the Islamic State was a viable manifestation of Syria’s anti-government struggle.
But Khadija shows how that can backfire — and how ISIS’s tactics are so brutal that they’re capable of alienating even a once-loyal foot soldier.
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