How does a fun-loving teenager from western Sydney became an Islamic State bride
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- Islamic State ISIS is an Islamic extremist terrorist organization controlling territory in Iraq...[+]
How does a fun-loving and outspoken teenager from Sydney’s western suburbs wind up a so-called “ISIS bride” in a refugee camp in north-western Syria?
Mariam Daboussy was not particularly religious, according to Good Weekend senior writer Tim Elliott, but rather, something of a wild child. “She wanted to go out and party and shop, not really study. Just a normal boisterous teenager,” says Elliott. This was until she met Bankstown apprentice electrician Khaled Zahab, when she was 18: “That’s how she fell down the rabbit hole.”
Daboussy married into a family of Islamic State sympathisers and then — willingly or unwittingly — crossed the border into Syria, where she has remained for the past six years, despite the desperate efforts of her father Kamalle to overcome government inaction and bring her and her three small children home . “You couldn’t be anything other than moved by this man,” says Elliott, speaking in the latest episode of Good Weekend Talks. “It’s gut wrenching. It’s unimaginable.”
And yet the claims Mariam makes about what led her into Islamic State require more than a modicum of skepticism, dealing with all manner of grey areas and nuance, which Elliott brings to his investigation for Good Weekend magazine’s cover story this week: NO WAY OUT: The ‘ISIS bride’ stuck in Syria since 2015 – and the father desperately trying to get her back home.
“There’s all these elements that you can’t check,” says Elliott. “A lot of supposition, and a lot of blank spaces — a knowledge gap into which everybody pours their own ideas and prejudices and assumptions about intentions. Whether people went there willingly, whether they fought: who knows? That’s what makes the story so fascinating.”
Joining Elliott on the podcast this week — with moderation from Good Weekend deputy editor Greg Callaghan — was The Age investigations editor Michael Bachelard, who in 2019 travelled to the al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria for a series of stories about Australians hoping for repatriation. Bachelard says the federal government is resisting calls to help such people, on the basis of not wanting to endanger any Australian public servant with a rescue mission.
The chances of someone like Mariam Daboussy coming home, Bachelard notes, are not zero. But one only need look at the stubborn resistance to sending the Murugappan family home to Biloela in Queensland to know that the government does tend to “stick to their guns on these things”, particularly if the politics favours their view.
“If you were to take a poll, you would find that very few Australians want to see these women back in our country,” says Bachelard. “They would prefer them to be someone else’s problem.”