Bosnian returnee from Syria: I was accused of terrorism

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Source: N1

In an exclusive interview with N1, a wife of Al-Nusra combatant spoke of her ordeal, escape from Syria to Turkey and back to Bosnia, and reasons for speaking publicly. On her request, N1 decided not to reveal her identity.

“After converting to Islam in 2013, I contacted many women and men via Facebook who were supporters of Jihad to learn from them about Islam, because I thought they knew best,” she told N1’s Milica Vucetic.

In 2016 she set off for Syria via Istanbul. She then entered Syria illegally, without any problems. N1's interlocutor and two other women paid off several Turkish soldiers to enter the country. They gave them a total USD 2,000 (around EUR 1700). She noted that no one ever forced her to go to Syria.

During her time in Syria, she stayed in the town of Idlib, controlled by Jabhat Al-Nusra, today’s Tahrir Al-Sham. There she met with many Bosnians, Serbians, Macedonians, and Albanians with their families. Upon arrival, she had a shariah wedding.

The situation in Idlib is total war, she told Milica Vucetic. There is little difference from what Bosnia went through.

“There is food and water, and if you have money, you can buy everything there, but the shelling is the worst,” she told Vucetic. “Nothing can compare to that, that is the worst.”

Her biggest fear was being hit by a grenade and getting buried under rubble, which was often the case. She also feared losing limbs and no one being there to help her in that situation.

“I didn’t fear death as much as I feared those situations,” she noted. “I’ve seen many dead people and those images and images of children without limbs haunt me even today. I thought about my child and his future a lot, and feared that he doesn’t end up that way.”

Asked about her ideology and reasons why she went to that country, she said she glorified those men who fought for groups such as Al Nusra Front.

“To tell you the truth, I was in awe of them, and I felt a sort of admiration for those people. It all started with my Facebook contacts. In my head, I created an image of them as some kind of heroes, that they were all better than me, that they were all more honest, bolder and that they were all on the right path,” she told N1.

“I convinced myself that I should sacrifice myself – as they say. I told myself that they were all there for the sacrifice – to earn the Jannah (Arabic for paradise). So I realised that this was some form of sacrifice and that I must be part of.”

But she started to change her mind quickly upon arrival. After speaking to people who have been there for quite some time, she began to realise things are far from ideal, that there are only a few of them pure of heart and that most are there for their own reasons which had nothing to do with faith.

Then, she said, she realised her coming to Syria will not bring her any closer to god.

She told Milica Vucetic that no one abused her physically, but she did suffer a lot of mental abuse from her husband.

“Five days after arriving in Syria, I wished to go back to Bosnia. When (combat) aeroplanes started flying over the town, I realised what I was in, however, I needed money to get out of Syria. And so I waited a whole year to get the money,” she said.

In November 2017, she managed to escape, paying USD 600 (some EUR 500) to get her to Turkey, illegally.

Seven months pregnant, she jumped over a 5-metre wall and entered Turkey where she was arrested and charged with terrorism. At that time she said she was even happy to be arrested because she thought she would be deported.

In prison, she was moved several times from one women’s prison to another until finally getting to a prison where she would spend the worst three months of her life – worse than Syria.

During the pre-trial period, she said she was not allowed to contact her family or the Bosnian consulate in Turkey. Only the prison psychiatrist helped her and contacted the consulate. From the moment her trial started, she was allowed a 10-minute phone call every two weeks.

In conversations with her father, she explained her situation, and he found her an attorney who managed to prove her innocence.

After spending three months in jail and giving birth there, she was released of all terrorism charges.

Asked about the possible number of Bosnian women who are still in Syria, she said she is in contact with two other women who are in the territory controlled by ISIS.

“They want to come back. They’re desperately trying to find some money to escape, but I feel that Bosnian women living in Syria are forgotten by this country. I feel that they don’t exist for this country. It’s as if they were erased from Bosnia the moment they went to Syria,” N1’s interlocutor noted.

Speaking about the women who are in Kurdish camps, she said she can only imagine how they and their children must feel.

“Nobody deserves that. Especially not those women who have their own country which has room for everyone. I think that we could at least try to do something for those women because they are still our citizens and they deserve to return to their home,” she said.

Milica Vucetic asked her if she thought these women were some kind of a security threat to Bosnia to which she responded:

“That’s absurd. If anything, those women are brainwashed. Those women need help, counselling, psychiatric help. When and if they return, they need a long mental recovery,” she stressed.

After coming back to Bosnia, she was busy raising her baby. She was alone, so she did not have time to ask for professional help. The only thing she said helped her was time.

She only hopes someone from Bosnia would help the remaining women who want to come back because they deserve to have a normal life.