Police officers guard women and children who are relatives of Kosovo Jihadists who returned from Syria, at foreigners detention centre in Pristina, Kosovo, April 20, 2019. REUTERS/Laura Hasani
April 20, 2019
By Fatos Bytyci
PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo brought back 110 of its citizens from Syria on Saturday including jihadists who had gone to fight in the country’s civil war and 74 children, the government said.
After the collapse of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, countries around the world are wrestling with how to handle militants and their families seeking to return.
The population of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but largely secular in outlook.
More than 300 Kosovo citizens have traveled to Syria since 2012 and 70 men who fought alongside militant groups were killed.
“Today in the early hours of the morning an important and sensitive operation was organized in which the government of Kosovo with the help of the United States of America has returned 110 of its citizens from Syria,” Kosovan Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri said at a press conference.
Tahiri did not specify what role the United States had played but a plane with a U.S. flag on its tail was seen in the cargo area of Pristina airport as the operation was ongoing.
When asked about the return of fighters to Kosovo and the separate return of a fighter to Bosnia, U.S. military spokesman Sean Robertson said, “U.S. assets were used in support of this repatriation operation.”
“At no time did the U.S. take custody of the FTF (foreign terrorist fighter) detainees,” Robertson said. He declined to provide further details, citing security reasons.
Authorities said among those who were returned were four fighters, 32 women and 74 children, including nine without a parent.
The four fighters were immediately arrested and the state prosecutor said indictments against them will soon follow.
After several hours at the airport, two busloads of women and children were transported under police escort to an army barracks just outside Pristina.
Police said 30 Kosovan fighters, 49 women and 8 children still remain in the conflict zones.
“We will not stop before bringing every citizen of the Republic of Kosovo back to their country and anyone that has committed any crime or was part of these terrorist organizations will face the justice,” Tahiri said.
“As Kosovo, we cannot allow that our citizens be a threat to the West and to our allies.”
International and local security agencies have previously warned of the risk posed by returning fighters. In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
The United States commended Kosovo for the return of its citizens and called other countries to do the same.
“With this repatriation, Kosovo has set an important example for all members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and the international community to follow. We applaud their compassion in accepting the return of this large number of civilians,” the U.S. Embassy in Pristina said in a statement.
There have been no Islamist attacks on Kosovan soil, although more than 100 men have been jailed or indicted on charges of fighting in Syria and Iraq. Some of them were found guilty of planning attacks in Kosovo.
Prosecutors said they were investigating 156 other suspects.
The government has said a form of radical Islam had been imported to Kosovo by non-governmental organizations from the Middle East after the end of its 1998-99 war of secession from Serbia.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci, additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Toby Chopra and Cynthia Osterman)
A security personnel checks ballot boxes before polls open during elections in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
April 17, 2019
By Gayatri Suroyo and Fransiska Nangoy
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesians voted on Wednesday to pick a new president and parliament after a six-month campaign in the sprawling equatorial archipelago dominated by economic issues but also marked by the growing influence of conservative Islam.
The eight-hour vote across a country that stretches more than 5,000 km (3,000 miles) from its western to eastern tips is both a Herculean logistical feat and testimony to the resilience of democracy two decades after authoritarianism was defeated.
President Joko Widodo, a furniture businessman who entered politics 14 years ago as a small-city mayor, is seeking re-election against former general Prabowo Subianto, whom he narrowly defeated in the last election, in 2014.
Most opinion polls give Widodo a double-digit lead, but the opposition says the race is much closer and Prabowo, dressed in a white shirt and a traditional Indonesian peci cap, said before voting in Bogor he was optimistic about winning with a big margin.
President Widodo, dressed in a white shirt and accompanied by First Lady Iriana Widodo, voted in the capital.
“I feel relieved,” said Widodo, after casting his ballot and displaying a finger dipped in indelible ink, part of the process of avoiding fraudulent voting.
More than 10,000 people have volunteered to crowd-source election results posted at polling stations in a real-time bid to thwart attempts at fraud.
However, the opposition has already alleged voter list irregularities that could affect millions and has vowed legal or “people power” action if its concerns are ignored.
Widodo’s running mate, Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin, called a for a peaceful vote “because the presidential election is not a war, but a search for the best leader”, according to Kompas TV.
There was not much obvious security at polling stations in Jakarta, with volunteers helping direct people into voting booths.
The election is being billed as the world’s biggest single-day vote and is certainly one of the most complicated, with voters contending with five paper ballots for president, vice president, and national and regional legislative candidates.
