The family spokesman of an Alabama woman has confirmed that the 20-year-old left her Birmingham suburb to join ISIS militants in Syria after she was recruited over the Internet. The woman, who has been identified only as Hoda, had recently disappeared and media reports had claimed she joined the Islamic State group in the Middle Eastern country.
Hoda is said to have left home in November while her parents have been in contact with law enforcement and U.S. government officials ever since her disappearance, Hassan Shibly, an attorney and chief executive director for the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, speaking on behalf of Hoda’s parents, told the Associated Press (AP).
The family has been “extremely traumatized” for months, the AP quoted Shibly as saying. “For them this is worse than losing the life of a child, to have them join such a horrible, horrible gang of violent extremists.”
Although details about her current whereabouts and how she made contact with ISIS are still unknown, the family spokesman said Hoda withdrew from the Muslim Community in Birmingham more than a year before her disappearance. Hoda’s family and the Birmingham Islamic Society both have spoken against violent extremism that jihadist groups like ISIS are known for.
“The reason she withdrew from the community is because the Muslim community is very vocal against groups like ISIS ... she made the decision based on her communication online with them that she wanted to join them,” Shibly told the AP.
The account of Hoda’s disappearance and her decision of joining the militant group was first reported by Buzzfeed last week, which said that Hoda had agreed to give exclusive interviews from Syria on the condition that no images of her uncovered face would be published.
Hoda used the pseudo name, “Umm Jihad,” to express her contempt for the United States on Twitter. Hoda, whose Twitter account has now been suspended, had earlier revealed on the micro-blogging site that she met many Australian and British people in Syria fighting for ISIS, but found very few Americans.
“Americans wake up!” she reportedly tweeted on March 19. “You have much to do while you live under our greatest enemy, enough of your sleeping! Go on drive-bys and spill all of their blood.”
According to Shibly, there are many families who have lost their children to ISIS. “It's often young, naive, impressionable, ignorant troubled youth who are dissatisfied with their life and are seeking a sense of belonging,” he told the AP.
The number of foreigners fighting for terrorists worldwide increased by 71 percent between mid-2014 and March 2015, a panel of experts monitoring U.N. sanctions against al Qaeda, said in a report earlier this month.
According to the report, Syria and Iraq together accounted for more than 20,000 foreigners fighting mainly for ISIS; many of them also joined the al-Nusra Front, a branch of al Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon.