Hundreds of women associated with the Islamic State have been smuggled out of a northeast Syria detention camp by paying bribes with money raised from husbands they met online, according to a new report.
Women living in Al-Hol camp in northeast Syria are meeting men online using social media profiles advertising their jihadist bona fides and soliciting donations which are used to fund escape attempts or improve their quality of life in the camp, the Guardian reported on Friday.
The Syrian Democratic Forces – the western-back militia that defeated IS militarily in March 2019 – are holding approximately 62,000 people in Al-Hol camp. Most are women and children, with the majority coming from Iraq or Syria, while a separate camp annex holds thousands of third country nationals.
The Telegraph reported last year how British IS supporters had used money raised online via contraband mobile phones to fund escapes to rebel-held Idlib province but the Guardian report adds new details on how women are benefiting from virtual marriages.
It is not known how many women have escaped in this way but some women have united with their online husbands in rebel-held Idlib after paying camp guards bribes, which can amount to £10,000 or more.
Many marriages remain virtual though, with some Islamist men apparently view having a wife in the camp as a jihadist status symbol. Supporting a woman in this context may be viewed as a religious duty and act of charity.
Other online unions offer virtual romance to the bored women, who while away endless hours in their sweltering tents with little to distract them. The Guardian reported that the cell phone of a dead rebel fighter in Idlib was found to contain racy messages and photos from several women who said they were in Al-Hol.
The prevalence of online romance between jihadists and women in the camp is such that some wives in Idlib have labelled Al-Hol a brothel and its inhabitants prostitutes, according to screen grabs of Russian-language posts on Facebook.
“Girls from camps write to my husband and try to flirt with him ... I am very pissed at them since they are intentionally trying to break up our family,” wrote one woman who was formerly an IS member and now lives in Idlib with her foreign husband, according to the Guardian.