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Female ISIL Recruits Surprised and Disappointed

They sign up for Hunger Games and get domestic drudgery and uber-control:

From Associated Press via Huffpost

PARIS (AP) — When three British schoolgirls trundled across the Syrian border; when a pregnant 14-year-old ran away from her Alpine home for the second time; when a sheltered girl from the south of France booked her first trip abroad — they were going to a place of no return.

Only two of the approximately 600 Western girls and young women who have joined extremists in Syria are known to have made it out of the war zone. By comparison, as many as 30 percent of the male foreign fighters have left or are on their way out, according to figures from European governments that monitor the returns.

In interviews, court documents and public records, The Associated Press has compiled a detailed picture of European girls and young women who join extremists such as the Islamic State group — a decision that is far more final than most may realize.

The girls are married off almost immediately, either in Turkey or just after crossing into Syria. With an estimated 20,000 foreign fighters — among them 5,000 Europeans — in Syria, there is no shortage of men looking for wives. That number is expected to double by the end of the year. Once among the jihadis, the women are not permitted to travel without a male chaperone or a group of other women and must remain fully covered outside, according to material published by Islamic State and researchers who follow the group. Otherwise, they risk a lashing or worse.

European women who blog about their lives under Islamic State tend to be chipper about the experience, but reading between the lines of an e-book of travel advice shows a life that will be radically circumscribed, with limited electricity, lack of even the most basic medicine, and practically no autonomy. Women do not fight, researchers say, despite the Hunger Games-like promises of recruiters.

“The lives of those teenage girls are very much controlled,” said Sara Khan, a British Muslim whose group Inspire campaigns against the dangers of extremist recruiters. “I don’t think that discussion ever comes up. It’s so romanticized, the idea of this utopia. I don’t even think those young girls have necessarily considered that there’s no way back now.”

The two exceptions to the rule of no return are perhaps most revealing in the very paucity of details about their journey — driving home how murky life is behind the Islamic State curtain.

Sterlina Petalo is a Dutch teenager who converted to Islam, and came to be known by the name Aicha. She traveled to Syria in 2014 to marry a Dutch jihadi fighter there and managed to return months later — apparently making her way to the border with Turkey, where her mother reportedly picked her up and brought her back to the Netherlands. Back home, she was immediately arrested on suspicion of joining a terror organization.

Her family, lawyers and prosecutors refuse to discuss the case. She was released from custody last November and has not been formally charged.

The second woman known to have made it out of the grip of Islamic State reconsidered after just a few weeks. The 25-year-old Briton, whom police have not named, had taken her toddler son all the way to Raqqa, the group’s stronghold, when she decided she had made a mistake and called home. She made her way back into Turkey and her father met her there. How she was able to travel the 250 kilometers (150 miles) from Raqqa to the Turkish border city of Gaziantep is not clear. Back in Britain, she was detained and is now free on bail pending formal charges.

Without knowing how the two escaped, it is difficult to say whether other girls and women could follow their path out of Syria, said Joana Cook, a researcher at King’s College London who studies the links between women and jihad.

“There are clearly many human smugglers working within Syria right now, helping Syrian civilians escape the violence, and I wonder if there is a similar, perhaps even growing market, for those trying to escape after joining ISIL,” Cook told The Associated Press in an email, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State group. “There is great disillusionment for many who have traveled to Syria to join ISIL and you’ll find many stories of those who went abroad noting ‘this isn’t what we signed up for.'”

The question is whether the girls understood from the beginning how limited their choices would be once they crossed the frontier.

The case of a 15-year-old Avignon girl exemplifies such doubts. The girl hid her second Facebook account and Islamic veil from her moderate Muslim family, thereby managing to join a jihadi network, according to the family’s lawyer. Once within a unit of the al-Qaida offshoot Nusra Front, she was not permitted to leave, according to her brother, who went into Syria to fetch her and was turned away by the extremists. A French boy who joined the group around the same time was allowed to go home.

“I think they understand the premise of that, but not that they understand it in reality,” said Melanie Smith, another researcher at King’s College ICSR.

The networks that bring the women into Syria are increasingly organized around the extremists’ dream of building a nation of multinational jihadis, meaning European girls are particularly prized. Each new Facebook post, each new cheerleading Twitter account — and they pop up by the hour — helps them subvert government efforts to prevent young people from radicalizing and leaving.

The doggedness of jihadi methods for recruiting girls can be seen in the case of Amelia, a 14-year-old girl from France’s Alpine Isere region.

Amelia was first contacted on Facebook by a French fighter on Jan. 14, 2014 and within a month agreed to go to Syria and marry the man, who identified himself as “Tony Toxiko.” After she was turned back by airport border police in Lyon on her first attempt, “Tony Toxiko” persuaded another French adolescent girl to join him in Syria.

Amelia, meanwhile, ran away from home to Belgium, where an imam performed a religious ceremony that wed her to a different man, an Algerian jihadi. She returned to France homesick and pregnant, just long enough to speak to investigators building a case against a middleman who helped her run away. This winter, Amelia managed to deceive her family and left again — making it to Syria with the Algerian fighter, who is more than twice her age.

“It’s particularly difficult for these families. For them, radicalization is happening on the Internet and outside the family sphere,” said Sebastien Pietrasanta, a French lawmaker working on a program to de-radicalize young people. “For a girl of 14, I believe we can clearly save her from herself and save her from these barbarians.”

A French journalist got dangerously close to jihadi recruitment methods by creating a fake Facebook account that attracted a marriage proposal from a fighter in Syria.

Under the pseudonym Melodie, the journalist shared a video on the account, almost immediately getting a message from a man identified as Bilel, who asked how she’d liked the montage of him showing off in a 4X4 and with his weapons.

