Mothers are the government’s best allies against Islamic State recruiters


DEQA HUSSEN is the mother of Abdirizak Warsame, one of ten Minnesota Somalis indicted in the trial of young men allegedly recruited by Islamic State (IS), and one of six who have already pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to provide material support to IS. A mother of eight, she has urged members of the Somali community to stop denying the danger that IS poses to their children and to work with the FBI. This has made her enemies within the Somali community and led to tensions with her own children.On May 25th Mr Warsame testified against his former friends, Guled Omar, Abdirahman Daud and Mohamed Farah, who didn’t agree to a plea deal and are on trial for attempting to join IS and commit murder abroad. They face a maximum sentence of life in prison. (The six who pleaded guilty face a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison; the tenth of the indicted Somalis is presumed to be in Syria.)  Mr Warsame was about to resume his testimony when his sister, Sahra Warsame, was handcuffed and led away after a noisy row with her mother. Ms Warsame once dated Mr Daud and wanted to show solidarity by sitting with the defendants’ families rather than her own. On the day before Mrs Hussen reported to Michael Davis, the presiding judge, that she had been threatened during lunch by Farhiyo Mohamed, Mr Daud’s mother. This earned Mrs Mohamed a reprimand from Judge Davis who told both mothers that he could not have any kind of confrontation in the courtroom.

Mothers of IS recruits and other radicalised youth are often the people most directly affected by their children’s misguided choices—and the best hope of those trying to stop and reverse radicalisation of susceptible youngsters. Daniel Koehler, the founder of the German Institute on Radicalisation and De-radicalisation Studies says that mothers (and much more rarely fathers or siblings) call him for help when they think their child is at risk. He co-founded “Mothers for Life”, a group of women from 11 countries who lost their children to violent jihadists. The mothers sent two open letters to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader. After the first letter, sent in June 2015, the group received an official reply from IS in less than four hours. As masterful propagandists IS knows that mothers could deal the organisation a death blow, says Mr Koehler.

The mothers sent their second letter this year on May 8th, Mother’s Day. One passage of the letter is an urgent exhortation:

“Again we turn to those thinking of going to Syria and Iraq and those who are there. There is no glory in death and killing. We have seen the pictures of our children and they were not smiling, because they had realised that they would not die for a great cause but simply for hollow and shallow opportunism filled with hypocrisy and double standards. There was nothing glorious about their death. One of our sons was forced to blow himself up, because he was shot in the face and of no further use to his ‘brothers’. He died alone. While his ‘brothers’ stab into each other’s backs, he had to die for their corruption and not for any glorious cause. We hear from our sons and daughters who are still alive and in Syria or Iraq almost every day how miserable their lives have become. We see their misbelief and urge to come home, and while talking with some of you, we can see through the tough shell, and see you miss the everyday life with your friends and family. We know that you can feel your roots with us – your family. Do not fall prey to those who use you for their own gain. Listen to your heart and the ones who brought you into this world.”

On May 25th Mr Omar was the only one of the three defendants to take the stand in his defence. He recounted his family’s first experience with the lure of violent extremists. “It killed my mom every night”, said Mr Omar when his older brother, Ahmed Ali, left the family in 2007 to join al-Shabab, a jihadist group allied to al-Qaeda. “She prayed for him every night. She asked God to guide him every night,” he said, breaking down in tears. Mr Omar claimed that it was his mother and his sister that prevented him from joining IS in Syria, which is why he didn’t provide a passport photo or make a down payment to a man he believed would get him to Syria but was in fact an informant for the FBI. He claimed that on the two occasions prosecutors allege that he wanted to go to Syria he was planning to go on holiday (the first time) and intending to join a girl he met online (the second time).

Closing arguments in the trial will start on May 31st. Mrs Hussen says her son is a brave man because he is cooperating with authorities. Mr Omar’s mother, Fadumo Hussein, a single mother of 13, insisted last year that her son should not plead guilty because he has not committed any crime. Both sons may spend years, possibly decades, in prison. But one of them recognises that her son has done wrong. Her advocacy of working with the authorities, however controversial within the community, could help other mothers, and sons.



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