Quietly – almost secretly – Zehra Duman morphed from private school student to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) bride and online recruiter for the movement. Her family did not see it coming.
So when the 21-year-old Turkish-Australian gave up her middle-class life in Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city, for faraway Raqqa, ISIS movement’s center in war-ravaged Syria, the people who knew her were astonished.
“We did not notice any extremist tendencies in her behavior,” Saniye Coskundag, acting principal of Sirius College’s Keysborough campus, told The Associated Press.
“She’s been brainwashed, she wasn’t like this three or four months ago,” her father Davut Duman told Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper in an article published Dec. 28.
By then, Duman was wed to ISIS soldier Mahmoud Abdullatif, 23, who reportedly left his own Melbourne home last year. The couple announced their wedding online on Dec. 11, with a photograph of her dowry that included an assault rifle.
Now calling herself Zehra Abdullatif or Umm (“Mother”) Abdullatif, the Muslim fighter’s wife told her online followers her parents had no clue she would elope to ISIS.
“They were shocked, as I never have been public with my jihadi views. But also heartbroken, as my mum was very close to me … and she knows she will never see me again,” she said on her now suspended Ask.fm page, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
She has answered questions on social media for “wannabe jihadi brides,” and urged both men and women sympathizers who do not come to the Middle East to wage war at home.
“Kill Kuffar (non-believers) in alleyways, stab them and poison them. Poison your teachers. Go to haram (prohibited) restaurants and poison the food in large quantities,” she wrote on her Twitter account, which also has been suspended. The March 31 tweet was recorded by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a London-based think tank.
Australian security agencies have noticed an uptick in Australian women leaving for the Middle East to marry Islamic State fighters. Melanie Smith, a joint research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and ICSR who tracks more than 100 female migrants to ISIS online, says they are prized additions to the self-styled caliphate.
“You cannot build a state without women, because there are no children,” said Smith. Though ISIS doesn’t allow women a combat role, they are assured they will be honored as spouses of fighters and mothers of “cubs,” the next generation of Muslim combatants.
It is not clear how or when Duman first met her husband, who she said died five weeks after their wedding. She said online she entered Syria alone in late November and was given a “wali,” or guardian. She advised potential ISIS brides who follow her to travel with a “mahram,” a male chaperone such as a father or brother.
Her father told the Herald Sun that he had not given up hope: “We’re trying desperately, trying to bring our daughter home,” he said.
But when asked on Twitter what she missed about Australia, Duman’s reply on April 4 was simple and numeric: “0.”
For the latest news follow us on Twitter
Join our Weekly Newsletter