“I passed myself off as a 20-something, not stupid but a little lost, who suddenly found a huge response from a man in Syria,” said the journalist, who wrote a book “In the Skin of a Jihadist” under a pseudonym.

Bilel’s doubts about her began to grow as her reluctance to join him became clear. She ended up getting threats that she said would likely frighten a bewildered young woman into submission. As it was, the journalist, who never met Bilal in person, remains under constant police protection a year later.

“We’ll find you, we have the best operators here, you don’t know what you’re getting into, you’re messing with a terrorist group, you and your family will pay,” the woman said, recounting the litany of threats she received after returning to France. “If they were speaking to a 20-year-old, it would be very hard for her.”

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Associated Press writer Mike Corder in Amsterdam contributed.

May 28, 2015 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Generational, Living Conditions, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Middle East, Political Issues, Social Issues, Women's Issues | , , | Leave a comment

ISIS Communication

Article from The Daily Beast

RUN SILENT
11.14.14

ISIS Keeps Getting Better at Dodging U.S. Spies
There’s a reason ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi has proven so hard to take out. He and his followers have become really good at keeping their communications covert.
On Thursday, around the same time ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi announced that he had survived a U.S. airstrike and promised in a recorded message to “erupt volcanos of jihad,” American officials were meeting to discuss just how hard it was to track the militant group.

Baghdadi and his followers have proven exceptionally difficult to track and kill because they’re encrypting their communications and taking steps to avoid being detected by U.S. surveillance, according to several current and former officials. Without American intelligence operatives on the ground in ISIS’s home base of Syria—and with only a limited number of surveillance planes in the air—those communications are one of the only surefire ways to keep tabs on ISIS.

In addition to encryption that American officials say has proven very difficult to crack, ISIS is also using a commercially available service that permanently deletes messages sent via the Internet, making them nearly impossible to intercept, according to an individual who was briefed on the issue Thursday. This person didn’t name the service, but one application ISIS has been known to use is called FireChat, which allows users to send messages to each other without connecting to the Internet.

U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials told The Daily Beast that ISIS has adjusted its communications patterns because it knows that the group is constantly being watched. Fighters have been taking extra precautions for months, but the length of time that it took the U.S. to target Baghdadi—six weeks after airstrikes began in Syria and more than three months after they began in Iraq—and the fact that he wasn’t killed in the attack suggests that ISIS is practicing tight controls on their communications, especially at the top of the organization.

“These guys have a level of discipline. They will enforce through the ranks not using cellphones,” said the individual who was briefed on ISIS counter-surveillance techniques. The group has also used couriers to convey some messages in order to avoid digital communications altogether.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel acknowledged that ISIS is ducking U.S. spies, particularly now that the military is bombing the group. “ISIL fighters have been forced to alter their tactics—maneuvering in smaller groups, hiding large equipment, and changing their communications methods,” Hagel said, using the government’s preferred acronym for the militant group.

A former U.S. official said that another factor has been complicating efforts to find ISIS members: the lack of combat troops on the ground to follow up on any leads collected by intelligence agencies or drones, which are monitoring the battlefield from the air. “When you literally have a force on the ground, you’re in a better position to take advantage of these communications,” the former official said.

In 2007, the National Security Agency tracked the computers and cellphones of members of al Qaeda in Iraq—ISIS’s predecessor—and then told ground forces where to find the fighters. That cycle of intelligence-gathering and capturing or killing fighters helped turn the tide of combat operations. But no such cycle exists now in Iraq or Syria.

“The easiest day of the air campaign against ISIS was the first day,” said Christopher Harmer, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War. U.S. pilots knew the locations of ISIS command and control facilities and storage depots, and to an extent the group was taken at least partially by surprise, since it didn’t know the precise time the strikes would begin. “Past that first day or two of easy targets, ISIS predictably dispersed into the civilian population. They quit using high-power radios, satellite and cellphones, starting moving to a dispersed command and control model,” Harmer said.

With ISIS proving an elusive target, the intelligence agencies have taken to monitoring communications of Assad regime officials to find out what they are saying about ISIS. The Wall Street Journal reported that intelligence analysts have treated the Assad communications cautiously, however, because private conversations among regime officials have proven difficult to verify.

“The easiest day of the air campaign against ISIS was the first day. Past that, ISIS predictably dispersed into the civilian population. They quit using high power radios, satellite and cell phones, starting moving to a dispersed command and control model.”

ISIS members may be harder to track, but on the flip side, persistent U.S. electronic surveillance, as well as overhead monitoring by drones, has constrained the group. “At the end of the day, an intelligence organization [conducting surveillance] forces two choices: Communicate and be at risk, or don’t communicate and fail to coordinate,” said the former U.S. official. “Should I encrypt my communications? Should I use onion routers? Should I use cut-outs?” Those would be the kind of questions this former official said he would ask if he were on the militants’ side.

Onion routers refers to the TOR network, a system that allows users to mask their location and communicate anonymously online. But the number of users connecting from Iraq is low, around 2,000, down from a high of more than 15,000 in June, according to the TOR Project, which helps with the ongoing development the system. Connections from Syria are also down, with only about 2,500 users are connecting from there, the group said. It’s unclear whether ISIS is using the routing system, which has also been used by Syrian rebel groups fighting to overthrow the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

ISIS isn’t new to the counter-surveillance game. But current and former officials debated whether disclosures by Edward Snowden about the massive reach of the NSA tipped the fighters off and led them to be more cautious when communicating with each other.

One U.S. intelligence official said ISIS has “likely learned a lot from recent unauthorized disclosures, and as many of their forces are familiar with the U.S. from their time in AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq], they have adapted well to avoiding detection.”

November 14, 2014 Posted by | Communication, Counter-terrorism, Political Issues | , | Leave a comment