France is serious about its youth. When French authorities were alerted that two teen girls had run away to join the Syrian Army and become ISIS brides, a national manhunt was launched. The girls were recovered 2 days later and returned to their families. They must now begin the process of being de-programmed.
Israe who is 15 and 16-year-old Louisa began their misadventure on a Friday. They had been planning to run away to Syria for some time. A few of the girls’ friends went with them to the Chambray Train Station in an effort to stop them—to no avail. When the teens boarded the French train headed for what could have been their final destination, their friends contacted authorities. French Police acted quickly. They circulated photos of the girls and took to Twitter to spread the word. The parents of Israe and Louisa also made televised appeals for the return of their daughters. Details concerning the capture and return of the teens have not been released—but they were unharmed—physically.
French Intelligence recently revealed that 81 minors have left the country for Syria. 51 of those were girls. When teens are identified as being “radicalized” they are removed from their homes and placed in an intensive de-radicalization program. De-programming is not an easy process. Israe’s mother told a French newspaper that her daughter had tried running away to Syria two years prior—when she was just 13. She believed that she would be helping children and honoring Allah by joining the ISIS movement. She had been caught and placed into a group home specifically designated for extremist de-programming. It did not work. Another 16-year-old teen had been placed in the de-radicalization program after it was determined she was involved in a plot to bomb a synagogue. She tried running to Syria weeks later and was apprehended.
France is not the only country grappling with this issue. Last year, three British teen girls actually went to Syria and became brides to ISIS militants. By early 2016, the parents had lost all contact with them. There was a similar incident in Austria in 2014. Unfortunately, that case ended tragically; both of the Austrian girls are dead. One was killed during the fighting in December of 2014 and the other was beaten to death after attempting to escape the extremist group.
Once the teens are returned to their families, then the intensive process of reversing the brain washing begins. The terrorist recruiters make the teens feel loved and important. They contact the potential recruits constantly and incessantly. The extremist leaders then attempt to isolate their victims as much as possible. The information, attention, and adoration they show these teens are relentless. The extremists also skew the line between ISIS and Islam. The teens believe they are a part of a religious movement and are serving Allah but in reality they are not. Getting recruits to distinguish between true Islamic beliefs and ISIS propaganda is one of the biggest challenges facing the de-programmers.
Breaking the ties and reversing the thinking can take years—but France is committed to the fight.