A Syrian woman has revealed how she left her old life and moved to Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), where she joined its all-female Al-Khansa’a brigade.
Khadija – not her real name – told CNN that she used to patrol the streets enforcing ISIS’s strict interpretation of Islam on women.
The brigade, comprising 25-30 members, would lash women for not adhering to “proper sharia clothing.”
Disillusioned with ISIS’s brutality, Khadija, 25, fled to Turkey, leaving her family behind in Syria.
A former elementary school teacher, she was brought up in a “not overly conservative” family that ensured she received an education.
When the revolution began, Khadija joined the masses in demanding the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad.
“We’d go out and demonstrate. The security services would chase us. We’d write on walls, have different outfits to change into,” she said. “Those days were great.”
However, when peaceful protests turned violent, Khadija began to lose her “soul” and “humanity” amid the “chaos.”
She added: “You want to tear yourself away, to find something to run to. My problem was I ran away to something uglier.”
Khadija met a Tunisian ISIS fighter online who gradually convinced her to join the group and assured her that its portrayal by the media was inaccurate.
“He’d say, ‘We’re going to properly implement Islam. Right now we’re in a state of war, a phase where we need to control the country, so we have to be harsh’.”
She persuaded her family to move to Raqqa by saying it would be easier to put her siblings back in school there.
A cousin who was living in Raqqa with her husband, who was with ISIS, told Khadija she could join the Al-Khansa’a brigade.
Life in ISIS
Her job satisfied her at first. She was paid $200 a month, received food and was trained in cleaning and firing weapons.
“I felt that I had authority in the streets but then I started to get scared, scared of my situation. I even started to be afraid of myself,” said Khadija.
Her image of ISIS changed after witnessing the treatment of women. “The foreign fighters are very brutal with women, even the ones they marry,” she said.
“There were cases where the wife had to be taken to the emergency ward because of the violence, the sexual violence.”
The breaking point for her was when her commander started pressuring her to marry an ISIS fighter. “After this, I decided no, I have to leave.”
Khadija left a few days before the U.S.- led coalition began its air strikes against ISIS. She was smuggled into Turkey, where the CNN interview took place.SHOW MORE