My Word: Jihadi brides and forgotten victims

Compassion should not override common sense.

August 16, 2019 01:20
Yazidi women attend a ceremony on International Women Day, March 8, at Lilash Temple in Iraqi Kurdis

Yazidi women attend a ceremony on International Women Day, March 8, at Lilash Temple in Iraqi Kurdistan to commemorate female ISIS victims.. (photo credit: ARI JALAL / REUTERS)

 I recently came across an email that had – aptly – ended up in my junk mail. The letter offered me the story of a former British soldier known as John Carney who has repeatedly entered Islamic State-held territory. “His mission? To save the young women who wanted to escape the caliphate and return to the West.”

I’m writing this column in reply. And – spoiler alert – no, I am not interested in the interview. 
Something’s missing from it. The story of the real victims. The Yazidis, Kurds, Christians, Turkmen and others.

Carney might be willing to risk life and limb to bring so-called jihadi brides back to their former countries, but the true victims are not the women who left their comfortable homes to participate in global jihad and then found out that they were on the uncomfortably losing side. Those who truly deserve to have their stories told are the countless faceless women and girls torn from their families and turned into ISIS sex slaves and the orphaned captured children. For that matter, the men of those communities that have been brutally wiped out also deserve our thoughts.

Compassion should not override common sense.

The issue of the jihadi brides has come up frequently in recent months, most memorably with the story of Shamima Begum. In 2015, the then-15-year-old British schoolgirl left her middle-class family, along with two friends, and traveled to Syria where she was quickly married off to a Dutch-born ISIS fighter. Earlier this year, she was found by journalists in a Kurdish-run camp, where she later gave birth to a baby, who died. Begum was unrepentant for anything she had seen or done – which reportedly included being part of a dreaded morality patrol and having sewn vests on suicide bombers so that they would detonate if removed – but she wanted to return home to the UK.

The thing is, neither Begum nor the Britain she left are the same. There is no guarantee that she has lost her ISIS sympathies even while gaining sympathy among some members of the public (the gullible ones). And Britain, rocked by a series of horrendous jihadist terrorist attacks, now knows better. The Christian principle of turning the other cheek offers no defense when facing an enemy who believes in beheading infidels.

Eighteen years ago, on September 11, al-Qaeda brought down the Twin Towers and declared war on the Western world. Islamic State grew out of the same Salafist roots and is proud to continue that war. Christian communities have been wiped out across the Middle East and – mostly out of media sight – in many parts of Africa. Surely the refugees from these communities – true refugees – deserve a chance in Europe and the West before those citizens who betrayed their home countries to fight for their adopted caliphate.

The jihadist movements’ victims include Muslims – Muslims who don’t agree with them; Muslims who are normal, moderate people who want to live normal, mainstream lives. These are also people who need help and sympathy. Bringing back hard-core ISIS members with a sob story is not the way to support the moral majority.

Carney has written a book about his experiences, Operation Jihadi Bride: My Covert Mission to Rescue Young Women from ISIS. I read an excerpt in the Mirror. It left me unconvinced. It tells of “Diana,” who “in a drastic bid to avoid an arranged marriage... gave up everything and traveled to Iraq to become one of a small band of British jihadi brides.” Diana, we’re told, had completed a university degree and “dreamed of a career with a humanitarian organization or the United Nations.”

“Drastic bid” must be the Mirror’s British understatement. Are we really meant to believe that the university graduate couldn’t think of anywhere in the entire world where she could get away from her parents other than war-torn territory in Iraq? Did she truly believe marriage to an unknown ISIS fighter would be preferable to marrying an older man in a Pakistani village? This was meant to help her escape her parents’ way of life and values?

According to the excerpt, Carney believes in his mission. Of the girls he saved, he says: “They didn’t need to be de-radicalized. They reviled Islamic State.... If counterterrorist officers understood that, they could learn from these girls. They could teach them how to turn others. They weren’t terrorists. They were potential assets.” 

Turning traitors into intelligence assets is done, but it’s a tricky – and risky – business. Just how many jihadi brides – women who literally made their beds – can be expected to now repent and reveal all their secrets?

When I served in the IDF, decades ago, we were taught that it is always preferable to capture terrorists alive rather than killing them. The reason is not only a moral one. It has a practical side. A captured terrorist can be interrogated and potentially provide valuable information that could lead to those further up the terrorist chain: the recruiters, the funders, the explosive experts, the masterminds.

As the so-called “lone wolves” began to operate more widely, this often became less relevant but nonetheless remains a consideration. 

There can be little consolation for the Sorek family, whose son Dvir was murdered last week, almost 19 years after his grandfather was killed by terrorists. Dvir, a sensitive and peaceful soul, was studying in a hesder yeshiva in Gush Etzion and although technically a soldier had not yet donned a uniform or done basic training.

His father, Yoav Sorek, a well-known journalist and writer, thanked the security forces for quickly catching the terrorists but regretted that they had been caught alive. It has become the added nightmare of most bereaved families that the killers of their loved ones will be released in some kind of prisoner exchange or political deal. If any comfort can be offered to the grieving Sorek family, it might come from knowing that intelligence gained from Dvir’s killers, at least one of whom is affiliated with Hamas, can help prevent other attacks.

We have seen what doesn’t work: making a deal with the devil.

Last week, 37 years after Palestinian terrorists killed six people as they dined at a kosher restaurant in Paris, it was reported that former head of the French intelligence service Yves Bonnet had admitted negotiating a secret deal with the perpetrators, the Abu Nidal movement.

According to Le Parisien, which broke the story on the August 9 anniversary of the attack, Bonnet said, “We had a sort of verbal deal telling them: ‘I want no more attacks on French soil. In return, I will let you come to France and guarantee nothing will happen to you....”

“And it worked,” said Bonnet. “There were no further attacks between the end of ’83, in ’84, and the end of 1985... afterwards, they carried out attacks in Italy, for example, but that did not concern me as long as there was nothing on French soil.” 

The French weren’t the only ones to have entered into similar pacts. In August 2012, Der Spiegel reported that for years the German government had an agreement with the PLO’s Black September – the group responsible for the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes and a German policeman at the 1972 Olympics. According to this understanding, the PLO would not commit terrorist attacks on German soil, in return for a political upgrade and not being prosecuted for the Munich attack.
According to The Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal, reporting at the time on Der Spiegel’s revelations, Germany reached a similar agreement with Hezbollah.

And in the mid-1970s, George H. W. Bush, as CIA director, invited Munich murderer Ali Hassan Salameh, the Red Prince, to Washington. Salameh reportedly offered protection to US citizens in Lebanon as part of the understanding that left him a free man.

Europe and the West learned the hard way that what started with Palestinian terrorism against Jewish and Israeli targets did not end there. It takes the global village to tackle global jihad. ISIS is not over, it is morphing into equally evil spin-offs.

That is why it is essential to share information and counterterrorism techniques of the sort that Israel, of necessity, has come to excel in.
Damn the jihadi brides; there are innocent victims who need saving from hell.

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