For hundreds of Western girls joining Islamist groups, Syria is a one-way journey. Only two in approximately 600 are known to have made it out of the war zone, according to figures from European governments that monitor the returns.
The ease with which young girls are lured into jihad was exposed in a book by a French journalist who got in touch with a fighter in Syria through a fake Facebook account.
The journalist, using the pseudonym of ‘Anna Erelle’, said: “We started a dialogue, with me pretending to be a twenty-something young woman, improvising every day, not stupid but a little lost.”
“I followed Bilel’s instructions and went to Amsterdam, and there everything got out of control because he broke some of his promises… Then Bilel started to threaten me and soon after it continued with his entourage,” she said.
A year later, the journalist remains under constant police protection, and she says the threats she got would frighten more than one girl into submission.
Families back in Europe often feel powerless. The parents of 18-year-old Sahra Ali Mehenni, who fled from southern France to Syria last year, only know that she has married a Tunisian she barely knew, and that she had no intention to come home.
“Unfortunately, what we see with these youngsters leaving is a hope to live their religion, or as I understand it their sect, hoping that they will spread it to a maximum of homes on this earth,” said Samia Maktouf, a lawyer representing families whose children have left for Syria.
“That is why it is so dangerous and so serious.”