Trinidadian ISIS bride regrets moving to Syria

In this March 31 photo, Gailon Lawson, from Trinidad and Tobago poses for a portrait at Al-Hol camp in Hassakeh province, Syria.

(Trinidad Guardian) A Trinidad & Tobago 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 Trinidad & Tobago 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 Trinidad & Tobago 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.

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