Some voters clearly struggled with the process.
“The ballots with the photos on it were actually confusing. And the other one had a lot of names I didn’t recognize,” said Orlando Yudistira, 19, a first time voter in Jakarta.
Another voter, Siti Suprapti, 85, said she had needed help to open the ballot “but I chose the candidates myself”.
WIDODO WIN PRICED IN
Dozens of volunteers and witnesses from political parties were present at polling stations to ensure transparency.
Several videos appeared online last week apparently showing thousands of voting papers stuffed in bags at a warehouse in neighboring Malaysia, with many apparently already marked.
The country’s election supervisory board has recommended a re-vote for Indonesians in Malaysia and in Australia, where several hundred registered voters were still standing in line after the polls closed there on Saturday. A decision will be taken by the elections commission.
An unexpected win for the challenger could trigger a brief sell-off in financial markets that have priced in a Widodo victory, analysts say.
“Should Prabowo win, this would literally be the end of opinion polling in Indonesia … and a major, major upset,” said Marcus Mietzner, associate professor at Australian National University. “The question is what the margin of victory will be,” he said, predicting Widodo’s re-election.
A win for Widodo with 52-55 percent of the vote would be the “sweet spot” said a senior government official close to the president, adding that this would spur him to continue and even accelerate economic reforms.
“GAME OF THRONES”
Social media users compared the presidential race to the HBO series “Game of Thrones” – with one online meme showing Widodo sitting on its coveted Iron Throne.
Widodo touted his record on deregulation and improving infrastructure, calling it a first step to tackling inequality and poverty in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
A moderate Muslim from central Java, Widodo had to burnish his Islamic credentials after smear campaigns and hoax stories accused him of being anti-Islam, a communist or too close to China, all politically damaging in Indonesia. He picked Islamic cleric Amin, 76, as his running mate.
Prabowo, a former special forces commander who has links to some hardline Islamist groups, and his running mate, business entrepreneur Sandiaga Uno, say they will boost the economy by slashing taxes and cut food prices.
Political analyst Dewi Fortuna Anwar said the “instrumentalisation” of religion had become much more visible in Indonesian politics in recent years with both candidates trying to appeal to conservative Islamic groups.
More than 192 million people are eligible to cast ballots in national and regional legislative elections being contested by more than 245,000 candidates.
“Moving from authoritarianism to democracy is a very difficult process but Indonesia has developed a good track record for holding free, fair and peaceful elections,” said Ben Bland, an analyst at the Sydney-based Lowy Institute.
Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (2200 GMT on Tuesday) in the east and will close at 1 p.m. (0600 GMT) in the west.
Unofficial “quick counts”, based on samples from polling stations, will be released hours after voting ends. The winning presidential candidate could be known by late on Wednesday.
Official results will be announced in May. Any disputes can be taken to the Constitutional Court where a nine-judge panel will have 14 days to rule on them.
(Graphic: President Joko Widodo’s achievements – https://tmsnrt.rs/2CRgHYC)
(Additional reporting by Maikel Jefriando, Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Tabita Diela, Kanupriya Kapoor, Cindy Silviana in Jakarta, Tommy Ardiansyah in Bogor; Writing by John Chalmers and Ed Davies; Editing by Michael Perry)
Children play near damaged houses in Kobani, Syria April 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
April 16, 2019
By John Davison
KOBANI, Syria (Reuters) – A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in Kobani, a town besieged by Islamic State for months, and where the tide turned against the militants four years ago.
The converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them towards their new faith. After a number of families converted, the Syrian-Turkish border town’s first evangelical church opened last year.
Islamic State militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the group’s control over populated territory last month.
Though Islamic State’s ultra radical interpretation of Sunni Islam has been repudiated by the Islamic mainstream, the legacy of its violence has affected perceptions of faith.
Many in the mostly Kurdish areas of northern Syria, whose urban centers are often secular, say agnosticism has strengthened and in the case of Kobani, Christianity.
Christianity is one of the region’s minority faiths that was persecuted by Islamic State.
Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations working in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.
The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say their conversion was a matter of faith.
“After the war with Islamic State people were looking for the right path, and distancing themselves from Islam,” said Omar Firas, the founder of Kobani’s evangelical church. “People were scared and felt lost.”
Firas works for a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced people that helped set up the church.
He said around 20 families, or around 80 to 100 people, in Kobani now worship there. They have not changed their names.
