How many more ISIS girls are in Australia?

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

A few months back, I wrote an article giving details about a Bangladeshi girl named Momena Shoma, who had knife-attacked an innocent person in Australia. The victim had lodged Shoma as she went to that country on a scholarship program. Later it was learned that a radicalized Shoma went to Australia with her mindset of killing “enemies of Allah”. She also told the interrogators that during her stay in Bangladesh, Shoma had been radicalized.

According to AFP news report, Shoma, Bangladeshi student who enrolled in an Australian university with the aim of killing someone in the name of ISIS was jailed for 42 years yesterday for stabbing her local host as he slept.

Momena Shoma, 26, admitted to engaging in a terrorist act when she stabbed Roger Singaravelu in the neck with a kitchen knife just eight days after arriving in Australia.

Shoma, who wore a black niqab showing only her eyes at the sentencing hearing in Victoria state’s supreme court, shouted “Allahu akbar” as she attacked Singaravelu, who survived and was also present at the hearing, the court heard.

“Your deeds and words, and the intentions accompanying them are chilling,” said judge Lesley Taylor in handing down the sentence of 42 years, with a non-parole period of 31 years and six months. She faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Taylor said her actions “sent ripples of horror throughout the Australian community”.

“But they do not make you a martyr. They do not make you a beacon of Islam… They make you an undistinguished criminal,” she said.

Prosecutors said Shoma became radicalized in 2013 while living in Dhaka and became enamored of the ISIS and its calls for Muslims to engage in violent jihad against non-Muslims.

After failed attempts to study in Turkey — with the aim of crossing into ISIS-controlled parts of Syria — prosecutors said Shoma received a scholarship to study at La Trobe University in Melbourne and arrived in the city on February 1, 2018.

She moved in with an Australian family under a homestay program for foreign students and immediately began planning an attack on them, the court heard.

She purchased night vision goggles on February 3 and on February 6 rehearsed an attack by repeatedly stabbing the mattress of her host couple when they were not home.

The family discovered the damage and immediately asked the homestay organizers to remove her from the home.

Shoma was then placed with Singaravelu’s family and stabbed him three days later after watching videos about the ISIS online, the court heard.

Outside court Singaravelu, an immigrant from Malaysia said he was amazed to have survived the attack, and questioned how Shoma could have obtained a visa to travel to Australia.

“We came from Malaysia, from a Muslim country. We came to Australia for a better life. And most importantly, the security of this country,” he told reporters.

“She was red flagged in other countries; how she was allowed here?” he asked.

Why the Australian embassy in Dhaka issued the visa to Shoma?

At the height of ISIS’ notoriety in 2014, Momena applied for a student visa to travel to Turkey to take up a scholarship from Ankara’s Atılım University, but probably really intending to join ISIS. However, the Turkish consulate in Dhaka turned her down, as it did about half the Bangladeshi student applicants. Momena also has tried, unsuccessfully, to obtain visas for Tunisia and the United States. The reason behind refusal in granting a visa to Shoma was simply because she had already been flagged. But, it is a matter of grave surprise as to how she managed an Australian visa from Dhaka.

Shoma’s sister also is ISIS-sympathizer

A Bangladeshi police report found that Momena’s sister Asmaul Husna also became radicalized after their mother’s death from diabetes in June 2015; the sisters together took to watching Al-Qaeda and ISIS videos. Both sisters got inspired to devote [themselves] to jihad and vowed to fight for establishing an Islamic caliphate in Bangladesh. They joined a faction of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an ISIS-linked jihadist group with a violent record dating back to 2005 (when it announced itself with 350 explosions in one hour) and culminating with the attack, killing 29 people [mostly foreigners] at the Holy Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s posh diplomatic enclave named Gulshan on July 1, 2016. There had been allegations of some of the top figures of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of the two largest political parties in the country giving patronization to JMB and other radical Islamic groups.

Shoma already was contacting ISIS jihadists

Momena Shoma was in contact with many Bangladeshi jihadists, both local and fighting for ISIS in Syria. The latter included ATM Tajuddin and Gazi Sohan.

Sohan, also an ISIS recruiter until his arrest in 2015, met Najibullah Ansari, a Bangladeshi marine engineer and JMB member, in an online chat room and introduced him to Momena in 2014. Momena and Najibullah hit it off and quickly planned to marry but did not due to family opposition. Soon after, Najibullah announced in January 2015 (in a Facebook message to his younger brother) that he was “going to Iraq to join ISIS,” though it appears he actually went to Syria. Najibullah’s father filed a report with the Chittagong police in 2015, informing them of his son’s travels.

More jihadists like Shoma in Australia

Bangladeshi police also found evidence (on Momena’s smartphone and computer) pointing to an important jihadi connection in Australia: an unnamed female friend from an Islamic discussion group at NSU; the two then together communicated with ISIS recruiter Gazi Sohan. Momena’s female friend married a Bangladeshi resident in Australia and moved there after graduation in 2016. She stayed in steady electronic contact on WhatsApp, inciting each other with jihadist videos. The friend apparently convinced Momena to join her in Australia, leading to Momena’s enrolling at La Trobe.

Jihadist predators beneath burqa

Momena Shoma was like a regular female student before she got enrolled at North South University. Before getting admitted with NSU, she never put on burqa or hijab and was living a regular life as any of the members of an elite family would do. But, the atmosphere at NSU had turned her into a jihadist. She immediately started wearing hijab and then burqa thus giving her soul the scope of turning into a monster.

