A mother of four from Indiana is sharing how she became involved with ISIS — and why she and her children are now being held in a Syrian-Kurdish jail.
Samantha Sally spoke to CNN about how her “romantic” second marriage to Moroccan-born husband Moussa Elhassani resulted in an unexpected move to Syria in 2014. Once there, Elhassani became violent and joined ISIS as a sniper.
“Before he would spoil me,” the 32-year-old American said. “We were very much in love. The romance never left. As soon as we came here, it changed. I was a dog. I didn’t have any choice. He was extremely violent. And there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing.”
The couple moved to Syria along with their daughter and Sally’s son from her first marriage. Sally, who first met Elhassani while they both worked at a delivery company in Elkhart, Ind., says that they originally planned to temporarily move to Elhassani’s native Morocco. First, however, they traveled to Hong Kong to transfer their money, followed by a vacation in Turkey.
It was their arrival in Turkey, near the border with Syria, where Elhassani revealed his intention to join ISIS. Although Sally opposed the plan, she feared that leaving Elhassani would separate her from her daughter.
“To stay there with my son or watch my daughter leave with my husband — I had to make a decision,” she told CNN.
“Maybe I would never have seen my daughter again ever, and how can I live the rest of my life like that?”
The family ended up settling in Raqqa, Syria, where Sally gave birth to two more children. In addition to Elhassani’s violent behavior, she was subjected to abuse from ISIS leaders, including a three-month stretch in jail while she was pregnant. Sally says that she was tortured, sexually abused, and put in solitary confinement while being accused of espionage on behalf of the U.S.
Their home life eventually included the purchase of three Yazidi slaves — two teenage females and one young boy — captured by ISIS. Both girls were raped by Elhassani, though Sally defends having them stay in her home.
“No one will ever know what it is like to watch their husband rape a 14-year-old girl,” she said. “Ever. And then she comes to you — me — after crying and I hold her and tell her it’s going to be OK. Everything is going to be fine, just be patient.
“I would never apologize for bringing those girls to my house,” she added. “They had me and I had them. And we knew that if we were just patient, we would stick together. You understand? In any other situation, they would be locked in a bedroom and fed tea every day. And the situation I was in with them, we cooked together, we cleaned together. Drank coffee together. Slept in the same room together. I was like their mother.”
Her eldest son, Matthew, was also taken advantage of and was made to appear in videos on behalf of the terrorist group. Sally’s objection to his participation resulted in a beating and two broken ribs.
Things changed when Elhassani was killed in a drone strike in 2017. Sally and her family eventually left Raqqa and were detained soon after. They remain in custody and wait for U.S. officials determine whether her affiliation with ISIS merits jail time.
Sally, meanwhile, is hopeful that she and her four children are able to return to the U.S.
“I will do anything to get my kids back where they belong,” she said. “If I have to spend 15 years in prison, it’s better than anything here.
“Me and my kids, we talk about wanting to eat McDonald’s,” she continued. “We want to live a normal life again.”
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