“We meet on Tuesdays and hold a service on Fridays. It is open to anyone who wants to join,” he said.
The church’s current pastor, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin, a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007.
“This was painted by IS as a religious conflict, using religious slogans. Because of this a lot of Kurds lost trust in religion generally, not just Islam,” he said.
Many became atheist or agnostic. “But many others became Christian. Scores here and more in Afrin.”
MISSIONARIES AND CRITICS
One man, who lost an arm in an explosion in Kobani and fled to Turkey for medical treatment, said he met Kurdish and Turkish converts there and eventually decided to join them.
“They seemed happy and all talked about love. That’s when I decided to follow Jesus’s teachings,” Maxim Ahmed, 22, said, adding that several friends and family were now interested in coming to the new church.
Some in Kobani reject the growing Christian presence. They say Western Christian aid groups and missionaries have exploited the chaos and trauma of war to convert people and that local newcomers to the religion see an opportunity for personal gain.
“Many people think that they are somehow benefitting from this, maybe for material gain or because of the perception that Christians who seek asylum abroad get preferential treatment,” said Salih Naasan, a real estate worker and former Arabic teacher.
Thousands of Christians have fled the region over decades of sectarian strife. From Syria they have often headed for Lebanon and European countries.
U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to help minorities fleeing the region when he imposed a travel ban on Muslims in 2016, but many Christians were denied asylum.
“It might be a reaction to Daesh (Islamic State) but I don’t see the positives. It just adds another religious and sectarian dimension which in a community like this will lead to tension,” said Naasan, a practicing Muslim.
Naasan like the vast majority of Muslims rejects Islamic State’s narrow and brutal interpretation of Islam. The group enslaved and killed thousands of people from all faiths, reserving particular brutality for minorities such as the Yazidis of northern Iraq.
Most Christians preferred not to give their names or be interviewed, saying they fear reaction from conservative sectors of society.
The population of Kobani and its surroundings has neared its original 200,000 after people returned, although only 40,000 live in the town itself, much of which lies in ruins.
(Editing by Tom Perry and Alexandra Hudson)
FILE PHOTO: Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, his running mate Ma’ruf Amin greet presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto and his running mate Sandiago Uno before a debate in Jakarta, Indonesia April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
April 14, 2019
By Kanupriya Kapoor and Ed Davies
JAKARTA (Reuters) – Tens of millions of Indonesians will vote in presidential and parliamentary elections this week after campaigns focused on the economy, but with political Islam looming ever larger in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation.
President Joko Widodo, a former furniture salesman who launched his political career as a small-city mayor, is standing for re-election in a contest with ex-general Prabowo Subianto, whom he narrowly defeated in 2014.
Most opinion polls give Widodo a double-digit lead but the opposition has disputed survey findings. It has also said it has uncovered data irregularities affecting millions on the electoral rolls and has vowed to take legal action or use “people power” if its complaints are not resolved.
(GRAPHIC: Indonesia election by the numbers – https://tmsnrt.rs/2V4DCqq)
Some analysts say an unexpected win for the challenger would probably cause a brief slump in Indonesian markets, while a very close race could elevate the risk of a disputed vote.
“In a scenario in which Widodo wins by an unexpectedly narrow margin, large and prolonged protests in Jakarta would elevate tensions and pressure the currency,” said Kevin O’Rourke in the Reformasi Weekly note on Indonesia published last week.
While most polls have put the president ahead, they could not be taken for granted, a senior government official said.
“Absolutely everybody is flying blind because we don’t know how far the opinion polls can be respected,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Widodo ended his six-month campaign with a mass rally at Jakarta’s main stadium at the weekend, where festive crowds overflowed into a surrounding park and streets.
Running ran out on stage in sneakers, to the cheers of the crowd after an hours-long concert by local bands, he struck an optimistic tone for the future of the world’s third-largest democracy.
That was a stark contrast to his opponent, who has repeatedly warned Indonesia is on the verge of collapse.
Prabowo, as he is usually known, held a similarly big rally the previous weekend where supporters, many dressed in Islamic robes, held a mass prayer before a fiery speech about how Indonesia was being pillaged by foreigners and the elite.
Widodo has touted a record infrastructure drive and deregulation as major successes during his tenure, calling it a first step to tackle inequality and poverty in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.
(GRAPHIC: Presidenti Joko Widodo’s achievements – https://tmsnrt.rs/2CRgHYC)
In a televised weekend debate, Widodo and his running mate, Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin, said their opponents, neither of whom has served in public office for more than a few months, did not understand managing macrolevel economics.
