The Daesh “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria has vanished, the vast majority of its terrorists either killed or captured, and their threat largely neutralized. However, a new challenge has emerged — how should the international community deal with the women and children that the terrorists left behind?
Are these women innocent or guilty? Should they face the same consequences as their captured husbands, or be forgiven? And most important, how hard will it be for these women to be welcomed and reintegrated into their communities?
A documentary shown in May at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York featured a 26-year-old American-born woman of Yemeni descent who chose to be part of one of the bloodiest terrorist groups the world has seen.
In 2014, Hoda Muthana was a college student in Hoover, Alabama, when she decided to run away to join the enemies who wanted to destroy the country she was born in and kill the people she grew up with. As soon as she arrived in Syria, Muthana became active on Twitter under the name @UmmJihad, rejoiced in burning her US passport and urged other jihadists to spill American blood and carry out terrorist attacks against innocent people.
“America deserves everything it has coming to it, by Allah we will terrorize YOU! Until you submit to Shariah.” This is a sample of Muthana’s social media engagements while she was living in the promised Islamic state, where she was married to three Daesh fighters, all of whom were killed.
Since 2019, Muthana and her family have been trying to secure her return to the US with her two-year-old son, Adam, but she is barred from entering the country. According to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, despite having been born in the US, Muthana has no right to US citizenship because she is the daughter of a foreign diplomat.
In the Western world, however, even terrorists have lawyers to fight for them, whitewash their betrayal and crimes, and portray them as brainwashed innocent victims under the pretext of human rights — or, in the case of Muthana’s lawyer, Hassan Shibly, to blame the “racist mentality” of former President Donald Trump.
Shibly resigned in January from his post as executive director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), following allegations of domestic abuse and sexual exploitation of women. He has close ties to American Islamist politicians such as Minnesota’s Representative Ilhan Omar, and chose to attack the Trump administration as a tactic to bring his client back into the country.
However, Hoda Muthana’s case is not unique; thousands of women and children from more than 50 countries were left behind in camps in Syria and Iraq. These women are not innocent brides who were kidnapped from their homes and forced into sexual slavery. On the contrary, they chose to join this terrorist organization and do whatever it asked of them, including bearing children. They should face the consequences of their choices and be held accountable for their actions. They are terrorists and should be treated accordingly.
Since it is difficult to accurately record what crimes these women have committed and the extent of their radicalization, countries with reliable justice systems should allow them to return and be put on trial. Behind bars, they could go through therapy and rehabilitation programs to limit the threat of bringing back their radical ideologies and spreading them within their communities. Meanwhile, an international commission should be formed by the members of the global coalition to ensure that no female terrorists can run free and hide in countries with less strict rules when it comes to terrorism.
There is still a long road ahead, but we must always remember that these women were not “brides” —simply terrorists.