ISIS cells in America & Europe ready to launch Third World War - terrorism expert

Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) has been calling in recruits from all across the globe – and it’s not just men who answer. Young women come to IS to join the jihad, to be sex slaves for terrorists – or to commit terror attacks themselves. What lures girls into a life of fanaticism and violence? And how does desperation drive one into donning a belt with explosives? We pose these questions to a criminologist and terrorism expert, a reserve lieutenant colonel of the Israeli Army and a recently elected member of the Knesset. Dr Anat Berko is on SophieCo today.

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Sophie Shevardnadze: Dr. Anat Berko, criminologist, terrorism psychology expert, lieutenant-colonel of Israeli Army in reserve and a recently-elected member of Israeli Knesset – welcome to the show, it’s really great to have you with us today. 

Dr Anat Berko:  Great to be with you Sophie, and shalom! 

SS:Shalom, shalom! So, a 19 year old Russian girl was recently detained on a Turkish-Syrian border, suspected of having been recruited by Islamic State after falling in love with terrorist. Tell me something, how exactly does one fall in love with jihadist?

Dr. AB: You know, it’s a very painful thing, because those girls dream about relationship, about marriage and they come to join jihad and ISIS also promises them to set for them a groom, a nice groom and at the same time, they want to escape from home: sometimes it’s a very patriarchal, abusive family and they feel the freedom to choose who will be the husband and how to conduct their life, and in this way they find a way from Colorado, from Russia, from Paris, from other places on the globe, and come to join the terrorists of ISIS. This is very painful, because after that there’s no way back.

SS: We’re going to talk a bit about that, but first I want to talk about what really drives them to join ISIS as little girls… So you feel like that these girls come from very conventional and strict families, and escaping to ISIS is just their way to get intimate with a man, so basically, with a sexual context there, right?

Dr. AB: No, it’s not just sexual contact… it’s a contact, it’s to be able to choose your husband – but it’s not for real. From my experience with Palestinian terrorists, female suicide bombers that failed and other females in terror, the oppressive house was part of that, and sometimes they told me that they felt much more freedom, when they went and mixed with boys, the opposite sex, and sometimes this, actually, in this society, especially in the Muslim society, is considered taboo – so they feel like they are going to have romantic relationship and they are going to have fun and thrill and adventures with “the warriors”, as they call them, of ISIS, but it’s not true. Many times, they become slaves, sex slaves, slaves in general..

SS: I’m still trying to figure out the motives of these girls to leave, because not everyone comes from an oppressive family – for instance, the girl that I mentioned in the beginning , Russian 19 year old, she comes from a very good family, very loving, educated family.

Dr. AB: In this young age, many of youth are actually rebelling against their parents, their family, and instead of going to Woodstock or other places, this is the trend right now – and you see that ISIS calls them and claim that they will set for them a house, a groom and things like that. They will set marriage for them, they will get a special place to live, and they join this trend as something that…they feel that they are going to something better than they have right now and also they are looking for the meaning of life, sort of…

SS: Dr. Berko, it is so easy, also, to find out what really is behind ISIS – getting in touch with them, with jihadists online is easy, but so is finding about life under Islamic State. You talk about idealizing ISIS, but it’s also all out there, things such as getting married at the age of 9, always being accompanied by a man, punished for the slightest violation of dress code or raped, abused, sold into slavery – I mean, this is all out there, this is information that you can read about, and this is real. What’s so attractive about that?

Dr. AB: In the Internet all the chats that seduce little girls to come, and to do, and promises… I met with one female terrorist and she told me that she was recruited by her lover, her lover from Kuwait; and I asked her, “did you meet with him?” – She said: “No, never in my life” – “But you call him “my lover!” – and she was 19 year old and she was a student, she was fluent in Hebrew, Arabic and English – but she called this guy her lover!

SS: Are they always very young in age?

Dr. AB: Yes. Sometimes, as you said, young. Also, it is something that we see, the trend is for young. Some ISIS recruited professional people and asked them to join ISIS and they will pay them a lot of money, because they need doctors, they need engineers, they need teachers – and they offer them a job, and they also opened, not a medrese, but such a university for a medical doctors. So, people will try to find an opportunities, get money, and job – they do not think completely that it’s just one way-direction, that they wouldn’t be able to change their mind, that it’s very dangerous. They think that the guy who communicates with them, who recruited them, will be there and will support them and sometimes it’s a smooth operator, they know many languages, and it’s easy to do that. 

SS: Talk to me about the guy on the other side – I am talking about terrorist. They are trying to attract young girls from all over the world. Why do they need girls from Britain and Germany and Russians? Why do they need this international pool of jihadi wives? Why just not have whatever is around them?

Dr. AB: I call this “shahada-mania”. It’s the obsession way to carry out jihad. We saw women who wanted to offer themselves, physically, just as part of jihad. So those people, looking all over the globe, also seek to find women who can translate materials, have them – and also this is so-called “moral justification” that ISIS looks for to promote those jihadi ideas, this ideology that is not less dangerous that ISIS on the ground, because we don’t have any borders for these jihadi ideas. You cannot stop those jihadi ideas. 

