New York Times: In a new book released in Belgium on Thursday, a young Muslim woman who had been radicalized, claims there are hundreds of women in Antwerp alone who support the Islamic State and have pledged allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. The revelations come just two weeks after Belgian authorities announced they had arrested four ISIS-linked teenagers who were allegedly plotting terror attacks on crowded places in the city, which is Belgium’s second largest.
In the book, My Deliverance from Evil, which she wrote under the pseudonym of Intisar Umm Mansur, the 23-year-old mother of two describes her three-year-long radicalization process, which brought her to the brink of leaving for Syria and ended with a sudden wake-up call after the November attacks in Paris. Growing up in an open-minded Moroccan family in Antwerp, her parents never forced her to wear a headdress — but she did anyway, to show her support for the Palestinian cause. It was Belgium’s headscarf ban which started her radicalization process. “It felt like my identity had been taken away from me,” she told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. “I don’t understand that people see the headscarf as a form of oppression. That ban caused more harm than good. Without it, I would have finished school and gotten a diploma. I wouldn’t have kept myself away from the world, and maybe I wouldn’t have been radicalized.”
Through a friend at school, she became a member of Sharia4Belgium, an extremist organization infamous for recruiting young Belgian Muslims to fight in Syria (in 2015, a Belgian judge designated it as a terrorist organization and sentenced its leader, Fouad Belkacem, to 12 years in prison). “Sharia4Belgium is not the only reason so many people have left for Syria, but they definitely made it easier,” Umm Mansur told the newspaper. During this time, she had a photo of Osama Bin Laden by her bedside, and would watch hours of ISIS YouTube clips with friends. In 2012, while on vacation with her husband in Turkey (who did not share her beliefs) she decided she was ready to flee for Syria and started making arrangements through WhatsApp. Her husband discovered the messages and cut the trip short.
It wasn’t until the Paris attacks, however, that she fully saw the error of her ways. “I was shocked. I saw ISIS as an organization that wanted to free the Syrian people. But killing innocent people, that couldn’t be the real Islam. Something was wrong with them — and with me — if I would condone those actions.” About 1 in 4 people leaving Belgium to join the jihad in Syria are women, so Umm Mansur says she wrote the book (along with radicalization-expert Montasser AlDe’emeh) in the hopes of warning other women about the evils lurking inside the group. Among her Facebook friends, she still sees hundreds of young women expressing support for the terror group. “Everything ISIS does, they approve of. This mostly happens in their heads. Only a few have the intention to leave,” she told Het Nieuwsblad. “I want to take some distance now. There’s only three really close friends that are in Syria right now, whom I am still in touch with. It’s really hard for me to talk to them, and it’s definitely too late to bring them back around. They’ve completely adapted to their ideology. Return is now impossible.”