Widodo, a moderate Muslim from central Java, has had to burnish his Islamic credentials after smear campaigns and hoax stories accused him of being anti-Islam, a communist or too close to China, all politically damaging in Indonesia.
Prabowo, who has close links to some hardline Islamist groups, and his running mate, business tycoon Sandiaga Uno, have pledged to boost the economy by slashing taxes as much as 8 percentage points, and focus on key infrastructure projects.
Nearly 500,000 police and military will fan out across the vast archipelago to safeguard the vote. In Jakarta, the capital, officers will guard polling station to deter voter intimidation or clashes, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.
More than 192 million will also vote in national and regional legislative elections, being contested by more than 245,000 candidates, in what is being described as the world’s biggest single-day election.
Overseas voting is already underway, with thousands lining up outside Indonesian missions in Singapore and Australia.
On Wednesday, polling stations will open at 7 a.m. (2200 GMT Tuesday) in eastern Indonesia and close at 1 p.m. (0600 GMT) on the western side of the country.
Voters will manually punch five separate paper ballots for president and vice president, and legislative candidates.
Unofficial “quick counts”, based on vote samples from polling stations, will be released hours after polling ends and the winning presidential candidate is expected to be apparent by late Wednesday.
The General Election Commission is expected to announce an official result in May.
Candidates have 72 hours after the official result to complain to the Constitutional Court. A nine-judge panel has 14 days to reach a decision, which cannot be appealed.
(Additional reporting by Jessica Damiana, Gayatri Suroyo and John Chalmers in Jakarta, and Alison Bevege in Sydney; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
FILE PHOTO: Indonesia’s presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto speaks during a campaign rally with his running mate Sandiaga Uno at Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 7, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/File Photo
April 14, 2019
By Kanupriya Kapoor
JAKARTA (Reuters) – At a recent election rally, former Indonesian general Prabowo Subianto repeatedly banged his hand on a podium while urging the boisterous crowd to defend the country against foreign interests.
Such fiery rhetoric, a strongman image, and strong ties with hardline Islamist groups have bolstered support for Prabowo, 67, who is taking on incumbent President Joko Widodo in a battle on Wednesday to lead the world’s third-largest democracy.
Most opinion polls show Widodo has a double-digit lead but some recent surveys have shown Prabowo catching up.
Critics say Prabowo’s campaign message, much like U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016, played up potential threats to Indonesia. In speeches, he often says the country is on the verge of fragmentation, at the mercy of unspecified foreign powers.
“The Indonesian motherland is being raped,” Prabowo told another massive rally in a stadium in central Jakarta, as tens of thousands of supporters, many dressed in white Islamic clothes, chanted his name.
A former special forces commander in the military, Prabowo comes from an elite political family. His father was one of Indonesia’s most prominent economists, serving in the cabinets of both presidents Sukarno and Suharto.Election officials say Prabowo declared personal wealth of 1.9 trillion rupiah ($135 million) in August, versus Widodo’s 50 billion ($3.6 million), according to news website Detik.
Prabowo has long harbored ambitions for the top job, but a lack of support meant he sat out the 2004 election and ran as vice president on a losing ticket in 2009.
It was only by 2014 that, as head of the Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) party, he gained enough support to run and came within six percentage points of beating Widodo.
This time, Prabowo has consolidated support from hardline Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and religious parties, fuelling concern about the influence of conservative Islam on future policy-making should he win.
“In the scenario of a Prabowo presidency, he will have to reward his supporters and the political Islam side will take credit for his victory,” said Achmad Sukarsono, a political analyst at Control Risks.
“Having said that, he understands the concerns of the influence of Islam and will try to balance that with his own and his Christian family’s opinions.”
Prabowo is likely to offer opportunities for supporters in the country’s budding sharia economy, he added, such as curbing businesses that offend Islamic sentiments, like alcohol or sensitive publications.
Prabowo has denied accusations of wanting to turn Indonesia into a caliphate, and says the diversity of religion in his own family is proof that he will uphold the official secular state ideology.
Prabowo was accused of human rights abuses during his military career, chiefly over unrest that brought down his former father-in-law and long-serving autocratic leader Suharto in 1998 and led to his discharge.
He has repeatedly denied the allegations or said he was following orders.
Just days ahead of the vote, Prabowo and his campaign team have cast doubt on the credibility of voter lists and the integrity of election machinery, vowing to contest the results and even mobilize street protests if they discern any cheating.
