BERLIN — Sonya* disappeared during the fall school vacation in the German state of Baden-Württemberg. The 16-year-old high school student, the daughter of an Algerian and a German, left her family’s house in Konstanz and never returned.
Sonya’s parents called the police fearing the worst. Had their daughter been kidnapped? Was she possibly the victim of some other crime? Neither turned out to be the case: Sonya had left Konstanz to fulfill a dream — to become the wife of an Islamic “holy warrior.”
The young Muslim girl had packed her bag and headed for Stuttgart. At the airport, she presented a phony parental letter of authorization that gave the under-age girl permission to travel alone. Then she boarded the plane and flew to Turkey. From there, Sonya is believed to have headed for Syria.
Via Facebook, the teenager had been in contact with German Islamists in Syria who urged her to leave school and join the jihad against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Their propaganda apparently radicalized her so much that she decided to migrate to the war-torn area, leaving behind baffled parents who feared for their daughter’s life.
Sonya’s case confirms a trend that Germany’s inland security forces are currently monitoring. Muslim women and girls are increasingly traveling from Germany to Syria, inspired by the wish to join the “Holy War,” marry a jihadist and become the widow of a martyr.
According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), some 300 Islamists have already left Germany. Among them at least 20 women acting on their “own jihadist motivations” — as Germany’s domestic intelligence service describes it — have sought their way to Syria.
At first glance this may seem surprising, because the concept of jihad is pretty much regarded as a male domain. But experts say that has been changing for some time now. Women are increasingly taking on important roles in the radical Islamist scene, particularly in the areas of propaganda, fund-raising, logistics and networking.
And today’s radicals of the fairer sex often emulate female role models from early Islamic times — Aisha, for example, the Prophet Mohammed’s youngest wife, who is said to have accompanied warriors astride a camel into battle in what is present-day Iraq in 656 AD. Many Islamist women today obviously believe this image of the fighting Muslim woman, the “mujahida” (holy female warrior), is considered worthy of imitation.
“Islamist women see themselves in the role of supporters,” a BfV agent explains. “They support the men’s fight morally and with propaganda work. They urge them on and sometimes also have a radical effect. They’re almost like jihad cheerleaders.”
Just how active women are within the radical Islamist scene is clear from the Internet. Within the anonymous forums, blogs and social networks, there’s a kind of “jihadist emancipation” going on. Here, Islamist women discuss, comment and act often as men’s equals. “We’ve noticed that some of the women have a profound knowledge of theology,” the BfV agent confirms. “They frequently know more parts of the Koran and more of the utterances of the prophets than most men. They know exactly what’s allowed and what isn’t.”
On Facebook and various Islamist Internet forums, meanwhile, several German-language women’s groups have been created. Here, intense discussions revolve around emigration and jihad, and the role of Muslim women. “Nowadays most men aren’t real men. They hold back from practicing jihad and instead sit on the sofa watching TV,” a woman writes on one of these Facebook pages. “The result is that women are increasingly becoming more masculine in that they are taking over the duties of their husbands.”
Women consider those men who did find their way into battle, and were eventually killed, heroes. “He was a lion of this ummah community!” one woman wrote about a terrorist killed in Syria. “Where are the lions to follow in his path? Where are the real men?”
Perhaps German Islamist women — either at their husbands’ side, or on their own — are making the trip to war zones because there is so little approval and moral support from elsewhere. In accordance with the rules of the Koran, their hope is for a life in a Muslim country as the wife of a “holy warrior.”
“In conservative Muslim tradition, a woman shouldn’t actually be traveling unaccompanied by a husband or male relative,” the BfV agent explains. “But now there are scholars whose interpretation of the Koran makes it acceptable for a woman to travel alone when jihad is at stake.”
Targeting women with German passports
And they are. Just like Sonya from Konstanz, some 20 other Islamist women once living in Germany have gone on jihad — one of them published regular daily entries from Syria on her blog last year.
In the blog, she was philosophical about the alleged oppression of Muslims in Europe, and about the 9/11 terror attacks. “And now I’m here. In the land of jihad, the land of honor, in Syria,” the anonymous woman wrote. “I am the wife of a mujahid.”
The woman goes on to write that the feeling of being in Syria is indescribable. “I can finally be free, wear my niqab face veil as I want to without being made fun of. If I feel like it, I wear a further two or three niqabs. Nobody can do anything to me here.”
This is kitschy jihad romanticism addressed to Muslim women who have stayed in Germany. Yet the idea of an ideal Muslim life under Sharia law is appealing to many Muslim women. Some of them openly seek jihadists to marry on the social networks, and online mail-order marriage agencies have started to crop up.
“Jihad marriages” is how the BfV characterizes these unions. “We’re even seeing marriages being arranged on Facebook,” says one analyst at the inland intelligence service. It’s a phenomenon that worries the intelligence community because there is the possibility that it is a targeted strategy on the part of Islamic terror groups — jihadists with no previous access to Germany acquiring wives with German passports. “Pregnant, the woman may return to Germany. And then at some point there’s a family reunion,” says a BfV agent. “That’s when the husband, a jihadist with fighting experience, turns up in Germany.”
To avoid such scenarios, the police and intelligence service have adopted a policy of direct communication. If there are indications that somebody is planning a trip to Syria, that person is contacted so that they know they are on the police radar and that their travel is being monitored. And it is made clear to the person that supporting a terrorist organization in Syria is a criminal offence in Germany.
The tactic is in many cases extremely successful. But the Islamic scene continues to recruit intensively for Syria. Fund-raisers across Germany collect money for Syria, and the BfV agents suspect that much of what’s collected goes to support Syrian rebels.
There is another such event soon happening at a Berlin mosque — “for women only.”
*Not her real name.
Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.
[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.
• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.
• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.
• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.
• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.
• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.
• Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials
.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."
— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.
📈💥 IN OTHER NEWS
Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians
The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:
⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.
☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.
🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.
Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com
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