SS: You need to explain to me, how does the whole travelling logistics happen? Because these little girls, and we said that they are very little, very young, some of them much younger than 19 years old – they travel from Austria and France and all over the world to these ISIS-controlled territories – but how does that happen logistically? Who are these people helping girls travel, get across the border, meet their jihadi princes – is there any way they could even come back? And how do they get there, technically? How does that happen?

Dr. AB: It’s very difficult. You have there, in ISIS, they call it Khansa Batallion… Speaking about the VII century, the women, the poetry… She said that she transformed from “Jahiliyyah” period of time, ignorant, and became to be very observant Muslim. This is the role model. And when you see little girls travelling - for us, in the West, it’s very natural to see young women travelling and flying. And I think that because of that, you could see women, three girls in the age of 15, travelling and stopped in Germany because they were on their way to Syria. Some of them are coming through Turkey and past the borders from Turkey. Now, I think it is not so easy like it was before. But we still see this phenomenon of travelling, of jihad tourism, of young people, males and females who would like to join and to be part of something very big in their eyes. And they think that it’s very big. It is the Third World War and nobody paid attention to that something very big is happening. It’s not just in the Middle East, because you have a lot of cells in Europe, in America and I think that we will see that. I doesn’t have to be a mega-terror like September 11, but saw what happened there in Paris, and I think that we will see more and more, because the ideas are flying. The ideology is in the air. It’s not just to physically join ISIS and to be part of the war there. This is where the real danger real is.

SS:You have spoken to female terrorists, potential suicide bombers – tell me something, do they seem completely sane to you? Do these women know and understand what is it that they are doing?

Dr. AB: You know, Sophie, I call these women in my book that’s published in English, “The Smarter Bomb”, because the trend is women and children – and we saw that in Iraq, in Afghanistan. Here, in Israel, women – it’s very effective, because we see all the security checks and sometimes there are checkpoints or airport checkups. Women, people do not check physically and the perception is that the women cannot be a terrorist: she is a mother, she is a sister, she is wife, but she wouldn’t be terrorist. And this is something that terrorist organization will rely on. I think you know that very well from the Chechen Black Widows and we saw women with explosive belts in Beslan and in the theater in Moscow, and we know that it’s very effective, because sometimes in Israel, Palestinian women put explosive belts on their stomachs and pretend to be pregnant – and who will stop a pregnant woman or tell her: “Take off your clothes, I would like to check if you’re not a suicide bomber”? 

SS:Tell me something, from your experience, are women and girls pressured into committing terror acts or is it an act of free will? 

Dr. AB: No, I think that, from my experience, and it’s a first-hand research, more than 20 years face to face with terrorists and leaders from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other organizations…in this society, there is no pardon for a woman who actually took the wrong path and communicated with opposite sex without being married – and sometimes they found this way to escape from forced marriage, from abusive house. Sometimes, they set marriage with old guy for them and they wanted just to escape from that and they come to the border with Israel with a knife and even don’t’ try to stab the soldier, just throw the knife and said: “Oh, just take me away from here! Give me a shelter; I don’t want to kill anybody”

SS: How does a girl go from just being an unhappy person to a terrorist? Okay, I understand, there’s, let’s say, a girl who is dishonored and she can’t marry or she’s forced into a marriage, like you’ve said, she doesn’t fit into society – but still, it’s quite a stretch from being miserable to becoming a terrorist… Does someone just walk up to her and say: “Hey, why not become a suicide bomber?”

Dr. AB: Because, Sophie, it’s another way of thinking. We, in the West, think in a different way. Sometimes it doesn’t start with somebody telling her: “Oh, would you like to go and be a shahida, a female martyr?” No! It starts with “Come, take some training, meet with the people” and after that they push her to do that. I met with a girl who told me: “I just wanted to have fun and thrill and adventures and meet with opposite sex, I didn’t intend to go and be a shahida. But after that they told me, “you have met with us, you know us” – and I couldn’t do anything! I started screaming and crying and I wanted to speak with my family - and nobody let me do that, and they pushed me to do a suicide attack” – and the IDF soldiers stopped her and other two boys on their way to the target. So, sometimes, there’s no intention in advance to be a shahida, to be a female martyr, but after that they don’t have any choice, because they push them to do so. She told me: “I almost fainted, I told the guy, the dispatcher that if I only knew that I’m going to do so, I would’ve been much more observant Muslim, I wouldn’t listen to music, I wouldn’t watch TV, I would prepare myself, but I didn’t want to do so”. 