In 2014, Prabowo refused to concede defeat for two weeks, even though early results showed Widodo had won. He contested the official results in the Constitutional Court, which confirmed Widodo’s victory.
The campaign has also said internal and external poll numbers give Prabowo a clear lead, but has declined to explain its methodology.
(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
FILE PHOTO: Indonesia’s incumbent presidential candidate Joko Widodo reacts as he speaks during a campaign rally at Gelora Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
April 14, 2019
By Ed Davies
JAKARTA (Reuters) – When Indonesian President Joko Widodo was elected five years ago, the former furniture salesman seemed to offer a clean break from the military and political elite that had clung to power since the fall of strongman ruler Suharto in 1998.
Now, Widodo, 57, is running on his own record for a second term, with a comfortable lead in most opinion polls over his rival, former general Prabowo Subianto.With his easy smile and signature “blusukan”, or spur of the moment neighborhood walkabouts, he came to power on a wave of popular support for the clean, can-do image he cultivated as a small-city mayor, and then as governor of the capital Jakarta.
Still, during his political rise, Widodo, a moderate Muslim from Solo in Central Java, has had to fend off smear campaigns suggesting he is anti-Islam, a communist or in debt to China, all damaging accusations in the Muslim-majority country.
As president he was saddled with high expectations that he could fix a host of enduring issues in the sprawling archipelago, from tackling past human rights abuses to rooting out pervasive graft.
Jokowi, as he is popularly known among Indonesians, also inherited an economy coming off a commodities boom, and faced an obstructive parliament and vested interests opposed to reform and transparency.
Still, he methodically stitched together a majority in parliament and while unable to deliver on an economic growth target of 7 percent, he led a record infrastructure push to build ports, roads and airports.
Niken Satyawati, a family friend who has co-written a book on the president, said Widodo had sought to extend the clean governance he pursued as mayor of Solo to the national stage.
“He was an ordinary person. And he still is,” she said, describing his weakness as a desire to accommodate the wishes of too many people.
Widodo came from humble beginnings. His father ran a small timber business and his childhood home was a riverside shack in the city of Solo.
He was the first in his family to attend university and after graduating in forestry eventually set up a successful furniture business.
Widodo became Solo’s first directly elected mayor in 2005 and was hugely popular after cleaning up the streets and public spaces with incentives and persuasion to shift thousands of illegal vendors to new facilities.
His consultative approach would come to define his campaign as he ran for governor of Jakarta in 2012.
Once president, as a political outsider, he faced accusations of being beholden to party backers, particularly those connected to the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, led by former president Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Nevertheless, he focused on reviving the economy by cutting red tape and easing investment rules. At times, he faced cabinet infighting and policy flip-flops cast doubt on his ability to commandeer his own team, let alone a country of 260 million.
On the foreign stage, he appeared more assertive, denying pleas for clemency in 2015 from foreign drug traffickers on death row, straining ties chiefly with neighbor Australia.
He also held a cabinet meeting aboard a warship off the Natuna Islands after China stated its “overlapping claim” to nearby waters.
The most bruising period of his presidency was from 2016, when huge rallies targeting Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese, Christian governor for alleged blasphemy pushed religious tension in Indonesia to its highest in years.
Widodo was forced to distance himself from Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a one-time ally later jailed for insulting Islam.
To the disappointment of some progressive supporters, Widodo picked Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate for the election, seeking to boost the ticket’s appeal to Muslims.
If he is re-elected, analysts expect broadly the same economic policy focus, though they are divided whether he will quicken the pace.
“If he wins, I believe he will push his reform agenda more confidently, as politically he is a ‘stubborn’ leader,” said Wawan Mas’udi, a politics expert at Gadjah Mada University who has charted Widodo’s rise to power.
(Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Clarence Fernandez)
FILE PHOTO: Saida Mirziyoyeva, daughter of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, watches the International Music Festival “Melody of the East” in Samarkand, Uzbekistan August 28, 2017. Picture taken August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov
April 12, 2019
ALMATY (Reuters) – The elder daughter of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been appointed deputy head of a newly established state agency in charge of communications and media regulation, the agency said in a statement on Friday.
Saida Mirziyoyeva joins a cohort of offspring of Central Asian leaders given senior posts. In neighboring Kazakhstan, Dariga Nazarbayeva, the eldest daughter of veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, became speaker of the upper chamber of parliament last month following her father’s resignation.
