By Asne Seierstad, Author Of The Bookseller Of Kabul
The Norwegian police logged the call at 9.54pm on October 17, 2013. The caller, a Somalian-Norwegian man named Sadiq Juma, had “received an email from two daughters where they informed him they had left for Syria to take part in jihad”. Sadiq had implored the police to track his daughters’ phones to find out where they were.
“Someone has kidnapped them!” Sadiq’s wife, Sara, exclaimed. My daughters would never have left. They would never try to fool me. These were the thoughts going around and around in her mind. Somebody brainwashed them. Someone or something out there was to blame. The internet? An acquaintance? It was a muddle to her. On TV she saw bombs, war, shooting, houses in ruins, people fleeing. She had been a teenager herself when the civil war in Somalia raged around her. She had fled, had rescued her daughters from war, and now they had, what, returned to a warzone willingly? No, it was impossible. Sara had fled to Norway for them. For them!
Sadiq called and called. The girls — Ayan, 19, and Leila, 16 — could not have got far. Finally, he heard a click on the other end of the line. “Abo …” He interrupted his daughter, cleared his throat and tried to calm down. “Ayan, stop where you are, it doesn’t matter where, stay there, I’m on my way, I’ll put gas in the tank, please, wherever you are, just wait there and …”
“Dad, listen to me …”
“I’m coming to pick you up, I’m taking the car, where are you?”
“Wait for me. I’ll drive, or no, I’ll fly, I’ll take a plane!”
“Forget about it, Dad.”
“Think about this, both of you, we need to talk. Who are you with?”
The line went dead.
Suddenly the girls’ 18-year-old brother, Ismael, came into the living room pointing at his laptop. “Ayan is online, she’s on Facebook!” Sadiq sat down and wrote to her: “My child, tell me where you are so I can come and meet you, or answer the telephone. You’re causing the family huge problems. Don’t make things worse. My dear chiiiiild, please, my chiiiiild, talk to me.” He sat staring at the screen.
Ayan’s voice had been firm. Obdurate. They had to go to Syria. To help. The people there were in need. It was their duty.
Sadiq and Sara’s youngest son, Isaq, 6, seemed to have become a part of Sadiq’s body, clinging to his father like a baby animal. Jibril, their 11-year-old, circled them, anxiously, vigilantly. Ayan usually put the boys to bed, read to them from the Koran. That night they went to bed without the blessings of the Prophet.
The following evening, a picture appeared on Ismael’s mobile phone: a large steak on a plate, a white tablecloth, nice cutlery. “Last meal in Europe!” it said. The text had been sent via the messaging app Viber. Ismael clicked on the message. What his sister did not know was that the app automatically showed your whereabouts if you had not disabled that function. Seyhan, Adana, Turkey, it read. He clicked again.
A map came up and a blue dot. He zoomed in and saw an intersection, streets. “They’re in Turkey!” Ismael came rushing in to show his parents the dot.
Sadiq called the police and gave them the information. It was past 11pm. “We’re in a desperate situation. You need to help us right now. Find them before it is too late!” Sadiq urged. His words were taken down and the information forwarded to the local department of PST, Norway’s equivalent of MI5. The message lay there, unread, in an unopened email, all night, while the girls settled down to sleep at the Grand Hotel in Adana, where they had checked in using their own passports, under their full names.
Half an hour before midnight, Sadiq received an email from Ayan with an attachment of a book written by Abdullah Azzam, the father of modern jihadism. “The child shall march forward without the permission of its parents and the wife without the permission of the husband.”
This was what the girls wanted their father to know — they could depart without his consent. Sadiq closed the document. Jihad. Caliphate. Martyrdom. Nonsense. Sadiq realized he had no idea what his daughters had been doing or who they had spent their time with over the past year. Sometimes he had driven them to the Tawfiiq Mosque, Norway’s biggest Somali mosque, in Oslo city center. They had gone in the women’s entrance, that was all he knew. He had driven them to meetings of Islam Net, which had started out as a Facebook page in 2008 organized by engineering students at Oslo University College, as well as to a mosque in Sandvika. But who had they met there? The Koran teacher, had he encouraged them? Hadn’t he been a holy warrior in Mauritania? Sadiq could not quite remember, was perhaps mixing him up with somebody else. He had not been paying attention, he understood that now….. continued on the next page