ROME - The widow of an Islamic State fighter has voiced rare open criticism of the terror group's leaders, complaining about the treatment of the widows and families of dead fighters. Her protest letter, posted online, has been circulated widely on pro-IS social media sites.
Criticism of IS leaders is seldom expressed in public forums by followers of the group. Critics are labeled murtads (apostates) and dissenters receive harsh treatment, including whippings, torture, and are often executed.
The woman calling herself al-Muhajirahm, apparently a Westerner, laments the meager support given to some widows.
“Imagine that you’ve helped a sister who requested zakat [charity] two days ago, but you have ignored the sister who has been waiting a month before,” she writes. “She cries every night, concerned about how to feed her children as her husband is martyred. The tears that roll down her cheeks and the pain she suffers will be something you will be asked about and accountable for,” she adds.
The letter, titled, "A Reminder to the Leaders of the Islamic State," was first posted January 27 on JustPaste.it, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Washington-based group that monitors jihadist online activity.
“Such criticism is almost never found in such a widely circulated document,” says Anat Agron, a MEMRI researcher. “In the past, IS members have publicly criticized aspects of life in the Islamic State, however, normally such posts were swiftly deleted.”
Some male deserters from the terror group recently cited the treatment of IS widows as an example of IS hypocrisy. They expressed disgust to academics from the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, a U.S.-based research group, about how widows were often forced to marry other fighters quickly after their husbands had been killed in battle.
“In the case of widows of IS fighters up for remarriage, our informants stated that IS does not follow the normal Sharia practice of iddah - having the widow wait for a period of four months and 10 days to ensure that she was not pregnant by her former husband,” write researchers Anne Speckhard and Ahmet Yayla, in a report the two published in the journal Perspectives on Terrorism in December.
“Instead, IS widows are expected to remarry quickly, a practice that serves the needs of IS cadres who are often single and sexually motivated.” Iddah is considered also a woman’s right, allowing her time to grieve.
Women as currency
Women are used as currency by IS. Foreign and Syrian male recruits are told they will be given wives as well as homes and money. That can be a major motivation for joining, analysts and anti-IS activists say, especially for young men from impoverished communities in North Africa.
Three Syrian women from Raqqa, considered the de facto capital of the terror group, told The New York Times last year that they fled to Turkey at great risk because they realized they were in effect being treated as sex slaves and rebelled at being forced to marry strangers soon after losing husbands from earlier arranged marriages.
The women — given the pseudonyms Aws, Dua and Asma by The New York Times for their protection — said they had bartered their lives and agreed to marry in the first place for the benefit of their families and to secure better standards of living.
Just 10 days after the husband of the woman called Dua was killed on a suicide mission, “Another man from her husband’s unit came to the house. He told Dua she could not stay home alone and would need to marry again, immediately,” according to the paper.
In her Justpaste.it letter, al-Muhajirah warns IS leaders: “Everything that happens to your subjects is something that you will be questioned about on the Day of Judgement.” She says, “Every wife of a shahid [martyr] from your battalion is under your care...Fear Allah in the way you cater for her needs. She is your responsibility and all her needs now rest on your shoulder…This is your trust, she is under your care, so do not abandon her.”
She goes on to quote ideologue Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian Islamist theorist respected by jihadist groups. “Sayyid Qutb said, ‘To abandon the duties Allah has assigned to the Muslim community is betrayal of Allah and His Messenger.’”
A former IS cadre now in the southern Turkey town of Urfa, who asked not be identified, told VOA that the terror bosses may well be withholding charity from widows who are refusing or delaying remarriage. “This is a way to force them to do so — starve or marry,” he said.
Because of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, IS may be struggling financially — another possible underlying reason for insufficient support of widows. According to leaked internal documents from inside IS territory, the group has had to slash the salaries of fighters by half.
An order issued by the terror group’s treasury, and translated last month by Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, an analyst at the Middle East Forum, an American think tank, announced the cuts.
“On account of the exceptional circumstances the Islamic State is facing, it has been decided to reduce the salaries that are paid to all mujahideen by half, and it is not allowed for anyone to be exempted from this decision, whatever his position.”
Al-Muhajirah's criticism comes as rifts within the group appear to be on the rise in territory controlled by the terror group in neighboring Iraq.
IS internal security cadres Tuesday raided the office of the taxation department in the city of Mosul, in the province of Nineveh, and shot dead its head, Saleh Ahmed al-Jabouri, and three of his guards. Media activist Abdullah al-Malla told the independent local ARA News that it wasn’t clear whether the slayings were carried out on orders from IS leaders.
“Killing al-Jabouri reflects the growing rifts in the ranks of IS,” al-Malla said.
There were also local news reports recently that IS publicly beheaded 20 of its own militants after they were caught fleeing the battle lines in Nineveh.