Sahra’s story is frighteningly familiar. Turning 18 this weekend, she will mark her birthday in Syria where she has gone to wage jihad to the dismay of her unsuspecting parents in southern France.
Like dozens of other European girls who have taken the same path, she was lured by online extremist propaganda, spending hours on her computer.
“It is psychological kidnapping…I don’t know how long Sahra was indoctrinated on the internet,” said her mother Severine Mehenni.
“She spent a lot of time online but they must have said lots of thing – brainwashing – for her to reach this point.”
In March, Sahra said she was taking extra clothes to school to teach her friends to wear the veil. She was last seen at a railway station.
“I will do everything I can to get my daughter back. That is for sure,” her mother said, recognising that Sahra could face problems with the law if she does return. “My daughter, a terrorist?”
But for experts the likelihood of getting a young woman back from so-called Islamic State or other Islamist groups is near non-existent.
Many of the youngest girls are lured with promises of humanitarian work. It is only once in Syria that they discover their fate: forced marriage to a fighter, strict adherence to Islamic law, a life under surveillance and little hope of returning home, say parents, relatives and radicalisation experts.
Foad, a French truck driver of Moroccan origin, went to Syria and met up with his sister Nora after she went missing in January.
“I was even more motivated to get her back because I could see the state she was in,” he explained.
“It was really horrible. Normally she is darker than me but when I saw her she was paler with a swollen face and a sallow complexion. I think she is really psychologically disturbed. She couldn’t stop crying or banging her head against the wall.”
Nora wanted to return home with her brother but wasn’t allowed to leave – her jihadi dream now a nightmare.