A Pakistani-origin British woman who joined ISIS in Syria and attempted to recruit other Western girls to become so-called jihadi brides wants to return to the UK to live a “normal life”.
Tooba Gondal, who was born in France and grew up in the UK, has claimed that it was a “relief” to leave ISIS territory, where there had been food shortages and “constant bombing, sniping and bullets”.
The 25-year-old, being held in Ayn Issa camp in Syria with her two children, was caught by US-backed Kurdish forces as she tried to flee ISIS’ last stronghold of Baghuz.
“I feel British, but Britain refuses to take us. I know the British public are scared of us. They don’t want to deal with us, but they must,” she said in an interview from the camp with the Rojava Information Centre last week.
“We are not threat to their society, we just want a normal life again,” she said.
Her London-based family broke their silence this weekend to urge the UK authorities to allow her and her children safe passage to the UK.
“For the past three years she tried to leave, but they [ISIS] threatened to kill her children,” Gondal’s younger sister Maryam told ‘The Sunday Times’.
“She tried to leave two or three times. But she had no money and no means of escaping. She was trapped,” she said, adding that her two-year-old nephew Ibrahim and one-year-old daughter Asiya had been on the brink of starvation under ISIS.
Pleading for Gondal and her “innocent” children to be allowed back to the UK, her family also disclosed that Asiya had suffered a shrapnel wound in her leg after an airstrike.
They believe she travelled to Syria in 2015, when she was 21, after being “brainwashed” online.
Their plea comes in the wake of Bangladeshi-origin ISIS bride Shamima Begum having lost her newborn baby at one of the detainee camps in Syria after her British nationality was revoked.
Gondal’s case mirrors that of Begum, who had fled to join ISIS as a schoolgirl in February 2015 until she resurfaced in a Syrian detainee camp pleading for her return to the UK.
Her lawyer Tasnime Akunjee is preparing for a potentially lengthy legal battle against the removal of her citizenship.
In Gondal’s case, she has permanent residency of the UK on a French passport and the nationality of her two children by different husbands, both killed in fighting, remains unclear.
She was served with a UK Home Office exclusion order a year ago and has over time lost her right to appeal.
Soon after her arrival in Syria, Gondal said Britain was a “filthy” country and posted an image of herself wearing a burqa and holding an assault rifle.
She praised the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks and was accused of luring other British girls to marry jihadist fighters, earning her the nickname of “the ISIS Matchmaker”.
Since US-backed forces cleared out the final ISIS stronghold in Syria last month, over 76,000 women and children are believed to be living in such detainee camps.
Of these, more than 10,000 are believed to have travelled from outside Syria and Iraq, while around 1,000 are unaccompanied children.
The UK government is under increasing pressure from international aid agencies to repatriate the children of so-called ISIS brides from Britain.
“We are ready to help any government that faces an issue. Children are first and foremost victims,” said Elodie Schindler, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), after Germany and France both announced measures for such repatriation of children born to their nationals.