As many as 10 British women and their children have left the extremists’ so-called caliphate in recent months and a couple have already made it back to the UK, according to both counter-terrorism sources and a former jihadi bride.
- Foreign women are also apparently fleeing after becoming disillusioned with the restrictions of life under Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (Isil).
Police and Home Office officials expect more women to arrive in the coming months, posing the question of what to do with them and their children.
More than 50 British women are estimated to have headed to Iraq and Syria in recent years. Some went out with their husbands and even children, but others travelled alone after being attracted by Isil social media recruiters portraying a jihadi bride’s life as a heady mix of romance, adventure and piety.
A combination of handout CCTV pictures received from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on February 23, 2015 shows (L-R) British teenagers Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum passing through security barriers at Gatwick Airport, south of London, on February 17, 2015
But as Isil has lost much of its territory against Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian rebel forces backed by international air strikes, and the extremist group has become increasingly isolated, brutal and paranoid, life has become more difficult.
One German Isil bride who left the jihadist group and is now living in a rebel-held area of northern Syria, told the Telegraph that she thought around 30-35 European women had left the caliphate since the beginning of the year.
“Dozens of the women have left Isil areas and tried to get to Turkey since the beginning of the year, including about five-10 Britons,” said the 28-year-old, using the name Umm Aisha to protect her identity.
She said most Isil wives and their young children are kept together in madhafas, or safe houses, away from their husbands.
“When your husband is dead, or the situation is dangerous, the women are brought to houses where they live all together.
- “It’s like being a chicken in a cage. Women are treated very badly, they are like slaves with no freedom to even leave the house."
Under Sharia law, women must observe a grieving period of at least four months and 10 days for their late husbands, but Umm Aisha said widows are being married off by Isil to another man in a little as a week.
“The men have become even more brutal recently as the caliphate collapses and they are losing territory,” she told the Telegraph by messaging service What’s App.
“I would say 35 per cent of those who leave are doing it because their husband is dead, the rest is a mixture of their husbands sending them away to safer places and just being disillusioned.”
She said Isil fighters caught sending their family outside of the caliphate are punished with either prison or execution.
Most of the women who manage to get as far as the Turkish border with Syria have made it through a number of battle lines and checkpoints, often with the help of smugglers who typically charge hundreds or thousands of pounds for the trip.
- Once in Turkey, some seek help from their embassy offices, where officials are deeply skeptical of their intentions.
Those returning face police questioning, but any decision to arrest people, charge them or keep them under surveillance is based on intelligence about what they did abroad, or any plotting they carried out before they left the UK.
One source said: “When we look at the risk these women pose, it’s all case by case, but we have to be aware of who they were married to.”