SS: But, agree that not everyone is stripped of choice, there are some suicide bombers who do it for ideology – and I don’t only mean girls but men as well. So, in your experience, what makes a suicide bomber do what he does? Do men really believe in dozens of virgins they’ll supposedly get to enjoy after they sacrifice themselves for God? I mean, this is an eternal question that I’m trying to figure out, because some Islamic scholars say that is a complete nonsense and others say “no, actually it’s true”?

Dr. AB: From my experience, it’s a very tangible idea, but for the girls, she wouldn’t get 72 male virgins.

SS: So what does the girl get as well?

Dr. AB: She’ll be one of the virgins.

SS: Ahhh.

Dr. AB: Eternal virginity. She’ll sit in the face of Allah, she’ll be able to see the face of the Prophet, she’ll meet with other shahid, she’ll have… it’s very interesting, because it’s very different from male’s shahids. Why? Because she said she will eat, but she wouldn’t give birth in Paradise. She wouldn’t be a mother, because she is very tired from that – because sometimes they have a lot of children; and she would be able to choose her husband, and she’ll be a virgin forever, eternal virginity – so, in a society that virginity means much more than life, it is also a big big issue. The other thing that one woman told me, that her husband used to beat her – and she said that “He’ll go to Hell, and I’ll go to Paradise, and then I can choose my husband” – because many times, the Sheikhs, they are saying: “You’ll meet your husband in Paradise”. I would like to add something: there is motif of revenge sometimes, there is motif of hatred, of nationality or things like that, and there’s a conflict of cultures between the East and the West, between the Arabs, the Muslim world and the West. Especially, it’s very interesting to see youth speaking how they are going to get in Paradise. They are saying that everything is forbidden in this world they will get in Paradise.

SS: That’s my next question, and it’s kind of a tricky question – but hear me out. So, those who blow themselves up – do they really die for a Sharia state in this life or is it a promise of an afterlife that they are after? 

Dr. AB: Sophie, that’s an excellent question, because they live and think that they are going to have the alternative life in afterlife. They are picturing – and they told me – the posters and the songs that everybody will sing about them, demanding the honor that the family will get for them, but they cause a lot of sorrow to those families, because nobody raises his child to do so. Bin Laden didn’t send his own children to blow themselves up when he sent others to carry out September 11. Even Hamas leaders didn’t send their own children and other terrorist leaders do not send their own children to blow themselves up. So, if it is so good – why they don’t send their own children? And mother of shahids, of “martyrs”, ask me this question. They said: “We know, that these terrorists send their own children to have the best education in the West, where the tuition is so high - and we pay the price in money and pay the price personally when they recruit our children without our permission” - especially, it is very sensitive when we are speaking about the girls – “and send them to carry out terror attacks, to blow themselves up and do things like that”. This is the main issue. We see here abuse of this youth, abuse of these children.

SS: So, Boko Haram used three little girls as suicide bombers and they went unnoticed by security guards because of their age and gender; like you’ve said, you know, some of the HAMAS people, they actually use women with a belts on their stomachs, so that they pretend that they are pregnant and no one’s going to stop a pregnant woman…  So is it easier also to use children for such a task? And do recruiters actually ask for the family’s consent? What has to happen to a family so that they actually give their children to terrorists? I mean, you’ve said many times that no families are actually willing to give their child…

Dr. AB: Families do not give their children, Sophie…

SS:  Ever?

Dr. AB: Ever, ever, ever! Let’s say that I met so many terrorists, the family didn’t give - sometimes it’s pushed to do that, Boko Haram kidnapped those little girls, and abused them – and we know that Boko Haram kidnapped so many girls in school and they use them as sex slaves, sell them and use them as suicide bombers. Nobody takes his own baby and gives him as a present to terrorists to blow him up. It’s bizarre and unnatural and it’s not usual thing. Perhaps, you’ll find something, but this is not… I cannot say that this is a phenomenon in general. But, the use of children, in my point of view, women and children are in the same basket. They use them together, they abuse them together. Because, even to take a little child by ISIS and ask him to behead someone – it’s abuse of this child, and changing him, creating from him a murderer! Actually, because the child in his moral judgement, the whole developing of his moral judgement is part of growing up, to become adult – and if he is a child, he doesn’t really understand what he is doing. He is not really responsible for killing person… This is something that we see, and they know that, so this is brainwashing. I call this phenomenon as “duda” in Arabic, which means “the worm that is digging inside the mind”. It’s the same process like drug addicts who actually think about their next fix and get drugs. This is the way how they think and this is the way they educate children. I met with a female suicide bomber who told me that her nephew started to speak with her about becoming a shahid. He was three years old. I tried to say: “No, you don’t have to go in this direction”. She told me “I thought that I don’t want that this part will be inside him, because if he’ll go in this direction, there is no way back”.

SS: Doctor Berko, thank you so much for this wonderful insight and for this interview. We were talking to Dr. Anat Berko, criminologist, terrorism psychology expert, discussing how women are pushed onto the path of extremism, and what happens to them once they join the violent jihad. That’s it for this edition of Sophie&Co, I’ll see you next time.