When a number of countries in the west, including Britain are fighting legal battle to stop Islamic State (ISIS) brides from returning, a British born American, Tania Joya had returned to the US months ago and now been living in Texas.
In May last year, Tania’s self-confession of being married to an ISIS leader was published in a number of Bangladesh media outlets. In the statement, Tania Joya said:
I was born in north London in 1983 and grew up in a Bengali-Bangladeshi family. I just wanted to be English, but felt pressure from my family to be a “good Muslim girl” and to not integrate with western society. My family were dysfunctional. When you don’t trust your parents, you learn to distrust authority altogether.
When I was 17, we moved to east London. I made new friends but they were very conservative, religious girls and shamed me for being too western. I felt so depressed that I just wanted to become a new person. My cousin, who was a big influence on me, had been radicalised at university. She taught me about the caliphate. I would read a lot of Saudi Islamic fatwas online. I thought I was seeking the truth.
In 2003, I was at the anti-Iraq war march in London, when some men gave me a strip of paper with the name of a Muslim dating website on it. That’s where I met John Georgelas, a US convert to Islam. He’d grown up in a middle-class family, was multilingual and seemed so smart. I looked up to him.
I married John on his first visit to London, knowing it was the only way I could leave home. Shortly afterwards, we moved to the US and had a son. John was becoming more radical, just as I had stopped wearing the niqab and was becoming independent. In 2006, he was accused of hacking into the website of a pro-Israeli lobbying group, and went to prison for three years. I was still financially dependent on him, and didn’t realize that I was in an abusive marriage.
When John came off probation, we moved to Egypt and then to Istanbul with our three children. He had mentioned going to Syria, but I was adamant I didn’t want to take my children to a war zone. We couldn’t afford to stay in Istanbul, though, and John told me and his family back in the US, that we were moving to Antakya in Turkey. Instead, we travelled straight to the Syrian border.
When we caught a bus in the middle of the night, I didn’t realize what was happening. I was five months pregnant, and just relieved that the children and I could sit down and sleep. By the time the sun rose, we were at a Syrian checkpoint and John warned me not to make a scene.
As soon as I could find a phone, I called his mother and told her John had lied to us. I cried and asked her to contact the FBI agents who had been tracking him for years. The FBI later told me I would not be charged with joining an extremist organization if I returned to the US.
In Syria, we had no running water because the tank at the top of the house had been shot through. I was malnourished, and so were the children; I was scared of losing them. John blamed me for telling the agents, and I was so angry at him for tricking us. By this point as I was refusing to cover my face, and he thought I was an embarrassment. He felt under pressure from his friends to either leave or control me.
In the end, John showed mercy and arranged for us to leave, though I had to wait three weeks to get out because of road blockades and infighting. He paid a human trafficker to transport us. We were forced to run a couple of miles and climb through a hole in barbed wire, before jumping on to a truck under sniper fire.
The trafficker was supposed to take us to the bus station, but left us in the middle of nowhere. I was distraught, until a kind Turkish man helped us find our way. I was so grateful to be alive. I wanted my children to live good, fulfilling lives and to give back to the world.
John played an essential part in establishing the caliphate and was a leading propagandist for Islamic State, helping to groom other westerners. I never saw him again and learned later that he’d remarried in Syria.
Last year I found out that he had died, most likely during US bombing in 2017.
Now, I live in Texas, a few roads away from his parents. I know it’s good for them and the children to be close. My current husband is respectful, and caring; I love the freedom to be myself.
I’ve worked with the counter-extremism group Faith Matters in the UK. Education is key to de-radicalisation: you need to present the data, facts and science. That’s what changed me: I read widely, educated myself. We have to have shared values in order to live in peace.
Tania Joya, a radicalized ISIS bride in the US
Tania Joya, the ISIS bride has been continuously bluffing the media stating she is a role model of a jihadist being deradicalized. But in reality, it is totally a deception tactic.
According to media reports, Tania Joya, born in 1984 near London to a Muslim-Bangladeshi family, grew up “confronted by racism and struggle of integration”. She was notoriously radicalized at the age of 17, after the September 11 terror attacks in New York, and since then, her mission was eliminating the US and Europe as well kill Jews, Christians and non-Muslims. She has since then been a jihadist by heart.
The First Lady of ISIS
Indian media interviewed Tania Joya in August 2019. Here is the excerpt:
Do you think that ISIS will get dismantled ever as there are reports of their regrouping in Syria again? There are reports also of them expanding to other regions in Asia.
Tania Joya: They have been dismantled but they can regroup and they have a plan for that. They are not going to stop their agenda and are waiting to regroup. I know that they are growing in the Philippines and also in Afghanistan. I don’t know much about their growth in Asia or India.
Can you tell us something about your background and where are you living now? Also, about your story of transition from a ranking ISIS member to now a deradicalisation activist?
I was a British Bengali, grew up in England and when I was 17-18, I was radicalised and became a Muslim fundamentalist. After the 9/11 attacks, I got married at 19 to my ex-husband John Georgelas (Yahya al-Bahrumi). I have four children with him. I wanted to leave the marriage as it was very difficult. 10 years later in 2013, we were in Turkey, my ex-husband took us across the border where I informed US authorities that I need to get away from him as I was afraid for the life of my children. I crossed the border back to Turkey and I returned to the US and currently living in Dallas.
How do you think your story of evolution as a woman and independent thinker should now be heard?
I think that I can be a good role model for lost kids. A lot of teenagers in the West, having an identity crisis and mental breakdown, turn to a coping mechanism through drugs or religion or something else. When I decided to be a Muslim fundamentalist, I gave up my will power and my rights as a human being. I want to get young girls out of domestic abuses and get them to rebuild themselves.
From a hardcore jihadist to de-radicalisation activist, how have people around you accepted you? If you come across women leading on the same path as you did, what are you going to say to them?
A lot of extremism has to do with the environment. If a person is in that environment, they also think the same way. So once you put that individual out and put them into a different space, they can adjust and start learning and becoming something new. My hope is to break toxic environments and dismantle them. I work for an organisation, which prevents violent extremism programming and conduct workshops which is for parents, teachers and police officers or anyone who wants to take this course which breaks up all the stages when people radicalised. The workshop is free and we are going to the therapist and will help individuals from extremism the prisons are more terrible.