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'I Was Prepared To Blow Myself Up,' Says Kyrgyz Woman Detained En Route To IS

  • Joanna Paraszczuk

A Kyrgyz woman said she was ready to serve as a suicide bomber for the Islamic State in Syria. (illustrative photo)

A Kyrgyz woman said she was ready to serve as a suicide bomber for the Islamic State in Syria. (illustrative photo)

A 25-year-old Kyrgyz woman stopped in Moscow as she planned to fly to Istanbul to join the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria has said she had been prepared to "blow herself up in a war zone."

The woman was named by the Kyrgyz authorities only as "Hamida M," though that is a pseudonym, according to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

She left her two children and husband behind in their village in Chuy province in northern Kyrgyzstan, and set off for the Russian capital to meet a militant who would take her to Syria.

But Hamida never reached IS.

She was detained at Domodedovo airport on June 25, according a June 29 statement by Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry.

Radicalization & Recruitment

Hamida began to become more religious four years ago, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said.

Through the Internet, she began to become acquainted with "various types of religious movements" the Ministry said, without providing details.

Hamida chatted to people on Skype and WhatsApp, and became active on the Odnoklassniki social network.

Regardless of who Hamida talked to online, her first encounter with IS was very recent.

In early March, she spoke to a Tajik man called Khattab who contacted her on Odnoklassniki to say he was from IS.

After chatting to Hamida, Khattab said she should undertake "hijra" or immigration to IS-controlled territories.

Muslim women did not need permission from their husbands to do so, he said.

Khattab offered to help obtain a new passport for Hamida. He said she would be safe in Syria and that she would not have to take part in any fighting.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service in Moscow after she had been detained, Hamida said her recruiters also sent her photos of the Koran through WhatsApp. (The Kyrgyz Service, or Radio Azattyk, used a different pseudonym for the woman, Shahida, in its published interview).

"Then we started to communicate in secret," Hamida said. "I was interested in Islam before my marriage. I began to read the namaz [prayers] five years ago. I wanted to go to a war zone and fight against infidels."

After agreeing to go to Syria, the 25-year-old flew from Kyrgyzstan to Moscow, where she had prearranged a meeting with a man named Hassan, the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said.

Broken Dreams

Whatever it was that made a married mother of two leave her home and family to join a militant group in a far-away land, it wasn't a search for a new man.

Hamida told Radio Azattyk that she was not interested in "love jihad" -- travel to IS-controlled territory to marry militants.

"I didn't leave in order to find a second husband. When they asked my opinion about marrying a jihadi I said I was against it," she said. "I was prepared for a lot, but not for that."

Neither was it promises of cash that persuaded Hamida to leave.

Her IS recruiters didn't offer her money, though they did pay for her tickets, she said.

The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry has explained that Hamida's recruitment to IS was due to her troubled home life.

The 25-year-old had "complex family relationships with her husband and a lack of attention from her relatives; a lack of opportunities to realize her abilities," the ministry said.

Could Hamida have been persuaded to join IS because she had felt frustrated in her Kyrgyz village?

Hamida told RFE/RL she married after leaving school because her parents insisted on it.

Before her marriage, though, she had dreamed big.

"I had always wanted to become a doctor. But because of the situation in my family, my parents made that decision [about marriage]," Hamida said.

"Now they're sorry," she added.

The marriage changed Hamida's character, too.

"Before I had always been open, I was always the center of attention," she said. "After, I closed myself off from others."

Khattab appears to have promised Hamida the chance to be part of a greater cause, to fulfill an important role and be the center of attention once again -- if only for a fleeting moment before death.

"I was prepared to go into a war zone and blow myself up," Hamida said.

'A Bad Dream'

Hamida herself seems to have sabotaged her attempts to join IS.

The Kyrgyz woman had been given instructions to come to Moscow, where someone would meet her, give her her fake passport and take her to Syria.

"I wasn't supposed to tell anyone," Hamida says. "But I broke down and called my mother. There was an uproar and I was stopped [from traveling]."

Hamida told RFE/RL that she acted "as if I had been half asleep."

The young woman said she did not know what her future held, but now she wants to forget this "bad dream."

Hunting The Recruiters

Bishkek has been concerned for some time about IS's recruitment of women.

In April, police in the southern city of Osh arrested three women before they could fly to Istanbul with their six children.

Police said the man who recruited the women was a 26-year-old from the Osh region who had gone to Syria in 2014.

But police do not know who recruited Hamida and operations are ongoing to find them.

The recruiters were extremely good at their job, able to "convince and intimidate" the young woman using Koranic verses, the Interior Ministry said.

It is not known how many Kyrgyz are in Syria. The Interior Ministry has said that there are 352 Kyrgyz citizens in Syria and Iraq, of whom 49 are women and 22 are minors.

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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