TTwo weeks after being rescued from alleged ISIS supporters at a camp in northern Syria, an adorable little girl born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, explained that she was all alone in the world and knew nothing of his parents.
“I only know that my mother is dead and my father is dead,” the daughter, Aminah, said with an American accent. Her little face is impenetrable, like a mask hiding the trauma of being the sole survivor of an aerial bombardment that killed her mother, two of her little brothers and another of her stepfather’s wives.
She has scars on her body after surviving this blast.
A researcher from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) met Amina for her first interview, some of the content of which was shared exclusively with The Daily Beast. The researcher has been authorized to speak to the child by the authorities of the Autonomous Administration of Northeastern Syria (AANES), who are caring for her while preparations are underway for her repatriation to the United States. United.
Among Aminah’s guardians is a young Kurdish woman to whom Aminah has already formed a strong attachment and to whom she confided about her recent traumas experienced among women still devoted to Daesh.
Ellie Hall of BuzzFeed News found out that Aminah had been rescued from Camp Roj, located in northeastern Syria, and alerted ICSVE. The rescue operation was launched after information received by ICSVE adviser and former ambassador Peter Galbraith, who has been working on the repatriation of ISIS family members for years. One of the women he is helping return to Canada told him that an American child languished in the camp, in the care of a group of women still loyal to ISIS.
BuzzFeed News reported that Aminah’s birth certificate shows that she is 8 years old, but the girl says she is 6, possibly demonstrating how the weather has clouded for her since 2014, when her mother, Ariel Bradley, an American citizen, traveled to join the ISIS so-called Caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Bradley’s Iraqi husband lived in Sweden before bringing the family with him to the Middle East to join ISIS.
At some point after that, Bradley remarried an Australian doctor. Aminah later fell into the care of one of her stepfather’s other wives, after her mother was killed in what was likely a coalition airstrike, according to BuzzFeed News.
Asked about her father-in-law’s wife, Aminah replies: “I don’t know her; she just takes care of me. Kurds, who are now caring for her, say Aminah has opened up in her new security to the Kurdish woman she trusts, telling her that her purported ISIS guardian had beaten and assaulted her . She also said that she was forced to clean the tent and take care of the woman’s son. An ISIS detainee, texting me from inside Camp Roj, said Aminah’s last guard was known to be with a group of much feared ISIS women still engaged in the camp. She had met Aminah before the camps, when Aminah was a toddler still living with her mother, and described the girl as sweet.
The Canadian who is currently repatriated said BuzzFeed that Aminah was hidden from the authorities in a niqab, a face covering that girls usually did not wear, so that no one would learn that she was not the real daughter of her last guardian and that she had the look “sickly and pale”.
Amina did not respond when asked if she could understand Arabic and clearly preferred to speak in English. She said she did not attend school in the camp, due to ISIS’s alleged mother-in-law’s efforts to hide the American child from Kurdish guards in the camps run by the Forces. Syrian Democrats (SDF) in northeastern Syria. On July 17, SDF soldiers attacked and removed Aminah safely from an enclave in Camp Roj. Such operations have been dangerous in the past, as ISIS women are often armed with kitchen knives, and many have been violent in the camps.
Earlier this year, another young Albanian girl whom ICSVE was working to repatriate from al Hol went into hiding rather than accepting the repatriation efforts. Another detainee said the girl was threatened by an ISIS agent inside the camp who said she would be killed before she could be rescued if she agreed to repatriation.
“These children have lost their parents and siblings in battles and bombings; they saw corpses; they were denied their basic rights to security and education, not to mention their legal rights.“
The SDF managed to save Aminah safely. According to American protocols, which have also been implemented in the Samantha el Hassani case–another case in which ICSVE fought for the repatriation of its four American children– the next step will be DNA tests to officially determine Aminah’s identity, followed by her repatriation to the United States
Unlike many other children, Aminah will return to the United States on her own – her two brothers (both born in Syria, one of Ariel’s two husbands) were killed alongside their mother. Once home, Aminah will likely be placed in the care of her maternal grandparents. There is some debate as to whether the parents of those who went to join ISIS would be the best guardians of these children, but grandparents generally have the legal right to claim their orphaned grandchildren.
While the United States has been praised for its proactive repatriation policy, many countries have been reluctant to repatriate even the youngest children men and women of Daesh. Their fears are many, including the possibility that the children were ideologically indoctrinated or trained to use weapons, as well as the potential legal difficulties if ISIS’s mothers and even fathers tried to use family unity policies. to follow their children home.
Still, experts strongly agree that leaving ISIS children in Syria is absolutely not the right thing to do. Like generals, said ambassadors and academics, leaving children in SDF camps puts them at increased risk of radicalization and future terrorist actions.
Aminah, for example, is clearly not a dangerous terrorist. She is fortunate to have been cared for by the anonymous Canadian and Ambassador Galbraith, who worked together to save her, and by her newly appointed Kurdish Guardian who lovingly watches her as the US government prepares for her repatriation.
Had she not been rescued, however, Aminah would have remained in hiding with her stepfather’s wife among staunch supporters of ISIS, where she would have continued to be exposed to instability, chaos and turmoil. brutality.
The longer it takes to be repatriated and rehabilitated, the more likely it is that children of ISIS parents will learn to hate, to believe that violence is the way to get what they want, to trust the people. demands of jihadist militants and to see their home country as having abandoned them. Some may even escape or be kicked out of the camps to serve ISIS as willing or unintentional attackers.
The father of the eldest of Samantha el Hassani’s children, Matthew, who was taken from Indiana to the United States to join ISIS by his ex-wife and new husband, told me he was nervous about helping bring his own son home. He wondered if Matthew would be equipped to overcome the grief of having been taken away from his now incarcerated mother, the ideological training he might have had, and the possible stigma he would face upon returning to the United States.
At the age of 9, the boy had been used as an ISIS propaganda tool by Samantha el Hassani’s new husband, who forced the child to train with automatic weapons in front of the camera and denounced the United States recently in the documentary film. Return of Daesh, Matthew now refers to his past life as a distant unreality that he gradually overcomes with the help of a loving father who takes him camping and fishing.
To get back on track, these young people will certainly need loving, caring and patient caregivers, who will guide them slowly and safely into a world that is completely foreign to them.
Aminah’s rescue was unique, but her case shouldn’t be. These children have lost their parents and siblings in battles and bombings; they saw corpses; they were denied their basic rights to security and education, not to mention their legal rights.
It was all done to them by and because of Daesh, but in 2021 their circumstances reflect not only the immorality and brutality of Daesh, but also those of countries and governments around the world that refuse to save them. The repatriation and rehabilitation of these children will be a challenge, but it is a challenge that cannot be ignored.