Tooba Gondal: Female British Isis recruiter asks to return to UK saying ‘we just want a normal life’

Former London student previously radicalised teenagers online, while brandishing an AK-47 and claiming she wanted to become a ‘martyr’

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Wednesday 03 April 2019 07:14 BST
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A British woman who joined Isis in Syria and recruited teenage girls has pleaded to return to the UK for a “normal life”.

Tooba Gondal’s appeal was a stark contrast to a previous Twitter post where she attacked “lies that muhajireen regret hijrah [joining Isis] and desperately want to return” to the west.

She had used social media to urge “sisters” to join her in the terrorist group’s strongholds, while celebrating terror attacks and condemning the “kuffar” [disbelievers].

Tweeting under the name Umm Muthanna al-Britannia, she shared a photo of herself brandishing an AK-47 with the caption “living the life”.

A 2015 tweet claimed she had obtained a suicide vest and continued: “I came here to die. I will not leave till I get what I came here for: shahadah [martyrdom].”

“Everyone around me is getting shahadah,” she later wrote. “When will it be my turn?”

But Gondal has claimed she is “not a threat” since being caught by Kurdish-led forces as she tried to flee Isis’s last territory towards the Turkish border.

Now 25, she is being held in Ayn Issa camp with her children and said she feared for their health, following the death of several children including Shamima Begum’s baby.

In an interview with the Rojava Information Centre, she claimed it was a “relief” to leave Isis territory, where there had been food shortages and “constant bombing, sniping and bullets”.

“The women and the children became the victims,” Gondal said. “It was a complete mess and even trying to leave was almost ... it was a mission to try to find any way to escape or any reliable smugglers who could help you.”

The former Goldsmiths University student said she was born in France and is of Pakistani heritage, but grew up in London from the age of three.

Gondal said she has “permanent British residency” but a French passport, which she concealed by sewing it into her children’s nappies.

“I feel British, but Britain refuses to take us,” she added.

Jeremy Hunt says British officials didn't rescue Shamima Begum's baby because it was too dangerous

Gondal said she had heard news that the Home Office had revoked fellow Isis bride Shamima Begum’s British citizenship.

“I know the British public, they are scared, they don’t want to deal with us, but they must deal with us,” she added.

“We can’t stay in this camp for the rest of our lives, they must deal with us. We are not threat to their society, we just want a normal life again. If I did not harm to anyone, if I committed no harm in Syria for four years, what kind of threat can I be to Britain?”

Nikita Malik, director of the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society, said Gondal and other female Isis recruiters were “vital” to Isis’s state-building project.

“They were essential in reaching out to women and also in propaganda – that was the way that Isis was able to recruit women,” she told The Independent. “We had women in communication with other women about the importance of the sisterhood and the need to join Isis state-building operations. They were also able to provide answers to questions about life in the ‘caliphate’ and help with logistics.”

Gondal claimed said her husband had been killed and she was injured by shrapnel during battles, where she moved from village to village before paying smugglers to escape Baghuz.

But before leaving the UK for Syria in 2015, she tweeted: “Kuffar media spreading lies that muhajireen regret hijrah and desperately want to return.”

Gondal’s now-deleted Twitter accounts showed the depth of her radicalisation, with her sharing Isis propaganda, celebrating executions and terror attacks, and claiming that showing women’s faces was a violation of Islam.

SDF fighters fire a cannon on the frontline of battles in Baghuz
SDF fighters fire a cannon on the frontline of battles in Baghuz (AFP/Getty)

“The Islamic State and the Kufr [disbeliever] State. Which state are you on?” she asked her followers.

After reaching Syria, Gondal shared photos of herself holding an AK-47, owning a car, eating and socialising with other women.

“Sisters come to the land of freedom! We have everything here for you,” she urged, saying girls could privately message her for advice on how to evade western security services to reach Syria.

After the November 2015 Paris attacks, Gondal wrote: “Wish I could have seen the hostages being slaughtered last night with my own eyes. Would have been beautiful.”

An undercover newspaper investigation caught her grooming a British teenage girl to join Isis on social media, with a detailed plan to travel to Isis via Switzerland and Istanbul.

A friend told the Mail on Sunday Gondal had been a “rebel” at school, smoking and having secret boyfriends, but started becoming increasingly religious in 2014.

“She started posting verses of the Quran on Twitter, and talking about religion. I just don’t know what brought it on,” the friend said.

The Home Office said it could not comment on individual cases, but has vowed to investigate anyone returning from Iraq or Syria and prosecute them where possible.

A spokesperson said: "The UK has advised against all travel to Syria and parts of Iraq for many years. We have powers to prevent individuals from returning to the UK. Anyone that does return should expect to be investigated to determine if they have committed crimes or pose a threat to our national security.”

The government has stripped more than 150 people of their British citizenship “for the public good” in recent years and made no move to help others leave camps in Syria.

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