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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Woman on trial in Norway provides glimpse of life under IS

The Oslo-raised woman lived under ISIS-run territory in Syria for six years [AFP]

Date of publication: 4 March, 2021

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The trial - the first in Norway of a woman accused of joining IS - has put the spotlight on the role women played in the terror group.

A woman on trial in Norway for supporting the Islamic State group provided a glimpse this week of life with members of the terror group she said she was unable to flee despite numerous attempts.

The woman, who AFP and other media have chosen not to identify in order to protect her children, is facing charges of supporting the Islamic State during the six years she lived in territory the radical group controlled in Syria.

The 30-year-old - born in Pakistan but raised in Oslo - testified on Monday that she was radicalised and left for the war-torn country in 2013 after falling in love and marrying Bastian Vasquez.

Vasquez was a Chilean-Norwegian jihadist who converted to Islam and was fighting at the time for an Al-Qaeda-linked group. He later joined the Islamic State group and died while making explosives.

The woman said she quickly became disillusioned on arriving in Syria and on several occasions tried in vain to return home.

She ended up marrying two other foreign fighters during her time in IS-controlled territory and had two children, one from Vasquez.

"By taking care of the children, by cooking and doing laundry, she enabled three foreign fighters in their battles," prosecutor Geir Evanger told the court.

The woman, who faces up to six years in prison if convicted, said that on meeting Vasquez, she initially would laugh when he would describe to her over the phone the atrocities of the war.

"I was so in love that I believed everything he said," said the woman who was repatriated to Norway last year and no longer wears the niqab, or full-face veil.

She said after marrying Vasquez online and joining him in Syria, he quickly became violent with her and she felt trapped.

Prosecutors, however, have challenged her account accusing her of trying to recruit other women to join the terror group.

"During her marriage to Vasquez, she spoke highly of the Islamic State and of life in Syria to women in Norway with the aim of getting them to marry foreign men fighting for the group," according to the charge sheet.

Vasquez died in 2015 and the woman subsequently married an Egyptian man with whom she had her second child.

But he also died in combat and she married one of his friends, also a fighter for the IS.

Her lawyers argue that her successive marriages with IS fighters did not mean she supported the terror group but rather ensured her survival and gave her hope of one day escaping.

"She was not part of the Islamic State but was more someone who survived the group," said her lawyer Nils Christian Nordhus.

IS hostage and member

Following the defeat of IS, the woman was brought back to Norway in January last year with her children, one of whom was ill, from the Kurdish-controlled Al-Hol detention camp in Syria.

Her return was highly criticised at the time by the populist right-wing Progress Party which left the Norwegian government in protest.

The trial - the first of a woman accused of joining IS - has put the spotlight on the role women played in the terror group.

"ISIS is an entity classed as a terrorist organisation by the UN. It's the entire organisation, not just the fighting part, that is classed as such," said Magnus Ranstorp, a Swedish expert on terrorism, using another acronym for the group.

"It doesn't matter if you're driving an ambulance or cooking at home, you're part of the terrorist organisation," he said.

Read also: French women in Syria camps go on hunger strike to demand repatriation: report

According to the Rand Corporation think tank, some 41,500 foreign fighters joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

The majority of European countries, including Norway, have resisted taking back citizens who joined the group and are now being held in detention camps in Syria.

Some argue that although women who joined the group may not have taken part in battles, they played a key part by supporting the fighters and giving birth to a new generation of potential jihadists.

Ranstorp said however the women had little room to manoeuver once they set foot in Syria.

"It's complicated in the case of a woman because you can't leave without a male guardian or without a permission," he said. "So you're at the same time a hostage of ISIS but you're also part of its machinery."

The trial is set to last until March 24.

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