Official sources provide no information on Mirziyoyeva’s age or background, only mentioning that she is married and has three children.
President Mirziyoyev established the agency where she will work in February, tasking it with coordinating communications by state bodies and safeguarding media freedoms.
Mirziyoyev’s second daughter, Shakhnoza, is also a public servant and holds a mid-level post in the ministry of pre-school education. Little is known about Mirziyoyev’s son Alisher other than that he is much younger than his sisters.
Mirziyoyev took over leadership of Central Asia’s most populous nation, with a population of 32 million, in 2016 following the death of President Islam Karimov, who had run it for 27 years.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Frances Kerry)
Women sell underwear at al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria, April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
April 12, 2019
By John Davison
AL-HOL CAMP, Syria (Reuters) – Rawan Aboud tried to escape Islamic State after the death of her abusive first husband, a militant killed fighting for the group. She was jailed and forced to marry another fighter. When he died, she finally fled.
Now she is interned with fanatic supporters of the violent jihadist group she has sought refuge from since the age of 13.
“I married age 12,” said the Syrian girl, now 18. “My husband then brought me to Raqqa. He beat me and said I was an apostate for trying to leave.”
Thousands of women, especially foreigners who flocked from Europe and North African countries, willingly joined Islamic State, subscribing to its brutal interpretation of Islam and marrying militants.
Some remain ardent supporters of its ideology and live in camps they fled to in eastern Syria which are under the control of the U.S.-backed forces that drove IS from its final piece of territory last month.
But many like Aboud, married off by conservative Muslim families in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, had no choice.
Aboud, several Syrians and a Lebanese woman also wed as a child to a man who joined IS are now detained alongside its die-hard adherents in a guarded section of al-Hol camp.
Regarded as suspect by Kurdish-led forces that helped defeat the jihadists and persecuted by women they are locked up with, they fear they will rot in detention or face death at the hands of their extreme fellow detainees.
Aboud has spent three months at al-Hol along with more than 60,000 people who fled the battle for Baghouz, the final shred of populated territory that Islamic State had held until its defeat there last month.
In an interview with Reuters this month, she wore a green coat, fingerless gloves and eye make-up behind her veil, which she only wears to avoid drawing the attention of IS supporters.
She used the pejorative acronym Daesh for IS, rather than “dawla”, Arabic for state, which many in the camp still use. She said her husbands were dead, not martyred, as slain militants are usually described by supporters.
“My first husband was killed fighting three years ago, thank God.”
Aboud tried to flee IS territory and was jailed in its Raqqa stronghold. When the U.S. coalition began bombing the city, her nine-month-old daughter was killed. Militants moved her and other women from town to town as they retreated, and married her to another fighter who also killed several months ago.
She then escaped with her other daughter, now four.
They face an uncertain future.
“I want to go to my family in Idlib. But right now I’d settle for just another part of the camp, away from the foreigners. Somewhere I can use a phone,” she said.
The security forces that guard al-Hol have denied her requests to move, she said. “They keep saying tomorrow and asking, why did you marry an IS fighter.”
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that run the camp did not immediately respond to a request for comment on her detention.
“SWINE AND INFIDELS”
“Because I fled and how I dress, the other women call me an infidel. They throw stones at me. When I queue for water, they say this isn’t a line for Syrians.”
Amal Susi, the Lebanese woman in the same section of the camp, complained of similar treatment and feared never returning home.
The 20-year-old surrendered herself and her two children in 2017 to the SDF after her husband was killed in Raqqa. Months later she was returned to IS territory in a prisoner swap, she said. “It was back to zero,” she said.
Her husband took her as a teenager to Syria to live in Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate.
Susi is also waiting to be transferred to another section of the camp. “Those of us forced to come should get to leave. IS supporters call us swine and infidels, say we’re spies for the Kurds, and assault us.”
The SDF is struggling to cope with the number of suspected militants and supporters languishing in detention centers and camps while some Western countries refuse to allow their citizens to return.
Most Syrians and Iraqis roam al-Hol camp separately from foreign women who are guarded by the SDF. Many foreigners use derogatory jihadist terms against non-extremists and blame their plight solely on Islamic State’s enemies.
Aboud, Susi and many others hope to get as far away from them as possible.
“We’re not rid of Daesh. They’ve basically moved the Islamic State here, that’s what they believe. They say we’ll build it again right here. The camp is under their control,” Susi said.
(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Mark Heinrich)