French ISIS widow held in Syria camp wants to go home
In a Syrian detention camp for people linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group, French mother-of-five Emilie Konig has swopped her all-engulfing black robe for a sweatshirt and baseball cap.
Publish date : 4/17/2021
Publish Time : 17:53:00

The 36-year-old widow - who is on the UN and US blacklists of dangerous militants and accused of recruiting fighters for ISIS and inciting attacks in the West - said she is desperate to go home to France.

Joining ISIS "wrecked" her life, said Konig, who was captured in late 2017 by Kurdish forces battling the Islamist terrorists in the eastern Syrian town of Shadadi.

"I have my family (in France). I want to start my life over and right my mistakes," she said.

Konig - who frequently appeared in ISIS propaganda videos, including a 2013 clip showing her training with a shotgun - lives in the Kurdish-run Roj camp in Syria.

Sporting a hooded top, faux leather leggings and white hightop trainers, she said: "I'm already dressing... to get used to my returning". She hopes to work as an accountant back in France - even if Paris has been reluctant to repatriate citizens with ISIS links and would likely seek to try them on terror-related charges.

"When I do return, I won't be able to wear" a veil, she said, her dark, blond-streaked hair braided into a plait under her Yankees cap. "In the job I want to do... you can't wear it."

Syria's Kurds hold thousands of foreigners in their custody after leading the United States-backed battle that ousted ISIS from its last patch of territory two years ago.

Of those, 800 European families associated with the Islamist group and 100 Syrian and Iraqi families live in Roj, said a camp official.

Konig is vague about what pushed her to leave France in 2012, one year into Syria's civil war.

She said she arrived in Syria after she "met someone online" and agreed to marry him, becoming one of the first of hundreds of French citizens to join ISIS.

If allowed to return, she would like to take classes to improve her accounting skills, and to start afresh for her five children, aged four to 16, who are all in France.

Inside the dusty camp, a child pushed a kick scooter along a tarmac road beyond rows of white tents, while another played on a makeshift swing.

Women covered from head to toe in purple or blue robes - instead of the black outfit worn under ISIS - queued to get into a market. But others were dressed in more fashionable, modern clothing and said they - like Konig - were ready to be repatriated.

"We want to go home," one of them said, sunglasses on the top of her head and hair tied in a ponytail.

Roj is one of two Kurdish-run camps housing foreign family members of suspected ISIS fighters. It is smaller and better guarded than its overcrowded counterpart Al-Hol, which has been rocked by assassinations and break-out attempts in recent months.

The United Nations said the cost of being smuggled out of Roj can run up to US$14,000 (S$18,740) compared to just US$2,500 to US$3,000 from Al-Hol.

"We try to transfer the most dangerous people" here, the camp official said.

Roj camp management "has banned covering the face and wearing black clothes".

The camp official said those who have started wearing modern clothing again "are trying to convince their governments to repatriate them". But she believes that only a few are truly repentant.

Konig said she was so desperate to see her children, she went on a hunger strike early last month - but quit after eight days believing "there was no point".

The Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called on more than 50 countries to repatriate the men, women and children from their jails and displacements camps. But their home nations have largely been reluctant.

The authorities in France, which is reeling from a string of deadly ISIS-inspired attacks, have only brought some home on a case-by-case basis.

Konig urged the French authorities to "really analyse everybody" individually before deciding.

"I'm a prisoner here," she said, claiming she had lost some teeth and was suffering from hip and knee problems. "I don't have a phone, I don't have my children, living conditions are difficult."

Konig said she knows returning to France will not be easy but that she is ready. "I don't care about people not accepting me," she said. "I live for myself, my children and my family."

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