Soon after arriving in Australia, Momena Shoma started looking for her targets. To the police, she calmly elaborated that she had come to Australia not to study but to kill “in the name of Allah”. She expected that a knife stab to the neck “would be fatal.” Seeing herself as a foot soldier of the Islamic State (ISIS), Momena had planned out the attack; indeed, before leaving Dhaka, she had told her younger sister Asmaul Husna, 22, of her murderous plan.

Momena had put herself in a jihadi mood that morning by watching a gruesome 55-minute ISIS video from 2014, Flames of War.

Momena took a 25 cm (10 inch) kitchen knife to her Bundoora room and repeatedly stabbed her bed, she signaled the danger to come. In the words of a magistrate, “She did the practice run on the mattress with the first family that hosted her and they felt intimidated enough to go to [AHN], saying, ‘We’re scared, we don’t want her to continue living with us’.” Out she went, facing homelessness.

Responding to her urgent need for accommodation, the Singaravelu family – husband and nightshift nurse Roger (56), wife Maha (45), and daughter Shayla (5) – on Feb. 7 welcomed Momena into their 4-bedroom house in Melbourne’s Mill Park suburb for a few days until she found more permanent lodgings. Maha explained her motive in accepting Momena: “I felt for her, being in a foreign country. I put myself in her shoes and her parents’ shoes.”

Themselves immigrants from Malaysia, the Singaravelus had come to Australia 30 years ago, Roger explained, “to seek opportunity.” They had hosted foreign students since 2014 in a spirit of multiculturalism, of giving back, and of teaching tolerance to their daughter. A neighbor, Neil Fitzroy, described the Singaravelus as engaging and open, taking in foreign students to give them “an Australian experience.”

Matters started well enough with Momena, Maha recalls: “She was very pleasant to deal with. She even offered to babysit our daughter if we ever went out.” Roger concurs: “Shoma gave a good impression right up before the attack.” He found her “well mannered” and noted that she spoke better English than he did.

Growing up in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, Roger tells me, he and Maha “understand the norms that are embraced by Muslims.” But AHN had not informed the family that Momena wore a burqa and her appearance, Roger recounts, “gave us a shock when she first arrived at our doorstep.” That she was constantly lifting the burqa during meal times to get food into her mouth caused the family to feel “uncomfortable having meals together.” Much less did AHN inform the couple about Momena having been thrown out of her prior homestay due to her practice at stabbing. And no one knew she had stolen the knife from the first homestay host.

On February 9, 2018, after two days with the Singaravelus, Momena struck. At 4:25 p.m., with Maha out of the house and Roger napping on a mattress in the lounge, child in arms, wearing her burqa, she used her stolen knife to stab her host in the neck. But the under-five-foot woman lacked the strength to cut the much larger Roger’s jugular vein, getting the knife only superficially into his neck – enough to make him bleed “like a fountain” but not enough to do him fatal damage.

In his words: “I thought I was dreaming as I felt a sharp pain on my neck. I woke up and started screaming.” He tried to pull the knife out as Momena leaned over him and pushed it in, yelling all the while, “Allahu Akbar.”

Bangladeshi ineptitude reached new heights when, three days after Momena’s attack on Feb. 9, a Dhaka Metropolitan Police team from the CTTC went to the Shoma family home at the Royal Aroma Garden apartment building to investigate. Moniruzzaman cooperated during the two-hour inquiry. But Momena’s sister Asmaul Husna (aka Sumona), who also attended elite English-language schools, was “very rough” in her attitude.

Shoma’s sister wants to kill Bangladesh PM and join jihad

Then, the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit (CTTC) of Bangladesh Police reports: “when the police officers were leaving, Sumona surprisingly launched a knife attack, shouting Allahu Akbar. She also said, ‘You are Kafirs [infidels]. We must establish the rule of Islam in the country. We must do jihad if necessary’.” A press account quotes her adding, “I will kill [Bangladeshi Prime Minister] Sheikh Hasina, I will kill [Syrian President Bashar] Assad. They are all infidels. One day everyone will join jihad and Islam will rule the world.”

The injured policeman was taken to the hospital and quickly released. The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit (CTTC) of Bangladesh Police subsequently found that, before departing for Melbourne, Momena had ordered her sister to murder a policeman and instructed her on use of a knife. Due to her JMB membership, Asmaul Husna was charged with terrorism. One would have expected a counterterrorism team to be a little better prepared for trouble from a potential jihadi.

Within three days, then, the two sisters, both inspired by Islamic motives, had stabbed two victims in two countries. In the face of Momena’s eventual guilty plea, the denial on the part of her family stands out. Her uncle asked, “How can she be involved in militancy after only eight days in Australia? We cannot picture her holding a knife. She is not an aggressive or cruel person. No way can she be part of terrorism. We are Muslim, but we are not terrorists or extremists.” The uncle recently refused to reply to my question whether, after she pleaded guilty, he still maintains Momena’s innocence.

Beware of radicalized Muslims

In the Western nations, especially Australia, Britain and Canada, the number of radicalized women are increasing at an alarming rate. While it may not be easy for the security agencies in identifying such jihadist beasts, the easiest method of doing so is to identify those hijab or burqa-clad females and list them in the list of suspects. There should also be strict surveillance in the mosques and Muslim community centers.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is the editor of Blitz. Follow him on Twitter @Salah_Shoaib

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