A T&T woman who married an ISIS fighter in 2014, said she regretted her decision even before she arrived in Syria with her new husband and her then 12-year-old son.
Gailon Lawson was among four foreign women interviewed by the Associated Press (AP).
She is among tens of thousands of ISIS family members, mostly women and children, who are currently crammed into squalid camps overseen by the US-backed Kurdish-led forces who spearheaded the fight against the extremist group. She is at the Al-Hol internment camp in north-eastern Syria.
Lawson, 45, said she began to regret her decision even before she reached the “caliphate.” The night she crossed into Syria in 2014, people had to dash across in the darkness to evade Turkish border guards.
“I saw people running, and that’s when I realised it was a mistake,” she said.
At the time she was a recent convert to Islam who had become the second wife of a man, also a T&T national, who apparently had been radicalised. Days after they married, they travelled to Syria.
“I just followed my husband,” she said.
They divorced not long after arriving. Lawson’s biggest concern over the next few years was keeping her son from being enlisted as a fighter. He was arrested three times by ISIS for refusing conscription, she said.
During the siege at Baghouz, one of the last ISIS holdouts in Syria, Lawson dressed her son as a woman in robes and a veil, and they slipped out. However, Kurdish security forces detained her son. Lawson has not heard from him in a month.
Lawson and the other women interviewed by AP said misguided religious faith, naivety, a search for something to believe in or youthful rebellion led them to travel across the world to join ISIS.
They all said joining ISIS was a disastrous mistake and insisted they had not been active members and had no role in the terrorist group’s atrocities.
Al-Hol is home to 73,000 people who streamed out of the Islamic State group’s last pockets, including the village of Baghouz, the final site to fall to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in March. Nearly the entire population of the camp is women or children since most men were taken for screening by the SDF to determine if they were fighters. Around 11,000 people are held in the foreign section of Al-Hol.
The women interviewed by the AP said they were deceived by ISIS’s promises of an ideal state ruled by Islamic law promoting justice and righteous living. Instead, they said their lives became a hell, with restrictions, punishments and imprisonment.
This country has gained a reputation in recent years as being a source of jihadists eager to join ISIS.
A US State Department report describes this country as having “the highest per capita rate of ISIS recruitment in the western hemisphere.”
It is estimated that about eight families—including about 70 men and dozens of children and women—left this country to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq between 2014 and 2016.
According to intelligence reports, some of them used bogus documents to travel to Syria.
The Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Act is one of the tools being used to detect, prevent and prosecute terrorism and the financing of terrorism.
In addition to using that law to track and monitor foreign terrorist fighters from this country, local authorities have been sharing intelligence with the US, UK and Israel in an effort to detect any locally grown jihadist who might try to slip back into T&T undetected.
Among the nationals known to have returned were a family picked up from a Turkish refugee camp after they tried and failed to reach ISIS-held territory. Authorities have reportedly been keeping them under close surveillance.
In addition, two boys who were taken to Syria by their father, an ISIS fighter, were reunited with their mother earlier this year.