Danish woman faces jail time for traveling to MidEast to battle ISIS

Joanna Palani joined Kurdish forces in the front lines against ISIS, worked with a group to free children and women held by ISIS as sex-slaves, and trained young Kurdish girls to be soldiers.

December 19, 2016 18:00
2 minute read.

Two Kurdish Peshmerga pose for a photo at the frontline northwest of Mosul. Women fighters make up one-third of the Kurdistan Freedom Party’s forces. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)


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Joanna Palani, a 23-year-old Danish woman, spent a year of her life joining Kurdish forces in the front lines against ISIS, and claims to have worked with a group to free children and women held by ISIS as sex-slaves and to train young girls to be Kurdish soldiers, according to a report Monday by the Mirror.

Yet Palani has been taken into custody by Danish authorities and faces a possible six months in prison in a Copenhagen City Court trial for violating a Danish travel ban. According to the Mirror, Denmark has the authority to revoke the passports of any Danish citizen who plans to join any foreign conflict.

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Despite the fact that Denmark has been part of the US-led coalition that has supported Kurdish groups against ISIS, Palani's passport was seized when she flew to Doha, Qatar in June after briefly returning to Denmark from battle to visit her family.

Social media has reacted strongly to her arrest, with many speaking up in her defense.

Palani was born in a United Nations refugee camp in Gulf War Iraq and immigrated to Denmark as a toddler. She has Iranian-Kurdish heritage and is the daughter and granddaughter of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.


In May, Vice reported that Palani learned to shoot when she was just nine years old. "I love it," she told the site. "It is my life. It is very normal for Kurds to learn to use weapons like this."

Palani first fought for the People's Protection Unit in Syria, and then the Peshmerga, according to Vice. She said she went to "fight for the human rights of all people."

"ISIS fighters are very easy to kill," she said. "ISIS fighters are very good at sacrificing their own lives, but Assad's soldiers are very well trained and they are specialist killing machines."

Palani told Vice that she is dismayed to be stuck in Denmark as the fighting continues without her. "These small girls, the sex slaves, I can't as a human being - but especially as a Kurdish girl - I can't ignore them. I can't say I'm doing good in Denmark, so never mind what they are doing to these girls in Kurdistan... I would rather choose public justice than personal happiness. I would give my life for Europe, for democracy, for freedom and for women's rights. I feel like I have been betrayed by those who I was ready to sacrifice my life for."

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