Woman on trial in Norway provides glimpse of life under Isis

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.

Woman on trial in Norway provides glimpse of life under Isis
The Kurdish-run al-Hol camp which holds suspected relatives of Islamic State fighters.Photo: Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP

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 Isis-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 Isis.

Her lawyers argue that her successive marriages with Isis 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.

Following the defeat of Isis, 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 Isis — has put the spotlight on the role women played in the terror group.

“Isis is an entity classed as a terrorist organization by the UN. It’s the entire organization, not just the fighting part, that is classed as such,” said Magnus Ranstorp, a Swedish expert on terrorism. 

“It doesn’t matter if you’re driving an ambulance or cooking at home, you’re part of the terrorist organization,” he said.

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 manoeuvre 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.”

READ ALSO: Isis-linked Norwegian woman denies charges in terror case

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Kongsberg attacker killed victims with ‘sharp object’

Norwegian police said Monday that the five victims of last week's attack were killed by a "sharp object" used by the suspect, not a bow and arrows.

The Kongsberg attacker is said to have killed five people with sharp objects. Pictured is police tape from a separate incident.
The Kongsberg attacker is said to have killed five people with sharp objects. Pictured is police tape from a separate incident. Photo by Søren Storm Hansen on Flickr.

“At some point he discarded or lost his bow and arrows,” police inspector Per Thomas Omholt told reporters.

He said that during the attack on Wednesday the suspect killed “five people with a sharp object both in private addresses and in public spaces”.

Police, who had previously said that the suspect Espen Andersen Brathen was armed with a bow and arrows and two other weapons, did not specify the nature of the sharp weapons, adding that they were still interviewing witnesses.

“Everything points to the victims being selected at random,” Omholt said.

According to the police, more than 10 people were also shot at with arrows at the start of the attack, but none were killed with this weapon.

READ MORE: Norway police query Kongsberg attacker’s Muslim faith

During police questioning, Brathen has confessed to the killings and to wounding three others.

The 37-year-old Danish citizen has announced publicly that he is a convert to Islam and initially police reported that there had been fears of radicalisation.

He is however being kept in a medical facility pending a psychiatric evaluation, which is necessary to determine whether Brathen can be held legally responsible for his actions.

“As far as motive is concerned, illness remains the main hypothesis. And as far as conversion to Islam is concerned, this hypothesis is weakened,” Omholt added.

On Saturday, police announced the identities of the five victims, four women and one man: Andrea Meyer, 52, Hanne Merethe Englund, 56, Liv Berit Borge, 75, Gunnar Erling Sauve, 75 and Gun Marith Madsen, 78.