Scan through Umm Khattab’s social media profiles, and, at first glance, they don’t look much different than those of any other teenage girl. But look closer and intermixed with the emojis and lols are pictures of AK-47s and calls for violent acts of terrorism.
Umm Khattab, as she is known online, is one of a growing group of young women from western countries, who have left their lives behind to join the ranks of the terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).
“The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) estimates that as many as 15% of ISIS’ foreign recruits are women — possibly up to 200 women from at least 14 different countries,” as reported by CNN. “It’s not the first time for women in a jihadist conflict. But it is the first time they have been recruited in such large numbers.”
The role of a female ISIS recruit does not typically involve fighting. “The classic ‘mujahadiyah’ is in a supportive role — as a wife, mother, doing the house tasks for her jihadi male,” says Veryan Khan of TRAC, also on CNN.com.
Women are typically married to a jihadi male as quickly as possible after arriving to join ISIS. “That’s the process here. They don’t let a girl stay alone,” wrote, 20-year-old Asqa Mahmood, in a message to her family back home. Mahmood left her home in Glasgow, Scotland to join ISIS in 2013.
Mahmood was extremely active on social media under the moniker Umm Layth, praising the work of ISIS and encouraging other women to join her in Syria, until the Scottish Daily Mail revealed her true identity. She provided tips for potential jihadists and even a suggested packing list for women considering making the journey to join her in Syria.
Mahmood’s parents were shocked when they learned she had fled her home to join ISIS in Syria. In an interview with CNN, they described her as friendly and a loving daughter. They say she enjoyed listening to Coldplay and reading Harry Potter.
“We used to tell her … this is not Islam, some of these groups are not Islam. They are doing wrong things which we don’t approve of. Obviously, no Muslim approves this,” they told CNN.
It is believed that she was influenced by radical sermons she found online and by interacting with others on social media. She has ignored her parents’ pleas for her to come home and has said she would like to be a martyr.
“We don’t know what happened and how she changed so quickly. God knows why she is doing this,” they said. They hope she will come home but fear time is running out for their daughter.